How to prepare and maintain your yacht like a professional

It is easier than you think to get that new yacht look. Photo by Daniel Novello

It is easier than you think to get that new yacht look. Photo by Daniel Novello

Online classifieds are filling up with yachts for sale as the northern hemisphere move into spring proper. Some owners are selling their yachts "as is" with a discount if the new buyer takes care of the prep work him or herself. That`s perfectly fine. But, if you are looking to get the best price for your boat and a quick sale, plan on putting in a bit of effort to make it look her best. Here is a handy guide:

The recipe for a great result - Tidy up & Clean the inside of the boat

Begin by tidying up the boat. Bring a trailer or rent a pick up to empty the boat for all the bits and pieces that have accumulated throughout the years. Get everything off the boat. Including all the cushions and carpets. Send them off for dry cleaning.

The job ahead will be far easier once the all the storage spaces, drawers, cabinets and are empty and cleaned properly.

Once everything is off the boat, get a few boxes and whipe off all the bits and pieces before you put them back in the boxes and label all the lids.

Not only will you be able to create a fine overview of all the spare parts, bits and pieces that comes with the sale, but this will improve the overall impression a prospective buyer or agent will have of you and let you make a good list of for the ad. And an empty boat is better for photography. Lots of personal stuff lying around can be a big turn off for a prospective byer.

Make it shine and smell good

Vacuum and clean the whole inside of the boat. Also clean the bilge, engine compartment and other "dark spots" (areas that are hidden behind bulkheads, doors, hatches or floor boards). The bilge is a notorious source of bad smell. A smelly yacht will not sell easy.

Clean the heads. Consider taking steps to get new hoses and rebuild the marine head to take care of any source of bad smell. Empty and clean the holding tank. If you are the thorough type, clean under the shower sump and polish the sink and taps.

The hull, topsides and deck

It is easier than you think to make that old gelcoat shine again. Preparation is important as ever. So are the choice of tools and chemicals. 

In any type of maintenance work, the quality of the finished job are a direct result of how well the surface is prepared - especially how clean it is! It is always worth while to be very thorough about cleaning and recleaning before doing anything to the hull if you intend the job to last for some time.

Starting at the bottom and moving upwards towards the deck. Use a soap with dewaxing agents. Do this twice. Repeat if necessary. 

A well maintained Corribee 21 from the 70s can attract a premium. Photo by Daniel Novello

A well maintained Corribee 21 from the 70s can attract a premium. Photo by Daniel Novello

Scum line and skid marks

Along the waterline most yachts will have a line of yellowish colour. Often referred to as a scum line. The cause is from constant washing of surface pollutants in the water. The most common pollutants that cause this stain are oil and diesel, especially if there is commercial traffic in your area or many leaking old boats pumping out dirty bilge water. Organic material such as algae or bacterial slime also play a part.

There may be other causes such as industrial effluent or high mineral content such as iron that leaks out of the rocks or soil in the area. The scum line is found on all boats either they are from freshwater lakes in Sweden or in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

Fortunately, the cure is both simple and cheap. A hardware store or a chemist will sell you muriatic acid. This is often the active ingredient in other products sold for the marine market.

Mix 1 part acid to 2 to 3 parts water. Always add acid to water-not water to acid to prevent any thermal reaction. Use a protective suit, glasses and gloves. Rinse with lots of fresh water. Make sure to hose off your trailer or cradle. The acids can be damaging to metals.

Black skid marks are usually found on the topsides from dirty fenders, rub rails on other boats or from rubbing along a pier. And on the smooth surfaces on deck and in the cockpit where guests have been stepping around without proper deck shoes.

Skid marks are often impossible to wash away as they are practically printed on to the gelcoat. If a gentle wipe of solvent such as acetone doesn't remove it, then a rubbing compound is required. 

The beauty of well maintained teak and polished winches on a Malø Yacht from Sweden. Photo by Daniel Novello

The beauty of well maintained teak and polished winches on a Malø Yacht from Sweden. Photo by Daniel Novello

Most chandlers and marines stores sell hundreds of different maintenance products. Our advice is to get hold of professional grade products. They are often not sold to consumers, but if you ask around the professional yards or boatbuilders, they might point you in the right direction.

Old gelcoat is incredibly porous. If you look at gelcoat in a microscope it looks quite like the surface of the moon. Dirt and pollutants  accumulate over years and need several steps to become clean enough to begin the next steps.

First, clean the hull with lots of fresh water to remove surface dirt and salt. Buckets of warm water and a sponge will do. Then wash it with some industrial strength soap to dissolve more dirt and grease. 

Let the hull dry off before moving to the next step. 

A Malø Yacht inside for a refit. Photo by Daniel Novello

A Malø Yacht inside for a refit. Photo by Daniel Novello


Test different rubbing compounds on a small area at the stern to check how much or how little rubbing is necessary. With a very oxidised hull, normal consumer grade rubbing compound will have little effect. Sanding gelcoat with 2 - 4000 wet and dry paper has proved to be effective, however wet sanding such a large area is time consuming.  

When rubbing, try using a spray bottle with fresh water and a drop of soap to smooth out the process.

Use a heavy duty polisher with variable RPMs. Apply a modest amount of compound and smear the pad across the area you are working on before starting the machine to avoid spillage. Move the polisher in a calm, steady criss cross movement. Keep your micro fibre cloth in your back pocket to whipe off as you move along the hull. Step back and check the results frequently.

