Maintenance Secrets


Bilge Cleaning

I have found Simple Green to work wonders.  It is a degreaser, biodegradable, and smells great too!  Pour a generous amount, dilute with water if necessary, and let it slosh around your bilge while you are underway. 

Canvas Cleaning

If you choose to put your canvas in the washing machine, that's fine.  Whatever you do, however do not put canvas in the dryer.  It will shrink!  Your canvas supplier will love you, but you'll hate yourself for all the money you spent unnecessarily.  If you choose to scrub your canvas on the dock, use a mild detergent and a deck brush.  Put your canvas back on damp.  make sure that everything is snapped.   

Cleaning Rub-Rails

Wipe the rub-rails with acetone, then apply a silicone protectant.  I have found Clear Guard by Turtle Wax to work very well.   

Cleaning Cushions

When cleaning cushions, do so with a mild detergent, wipe them dry, and turn them on their side - with the zipper facing down, so they can drain.  Keep them protected with a good vinyl protectant.  Clear Guard works well on cushions also.  Always store your cushions out of the sun.  There is no way to bring them back after they have been sunburned. 

Cleaning Isinglass

For general maintenance, use Lemon Fresh Pledge on your plastic.  Just spray on, wipe off with a soft diaper, and you are done!  The wax in the Pledge fills the tiny scratches, and it also protects and shines.  Repeat every 3-4 weeks. 

Isinglass only lasts 3-4 years in the everyday sun.  If your isinglass is fogged, cracked, or burned, it is beyond help.  Your local canvas company can replace the isinglsass only if the canvas is still in good shape.  Also use WD-40 on your zippers each month.  It will make opening and closing much easier.  


What are those black spots all over my non-skid?  It's mildew!!  Put a cup of bleach in your soap bucket=.  Apply to decks with your Doodlebug deck brush, (available at West Marine), let it set for a few minutes, and rinse off.  Be careful not to get the bleach on your colored canvas, etc. 


Removing Mildew Off Canvas

There are quite a few products available at West Marine.  West Marine's own brand of mildew cleaner works very well.  To keep mildew out of your cabin area, you need air flow.  Open a porthole, or slide window, but nothing horizontal.  We don't want the rain coming in!  There are also very inexpensive de-humidifiers available.  Ask your West Marine sales person for the right one for your boat. 

Removing Rust Stains

To remove rust and stains on fiberglass and stanchions, use Muriatic Acid.  It should be available at any hardware store.  It works wonders, and will not harm stainless or gelcoat.  To use, add 1/2 Muriatic Acid to 1/2 water in a 5 gallon bucket.  Use a white pad on your Doodlebug deck brush, and wipe on all over the fiberglass.  This will remove all of the soot and stains from pollution and/or your local shipyard.


When using Muriatic Acid on stanchions, pour a little on the area, wait about 20 seconds, and rinse thoroughly with water.  Wipe dry and spray with WD-40 to keep the rust from coming back.  Be careful to stay upwind or wear a breathing apparatus.  Muriatic Acid is strong stuff!!

Polishing Stainless

I have found Brite Boy to be the best for keeping your stainless from rusting.  Brite Boy is also available at your West Marine store. 

Cleaning Fenders, Lifelines, and Air Vent Covers


Acetone is one of my best secrets.  One quick wipe on the hull will remove those black marks that mysteriously appear after returning to dock.  Pour some acetone on a clean, dry rag, and simply wipe off!  On fenders and lifelines, I recommend waxing after cleaning with Acetone.  They may get sticky after several applications if you do not wax.

IMPORTANT: Do not use acetone on painted surfaces!  Try Seapower Boat Wax for removing marks on painted surfaces.

Teak Cleaning

After years of cleaning teak, I have found Te-ka A&B to be the best.  It is very strong, so I highly recommend gloves!  If you have paint on your boat, I recommend Tip Top Teak Crystals.  It is not as harsh, and will not remove your paint.  West Marine has their own version of Te-ka, and theirs is biodegradable.  

When cleaning your swimstep, do not let the cleaner splash on your boat name; it may discolor.  Hose off any unwanted splashes immediately!  For cleaning, West Marine has stainless, or brass toothbrush style brushes that are great for cracks and hard-to-reach areas.  Use a medium abrasive pad.  Do not use brass, or stainless pads, as they will leave rust marks.  

Oiling Teak

Once the teak is dry, there are numerous oils to choose from.  Your choice will depend on color preference and the longevity of the product on your teak.  I have found Semco to last about 6 months, although some boaters do not like the color.  Perma-Teak may last even longer, but removing it once it has gone bad is a terrible experience!  Tip Top Teak is a popular oil. 

When applying teak oil, use a brush or rag, depending on how big the surface is.  If you spill, use a thinner to clean up.  A spill with Semco or Perma-Teak may require Acetone to clean up.  


Removing Old Varnish

Two of the best varnish removing methods are:

  • Heat gun and scraper
  • Liquid varnish stripper

The liquid stripper method is quite messy, and the stripper burns if it gets on your skin.  Strippers will also remove your painted surfaces if you are not careful.  

When using a heat gun, point it on the areas you want to strip.  When the varnish starts to bubble, remove with a scraper.  Be careful not to leave the heat gun on one spot for too long, as it will burn the wood.  Once the old varnish is removed, use the cleaning and bleaching process.  

When the wood dries, sand with 100-grit sandpaper.  You are now ready to varnish.  Never prepare BARE wood with the black colored sandpaper!



If you are new at this, always tape around the areas that are to be varnished.  Do not use regular masking tape; it last about 1/2 a day, and then you may never get it off!  I like the bright green tape that is available at West Marine.  You can leave it on about a week, so you can build up your varnish without removing the tape every day.  Make sure Mother Nature is at her best.  Varnish takes about eight hours to dry.

