Boat Maintenance


Stanley the Striped Bass cleaning a boatWhether you're looking for a relaxing day on the water, or an adrenaline-filled afternoon catching air over huge wake, great days on the Delta begin with clean water and a good boat. Maintaining your boat is important, as is maintaining the health of the water that we all enjoy. Whether you do-it-yourself or you employ a professional maintenance service, the information below is a great to know.

Not all boat cleaning and maintenance products are created equal. Some products can be harmful to aquatic life, water quality and even human health. When purchasing boat cleaning products check the labels for words such as danger, poison, warning or caution. These words often signal that a product may be toxic and harmful to water quality. You can also make many effective and non-toxic cleaning products at home or purchase them from marine supply or other stores.

If you use boat maintenance read Underwater and Topside Maintenance Services for your Boat (PDF) and share the tips below.


1. Reduce or Eliminate Use of Toxic Cleaning Products

  • Read the label and avoid products that contain lye, ammonia, sodium hypochlorite, petroleum, chlorine and/or phosphates.
  • Choose bio-degradable products and/or make your own non-toxic products at home for pennies on the dollar. View a list of simple household cleaning alternatives.
  • Use more elbow grease and fewer cleaning products; more soap doesn't necessarily mean your boat will be cleaner.
  • Scrub and rinse with freshwater after each trip; cleaning products are not always necessary, especially if you clean your boat regularly.
  • Use canvas boat covers to keep your boat clean between trips and reduce the amount of cleaning you need to do.
  • Perform boat maintenance out of the water instead of on docks or over the water.
  • Properly dispose of unused boat maintenance products (bottom paints, cleaning solvents and zinc anodes) at at Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center. Call (800) CLEANUP (253-2687) or visit a local household hazardous waste collection facility.
  • Save major boat cleaning and repairs for the boat yard, where toxic wastewater is collected for treatment and proper disposal.

2. Spill-Proof Boat Cleaning and Maintenance Activities

  • Conduct maintenance work on land, not on the docks or over the water.
  • Always mix paints, varnish, epoxy, and other products over a tarp or in a drip pan to catch spills and drips. Keep absorbents nearby to wipe up spills.
  • Contain spills and debris using tarps.
  • Tightly seal product containers when not in use to reduce spills.
  • Plug scuppers and other drainage areas to contain spills.

3. Minimize Emissions from Surface Preparation

  • Sand and paint large areas only in designated shoreside boat maintenance areas, using vacuum sanders with dust containment bags and high-density, low-volume paint sprayers.
  • If performing work outdoors, do not sand or paint on windy days.
  • Use tarps or Visqueen (sheet plastic) to catch and control falling debris, and vacuum sweep frequently to prevent discharge of debris into the water.
  • For small jobs conducted in-water, attach tarps or Visqueen from boat to dock to catch debris. Reverse the boat in the slip to work on the other side.
  • Plug scuppers to contain dust, debris and spills.


1. Choose Less-Toxic Hull Paints and Anti-fouling Strategies

  • Choose an environmentally friendly anti-fouling strategy (e.g., combining the use of less-toxic paints and bottom coatings with mechanical means to control growth). Less-toxic bottom coating provide alternatives to soft sloughing paints that release heavy metals that harm aquatic life. Talk to your boat yard or marine supply shop about the less-toxic alternatives on the market.
  • For more information on less-toxic anti-fouling strategies, check out the recommendations from the University of California Sea Grant. You can also find helpful publications, most of which are free after completing a quick online survey.

2. Use Environmentally Sound Underwater Hull Cleaning Practices, or Select a Diver Who Uses Them

  • Ensure that you or your diver uses responsible underwater hull cleaning practices.
  • Clean bottom paints using non-abrasive methods. Avoid creating a colored plume of paint in the water. 
  • Don't clean hulls that are so fouled that cleaning must be abrasive and is likely in paint removal and the discharge of toxic heavy metals.
  • Perform regular hull maintenance to prevent hard marine growth and hull drag.
  • Perform hull cleaning in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations for the type of hull coating or bottom paint.
  • Take zinc anodes back to shore and recycle or dispose of properly.