Avoid working in direct sunlight. Overcast days are best. 

Work smarter

Although this kind of work is heavy on the arms and shoulders, there are a few tricks that helps: 

Firstly, masking off the waterline and boot stripes (unless boot top is original gelcoat) are important. The rubbing compound will eat its way through and colour and bottom paint will be spread all over the hull if you forget masking off. If you have a teak gunnel or deck, be sure to cover those as well. Teak is particularly vulnerable to stains from rubbing and polishing compounds.

Secondly, be careful to work in small areas at the time. Finish off half a square metre at a time. Use small strips of blue masking tape approximately every two feet as a visual guide. Let the areas overlap generously. When in doubt, step aside to look at the hull from a different angle or shine a torch.

Thirdly, working at the correct height is important. Not only does it relieve the upper body and arms, it also helps holding the polisher and pan it back and forth in a controlled and easy manner. It is easy to forget that the machine and the rubbing compound is supposed to do the hard work for you. Not the other way around. Switch to a new polishing pad once the compound begins to clog up. High quality wool pads can be washed and reused.

Some use a bungy or string to hang the polisher off the hand rails on deck to ease the work.

A 38 year old Boston Whaler looks like it just left the factory. Photo: Daniel Novello

A 38 year old Boston Whaler looks like it just left the factory. Photo: Daniel Novello

Two comforting thoughts during this ordeal are: 

One: it gets easier as you move through the steps. Polishing a smooth hull is lighter work than rubbing. Waxing an even smoother topside is lighter work than polishing. Wiping down the wax with clean microfibre cloths at the end is extremely satisfying. 

Two: the enjoyment of seeing your yacht look progressively prettier is motivational too.

After rubbing, degrease the whole hull with acetone before moving to the next step. 


Polishing is done to smoothen the surface after the rubbing. The rubbing compound will sometimes leave swirl marks and that has to be removed. Polishing helps eliminate rotary swirl and hologram effects. Expect to go over the hull at least twice.  Again, work in small areas and step away from the hull to look at it from different angles and in different light to see if there are any missed spots.

Make sure you polish all the stainless steel bits on deck as well. Stanchions, anchor, windlass, winches and so on. Polishing the mast, boom and mast fittings is recommended. If time allows it, consider taking all the ropes home and give them a round in the washing machine.

Take your propeller home and give it a proper polish. Whipe off the fenders carefully with some acetone on a cloth. Keep off the black part on the top or bottom of the fender as it will come off when using acetone.

Weapons of choice. Photo by Daniel Novello

Weapons of choice. Photo by Daniel Novello

Protecting the result with Marine Wax

Use big high quality microfibre cloths to put the wax on in circular movements. Make sure you repeat the movements to secure properly applied wax on to all areas. Let the wax dry completely and buff to a high gloss using clean microfibre cloths or a random orbital polisher. Overlap generously. 


Apply a fresh coat of anti foul and change the zinc. A toothbrush is handy for getting into those narrow spots around the stern tube or sail drive, trough hulls and rudder pintles.

Engine, rig and electrical systems

If you are a knowledgable mechanic and electrical wizard changing the oil, filters and going over the electrical systems and instruments is smart and gives confidence to a prospective byer. Having the rig checked is a safety issue and probably one of the most important jobs. 

Is this turning in to a full refit?

It is really up to you to consider how much time and effort you want to spend before letting your old yacht go. At a certain point, a quick makeover can turn into a costly project.

If your yacht is structurally sound, with working systems and rig, it will probably benefit from a little make over before putting her up for sale.

Another important selling point is time. A yacht from a well known brand that is well cared for, maintained to a standard and looking good will certainly sell quicker. That can be of higher motivation for some than fetching that premium. Especially if a new yacht is underway.

It is also important to have your yacht reflect what is being said in the ad. It really is a turn off to show up at a yard and the yacht has been severely over sold. 

What is certain is that a great deal is when the seller and byer are equally happy.

What will you need?

  1. A big car or trailer to remove hundreds of pounds of accumulated stuff from the boat
  2. 4 rolls of masking tape
  3. A well stocked tool box
  4. A sharp stanley knife
  5. A pen
  6. Shore power
  7. Protective clothing, gloves, eye protectors and breathing masks
  8. A roll of plastic to mask and protect teak and such
  9. Buckets
  10. Warm water
  11. A number of large sponges
  12. A vacuum cleaner
  13. 20 micro fibre cloths. Superior to twist and polishing paper
  14. Industrial strengt soap
  15. A can of Acetone 
  16. Professional grade rubbing compound
  17. Professional grade polishing compound
  18. Professional grade marine wax
  19. A marine grade lubricant
  20. A heavy duty polishing machine with variable RPM`s
  21. A number of polishing pads. Use only high quality
  22. Wet & Dry paper. 800 - 4000 grit should cover a number of areas
  23. A torch or headlamp
  24. A toothbrush or one a polishing ball for use with battery drill
  25. A ladder or platform to stand safely on
  26. If available, a compressor to blow off dust is helpful
  27. A roll of garbage bags

A note on safety.

Using products in the article may cause eye, skin, nose and throat irritation and may affect the central nervous system causing dizziness, headache or nausea. Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents may be harmful or fatal. Therefore, always use protective clothing, eye protectors and breathing masks. When working on a ladder, make sure it is securely fastened to the boat and placed firmly on flat ground. Rubbing and polishing a 40 footer alone can be hard on the muscles if you forget to work slowly with frequent brakes. 


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