Whether you are returning from that perfect day out on the water or the not-so-perfect day of fishing, there are two critical post-outing procedures that a boat owner should never neglect. One is the engine flush and the other is the fresh water washdown.

The importance of flushing the engine(s):

In both fresh and salt water, flushing the engine(s) after use is critical. We all know that salt water is very corrosive to your boat. Even if you are in fresh water, it is still important to flush the engine to ensure that all the debris and dirt from the lake are removed.

If they are not, it will lead to problems that require more than an elementary level of boat maintenance knowledge to fix. Wherever you boat, ensure you are flushing those engines after every outing.

The importance of the fresh water washdownProtecting Your Investment: Engine Flushing & Washdown

If you are new to boating, you may not be aware of the importance of thoroughly washing off the salt water after every use. Skipping this basic step can and will cause irreversible damage to much of your equipment.

Even if the seas are calm and there is little wind, your boat will still get covered with the salt that swirls back into the cockpit via the station wagon effect. Whether we notice it or not, salt simply gets all over everything.

Watch professional boat crews wash down a yacht and you will see that all of them follow a similar basic procedure. This may seem like a daunting task, but it will make a huge difference in how good your boat looks a few years from now.

The effects of salt

Salt has many negative effects on boats. We know that it’s corrosive to metals. It is also corrosive to boat finishes of every kind, including gel coat. That’s why the finish on the sides of your hull deteriorates as though it were getting a full dose of ultra-violet. 

Once salt dries into crystals, it is abrasive, just like sand. Lingering salt crystals become unwanted sand paper, scrubbing away at your boat’s finishes.

How to wash your boat down

First, spray the entire boat with a downfall of fresh water to get everything wet. It will take a minute or two for dry salt crystals to dissolve completely. Hose down all hardware, towers, tops, pipes, etc. Spray the inside and under side of the bimini top. If you do not, the aluminum is going to look ugly real soon. If you have a sailboat, spray as high on the mast and rigging as possible.

After you wet everything, allow a few minutes for the salt crystals to dissolve. Come back and hose the boat down thoroughly. For the ultimate rinse, start from the top down, doing the sides of the hull last.

On a flybridge boat, start with the bridge first. This will discourage water streaking at those points where water runs down from the structure.

If you’ve got an outboard boat, don’t forget to do the engines, including the undersides of the mount brackets. You can do this after tilting the motors up.

Stand seat cushions on their sides or edges – zipper side down – and lightly rinse them off.

  • Pro tip: This is also the best way to store cushions so that they don’t hold water and start to deteriorate. Stand them on edge and leave them. They will last you a lot longer this way.

When spraying down cockpit decks, it’s a good idea not to use a high-pressure nozzle. High pressure can work water below your hatches and inside. Instead, use a light spray with little pressure. Spray down winches, radar scanners and other expensive components. Salt may stain windows too, so rinse them off as well.

Use of cleaners and detergents

There are plenty of soaps and cleaners on the market. Many do a great job. The only thing to remember here is: do not use strong detergents such as those with abrasives or chlorine for the general cleaning of your boat. Chlorine is corrosive and will stain and discolor virtually anything that is anodized aluminum – think rub rails, windshields and trim.

For tough small areas, use a stiff brush first. If that doesn’t work, use a non-chlorinated cleanser, or a specially formulated boat cleaner. Finally, make sure to fully rinse away all residue, including from the places where it runs over the side or out the scuppers.

Pads and cleaning brushes

Imitation lamb’s wool pads are the least abrasive choice for bright finishes. For more durable areas like non-skid, select a natural – not plastic – medium-stiffness bristle brush. Avoid very stiff bristles as these will scratch. Use the lamb’s wool on any surface that you’d wax. Use the brush solely on the non-skid surfaces.

Bonus cleaning areas

If you have time and want to do an extra-thorough job, turn your attention to window tracks and drain/weep holes.

Window tracks

Over time, dirt and salt will find their ways into window tracks making the windows hard to slide open and closed. When you concentrate the water stream into these tracks, you’ll be amazed at what comes out – bugs, dirt and who knows what else.

Drain and weep holes

Use pressure here. Clean out all of the little drain holes in the deck hatch gutters. Those drains clog up with debris very easily and when they do, the gutters will overflow, putting water into places it shouldn’t be – like down into your engine compartment and lockers. While you are at it, check the drains around window frames as well as the anchor and rope lockers.

How long should this process take?

Performing the engine flush and standard washdown should take you just under an hour. A more detailed and concentrated effort – the kind that covers your window tracks, weep holes etc. – will take longer but may only need to be done a few times per season.

Making these tasks a routine after each outing will keep your boat running and looking its best. Your wallet will thank you.