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While most interior maintenance work can be done when a boat is afloat, some jobs such as servicing the seacocks have to be done ashore. It makes sense to do any major interior repairs and improvements with the boat hauled out in the boatyard.

A boat that is ashore for the winter should be kept as clean and dry as possible to prevent the growth of mould, which thrives in damp conditions. The more equipment, provisions and soft furnishings that can be taken off the boat and kept at home the better, which may mean lugging several car loads to and fro. This is not so easy for boat owners who live hundreds of miles from their boat, but well worth doing if they are only half an hour away. Emptying the boat will make cleaning and servicing easier and is strongly advised for those planning to do any work on their boat’s interior.

It helps to make a plan of what needs doing in the interior after it has been emptied, cleaned and you have been able to do a thorough inspection. You should give priority to the essential maintenance and repair work that can only be done with the boat ashore, estimating how much time this is going to take and the materials that will be required. I then tend to limit myself to one major project per winter – for example, re-wiring, engine overhaul, interior painting and varnishing. It all depends on how much time, help and resources you have available.


It is important to get the rubber gloves on and thoroughly clean a boat’s interior once it is ashore and emptied – a chore that will be certainly worth the effort. Failure to do so will inevitably result in unpleasant smells and mould developing while the boat is ashore in the boatyard.

A fresh water clean with a mild detergent or a white vinegar and fresh water mix will get rid of salt residues on all interior surfaces in the cabin that have been exposed to sea water. If they are left, the salt crystals will absorb moisture as the weather cools and encourage damp and mildew. These are the areas to focus on:

  • Heads – cleaning the heads should be done before haul out. The cause of bad odours can come from the pipework as well the marine toilet itself, which is why always flushing the system really well is so necessary to ensure no foul water is left standing in the pipes for long periods. If this was not done effectively enough when afloat then flushing a mix of white vinegar and fresh water through the system (to remove scale) works well and is also environmentally friendly – but no one is going to thank you for pumping anything through your marine toilet system when the boat is ashore unless you have a holding tank. Baking soda is also good for cleaning. Alternatively, a more pricey option is to use a purpose designed product such as Ecoworks Marine toilet cleaner. Remember not to use domestic toilet cleaners, drain cleaner or bleach as they can damage marine toilet pipework and kill aerobic bacteria, as well as the environment.
  • Galley – clean inside the galley cupboards, the cooker and the fridge or cool box. Check the drains of fridges and coolers are clear as bacteria can gather in them.
  • Bilges – clean the bilges, again an unpleasant chore but well worth the effort. If the bilges are in a poor and smelly state because of leaking engine oil or fuel, then start by mopping up with old absorbent rags and dispose of these in a waste oil bin. If there are persistent leaks coming from the engine, then putting a drip tray in the bilge under the engine will at least contain the oil until the leak can be fixed. Then use a biodegradable bilge cleaner product such as Starbrite Heavy Duty Bilge Cleaner or Bilgex. Such products are not cheap but they will save a lot of elbow grease. Rinse well with fresh water and dry.
  • Ventilation – lifting the cabin sole boards and leaving cupboard doors open will encourage air to circulate.

Keeping the interior dry

Boat interiors that suffer from damp will benefit from having a mains powered dehumidifier to keep the cabin dry. These are very effective if you have access to power in the boatyard. If no power is available then it is worth buying some disposable dehumidifier packs which use calcium chloride crystals that absorb moisture. These last up to two months and then need replacing.

Environmentally friendly cleaning products

The use of non-toxic cleaning products are widely recommended for boat use. Deciding which cleaning product to use can be daunting, not helped by the fact that some are very expensive. Low cost alternatives have been in use for generations, are readily available and won’t break the bank:

  • General cleaner – make a cleaning paste by mixing baking soda and white vinegar.
  • Bleach – hydrogen peroxide.
  • Scouring powder – baking soda.
  • Floor cleaner – ½ cup of white vinegar in 5 litres of water.
  • Window cleaner – 1 cup of white vinegar in 2½ litres of warm water.
  • Varnish cleaner – 50:50 white vinegar and water mix.
  • Shower cleaner – wet surface, sprinkle baking soda, rub with scouring cloth.
  • Heads cleaner – pour in baking soda, scrub with a brush.
  • Chrome cleaner/polish – use apple cider vinegar to clean; baby oil to polish.
  • Fibreglass stain remover – clean with baking soda.
  • Mildew remover – mix a paste using equal parts of lemon juice and salt.
  • Wood polish – mix three parts olive oil with 1 part vinegar.

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