Boat Detailing 101

Submitted By Brian Angelucci



Most detailing technicians know reconditioning and detailing can be a profitable, yet fun business to be in. But they can also be missing out a very profitable market? boat detailing.

Detailing boats can be very rewarding come payday. While the work environment, whether it's down the shore, along the river, at a yacht club or boat yard, can be very relaxing and can also be very strenuous and tedious. Also, the sun's rays are also more powerful along the water, so be sure to protect you with the proper sunscreen.


A boat is made up of many different materials, some durable, some delicate. The gel coat, also referred to as fiberglass, is the most durable part of the boat. Issing glass, which is basically the same material as a convertible's back plastic window, is the most delicate. Other delicate parts are: the radar; antenna; GPS and caulking seals. Brightwork, which consists on the wood on the boat, will usually need a good cleaning and oiling if necessary.



Start the detailing process by power washing the boat from top to bottom. After the boat is rid of bugs, dirt, spider dropping, and any other element, presoak the boats canvas with a heavy duty degreaser and let sit for 2 minutes. After the degreaser has had time to dwell and dissolve the dirt, scrub the entire canvas with a boat brush. Rinse the canvas and watch all the trapped in dirt wash down the sides. When the boat is completely washed, you'll need to apply a waterproofing product to protect the fabric from rain and stains.

Boat Washing:

Wash the boat using a boat soap & non-skid deck cleaner for the walking areas. The canvas and snaps are the culprits when it comes to the black streaks all along the boat, so use a powerful streak remover before washing.

Don't forget the chrome railings, glass and swim platform. Washing the hull can be the hardest part of the cleaning process. Spray the hull with hull cleaner and let dwell for 1 minute. DO NOT let this product dry. Scrub the hull with an extendable brush, making sure to get under the rub-rail where spiders like to make their webs and leave droppings. For caked on sea scum that won't come off during the wash, use hydrochloric acid for the waterline.

Using chemical resistant rubber glove, safety glasses and a long sleeve shirt. Apply the hydrochloric acid with a paintbrush in small, even strokes, allowing the acid to dwell for 2 minutes. All you have to do is hose away and you'll see basically a brand new gel coat. Use of hydrochloric acid requires no scrubbing since the chemical does all the work. DO NOT let the acid drip on any painted surfaces. Make sure to follow the directions from the bottle before using. This product will eat through your skin. Use a water blade or squeegee to dry the boat, which will save you time and towels.


The bright work on a boat is made up of either two woods--teak or mahogany. Many boat manufacturer's opt for teak due to it's ability to withstand the elements of sun and water. Teak is also naturally a very soft, sand able wood for ease of maintenance.

Mahogany on the other hand, is a more hard wood that if untreated or neglected, will require a sanding, restraining and varnish. Since most boat woodwork is teak, let's focus more on that. Teak should have a natural orange look to it. If the teak looks dull and tan or even worse, has black stains in it; it'll require a sanding and an oil. If it's still in good shape, a 2-part teak cleaner and oil is all that is necessary to maintain that clean, natural look.

To maintain the teak, use the recommended teak cleaner, which should be a 2 part cleaner. Make sure not to get this cleaner on the gel coat since permanent staining can occur. After the teak is cleaned and stain free, rinse off teak and let completely dry. Next, use a special teak brightener, to highlight the natural grain and enhance color. Finally, apply the teak oil to seal and protect wood from weather and UV damage. Several applications of oil may be needed to get deep inside the grains.

Now, if the teak is neglected and weathered, you'll need to sand and oil. To sand the teak is much like sanding a piece of furniture but actually may be easier to sand due to the teak being such a soft wood.

Doing the refinishing is best if the wood is taken off the boat and let to dry while working on other parts of the boat. Start by using 280-300 grit sandpaper, sanding along the grains. Make sure every piece of the teak you are refinishing is sanded so the varnish will set properly. Re-sand teak again with a lighter paper, preferably 600 grit.

Now is time to apply the varnish. Apply between two to four coats of varnish, sanding with 600 grit paper between coats to get the smoothest look possible. Let completely dry between before sanding and recoating. After the teak is varnished, you now have a beautiful piece of bright work that your customer can be proud of. The refinished teak with varnish should last two full seasons before more maintenance is requires.


The cockpit is probably the most heavily soiled area of the boat since it sees the most traffic. To make this section of the boat sparkle, special cleaners and polishes will be needed.

