We talk a lot about boat interiors, after all, space is a premium, and there are some brilliant designs and wonderful innovations on your average narrowboat, that make the most of every nook and cranny; but what about the outside?

Having a boat painted is an expensive business, around £100 per foot - That’s £3,000 for a 30ft boat, and narrowboats don’t come much shorter than that. Keeping your paintwork in good condition is as important on your boat as it is on a car or a house. It prevents rust and water damage to the vessel, which could result in rather costly repairs. Also, while you’re cleaning the outside, you can give the boat a good check-up, to see if there are any little problems beginning to appear - this gives you time to tackle them, before they become BIG problems.

If you’re selling your boat, you’re going to need to take photos of the outside as well as the inside. You should really make sure it looks as clean and sparkly as possible, after all, who wants to buy a grubby un-cared for boat?

Here are our top 10 tips for keeping the coachwork clean:

1. Start at the top (and by that we mean the roof) and work down - sounds obvious doesn't it? But folk often forget the roof, dismissing it as a storage area. It’s a good idea to take everything off the roof when you do this too, so that you can have a good look and make sure there is no rust starting to bubble through the paint (caused by water being trapped next to the paint - perhaps by wet ropes).

2. Sweep every nook a cranny with a soft bristled brush before getting out the bucket - dust and dirt will scratch your paint work if it gets rubbed in with a sponge. Don’t forget the front and rear decks and around the ropes - lots of muck can get trapped there.

3. Tip the boat up for easier access to the off-side (the side of the boat not next to the bank/pontoon). I can hear you thinking, ‘What?!’. I don’t mean a lot, an inch or two really will help. If you have moveable ballast then slide it all to one side. Alternatively head inside and move all your furniture over to one side. This means when you’re walking down the outside gunwale of the boat won’t be trying to tip you into the water as much!

4. Rinse well, before getting the soap out - it gets rid of more dust and softens any stubborn mud and other muck making the whole job easier. You can use canal water for this job, don’t waste clean water on it. Use your broom to sweep water off the roof, then rinse the sides and the decks - a watering can with a sprinkling ‘rose’ is very useful for rinsing.

5. Use a biodegradable soap - it’s all going to end up in the canal, and you don’t want to poison the wildlife! The best soaps to use are cars shampoos, they don’t have detergent in,so won’t damage the paint. I have also heard of people using hair conditioner with lanolin in, instead of soap, apparently it’s good for added shine and also helps prevent dirt/dust/water from sticking to the paint in the future - who knew?

6. Get a wash mitt or two (try this one - it has a ‘noodle’ side for paintwork & a mesh side for the windows) - saves you dropping your cloth or sponge in the canal!

7. Use the two-bucket method - Soap in one and clean water in the other. Every time you need to re-soap your cloth/mitt/sponge,rinse it in the clean water to get any grit and dirt out, then dip it in the suds - stops your washing water getting all filthy & helps prevent scratches. You can change your ‘clean bucket’ as and when you need to.

8. Rinse then dry your paintwork afterwards.Yes it’s a bit of a pain, but it means you won’t get any streaks, and your paintwork will look lovely. You can use a car chamois, or a soft microfibre cloth for drying - you may need more than one.

9. Don’t forget the gunwales - all the dirt from the rest of the boat will have landed on them. Get your soft bristled brush out again and sweep them, then rinse them, you can just use canal water again, I would.

10.Scrub down to the water-line. All boats get a bit of green weed around them when they have been in the water. Stiff broom time, just give it a scrub at the waterline & hey-presto, no more green slime.


Polish your brass, every last bit of it! It makes the perfect finishing touch & people know a boat is loved if the brass is shiny. I would recommend Peek, it’s a paste so easier to apply than traditional Brasso, and a lot less chance of accidental spillage - plus you can use it on a wide range of metals and on fibreglass too!

If you're cleaning a boat in preparation for sale you may like our free e-book How to Sell a Boat: The Ultimate Guide.

This is a guest post by Corinne Thomsett – Hotel boat operator turned business blogger, now providing VA and social media services to small businesses, on canals and dry land!

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