Cruising & Sailing Information

Boat Cleaning Business - Bilge Clean-up Tips

These areas, like any other car engine and compartment that you may come across, can either be very clean, or be extremely greasy, dirty and grimy. Remember to mention the difficulty in locating fuel, oil or water leaks on a dirty leaky bilge. You will need to take extreme caution when doing in the bilge area as there are extra switches and wiring, like you might find underneath in a car engine. It's critical to avoid damaging any of these as they are extremely expensive, roughly two to three times the cost of a comparable car part. You'll also have to be cautious of getting any of the waste water spilled out into the fresh water if you're doing it in open water. If this happens you'll be violating The Federal Clean Water Act of 1972 and your City, County and State's NPDES permit.

To clean the bilge area, you're going to need a shop vac, that is one that you don't care for very much. Probably an old one because it's going to be sucking up nasty oily water, and it's not something you want to transfer into a nice carpeted area. The hose area will get greasy and grimy. So invest, or if you've got an old one hanging around, use that shop vac for reclaiming the water that's going to be produced inside the bilge area after cleaning. Be sure to remove vacuum bag from the filter before using it to suck up any waste water. The most important thing is to constantly check the water level while working. You will need a small handheld wash brush, a sponge or two, some detail brushes for getting into some crevices, a good paint-safe degreaser, one that's diluted down to be paint-safe, some engine dressing for hoses and surrounding parts that can be dressed. You'll also need some plastic baggies or large plastic covers and large rubber bands (much like doing a car engine underneath the hood) to cover the distributor or any other sensitive electrical parts. Do not use aluminum foil to cover parts. Soap near by areas in case degreaser gets deflected onto areas of painted surfaces or aluminum heads where discoloration may occur.

Also, before beginning, realize that the boat's bilge pump can come on. Once it reaches a certain level, a float switch will send water flowing out the outside of the boat usually high up just below the rub rail. So you'll want to perhaps rig a bucket on the outside of the boat to catch anything that might spill out that you can't catch. Periodically, you're going to have to stop the progress of work to pump it out with your shop vac. Especially in those cases where you're working over water, the fines can be hefty and you do not want to pollute with the oily, greasy water that's going to be produced when cleaning a bilge. Use the minimum amount of water necessary and you'll minimize problems associated with cleaning the engine compartments and bilges in these boats. Set your pressure washer at 1200-2000 PSI and 180 degrees and work in short and accurate bursts whenever possible, if you do not have one use gunk, but if you can rent one it is a better idea.

We recommend if possible a 'surfactant' type water soluble degreaser. Make sure the area is well vented. When applying dressing make sure the engine is cool and dry. If you decide this job is too difficult expect your costs should be about $50 for single engine boats, $100 if reclaim is necessary. Twin engine boats from $80 to $100 for small boats. Large boats or extremely greasy boats from $100 to $400 depending on condition and reclaim time. Pay special attention when working in tight compartment areas because of cuts on knuckles, knees and arms. Lots of sharp edges. The fiberglass often comes apart and/or is lazy cut and unfinished. Don't stick your hands where you can not see them. Wear leather gloves.

Step By Step Processes

First, begin by covering any of the sensitive electrical parts, the distributor, any main electrical boxes, the battery switches which are sometimes found in the bilge area. Spray some paint-safe degreaser on the valve covers and on the top portions of the engine in the crevices where you'll find grease. Usually underneath or immediately underneath the sides of the engine, it'll be heavier in those areas as well. Spray and let degreaser sit for a bit to work in. Then hit with your pressure washer if available to clean up the areas sprayed with degreaser. Scrub where you're able to reach carefully, and be very careful where you place your hands or your feet, as it is sometimes a tricky area to work in but you have to be very careful not to break anything underneath. As mentioned, the parts are extremely expensive and if something goes really wrong in an engine compartment, you could possibly damage the boat so that it sinks. So, you have to be extremely careful.

Never exert too much pressure on the manifolds. Although they seem solid they may not actually be as solid as they look. If you were to break one of them the boat could take on water and sink. And that's going to create a big problem. So once again caution, and being extremely careful and sensitive to that engine area is critical. Remember as you are taking water into the bilge you need to be taking it out with the shop vac as you are cleaning just to make sure it does not get above the float level and start spilling out. Use extreme caution when doing this or the fines can be hefty on this one.

Once you have drained the water out of the bilge area, take a large nasty terry cloth towel that you've had sitting around that you don't want to take care of anymore, your nastiest towel, use that to wipe down any areas that were extremely thick with grease and/or oil. Use this towel to also dry and remove right underneath the engine areas as there will sometimes be some residual moisture. Continue on by using a water base only, never ever a solvent-based dressing, to condition and renew some of the rubber underneath in the engine area, some of the hoses, the black parts, the black areas. Once again, never ever use a solvent base as this is a flammable material and if a boat fire starts, you can cause severe injury or possible death to the passengers of the boat or you can cause the boat to sink if an engine fire takes place inside a boat. So, never ever use anything with a solvent base as a dressing in an engine compartment.

If you are using a garden hose be careful of the gallon per minute rate at which water comes out of the hose. One of our Washington competitors in Carillon Point Harbor nearly sank a 29 foot Sea Ray. He left the water running while cleaning the cockpit and dashboard. Batteries all dead, electrical system shot. He would have lost the entire boat except luckily the dock master had a bailing bucket and water pump

"Lance Winslow" - If you have innovative thoughts and unique perspectives, come think with Lance;


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