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December 13, 2012

A Clean Boat Is a Happy Boat

Keep the Boat Clean and Keep Your Job
Scott Kerrigan

The best captains I worked for always kept a clean boat. Of course, they were great fishermen as well, but they really exhibited the complete package when it came to boat care and guest relations. As I moved up to the bridge, I understood that keeping the boat right was key to keeping a job.

Today, given the size and cost of the boats that we get the privilege to run and care for, it’s almost sinful to keep an untidy, unorganized, messy boat. We view keeping the boat clean and maintained as asset management.

For us, taking care of the boat comes first; our guests and owners come second; and, lastly, we work hard to catch fish. If the boat is clean inside and out, and things are put away and everything is orderly, it puts our guests at ease, and they are content and relaxed on board. You can then take care of their needs, feed them a good lunch, have their favorite drinks on hand, and engage them in the fishing operation. You can rest assured that whether you catch one or 20, your guests are comfortable and will have a great time.

But it all starts with a clean boat. Obviously, the largest investment in a clean boat is the effort required to keep it that way. Things that are scheduled and repeated on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis become routine and make the task of keeping the boat clean easy. If you stay on top of it and do not get behind, all of the jobs are minimal. It’s when you let things go over time that they snowball out of control and become large issues.


To start, you need the right tools for the job. We use clean carwash hand mitts to soap the boat. We also keep several different brushes on hand that we use for specific areas of the boat. We use an ultrasoft brush for hard-to-reach surfaces that may be scratch-prone, and we use a stiffer-bristle brush for nonskid surfaces. To clean teak, we use 3M flat Doodlebugs with soft pads.

We’ve always used TD Mop chamois mops and hand chamois, since they are the best at soaking up water and leaving a nonstreaked finish. The mop heads have wide bands, and the material is super friendly to painted or gel-coated surfaces.

We also use a yacht-grade hose from Tricoflex Yachting, which does not leave marks when it’s dragged across the boat’s surfaces. It’s a nonkinking, nonmarking hose that we get from National Marine Supply in Fort Lauderdale. A regular garden hose with a rubber coating will start to delaminate over time and could leave marks and scratches. We never use metal nozzles; instead we use a high-quality plastic nozzle made by Gilmour that doesn’t scratch or mark the boat.

You can find a lot of great boat-washing products out there; just be sure to read the labels and choose one that’s compatible with your gel-coated or painted finish.

Normally, we do not soap the entire boat every day we fish, since we don’t want to remove the protective wax we work so hard to put on. We will, however, soap the entire cockpit every day we fish, and then rinse and thoroughly dry the rest of the boat with a chamois. Depending on the fishing conditions, we may fish three or four days before soaping the whole boat.

Most soaps will not only remove salt and dirt with repeated use; they’ll also remove your wax. Boat Wash in a Bottle by Star Brite is a biodegradable, nonphosphate, low-suds soap that will not remove wax and is safe for painted and gel-coated surfaces. Star Brite also has a pine-scented wash called Power Pine Boat Wash that works great on fish boxes and coolers, since it helps to remove any odors.

After a long transit, or a day of fishing that leaves a bit of diesel residue on the transom and in the cockpit, we use sudsy ammonia to clean away the residue. The black film and dried salt comes off easily with a soap-and-sudsy-ammonia combo. We pour the sudsy ammonia in a bucket and use a dedicated (transom only) soft hand mitt and soft brush to scrub it all off. Dedicated tools keep you from spreading the oily dirt to the rest of the boat. The sudsy ammonia is also ideal for varnished bulkheads, since it won’t attack the varnish like detergents will.