Outdoor Library Homepage: Articles, Tips, Outdoor Gear Reviews
Library Home   |   Hunting   |   Fishing   |   Camping   |   Boating   |   Videos

Boater's Spring Cleaning
written by Michael Burch

Finding the right cleaning equipment can be a little daunting, but we'll go through it together.
Click here to return to the last page you viewed.  Previous Page

Click here to print the content on this page.  Print This Page

A good all-purpose soap is good to keep in your cleaning "arsenal."

It's that time again.  When you pull the boat out of storage and start cleaning it up to hit the water.  This is the time when you finally find that walleye you left in the livewell from last year, and the muddy footprints from last October's wet fishing trip.


For those of you that own a boat, you know that there is literally hundreds of different products on the market for cleaning boats - and everything is "specific."  No one product will clean your whole boat; it takes an arsenal of products.


Finding the right cleaning equipment can be a little daunting, but we'll go through it together. 


Some cleaning products are purely for aesthetics, but some are necessary to protect your boat from corrosion, dry rot, cracking, etc.  A clean boat will last you longer than a dirty (unprotected) one.  UV rays, water minerals, oxidation; all of these will slowly break down your boat and keeping it clean will easily prevent these problems.




Obviously the most important part of the boat, the hull keeps you on top of the water where your boat belongs.  A good, clean hull will improve you boat's performance and fuel efficiency.


Gelcoat:  Fiberglass boats come with a protective coating called a gelcoat over their hulls.  A fiberglass boat sitting uncovered in the water will suffer much more damage from the sun above than from the water below over the same amount of time.


To protect your boat's finish from the sun, you need to apply a "sunscreen" that blocks the harsh UV rays.


A soft washmitt will give you more control for a more thorough cleaning.

To properly treat it, you've got to start with a clean gelcoat surface. When a boat's gelcoat begins to break down from sunlight, it oxidizes and becomes more porous. Below the waterline, water damage becomes a factor when the gelcoat becomes so riddled with microscopic holes that water soaks through and gets behind the surface, causing blistering. Above water, where UV damage is much more of a problem, dirt gets into the pores, accelerating the breakdown of the finish. So the first step in revitalizing an older gelcoat is a thorough washing.


To keep your boat gleaming, you'll want to use a wax or polish with a UV screen, and one that doesn't contain abrasives that may actually dull the gelcoat. Some of the one-step boat cleaner/waxer products make up for their minor dulling of the gelcoat during the cleaning process by using ingredients that enhance the color, making the finish appear to be brighter. 


Note:  If you have a larger boat and wash it while it's docked, be aware of what you're using.  Some cleaners are not recommended for cleaning boats while they are in the water.  Some detergents can contribute pollution and nutrients to the water.  When cleaning your boat in the water, stay away from cleaners that contain ammonia, sodium hydrochlorite, chlorinated solvents, petroleum distillates, or lye. 


Aluminum:  Aluminum will not rust, but it will corrode.  Luckily, it's easy to maintain with just a little amount of cleaning.  Some boats are "painted aluminum" and can be cleaned and waxed like a fiberglass boat.  Raw aluminum boats, or pontoons on your houseboat are another story though.  Usually, they just need to be cleaned with something like the MaryKate Aluminex cleaner to remove oxidation, then buffed with a wax.  If your boat's metalwork is pitted or oxidized, apply a quality metal wax and leave it on the problem area overnight. In the morning, take a piece of fine bronze wool and gently scrub off the wax applied to the pitted or oxidized area. This process, repeated several times, should make a considerable difference.




Vinyl:  Like most things on your boat, your vinyl seats are very susceptible to UV rays that can cause cracking and fading.  With proper cleaning with the right products, your seats can stay in tip-top shape for years to come.  The best protection is to keep your boat covered, or in a garage, but that's not always an option.  One thing that must always be done is to clean and dry the seats in their vinyl counterparts after each outing.  If they have never been treated, a great way to protect them is to add a vinyl cleaner and protectant such as the Bass Pro Shops Vinyl Protectant, or Star Brite Cleaners' Vinyl Brite.  Both of these have UV-resistant ingredients that will help keep your vinyl from cracking.  You don't have to apply these products every time you hit the water, usually just a good cleaning with a damp cloth and then drying them thoroughly with a clean cloth will suffice if you've treat them with a protectant on occasion.  


