How Often Should You Clean Your Boat’s Bottom?

I’ve always thought of keeping your boat’s bottom clean as the boat owner’s version of mowing the grass. Like with mowing your grass, you may be asking, how often should you clean your boat’s bottom? The answer is, it depends – a far too common answer when it comes to many boating related questions. Factors like where you keep your boat, how you’re using it, and how long since your last coat of anti-fouling paint was applied, will all be used to determine how often you should have your boat’s bottom cleaned, whether you do it yourself or hire a boat bottom cleaning service.

Marine Growth Varies By Location

Where you keep your boat is perhaps the biggest factor when it comes to determining how often your boat will need to have its bottom cleaned. In general, areas with colder water, or higher concentrations of fresh water, will produce slower growth rates of the marine organisms that foul a boat’s bottom. With that said, you can take comfort in knowing that marine growth, much like your grass, will slow down during the winter. Since you’re not likely to change latitudes or be able to move up river just to save a few hundred dollars a year on bottom cleaning, let’s look at other more local factors that affect marine growth rate on your boat’s hull.

Within a given region there are some factors that affect growth rate as well. A boat kept in an area where there is a significant amount of tidal flow will in general experience more growth on its hull than one kept in an area where there is less flow. Since most of the marine organisms that attach themselves to your boat’s hull are filter feeders, an area with more current will have more flow and thus more food available to them. Waste water runoff, in the form of freshwater from rainfall can affect growth rates as well. On the one hand fresh water in general inhibits growth however runoff can contain nutrients that will promote growth of micro-organisms upon which the growth on your hull feeds so it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In general however, lots of marine growth in an area is a sign of a healthy ecosystem as they filter the water and provide food for a number of other species. The issue of course is they also cause all sorts of problems when they attach themselves to your boat’s hull.

Should you select your marina based on tidal flow and the possibility of increased bottom cleanings? Probably not. As our guide on boat slip selection (How Much Does a Boat Slip Cost) shows, slip prices are expensive based on a variety of factors but rarely will you receive a discount because a marina has high tidal flow and consequently your boat will require more frequent cleanings there. It is however something to consider both for the increased bottom cleaning that your boat will require and the potential challenges it may pose when docking your boat.

How Are You Using Your Boat?

How you use your boat will affect how often you need to have its bottom cleaned. If you’re the owner of a racing sailboat, you know how important having an absolutely clean hull is as every speck of marine growth causes drag that could be the difference between winning and losing a race. For meticulous boat owners, it’s not uncommon to keep your boat on a two week cleaning schedule. For the average recreational boater, cleaning your boat once a month is probably adequate. One thing to be sure of is that any growth that does develop between cleanings has not attached itself to your boat’s propellers or water intakes for the engine as that could cause damage to your vessel’s engine.

When Was Your Boat’s Bottom Last Painted?

Bottom paints become less effective as they age. The paint wears off through multiple cleanings and time, the chemicals that prevent marine growth, mainly copper, leach into the surrounding water by design to prevent growth, and as they do the paint remaining on your boat has less copper content in it. For a more in depth look at the chemistry of boat bottom paints check out this article by BoatUS.

All of the above mentioned factors that determine marine growth rates on your boat’s hull will affect how effective your boat’s bottom paint is. Two boats could be painted simultaneously and after a couple years have bottom paint in very different conditions with one still functioning and the other being ineffective at inhibiting marine growth. To keep things short, in areas of high growth, your paint requires more often and more intensive cleanings which will reduce the effective life of your boat’s bottom paint. What’s the best way to know the condition of your boat’s bottom pain? Talk to your boat’s hull cleaner, they’ll be able to give you regular updates complete with pictures of your boats hull and suggest the appropriate bottom paint for your area when it comes time to haul it out and have another coat of paint applied.

Developing a Bottom Cleaning Schedule

BoatEasy offers hundreds of local boat bottom cleaning divers that specialize in professionally maintaining thousands of boats across the US. Find a diver in your area that fits your needs and develop a schedule that’s appropriate for your area and how you’re using your boat. Realize that divers are charging primarily for their time and labor, a boat that was cleaned a few weeks ago takes significantly less time and effort to clean than one that hasn’t been cleaned in months or years. While it may seem tempting to skimp on cleanings and only have your boat’s bottom cleaned once every few months, you will likely end up paying more for each of these cleanings than if you’d had the boat on a regular cleaning schedule since they take a diver significantly more time and energy to complete.

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