Start by powerwashing the underside of the canvas. Most boats will have mold & mildew built up underneath, especially if this is the first washing since winter storage. Use a mild cleanser to remove the mold and stains. Next, start washing the windows, chrome railings & issing glass. Many spiders and mosquitos love to make their homes along the glass and canvas area. Be very careful as to not get any degreaser on the issing glass, as pitting and etching can occur.

After the under-canvas, windows and glass are well cleaned, clean the captain's area with a towel soaked in boat wash and wipe clean. This area is usually basecoat painted and is prone to water stains. Wipe again with a clean wet cloth and dry. With a vacuum and detailer's vent brush, clean inside the gauges, buttons, switches, steering wheel, etc located in the captain's area. Cleaning the vinyl seats on a boat is much like cleaning an automobiles but boat seats need to be waterproofed after cleansing.

Using any marine vinyl cleanser, go over all the vinyl in the cockpit. This can be very time consuming but nothing looks nicer than clean white seats on a boat.

Last part to clean is the non-skid flooring. This area will require a more stiff bristled brush and powdered bleach. Before using the bleach, make sure any colored ropes or anything that can be damaged is off the boat. Evenly and liberally, spread the powder all along the non-skid and begin aggressively scrubbing the cockpit's flooring area. After sudsing occurs, let the soolution work for one minute to dissolve stains and scuffs. There is no need to worry about removing wax since non-skid must never have any wax applied to it. Give the floor a final thorough scrub and rinse off.

After the cockpit is completely dry, lay down some rags or even cardboard to where you're going to be walking. To complete the detailing of the cockpit, begin by protecting the windows and issing glass. There are special products for issing glass polishing. This will create and anti-fog film and protect the glass from the suns deteriorating effects. Issing glass polish can also be used on the boats glass and windows. Apply the glass polish to guage faces and compass housing as well. Polish the chrome rails using any metal polish with carnuaba wax added.

For the vinyl, basically every marine shop sells vinyl protectant with UV blockers. Apply the protectant on every piece of vinyl and buff off with a clean towel. The vinyl will sparkle and feel soft at the same time. Don't forget to wax or seal any spot of gel coat in the cockpit. Since the gel coat in the cockpit is well protected from the sun by canvas, a simple marine spray wax with carnauba will work. The cockpit is now complete!



As stated before, the gel coat is the most durable part of the boat, unlike a car's clearcoat.

Gel-coat is basically a relatively thick layer of resin with colorant added. It's the final layer, coating the fiberglass weaving which makes up the structure of the boat. The gel coat is very porous, very absorbent and will oxidize no matter what.

Start with small sections, preferably 2'x2'. Using a high speed buffer, a wool buffing pad, and a good restorer/polish, buff the gel coat to it original luster. And it will buff up to the original luster. That's the one good thing about gel coats. While buffing, do not allow the product to dry since the gel coat is very prone to swirls and is also very absorbent. Buff off product while it's just about hazed with CLEAN, 100% terry cloth towels. I opt for terry cloths since microfiber rags will clog from the thick polish, removed oxidized gel coat and are very expensive.

Avoid buffing near the canvas snaps since one hit with the buffer, will not only clog the snaps with compound, you will also create black streaks and embed them into the gel coat. These are not fun to remove.

After the entire gel coat is buffed, rinse the boat to remove all dust, and trust me, you will have major dust when detailing boats.


When it comes to the protection of the gel coat, I choose sealers over waxes, only because the sealer will last all season long and is UV resistant. Wax is also good but deteriorates faster in the sun, especially near salt water areas.

Apply the sealant by hand to 2'x2' areas. If the sealant doesn't remove easily from the gel coat, you'll need to hit that area again with a polish/compound. An oxidized gel coat will absorb the sealant, will be hard to remove and will produce hardly any shine.


The chrome pieces of the boat include the following: railing, horns, ladders, emblems, cleats, & canvas support. Like on a car, these pieces show the details of the boat, making it a more enjoyable craftsmanship to look at. If left unprotected, these pieces can dull a pit. Any metal polish with a UV protectant will provide protection and a brilliant shine.


Remember to follow these safety precautions when working on a boat or dockage facility.

A life vest should be a mandatory device when working around water, especially where a current is present. Keep all electrical cords away from water. Dock siders or aqua socks should be worn when walking around a boat since wearing sneakers on a wet surface can cause you to slip. Follow all EPA guidelines when using detailing chemicals, which can be poisonous to fish & wildlife.

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