How to Clean the Exterior of Your Pontoon Boat Like a Pro
Boating is truly one of my favorite past times. I look forward to summer for many reasons, but launching the pontoon boat is number one on the list.
Like with any hobby, there is some work involved in maintaining and caring for your vessel. To get the boat ready, there’s a process that my husband and I have nailed down, and it helps us stay ahead of maintenance through the season.
Once I get through my boat accessories checklist, and make sure the engine is in top condition, it’s time to clean the boat.
I suggest giving the exterior a deep clean right after you pull it in the fall, that way you’re not left with a mess after it’s sat in storage through the winter. This will make spring cleanup a lot easier.
It’s not the most glamorous part of being a boat owner, but I assure you, it’s necessary. I’m going to give you my tips for cleaning the exterior of your pontoon boat. These tips are based on my recommendation as a life-long boater and member of the Barletta Boats team.
This is not based on one brand or vendor recommendation. I suggest checking with your pontoon manufacturer to make sure any cleaning suggestion you read here is not going to harm your boat or damage the integrity of your warranty.
How to Clean Your Pontoon’s Exterior
Cleaning the exterior of your pontoon boat is especially important as soon as it’s pulled out of the water at the end of the season. The easiest way to clean the exterior is while it’s up on the trailer and sitting out of the water.
As I mentioned, I suggest deep cleaning the exterior after you pull the boat at the end of the season, this way you should not have to do much before you launch again in the spring. Either way, cleaning the boat after it's been in storage is not a bad idea.
Not all storage facilities will have this issue, but where we store our boat for the winter is accessible to birds. Birds flying overhead mean one thing, I'm sure you can guess what they leave behind. Here are some tips on how to clean the exterior of your pontoon boat.
Something I want to explain immediately is that aluminum toons will oxidize from exposure to water. It doesn’t matter if your boat sits on a lift or is docked at the pier, you will see some discoloration over time.
Although oxidation is totally normal, you can help keep the toons looking newer longer by regularly cleaning them. It’s important to clear the toons of marine growth as that will cake on over time and lead to harsher discoloration and has the potential to hinder the boat’s performance.
An easy way to clean the toons after a long season on the water is to power wash them as they sit out of the water on a trailer. It’s always good practice to remove any marine growth at the end of a season.
This can be done with natural toons or toons coated with Barletta’s toon protectant called Metal Jacket. If any aftermarket coatings other than Metal Jacket have been applied, you must follow the vendor guidelines for cleaning.
Natural or non-coated toons can be acid washed as well. If you opt for this type of cleaning, make sure your toons do not have any protective coating on them. This should be done by a professional marine service if possible.
If your toons do have a protective coating on them such as Metal Jacket, Sharkhide, or Vantage Wrap, only use mild soap and water along with soft bristle brushes or sponges and check with the brand to see if power washing is safe. This type of protectant will help slow the oxidation process, but it’s still inevitable.
Throughout the season while the boat is in the water, it’s a good idea to clean the toons whenever possible. We use a soft bristle brush or sponge to scrub down the toons while we’re floating at the sandbar.
It’s a quick way to clear the toons of any marine growth and to stay ahead of having to deep clean them at the end of the season. I definitely recommend taking the time to do this once in a while if possible.
Something that not many pontoon owners know is that a buildup of marine growth can affect the boat’s performance. You can lose an average of 7MPH due to marine growth buildup, so keeping the toons clean has many benefits.
The aluminum side panels on your pontoon boat will get dust, debris, water spots, bird droppings, and other environmental messes throughout the season. It’s important to clean the exterior and interior of the panels regularly.
If you start to see chalky buildup or black streaking, this is a sign that you should clean the rails and panels immediately. Also, bird droppings have the potential to damage the paint if left on for too long. These are a couple reasons regular cleanings are beneficial.
The best method to clean aluminum panels is to use mild soap and water with a sponge or soft cloth. Mild detergents like Tide can be used by diluting 1 cup to 5 gallons of water. Apply with a sponge, soft cloth or soft bristle brush and be sure to rinse with water right away.
While some vendors say you can power wash large areas of the panels, I do not recommend it. It’s too risky as the potential to peel paint and dent the aluminum is too high. Just the same, you should avoid any harsh chemicals such as acetone, xylene, gasoline, or anything abrasive.
Sometimes products like Goo-Gone or Goop seem to be safe, but when you check the ingredients they can contain acetone which can compromise the paint. If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to fix small paint spots, check with your dealer to see if the boat manufacturer offers a touch up paint kit that you can buy.
You might also want to do a quick dusting of the exterior panels and rails. Just like a car, dust will collect on the surface, so using something like an automotive, soft cotton duster will do the trick.
If you have a pontoon boat that has fiberglass anywhere on the exterior, there are a few good practices to keep in mind when cleaning.
It’s not typical to power wash or acid wash the fiberglass sides since they don’t sit below the waterline and accumulate marine growth. Mild soap and water with soft bristle brushes or sponges works best.
It is a good idea to wax your fiberglass sided boat every season. Not only will it help keep everything clean but also protects the gelcoat from fading.
Over time even waxed fiberglass panels will start to fade, but the beauty about fiberglass and gelcoat is that it can be buffed (and wet sanded in extreme cases) and look like new again.
Keep it Clean
Keeping your pontoon boat’s exterior clean and clear from marine growth will have an impact on performance and appearance over time. I strongly suggest a deep cleaning after each boating season right after the boat is pulled out of the water.
As I mentioned, you should expect to see some oxidation on the toons, but keeping them clean after each season will help tame the change in appearance. Talk to your dealer about cleaning options if they are the ones pulling and storing the boat for you.
Remember, these are my suggestions as a long time boater, pontoon boat owner, and Barletta Boats team member. Check with your dealer, the boat manufacturer, and your manual to make sure these cleaning methods are safe for your pontoon boat.
You could also check with your boat’s manufacturer to see if they have resources online that will help answer any questions about cleaning the exterior of the boat. Barletta has an Owner Resource Center for all things related to the ownership experience. Your brand might also offer something like this.