Apply only one (1) coat per day (unless you are using Jet Speed Varnish).  Jet Speed Varnish is fine for building coats because you can apply 3-4 coats in one day.  Never use Jet Speed Varnish for your final coat, as it has no UV protection.  Once the varnish has dried overnight, use 220 grit sandpaper between coats.  Make sure to remove all dust, dirt, etc.  You do not want anything landing on your freshly varnished teak.

After sanding, I like to wash the boat down, wipe down all areas, have an early lunch, and the boat is ready for me when I return.  Use a separate cup for your vanish.  Pour in only that which you will use, because you DO NOT want to put the unused varnish back into the can.  It will contaminate the fresh varnish.

Varnishing takes a lot of practice, but you will get the hang of it after a while.  Just remember not to apply it too think or too thin, and stop at a seam or a break in the teak.  Do not dab; give it a nice, long, smooth stroke - always going into the wet varnish.  


There are a lot of good varnishes available.  Pettit-Bak-V-Spar 2053 has very good ratings.  Interlux varnishes are very popular also.

Varnishing Mahogany

After stripping the mahogany, go through the cleaning and bleaching process.  Sand with 100-grit sandpaper.  

You will probably want to use a mahogany stain.  There are red and brown mahogany stains available.  Most mahogany wood does not look good with only varnish on it.  It tends to leave a dirty, grainy effect.  Sometimes you can get lucky, but not too often.  

Apply the stain to the cleaned, sanded wood with either a brush or rag.  Let flash (as per directions on product container).  Wipe off excess with a rag.  Now you are ready to varnish.

Interior Wood Trim

Liquid Gold works wonders.  It hides flaws, and it cleans and oils at the same time.  Do not use exterior oils on interior woods.  They contain strong vapors that may harm you.  They smell bad too!


Boats should be washed down on a weekly basis.  What I have found works very nicely.  

Supplies you will need:

  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Soap
  • Long hose
  • Doodlebug deck brush
  • Plastic nozzle
  • Acetone
  • Softscrub
  • Brite Boy
  • Squeegee
  • Diapers (yes, diapers, they are the best!)

Fill up your bucket half-way (so it's not so heavy), throw in some soap, spray your boat down, get out your Doodlebug and start scrubbing.

Use Softscrub on any marks (i.e. decks and steps).  Rinse well.  

Always wipe down stainless.  Use Brite Boy where there is rust.  Wipe and squeegee the windows before they dry.

Use Acetone on the black marks, fenders, lifelines, and air vent covers.

IMPORTANT: NEVER USE ACETONE ON CUSHIONS OR ISINGLASS!!  Acetone will remove the finish, so don't forget to wax after each use.


Black Streaks

Starbrights Black Streak Remover (available at West Marine), works great.  Stock up on this stuff!  You will really need it during the rainy months.


Wash down your boat, polish the stainless with Brite Boy, and remove black marks with Acetone.  You can wax your boat by hand, or use a high-speed polisher.  High-speed polishers are heavy, and can be very dangerous if they drop into the water.  If that happens, unplug from shore power BEFORE you go reaching for it.

Compound made by 3M is very good.  It removes oxidation and pollution.  Apply with an applicator and rub off with diapers, or use the high-speed polisher.  This is very hard work!  Using the polisher does make the job a bit easier, but you must be very careful of the boat's gelcoat.  It is a very think layer of resin.  Once it's gone, it's gone forever.  Another way of compounding your boat is to use a soft pad.  Apply the compound and before it dries, rinse off with water.  When the boat is dry, you can start waxing.  

I like the finish that Mequiars #50 gives.  Again, apply with an applicator, let dry, then remove with diapers or a high-speed polisher.  

Your boat should be waxed every six months.  You do not want your gelcoat to wear, so keep it protected.  Once the shine is gone, it is very hard to bring it back.  Do not delay!

Wash down your boat, polish the stainless with Brite Boy, and remove black marks with Acetone.  You can wax your boat by hand, or use a high-speed polisher.  High-speed polishers are heavy, and can be very dangerous if they drop into the water.  If that happens, unplug from shore power BEFORE you go reaching for it.o

A Word About Sea Gulls

No, you cannot shoot them, although you may want to!  When removing their territorial claim, soak canvas well.  Scrub with mild soap and water. 

Repeat, rpeat, repeat.

You must stay on top of things, or they will bomb your boat ten-fold.  Try putting a windsock on your antenna.  On sail boats, try running signal flags (available at West Marine) down your headstay or backstay.  

They seem to work quite well.  I think the sea gulls have caught on to the old plastic owl trick.  I even saw a gull fly off with one of my rubber snakes! 

So good luck!

A Note to the Boat Owner

Over the past three decades, I have seen many different products being used for maintaining boats.  

I hope that by sharing my boat maintenance secrets, that I can help reduce your maintenance time by more than half, as well as produce a far superior finished boat!

Over the years, I've looked into hundreds of dock boxes.  You would be surprised at the outdated cleaning supplies boaters are using.  The result is time spent on hard work that could be spent on the water.

I share these methods because they have worked best for me, and I am certain that they will do the same for you.

Remember, PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE IS THE KEY TO A BRISTOL BOAT.  Most every product in this booklet is available at your local West Marine store.  

Happy Boating,

Bonnie LaGrasso

Captain's Crew Yacht Services

NOTE: Please be sure that you read and follow all directions on each product container.  Neither the author, nor West Marine can accept responsibility for any damage which may result from the advice herein.