PS Advisor: 10/15/04
Dealing with Road Grime
Recently, my father and I hired a transport company to move three boats to various locations in the country. Each time a boat arrived, it was covered with some combination of road grease/oil, diesel smoke, and other unidentifiable "dirt." This substance remained unaffected by conventional cleaning products. Removing all this became a chore, and personnel at the marinas where we shipped the boats had their own ideas for removing the stuff, none of which seemed to work well. We also worried that those applications weren't good for the boat's paint and finish.
So what products are best for removing the grime that results from transporting your boat over long distances by road? Or are there protective products that you apply before shipping to make grime removal easier?
-Douglas Keith, Jr.
We referred the question to John Spence, the manager of Charleston Boatworks, since this company frequently works on boats that arrive by road.
"What you do to clean a boat after transport really depends on whether it’s a gelcoat or paint you're cleaning, and how bad the grime is. With gelcoat you can use more abrasive cleaners, but paint is a lot more sensitive. For instance, the Awlgrip company recommends you only use a product called Awlwash™.
"For almost all of these cleaning jobs, it's important to use a really soft bristle brush or a soft rag. We ordinarily use Boat Soap, which isn't abrasive and does a pretty good job. But if that doesn't work, 3M makes a one-step compound and wax that works well. If you're dealing with older gelcoat that's porous, you can use an acid wash before the one-step product.
"If what you're cleaning up is greasy, I recommend using Greased Lightning, which you can buy in the grocery store. It helps clean up greasy bilges, and of course it’s a lot less expensive than what you might buy in a marine store.
"There are also some things you can do to prevent the hull from getting dirty while on the road. We've sometimes soaped up boats before transport and that helps them stay clean underway. Then you just wash off the soap after the boat arrives. But be careful what you use. We had a boat come in the other day that was coated with Mop and Glo, and it wouldn't buff out. That boat is just going to have to get a paint job some day."
Dan Steadley, the proprietor of Big Dog Marine Transport, a company that stays busy hauling sailboats and powerboats around the country, also had a few cleaning tips, but said it's best to avoid the problem in the first place.
"There's two things you can do to prevent a boat from getting dirty while on the road. One is shrink-wrapping, but I don't recommend that. First of all, it's expensive. For the average 22-footer, shrink-wrapping can add almost $500 to the cost of transport. And, at 50-plus-mph, it can tear off easily.
"What I recommend is protecting the hull by spraying it with PAM®. That's right, the non-stick cooking spray. It puts a light film on the hull and when the bugs hit it, they don’t stay on. Those that do are easily washed off later. It may look like hell while you're traveling, but as soon as you get where you're going you take a hose and scrub brush and it all comes off.
"I use just a really thin layer, pretty much the same way you would spray a pan at home. Then you let it dry for about a half hour. When you're traveling, most of the bugs and road grime land forward of the beam, so that's where you concentrate the spray. I've used it for several years and never had any problems, not with gelcoat, or graphics, or anything. I hauled a boat with extensive topside graphics all the way to the West Coast. I first prepped it with PAM. When I got there and washed it off, the boat looked like new.
"Another outstanding product you can use to clean boats after towing them long distances is Wenol, It's a German metal polish for stainless steel, and it blows other products away. I use it to polish stanchions and other on-deck hardware after a long trip. It works really well to clean off the bugs and other road grime.
"To protect the hull from small rocks, etc., the best method is to purchase some cheap mesh netting from a home store and string that tightly beneath the hull using the trailer as a frame. It's got pretty good breaking strength and I find it's the easiest protection for this stuff.
"The guys who truly want to protect their boats on the road shroud the front of them with cloth like canvas. If you're going to travel often like some racing sailors who tow their boats from regatta to regatta, it makes sense to invest in a custom cover for the hull."
Other than those remedies, you can also protect your hull with a heavy coat of paste wax, and buff it out after the boat arrives.