Nine tips to help you survive even the nastiest boat projects. DIY-ing it isn't always pretty but doesn't have to be awful, either!

Surviving Dirty Nasty Boat Projects

Dirty, nasty, horrible boat projects. For us, it was removing the old bottom paint . . . about half of it was literally falling off. More comes off relatively easily. Other, smaller patches are attached as firmly as if it were made of 5200.

These are the type of projects that the glossy cruising mags don’t go into detail about. Things like scraping the paint from the underside of caatamaran hulls. Repowering. Patching holes in fiberglass. Recovering from sinking (yes, this happened to friends). I’m sure there are others.

A few of our tips on surviving projects like this that go on for more than a day or two:

1. Set a Quitting Time. Set a time that you’ll quit work and start cleaning up your work and yourself, and be realistic about how long it will take. For us, it’s 5 o’clock. That gives us time to take the dog for a short walk around the yard (and us an excuse to walk a bit and stretch back out), put things away and get a shower before the mosquitoes move in a little after 6:30 and require us to be inside the boat. That’s also time to have beer and relax for a few minutes before fixing dinner.

2. Find a Clean Spot Outside the Boat to Put Shower Stuff and Clean Clothes. Since our car is here, I put my clean up stuff in the car to avoid a trip into the boat when I’m at my dirtiest. When we haven’t had the car, I’ve just put everything into a bag and found a place to put it.

3. Keep Your Work Clothes in a Bag. Our work clothes are absolutely filthy, with bits of flaking bottom paint all over. I don’t want them near anything else. We both put ours in an old plastic grocery bag as soon as we take them off in the shower room. This makes a huge difference in keeping the mess out of the boat. We’re now both wearing Tyvek bunny suits and our work clothes still get filthy.

4. Cover the Settees with Old Sheets or Towels. When we come aboard for lunch and a bit of a break, we’re pretty dirty but don’t want to take the time to take a shower just then. I have a couple of old sheets that I throw over the settees so we don’t transfer our mess to them when we sit down. At the end of the day, when we’re “clean” again, I take them up and keep them in a plastic bag.

5. Keep Meals Simple. After a day of hard physical labor, you don’t feel like cooking. Or at least I don’t. Cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and one-pan skillet meals for dinner (we don’t want to grill since we’d have to quit earlier to avoid the mosquitoes). Single serving containers of applesauce and fruit are great as healthy snacks that take no prep. Salsa and chips are our usual quitting time snack with a beer – again, virtually no prep.

6. Take Care of Cuts, Scrapes and Blisters. It’s important to keep cuts and such clean and antibiotic ointment on them so you don’t get infections. We do this every day after our showers and again in the morning before starting work for the day. Cover cuts with antibiotic ointment and Band-Aids to keep it in place. Read a great tip another cruiser gave me about how to keep Band-Aids on.

7. Wear Old Glasses. If you wear glasses and you’re doing a really nasty project with paint, epoxy or chemicals, you don’t want to wear your “good” glasses. Stuff is just too likely to get on them or possibly scratch them. Wear your backup pair. If you normally wear contacts, it’s a good idea not to wear them when doing projects like this – if anything gets into your eyes, contacts will only make it that much worse. (Of course, also wear good eye protection – even with glasses and goggles, I still get a few few pieces of crud in my eyes every day.)

8. Soft Nail Brush. We’ve found that a soft nail brush in the shower is invaluable for scrubbing down our whole body, not just nails. We got these from Amazon for other things, discovered they were really too soft to be good as small scrub brushes, but perfect for scrubbing skin. We each ended up taking one for the shower.

9. Trekr Wash Cloths. Sister product to the Scrubr dish cloths that I like so much, these have just enough coarseness to get my face and the rest of my body clean after using the brush, and it rinses totally clean very easily (it’s made of a soft plastic that’s very comfortable on your skin). Get them on Amazon.

Got other tips for surviving these really nasty projects? Nothing’s going to make them fun, but little things go a long ways in making things tolerable. Leave a note with what you do!

Nine tips to help you survive even the nastiest boat projects. DIY-ing it isn't always pretty but doesn't have to be awful, either!

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  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 22 October 2014 Reply

    Treat it as a workout…Dont have to walk today. Hope boat maintenance in exotic places goes well and you are back on the water soon enjoying your gal.

