Cleaning oil from a boat

How to clean anything is a collection of cleaning tips compiled by professionals who have worked for years in the custodial industry.  We have answered questions about almost everything but recently we started to get questions about cleaning oil from boat hulls.  These questions, obviously, as a result of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Doing a bit of research we discovered a news article about the decontamination tugboat Resolute, which helps cleans vessels everyday using a 16.67 degrees Celsius">2,17.78 degrees Celsius">17.78 degrees Celsius">000 psi water cannon.  This process usually removes just the thickest deposits so the boats won’t deposit any oil as they return to port.  Evidently the remaining deposits still stuck to the hull need to be cleaned later with higher-pressure hoses and dry ice equipment. All this just to clean the boats that are cleaning up the oil spill!

We have learned that lighter deposits or the brownish ring around the boat at the waterline can usually be removed using regular dish detergent.  Use gloves, wear protective eye wear, and apply a liberal solution using a sponge or spray bottle, then wipe the area with a paper towels and collect them into a separate plastic bag which can be taken to a clean up collection centre.  We would caution that crude oil can contain very dangerous compounds, and even adding dish detergents into coastal waters might be viewed as introducing pollution!

Ask your marina, or local authorities for the contact information for the clean up efforts in your area for specific details, assistance and where to deposit the collected oil.

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Boat bilges

General Information:
The bilge of a boat collects the water from small leaks on the hull and from the inside of the boat. The water collects on the bottom of the hull, where on larger boats, it is pumped out, and on smaller boats it remains until the boat is landed and drain plugs are removed to empty the bilge water
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Tools & Technique
To clean the bilge of your boat, use a strong formula of trisodium-phosphate. Remove drain plugs and pour in the solution. On smaller boats rock the boats to allow the TSP solution to run up the hull as far as the bilge water would have reached. On larger boats that can not be rocked, replace drain plug and launch boat as normal, and drain the next time the craft is dry docked. Rinse the bilge with fresh water if possible.

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Boat Hulls

General Information:
To clean the bottom of a fiberglass boat, wash it as soon as boat is removed from the water. If residue is allowed to dry on hull, it becomes very difficult to remove. Most marine stores have cleaning compounds to help remove this scum, however effective chemicals can vary from harbor to harbor.

Tools & Technique
Hose the hull to loosen any surface growths, using a metal scraper remove barnacles – a palm sander is effective on difficult areas. Be sure to hose off hull as you work to avoid breathing in harmful dust. Areas where the gel coat or paint have been damaged in must be repainted, or repaired and waxed.

Fiberglass Boats

General Information:
Fiberglass boats are the most common pleasure crafts. The fiberglass is strong, durable, and low maintenance as long as it is kept in good repair.
The most important aspect of any kind of fiberglass is the top gel coat. This topcoat is the glossy protective layer that keeps the whole fiberglass construction system cohesive, and its failure will breach the integrity of subsequent layers.

The most common causes of failure are minute scratches left by particles of grit or sand. These scratches allow penetration of water, UV rays, and ozone, and will contribute to the deterioration of the layers of laminate under the gel coat.

Tools & Technique
It is crucial to wash the surfaces regularly with soap and warm water, rinse thoroughly and then restore the finish with a fiberglass cleaner/polish. This polishing should restore the shine, which should then be protected by a carnauba wax designed for fiberglass.
If polishing does not restore the chalky appearance of the gel coat, a stronger, more abrasive rubbing compound designed for fiberglass. This should remove all small scratches and stains, however it is imperative that this surface be protected with wax. This will prevent further discoloration and offer more protection from the elements.

Inboard marine engines

General Information:
In board engines are contained within the hull of the craft, and the propeller is driven by a shaft that protrudes through the stern or hull.

Tools & Technique
To clean inboard engines, use an automotive cleaner such as GUNK, to remove grease and caked on dirt. Allow the hold to air for five minutes before doing any work within the engine compartment. Spray generously onto a cool engine, allow degreasers to work, then hose off sparingly with water, avoiding electrical wires, connections, and boxes. It is especially important on your boat to insure that visual signs of required maintenance such as paint, linkages, hoses, excessive rust can be seen. If a significant amount of water was used to rinse off the engine, be sure to run the bilge pump or pull the bilge plugs to drain excess water from the hull.