How to Detail a Boat – 7 Steps to Boat Detailing

Boats can be a challenge to detail properly due to the unique gel coat applied to the exterior. Gel coats provide the very smooth & shiny look that gives them that mirror-like effect on the water. Over time, exposure to the sun’s UV rays combined with water pollution, animal droppings, corrosion from salt and other organic buildups will fade & discolor the gel coat. Professional detailers should follow the following steps to properly polish a boat.

How to detail a boat

Exterior Boat Detailing

Step 1: Wash & Clay Treatment

The first step to every boat detail is a deep clean of the exterior & interior to remove any loose debris, grime and pollutants. Start from the top of the boat on the inside & work your way down and out until you reach the bottom. Use Detail King’s Black Cherry Soap, which is specially formulated to remove dirt & grime. Only wash segments at a time to prevent streaks appearing later.

To remove heavy waterline stains, use Detail King’s Ex-Con, which is a more aggressive cleaner and is good for removing the algae and scum on the exterior of the boat.

If you find black rubber marks from the docks, use a small amount of acetone with a white rag to wipe those smudges clear.

Step 2: Correct Exterior Gel Coat Finish

Once the boat is squeaky clean, we can get to work on repairing the boat’s gel coat. Gelcoating is the unique process marine vehicles apply to the fiberglass layer to keep the surface smooth and shiny. Gel coats are extremely durable, but as with any exterior surface requires restoration.

Detail King recommends a two-step paint correction process; first you want to compound with a product like our Vibra Cut II to remove the oxidation and surface imperfections, and then polish with a product like our Blue Diamond to bring out a high shine and vibrant color.

Again only working in segments at a time. Be sure to cover the hull and full bottom surface area.

Step 3: Apply Paint Protection

Finally, wrap up the exterior by applying our Premium Polymer Boat Sealant, which provides 6 – 12 months protection. Our Premium Polymer Boat Sealant offers the most advanced UV protection on the market. This will keep the paint looking better longer and also make the cleaning process afterwards easier and quicker.

Interior & Cabin Boat Detailing

Most boat interior compartments can be washed at the same time as the exterior (once all carpets and loose areas are removed or covered). We recommend drying the interior first to prevent water spots appearing on the seats or glass.

Step 4: Deep Clean Seats & Compartments

Since the interior floor has been washed & scrubbed, the first step in the cabin is to deep clean the seats & storage compartments.

Detail King has the perfect product for every nook & cranny you may find in the boat’s cabin, for example:

  • Product
  • This amazing cleaning agent can be used on many surfaces on the interior of the boat – use this on vinyl, carpet, plastic, etc. to clean heavily soiled surfaces
  • Excellent for cleaning carpeted areas of the boat
  • This is a great cleaner for all glass and acrylic windows
  • Microfiber Towels

    There are multiple towel types to use for a boat, CleaningDryingGlass.

  • Excellent conditioner/protectant to keep vinyl seating surfaces from drying out and fading
  • Ceramic protection for the carpeted areas of the boat


Step 5: Correct & Protect Interior

While you save time washing the inside at the same time as the exterior, you’ll make it up while polishing & protecting the interior surfaces.

Step 6: Polish All Metal & Clean Glass

Take a breath, you are almost there. Now that all hard surfaces have been waxed & polished, it’s time to restore that pristine shine to all metal with our Medallion Metal Polish.

Then move quickly through all windows and glass with RTU Glass Cleaner and our Black Diamond glass towel, which eliminates all streaks on the first go.

Step 7: Final Inspection

Give the boat a final buff with a clean microfiber towel to remove any excess wax, chemicals, dirt from your shoes, etc. Walk around the entire boat with Detail King’s Final Touch Ultra to spot check any areas that could use a final polishing before the customer sees the finished product.


How do you wax a boat?

Detailers should use a gear driven or long throw polisher along with a wool pad & our Vibra Cut II that are safe for a boat’s gel coating & strong enough to apply real protection against the sun & water. Start at the top at the back and work towards the bottom of the hull.

How long does a boat wax last?

Typically boat owners should wax or buff the gel coat once every 3 – 4 months due to breakdown & oxidation from the water and sun. Detail King’s Premium Polymer Boat Sealant lasts 6 – 12 months.

Should you wax the boat’s hull?

Protecting the gel coat on the hull and bottom of the boat is the most important part of the exterior surface. Proper maintenance will remove any oxidation and barnacle buildup from time in the water. Eliminating rust & water stains will not only help the vehicle run smoothly, but also increase its resale value.

How much should a boat detail cost?

Basic boat detailing services should include a wash, wax and interior cleaning. Most services should be charged by the foot and the size/condition will need to be evaluated and taken into consideration to determine the amount of labor time involved, to ensure all labor & costs are properly covered. Reference the below table for a starting point with ranges that you can consider.

  • Boat Area
    Price per Foot
  • Hull Detail
    $15 – $25/ft -Exterior wash & protection only
    $25-$75+/foot -Exterior wash, oxidation removal, and protection
    Boat Wash
    $5 – $10/ft
    General wash & clean
  • Cabin Cleaning
    Interior clean & fabric protection
  • Engine Cleaning
    $100 – $200*
    *Total price (not per foot)
  • Vinyl Treatment
    $5 – $10/ft
    Fabric clean & protection