Tips for Basic Exterior Boat Maintenance

Basic Exterior Boat Maintenance - how to clean you boat

Maintenance Tips to Make Your Yacht Shine

January 23, 2019 by Charles Giambalvo, SYS Yacht Sales Associate

Having a beautifully-maintained boat can be a very satisfying aspect of boat ownership. For most boaters, there's nothing better than enjoying a day on the water, knowing your boat is well cared for and in excellent condition.

There are many considerations to keeping your boat's key components and systems in proper working order. A fair amount of planning and routine effort will keep your boat looking and functioning great as well as keep maintenance costs down over time.

This article focuses on creating a boat maintenance regimen for some of the more cosmetic parts of the boat, including the fiberglass and gelcoat, marine canvas and Strataglass, vinyl, and brightwork. We'll discuss some specific cleaning techniques as well as which cleaners and protectants work best.

Here are a few exterior maintenance suggestions that will really make your boat shine:

Fiberglass and Gelcoat

Gelcoat is the exterior structural layer that protects the fiberglass layers from exposure to natural elements, such as salt and sunlight. When maintained, through waxing and polishing, gelcoat produces a high-quality finish on fiberglass surfaces. Therefore, owning a fiberglass boat means routine gelcoat maintenance.

There are a lot of misconceptions about fiberglass gelcoat maintenance. The number one misconception is that an strong cleaner is needed in order to maintain its shine. However, keeping the boat clean, with regular (weekly) washing, is best achieved with a very mild boat wash soap and a soft brush, so as to not strip off the protective wax. Removing the wax layer will eventually lead to a dull gelcoat finish. Dish detergent is the most damaging to waxed surfaces. Keep in mind there are contaminants in both the air and the rain. If possible, use a chamois mop to remove rain water.

If the gelcoat is already in relatively good condition (with only minor stains, black streaks and oxidation), a cleaner wax may be used. The benefit of a cleaner wax is it contains both gentle abrasives and wax. It can be applied via a wool buffing wheel, but is best performed by hand, with micro fiber cloths. Be sure to use only clean cloths and only let the wax dry to a milky haze prior to removing. Waiting too long will make removal very difficult.

If the gelcoat is badly stained and/or oxidized, then compounding may be required. The first rule of compounding is to use the least abrasive compound and the least friction to get the gelcoat to shine. When compounding, you are actually removing gelcoat along with the oxidation / chalk, so as soon as it “pops” with shine its time to move on to another section. Super Cut is an effective compound, but if the surface is very bad, it's best to use a heavy abrasive to remove any damage. The boat should be washed after each step.

If hiring a detailer, it's important to first find out their process. A detailer approached me once offering 7 steps! My response was: “I don’t need or want 7 steps, I would like some gelcoat remaining on the boat.”

The latest and greatest waxes appear to include Polymers for maximum protection. Ceramic coatings are another alternative, which promise to last longer than wax. 3M and Meguires make excellent products in this domain (be sure to use appropriate buffing pads and speed per instructions).

Canvas and Strataglass

Marine canvas material is comprised of heavy duty fabrics, which are used as protective covers and enclosures on many boats. This includes cockpit and console enclosures, bimini tops, and sail covers, to name a few. Proper canvas care is imperative in making these fabrics look great and last longer. For example, canvas zippers and snaps should be lubricated (Chap Stick works as well as other special snap/zipper lubricants).

It is not recommended to wash marine canvas in a household washer and dryer, as this will break down the fabric. Instead, clean the canvas using fresh water and mild soap, with a soft brush, to remove any dirt or salt. If mold appears, Spray 9 and other mold removers should be used as soon as possible. You can also apply mold blockers, like one made by 3M, that help delay mold returning. Peroxide can also be used to spot treat mold on canvas, but keep in mind this will dry out threaded seams.

“Eisenglass”, or “Strataglass” as it is called now, are brand names for the clear polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material that is used to create see-through protective panels for marine enclosures. It's recommended when handling clear Strataglass that soft gloves should be worn, as skin oils can stain. Suntan lotion can also cause damage, which cannot be removed.

At the time of writing, I have only found 2 products that add moisturizing oil back into the plastic, rather than dry it out. These are Plexus and 210, both of which are available on Amazon and boating supply stores. When using, apply only clean micro fiber cloths in a circular motion, turning frequently. Once Strataglass has yellowed, it can be restored temporarily via very light sanding. This sanding will remove the yellow along with the protective coating. It is never recommended to use an ammonia-based cleaner on PVC, as it will ruin the plastic and cause it to yellow further.

Upholstery and Vinyl

Vinyl is the most commonly used material for exterior seating and furniture on boats. Vinyl is a tough and extremely durable material, however, using the wrong cleaners, such as bleach and ammonia, can break it down over time. When maintaining vinyl, it's best to use only fresh water and a mild soap. The biggest destroyer of upholstery and Vinyl is sunlight and simple wear-and-tear from routine usage.

There are UV protectant products for outside vinyl upholstery, but the best protection comes from covering or stowing away these materials. Taking the time to bring removable cushions below deck or investing in quality covers will be well worth it in the long run. In addition, Stamoid (for covers) and Sunbrella (for upholstery) are two very robust products / materials that can withstand the sun and heavy usage, compared to vinyl.


For all woodwork, such as handrails, toerails, caprails, steps, and decking, there are some recommended steps to keeping them looking great. Because of its durability, most woodwork on boats is made from teak. Whether the teak has been stained or left natural, it needs to be sealed. There are many products available for sealing purposes.

Oiling is another alternative. If teak is badly weathered, it needs to be sanded and refinished. This is best performed by a professional. Like all other aspects of yacht maintenance, if neglected, the level of restoration work and cost increases.

Regarding metals, both Flitz and Collinite 850 Metal Wax are very effective polishes. Specifically, Flitz Hydrophobic Sealant can be applied to yield a longer lasting shine. Water spots should be removed from brightwork after each washing.

While this level of exterior maintenance may seem difficult to manage at first, it's important to remember that with regular, thorough cleaning, your boat will remain in great shape. You will also keep maintenance costs down over time. With your boat in proper condition, those fun-filled days on the water will be even more enjoyable.

Contact Charles Giambalvo for more pro tips on yacht maintenance and for all your yachting needs.

Charles Giambalvo

New and Brokerage Sales

Contact Charles

617-803-9662‬ | Email

Charles and his wife have lived aboard a 2010 50’ Jefferson Motor Yacht “Overseas Office” for the past 3 years, which they maintain themselves. Charles also holds a USCG Master 100 Ton license. In addition to his significant boating experience, Charles has over 30 years of experience in high tech international sales. He now applies his experience to assisting clients with their boat buying and selling needs. Charles combines his marine industry knowledge and sales know-how to provide clients the highest level of professional services. | View Full Bio

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