Boat Maintenance

Skin Care for Your Boat


Whether your boat is brand new or not, there are a few things you need to do to keep it looking new. Scratches in the gelcoat finish need to be repaired as soon as possible, but after those repairs are completed and before you put your boat back in the water, you can do a few things to prevent your boat’s premature aging. It’s cosmetic, sure; but it also helps protect the surface of the hull and the decks from looking older than they should.


Rinse It

Every time you go out on your boat, the first thing you should do after you haul it out of the water and move it away from the launching ramp is rinse it down with clean water. This does two things: first, it washes away any marine life that decided to hitch a ride. Second, it rinses away the saltwater and salt that sticks to the hull, the fittings and the lower unit of your outboard or your sterndrive. If you’re a lake boater, getting rid of the marine life prevents invasive species from cross-contaminating multiple bodies of water. If you’re strictly a saltwater boater, you’ve probably seen the effects of salts on metal and fiberglass.

Rinse the boat from the highest point and work downward. This lets gravity help you as you wash. If you find algae clinging to your boat’s waterline, use a paint scraper to rake it off the surface of the fiberglass or metal, then follow up with a 3-M pad.


Wash It

When you get the boat home — or back to its storage location — wash the hull with a mild dish soap. Using a soap with a degreaser, such as Dawn, carries away any grease or oil it may have picked up in the water around the launching area.

Unscrew and remove the boat’s drain plug and set it aside. Clean the decks with the dishwashing detergent and a deckbrush first and hose them down thoroughly to rinse the soap and any dirt away. Leave the drain plug out for now.

Wash a section about 3 feet wide at a time; don’t try to wash “one level at a time.” Start washing at the top and working downward toward the keel. If you wash a small section at a time, from the gunwale to the keel using a circular motion, you’re less likely to miss spots. Finish one side before you start on the other.


The Hull: Protect It

Once you’ve washed the whole hull, give it another rinse with clean water and allow it to air dry. If your boat is new and still fairly shiny, all you need to do is apply a coat of paste wax — an automotive wax with carnauba wax is ideal — using a circular motion. Let the wax dry to a haze, just as you would with a car, and buff the haze away with an orbital buffer.

If your boat has a few seasons on it, that shiny-new appearance may be starting to fade. Polishing compounds for fiberglass — not automotive rubbing compound — can bring the skin of your boat back to life: fold a clean cloth a few times, dip it in the compound and rub the compound onto the surface gently, using a circular motion. Keep rubbing until the shine starts to come back. In the alternative, you can use an orbital buffer and save yourself some strain. After you buff the polish out, put a coat of wax on the finish, allow the wax to dry to a haze and buff it with the orbiotal  buffer.

A buffer can save you a lot of work when it comes to waxing your boat.


Outboards and Sterndrives

Once you’ve rinsed your outboard and sterndrive, remove the screens from the water intakes and clean them. Small particles of plant life that get past the strainers usually pass through the cooling system with no problem, but will build up over time, clogging the cooling gallaries of an outboard or even clogging the water pump on an outboard or sterndrive.

Keep an eye on the stream of water that flows out of an outboard; if it diminishes or stops completely while you’re running, shut your motor down. Use your tilt/trim system to lift the engine clear of the water and look at the intakes — odds are they’re clogged with marine life, either animal or, more likely, plant.

Cleaning out the strainers on the water intakes when you wash your boat will help prevent your engine or drive from overheating.

Cleaning the outboard or sterndrive  clean is easier than keeping the hull clean. Soak a clean 3-M pad in liquid dish detergent, then run the pad over all of the exposed surfaces of the sterndrive or the outboard. Let the soap sit for a few minutes before rinsing it off with running water and a dry 3-M pad. As you do so, take the time to inspect the zincs on the drive, the propeller shaft and propeller and the hull. Replace any zinc that’s more than 50-percent gone. When a zinc reaches 50 percent, it loses its ability to protect your boat.


A Word on Acrylic Polishes

There are automotive acrylic polishes made for fiberglass and plastic car bodies. They will make your boat shine, but they don’t appear to offer the same level of protection to a fiberglass hull that they offer to a car, simply because the of the harsh chemical nature of the marine environment.


Next Week: Canvas Care and Repair

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