  • Rosemary Leone
    Posted at 22 October 2014 Reply

    I can relate. We had to replace our holding tank in the boat this year. Once the tank was out, I had the fun task of cleaning the bilge and then painted the bilge to freshen it all up. It’s awesome now, but some days don’t you wonder how you really explain the reality of what we do to maintain our boats to those that don’t have boats.

  • Susie
    Posted at 23 October 2014 Reply

    Great ideas Carolyn as always! Here are a few additional ones:
    Insist on a few nights in a hotel with a pool – it makes relaxing after a hard days work so much more pleasurable and you can dream about it all day!
    We carry with us a set of blue workman’s overalls which protect clothes better than the tyvek ones – infact you can get away with just your underwear and perhaps a t-shirt under them if you sew the pocket slits up! Mine are now ancient and beloved, they wash up well after use and I wouldn’t dream of wearing anything else for anti-fouling or for climbing in places where there is unprotected fibreglass like our aft services area under the cockpit.

    • Bliss
      Posted at 24 October 2014 Reply

      Husband & I just got a pair. Duh. Why did I not think of this before!!

  • Bliss
    Posted at 24 October 2014 Reply

    I would add:
    10. Decide on a level of “quality” before beginning. I am a perfectionist. DH is a … It’s fine just leave it- ist. 🙂 We have to discuss when good is good enough before a project begins to avoid mid project discussions and after project disappointment.
    Love the hotel pool idea!

  • Bill J
    Posted at 28 October 2014 Reply

    Re “wear old glasses”
    How about a layer of “saran-wrap” over the glasses to protect them from paint and, maybe, scratches.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 28 October 2014 Reply

      Might help but I’m not sure I could get it smooth enough to really see through.

  • Tim V
    Posted at 28 October 2014 Reply

    I’ve found that UVEX Genesis safety glasses with prescription inserts are a great solution. The tinted ones are excellent as sun glasses as well. When the lenses or frames get damaged just replace for a few bucks and continue to reuse the inserts.

  • Jim Watson
    Posted at 30 October 2014 Reply

    New to the group, so I’m unsure what has been discussed before. If it’s a grimy or greasy area your working in, I was turned onto Krud Kutter this summer. Lowes sells it and I’ve got a bottle on the boat and a bottle at home in the kitchen. Those nasty black streaks that form on the hull from being stored out side? One spray and they wipe right off. It’s also great for cleaning the spark arresters on a carbureted engine,

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 30 October 2014 Reply

      Hi Jim and welcome! Yeah, we’re big fans of Krud Kutter. Actually bought 3 GALLONS to clean the exterior after the summer in storage. Current job is scraping all the bottom paint off without harming the gelcoat, as we have no blisters and want to keep it that way. 🙂

  • Alex Tarlecky
    Posted at 01 November 2014 Reply


    Go-Jo hand cleaner is a must have for cleaning your hands and feet of soil, paint, epoxy, etc. Be sure to get the real stuff not the knock offs!

    Also, a scouring stone like this one makes quick cleaning of even harder, thicker dirt:

  • Joyce Johnson
    Posted at 05 May 2015 Reply

    I like to use baby oil on my skin before painting to help the paint splatters come off. Also wrap your hair in a bandana. We wrap the paint roller in an old shopping bag in between coats of paint. Wear medical gloves to keep your hands clean.

  • Nina Huether
    Posted at 07 January 2016 Reply

    I always wear my foulie boots! They give me good support, protection, keep the critters away and I can scrub them clean at the end of the day. After project is complete, apply 303 Aerospace Protectant to restore them to new. Great ideas everyone!

  • Tami
    Posted at 04 December 2016 Reply

    I use a 3M ScotchBrite pad as a scrub pad and not just for boat work. Excellent exfoliating for elbows and heels 🙂

  • Tony Gariepy
    Posted at 04 December 2016 Reply

    The value of experience!

    Posted at 04 December 2016 Reply

    1. Buy a box of surgical gloves for painting, epoxies and fixing toilets. 2. Plastic bags for keeping paint and brushes fresher. That bottom paint really sucks. I use baby oil to clean off face splatters.

  • Michael Matthews
    Posted at 12 September 2017 Reply

    What’s the status of your boat?

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