What is the easiest way to keep your boat clean? Don’t bring dirt onto your boat in the first place. No cordless vacuum or cleaning products will do better. But it’s not easy—especially if you cruise with kids or pets.
Challenge of Keeping Your Boat Clean
Boat life is clean, right? After all, you’re surrounded by water. Where does all that dirt come from?
Well, first, unless you’re in a boatyard it’s probably not actual dirt. But that doesn’t mean your boat at anchor doesn’t end up filthy.
You carry sand back from the beach. Wet towels dry and shed salt. Pets shed fur. Humans shed skin and hair which becomes dust.
And don’t forget that on many vessels, you access your engine through your living quarters.
When you lived on land, cleaning is not a big deal. With unlimited supplies and electricity, housekeeping is easy. You can even move to another room to escape the mess.
But if your home is only 40 feet long and 12 feet wide (or less, in the case of my cruising boat) the smells, dog hair, and sand can be a real bummer.
So what’s the secret to keeping your boat interior clean?
Keep Dirt Off the Boat From the Start
You don’t have to clean what never arrives on your boat. Here are my best tips for keeping mess from happening to begin with.
Remove Your Shoes
Do you really need shoes on your boat? If you take them off in the dinghy, you’ll leave all the sand caught in the treads. And they’ll be there waiting for you the next time you head to shore. A plastic shoe box, dry bag, or good old plastic big will keep them from getting soaked.
Of course, many of us become cruisers with the intention of never wearing shoes again. If that describes you, take this extra step.
Rinse Everyone’s Feet
A quick rinse of your feet from a ladder or swim platform will keep you from bringing more dirt onto the boat.
Remember your furry crew. Some cruisers rinse all four of a tiny dog’s paws in the water before lifting them out of the dinghy. Please don’t try this in alligator country.
For larger dogs, rinse dirt paws with a spray bottle or Lunatec pressurized sprayer (Amazon). Or buy a fancy foot-washing cup (Amazon) with soft “teeth” to scrape mud and other dirt off your pup’s paws.
You can even teach your dog to walk through a shallow pan filled with water before continuing over a walk-off mat. Kids find this a fun way to rinse their feet as well.
Contain potential messes
Use a project box to contain potential spills. Whether you’re touching up bright work or changing an impeller, keeping your supplies in a project tray keeps the mess at bay.
I used the sturdy box that my MacBook came in. But if I were starting fresh, I’d probably invest in a restaurant bussing tray (Amazon). It’s also a great way to keep from losing track of small parts.
Carolyn already posted a great post on keeping drink stores from causing a mess. So I won’t repeat that here. Go check it out.
Groom your Pets
Grooming your dog will decrease shedding. it also keeps them from bringing more debris onboard.
My best tip? Add grooming tools to your away bag in the dinghy. Dogs with an undercoat will benefit from a de-shedding tool like the Furminator (Amazon). It will remove a lot of fur that would normally become soft tumbleweeds blowing across your sole.
A regular soft brush will also help you find burrs and twigs caught in your pup’s fur.
Leave Smells Behind
You may not roll in dead fish. And hopefully your kids don’t either. But I bet your pup finds it very enticing.
We kept prepackaged alcohols wipes in our dinghy back to wipe off my dog Honey’s coat before returning to the boat. A washcloth and Isopropyl alcohol cut in half by water will do the same job with less waste.
Keep your Dinghy Clean
Don’t forget to clean the sand out of the bottom of your dinghy. A wet sponge does a pretty good job.
There’s no point in doing all these other things if you pick up more sand when you step off the dinghy.
Make Your Boat Easier to Clean
You have done everything to keep dog hair, sand, and other dirt off the boat. But if despite your best efforts you still get dirt and sand on the boat, at least you can make it easier to clean.
Protect your settee cushions with washable slipcovers or throw blankets. It’s easier to toss coverings into the marina washing machine than to clean your boat upholstery.
Is it time to replace your existing upholstery? Then consider materials that hold up better to dog hair and grime.
Modern, synthetic fabrics hold up well to pets and resist water and mildew. Sailrite has some ideas for the best fabrics for homes with pets. Check it out before you order new upholstery fabric.
Finally, think carefully about what you put on your boat floor.
A hard surface like a teak and holly sole is easier to clean with a dustpan and broom. But revarnishing it is much harder. You have to decide which is a better option for you.
If you have pets on board, a carpet will protect your floors from nails. But it will require a vacuum or a good shake to get rid of dirt.
The easiest way to shake sand out of a heavy blanket or carpet is to tie it to a halyard with a sheet bend and run it up the mast. An hour in the wind will leave it clean. Just be sure you’re confident in your knot.
Invest in Good Tools
The final way to keep your boat tidy is to invest in the tools that will make it easy to clean.
I relied on a mini Shop-Vac (Amazon) to clean up dog hair. It’s not sexy. But it does the job. And it also works for cleaning up wet messes.
But if you can afford one, owners rave about the Dyson Rechargeable Vacuum (Amazon).
A cheap and easy way to clean a hard floor is by using a wet/dry mop (Amazon). It’s a fast way to pick up dust and dog hair. But if you have sand in the boat, pushing it around will just scratch up your floor.
Finally, there’s one more way to make sure your boat looks clean to you.
Lower Your Expectations
Did you begin cruising with dreams of mopping, vacuuming, and dusting? Is there nothing you love more than cleaning?
Then you’re set. You’ll find hours of amusement trying to keep your boat clean.
But if you live aboard because you want to enjoy nature, see new places, and spend time outdoors, then stop expecting your boat to be spotless.
So let the sand and dog hair pile up. Don’t complain about the sand in your berth. (Pro tip: think of it as an easy way to exfoliate dry skin while you’re sleeping.)
No one ever went to their grave wishing they hadn’t wasted so many hours watching dolphins when they could have been cleaning instead.
Pamela Douglas became a member of the Boat Galley Team while she was cruising aboard her Pacific Seacraft 34. Her first mate was Honey the golden retriever. She has recently created The Perfect Boat Dog course available through the Boat Galley. Learn everything you need to know about cruising with dogs.