If mildew stains have formed on your vinyl upholstery, use a deck brush with medium-soft bristles and scrub with water and a small amount of ammonia.  To make things easier and to prevent further cases of mildew, you can hit them with Bass Pro Shops Lemon Mold and Mildew Prevention spray.  It cleans and protects from mildew. 


Dry rot is a wooden boat's worst enemy and you should check your boat periodically for "hollow spots."

Wood:   Some boats come with wood framing and others come with teak trim.  A lot of the framing wood isn't teak because of the higher cost of the wood and is prone to dry rot, which can cause serious problems with your boat.  Even some of the all-wooden runabouts can get dry rot.  Tap questionable areas with a hard instrument and listen for hollow sounding dead spots. Probe suspect areas with an ice pick or sharp knife. Check areas where fresh water is likely to accumulate. Particularly check the following: hatches, deck seams, transom, companion slides, checks in planking, toe rails, stem, and ribs.  You can fix small "hollows" with BoatLife Git-Rot; a two-part liquid epoxy saturates and restores rotted wood by penetrating the rot. Injects directly into dry wood.


If the teak trim on your runabout or houseboat has lost its luster, it can easily be brought back to life with the Teak Maintenance Kit from BoatLife.  It includes about everything you need to get your teak wood looking good again (except the elbow grease).  Performing this kind of maintenance will go a long way in keeping your boat's wood looking like it should.


Carpeting:  Fishing during the spring makes for some nasty carpeting, not only do you get the regular fish scales, Yum, fish scent, and all the spilled pop you can handle, you also have to deal with mud.  One of the best solutions for this is to simply take it through a self-serve car wash.  Those powerful sprayers do wonders on deep-rooted mud.  Once you're done, leave it outside long enough to dry thoroughly, or use a strong wet/dry shop vacuum to pick up the excess dirt and water.  


Bilges:  Since the bilge is the lowest part of the boat, it is usually the nastiest part of the boat.   the dirty water collects down there mixed in with grease, and oil.


Two similar products, Bass Pro Shops Heavy Duty Bilge Cleaner, and BoatLife's Bilge Cleaner can get in and do the job done without you having to touch the nasty sludge residing at the bottom of your boat.  Both products destroy scum and breakdown oil without damaging any metal, plastic, or paint.    

A quality cleaner will destroy grease buildup.

For a really clean bilge, you can allow the formulas to work their magic, then use a wet/dry vacuum to remove the water and cleaner if you don't want to run the products through your bilge.


Livewells:  These are easily the second nastiest part of the boat for obvious reasons - especially for you anglers that run around with fresh shad.  If the boat is to be in storage  for some time, I simply place an opened box of baking soda in each livewell to keep them from collecting odors.


On occasion, you have to buck up and clean out those dirty livewells.  those chemicals used to help keep fish alive during tournaments create horrible stains and that's why your livewell has "bathtub rings" in it


To clean your livewell, you can use the same BoatLife Bilge Cleaner - it's non-toxic and biodegradable.


The product can be wiped sprayed onto the surface to be treated. After a few minutes, rinse with fresh water and whisk away fish blood, slime, mold, mildew stains, rust stains and water deposits. It is safe for use on metal, fiberglass, rubber, plastic and painted surfaces. Used as directed, there is no residue left to contaminate fish or damage aerators and pumps.  Make sure you get to the sides of the lids where you can't see - it's a prime spot for mildew to start. 


The Engine


Cleaning the engine is a task that many of us neglect way too often.  But if it can be done at least twice a year, in the spring and fall - you should be fine.  Of course, you may opt to have it done professionally as well as other "tuning up." A quality engine cleaner/protectant, such as MaryKate Spray Away, or Grease Away, is usually sufficient for removing accumulated dirt, grime and grease. These products also protect engine parts by creating a protective shield from moisture.  Whatever solutions you use, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully, and protect or seal off electrical engine parts first. If grease is removed from key engine areas that require this lubrication, be sure to re-apply some to these points upon completion of your cleaning.

Outdoor Library Homepage: Articles, Tips, Outdoor Gear Reviews
Library Home   |   Hunting   |   Fishing   |   Camping   |   Boating