Boat Maintenance & Care Tips

Easy methods to maintain your boat throughout your entire ownership

Updated July 2024


What boater doesn’t like sunshine and water? Can there be too much of such good things? The final answer is yes—especially when it comes to keeping a boat in tiptop shape.

Overexposure to sunshine fades hulls, and waterlogged storage compartments and upholstery harbor mold and mildew. You can’t avoid the elements—they’re the boating environment and what attracts us to this joyous lifestyle. Not all is lost when it comes to keeping your boat looking young, though. All it takes is elbow grease to keep it showroom new and mold and mildew free.

Aluminum Care

Problem: Over time, showroom shiny aluminum can fade from exposure to sun and water.

Solution: Use a stain remover that cleans and restores the finish. Follow up with a polish to prolong the shine and protect the finish. Make sure to first apply the product to a small inconspicuous area on the bottom of the hull, and follow the directions for use. 

Aluminum cleaner
Aluminum Polish


Problem: Powdercoated aluminum boats and pontoon logs are easier to just wipe down than bare aluminum. But, whether you keep your aluminum or pontoon boat in the water at all times, or keep it on a trailer, sometimes you’ll find scum, dirt or stains on the powdercoating that you can’t just wipe off.


  • For light cleaning, use soap and water cleanup with a quality brand, such as Dawn dish soap. Follow up with a marine wax to help prevent future buildup.
  • If the finish has staining the dish soap does not remove, clean it with Simple Green—which has been found to cut through the buildup—and follow up with soap and water cleanup. Apply marine wax to help prevent future buildup.
  • If these steps do not remove the buildup or staining, use CLR. Try it in a non-visible area first, though, to ensure it won’t harm the finish.


Fiberglass Care


Hull cleaner

Problem: Avoid causing more harm than good when cleaning the thin layer of gelcoat. Bleach products are a big no-no, as are solvents with acetone and toluene. Save those products for other, less sensitive cleaning chores. 

Solution: Better choices are cleaners with chelating agents that clean on a molecular level and bring out dirt as you rinse. For most boats, you can spend about two hours applying a gelcoat friendly product like Star Brite Hull Cleaner. It has chelating agents that penetrate the gelcoat’s molecular level and wash away dirt when the hull is rinsed. Frequency varies depending on how often you go boating. 



Boat wax

Problem: Over time, the plasticizers responsible for the shine of the hull and deck leach out, leaving a dull appearance. With the gelcoat all shiny and looking new, it’s a good idea to apply a protective wax coating.

Solution: Slow it down with carnauba, which is the hardest natural wax. Don’t go all the way with 100% carnauba because it would be too tough to apply. A balance of carnauba with silicone and other solvents will create protection and the showroom-new shine. Meguiar’s Pure Wax, applied twice each season, is a good choice. 


Dry It Out

  • What is that stuff? – Mold is a fungus that looks furry with a round shape. As spores grow, they take on shades of black, blue, yellow, brown and gray. Mold comes with an unmistakable musty and rank smell. Mildew is a form of mold that appears like a thin coat of black, gray, yellow or white powder. Mildew can be easily mistaken for dust or dirt. Damp surfaces, warmth and humid air are ideal growing conditions for mold and mildew.


  • Problem: Mold thrives in enclosed spaces, like compartments. 
  • Solution: Open the hatches at home—even if they have watertight seals—so compartments can air out. Any circulation with open air or electric vents and fans can help speed the drying out and ventilation process. So can a dry vac with enough horsepower to pick up any water from porous surfaces like carpet.


  • Problem: Wet life jackets, ski gloves and other waterlogged gear are seeds of growth for mold and mildew. Left inside a compartment, these items meant for fun can become your worst enemy. 
  • Solution: Unload wet gear and allow it to air out from outside the boat before the next trip. 


  • Remove the problem: Mold spores are virtually everywhere. All it takes for them to settle in and grow is moisture, high humidity and the right temperature.
  • Solution: Products specifically formulated to combat mold and mildew in boats are safer than bleach. Star brite Mildew Remover fits the bill and will not weaken fabric or thread. You can follow up with a treatment of Star brite Mildew Stain Blocker with Nano Tech Barrier. The product creates a protective shield on surfaces that lasts for three months. 
Mold remover
Mildew remover

Boat Upholstery Care

Upholstery cleaner

Problem: Avoid vinyl cleaners and polishes containing alcohol. The alcohol causes oils that create the shine to be drawn out and evaporate. The vinyl dries out and cracks.

Solution: Wash with liquid soap (not dishwashing soap), rinse and spray with 303 Aerospace Protectant, which is ideal for boat use. 

Hard Water Stains

Problem: Water rich in minerals like limestone and salt can leave a spotty film on fiberglass and glass surfaces. Stains really stand out on darker surfaces such as outboard cowlings.

Solution: Fill a spray bottle with a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar. Spray affected areas, wait a few minutes and then wipe dry.

A Little Too Fishy

Problem: The action was fast and furious in the offshore waters after you dropped lines over that underwater wreck. Some fish bled on the deck and inside the cabin, which is an eyesore, especially on white surfaces.

Solution: Ideally, you'll use the washdown hose before any blood has a chance to dry. For dried blood, a freshwater/hydrogen peroxide mix is great for tougher or dry stains.

Unwelcome Pest Control

Problem: How did all those ants get in the boat? They marched aboard on dock lines, shore power cords and battery charger extension cords.

Solution: Where cables touch the dock or ground, spray them with ant repellant.

Wash Your Boat

Problem: White surfaces easily show stains and dirt. Even worse, dust, sand and dirt can harm gelcoat finishes when ground into the surfaces.

Solution: After each trip, take time to hose down the boat inside and out. If time allows, get out the dry vac and remove any standing water. The old saying holds true—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Words of Caution

Problem: Not all cleaners are safe for use in a boat. Some can do more harm than good.

Solution: Carefully read the labels of any chemicals before you buy them. If the label says “new and improved” the formula might have changed. First, test any product on a small, inconspicuous area before using across the boat.

Safe & Environment Friendly

Avoid using sprays or liquids with the boat in the water. Those products might be safe for use on the boat, but they can pollute the water. When removing mold and mildew, you should wear a particulate mask, rubber gloves and protective eyewear.

If you have needs beyond what can be performed at home visit your nearest Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boat Center. You will find friendly and practical advice and factory-trained Power Pros technicians that can handle any maintenance needs, regardless of the brand.

Boat Cover

Problem: You can hone in on mold and mildew inside the boat. An entire growth area—inside and out—is the canvas boat cover. Mold and mildew can spring up in a boat cover and spread into your boat.

Solution: While you’re cleaning the boat, wet the canvas and use the deck brush to remove loose dirt, bird feces and other debris. Use a marine-grade mildew cleaner and protectant. Most of all, allow the cover to completely dry inside and out before you reinstall the cover.

Need Professional Service?

Simple DIY maintenance and upkeep will keep your boat in great condition for years on the water. Look for all of the cleaning and storage supplies you'll need at your Bass Pro Shops. Throughout your boat ownership, there may be some tasks that you might not want to take on yourself, and that's where the Power Pros come in. At each Boating Center is a Power Pros team ready to help with repairs, motor maintenance and repowers, winterizations and the list goes on. 

Power Pro's Boat Maintenance

Trust the Power Pros for world-class and easily accessible service on your boat, outboard and sterndrive motors, and your ATV & SXS off road vehicles! 

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