Cruising in your pontoon boat is one of life’s greatest pleasures. You want your boat to last as long as it can, which means you need to clean it and keep up a maintenance routine. If you’re a first-time pontoon boat owner, you may have questions about cleaning and pontoon boat maintenance. What should you do and how often?
Here’s how you keep your pontoon boat looking and running well:
- Start with the engine, flushing and cleaning
- Keep your battery power up
- Top off fluid as needed
- Readjust belt tightness
- Test your spark plugs
- Wash weekly
- Varnish and wax
- Do a fire extinguisher check
- Keep certain parts greased and lubed
Do you want more information on the above steps? Great! In this article, we’ll go in-depth on all the cleaning and maintenance methods required to keep your pontoon boat in tip-top shape. Let’s get started.
Pontoon Boat Cleaning and Maintenance Steps and Tips
Take Care of Your Engine
We’ll begin with arguably the most important part of your pontoon boat: your engine. You kind of need it to move through the water, unless of course you plan on rowing. Since your engine plays such a significant role in pontoon boating, you’ll have to do a lot to maintain it. Don’t skip any of these steps, either.
For outboard motors, do the following once you return to shore from a ride:
- Fill up the fuel tank, but make sure you use a fuel source that’s fresh
- Change the cowling if necessary
- Use an anti-corrosive spray on the engine; double-check that the product you choose won’t damage your engine
- Flush your engine, watching your water pump for its flow
- Take the fuel line apart temporarily so the fuel can burn its way to your carburetor; don’t forget to reconnect the fuel line later
- Inspect your engine cowling, looking for signs of leaks
Then, every few weeks or months, you want to take care of this maintenance work:
- Make sure there’s no water in the fuel tank and drain any that you find
- Test the aspirator vent and see how it’s working
- Look for corrosion and fuel tank damage; fix if necessary
- Also, check for corrosion in the fuel line and clamps
- Test your fuel-line fittings for leaks and improper placement
- Move the fuel primer bulb and check for cracks there
- Inspect the fuel line, looking for spots that seem worn down and cracked
Test and Charge the Battery
Almost as important as the engine is your pontoon boat’s battery. Without it, the boat cannot get the power it needs to run the motor, the lights, and many other crucial parts of the pontooning experience.
If you don’t already have a battery tester, you’ll need one. We like Shorline Marine’s battery meter. It has a light meter that tells you the percentage of your battery. There’s three lights: green for good battery life, yellow for fair battery life, and red for poor battery life. If your pontoon boat battery runs on 12 volts, you can use it with this Shoreline Marine meter.
You never want to let your battery drop too low. Getting stuck in the water with a dead battery sounds pretty scary to us, and we’re sure you agree.
Besides testing your battery’s fullness, you also want to make sure no battery leakage occurs. When batteries leak, they don’t lose water. Instead, they leak acid. This can corrode the batteries and damage other nearby surfaces.
Monitor Fluid Levels
From oil levels to fuel and all other fluids in your boat, you’ll have to top them off as necessary.
Besides that, you also want to pay special attention to the oil in your boat. If you haven’t used your pontoon in a while, then the oil might not stay a liquid. Instead, it can become gummy and almost harden. If that’s the case, then you can’t use that old oil anymore. You have to empty everything out and refill the tank completely.
Also, when working with fuel, make sure you get rid of old fuel filters every now and again. You should also inspect your fuel line at this time, looking for cracks. The longer you’ve had your pontoon boat and the more freezing winters it’s endured, the higher the likelihood of cracks developing.
Inspect Belts for Tightness
Your pontoon boat belts won’t stay perfectly tight forever. Every few months, you’ll want to check your alternator belts and any other belts in the vessel. Loose belts cannot stay as they are since they will experience accelerated wear and tear.
How do you know if your belt’s loose? If it doesn’t sit against your pulley grooves, it’s time for a belt tightening.
Belts can stop working well if they’re more than a few years old. Sometimes no amount of tightening helps. If your belt’s cracked, damaged, or thinned, you better get a new one.
Check Your Spark Plugs
Next, you want to focus on your spark plugs. These won’t last very long, but that’s okay. They’re easier to take out than you would think. Also, spark plugs aren’t super expensive, so you’re not shelling out significant sums each time you need a new one.
You essentially know what to look for at this point: obvious signs of damage like rust, corrosion, and the like.
To take out your spark plugs, you’ll need a spark plug socket and a socket wrench. Yes, these are specialty tools, and no, we don’t recommend you try to MacGyver something else together instead.
First, you want to find your spark plugs. Check your motor for that. You’ll have to take off the motor cover first, and there you should see the spark plugs. To remove them, position each one counterclockwise at a 90-degree angle. You should then wriggle the spark plug from the cable and boot.
Now you’ll need your socket wrench. Hook it around the socket of the plug and turn. Again, you want to move in a counterclockwise direction. The spark plug should come free. Repeat this process again for each spark plug you want to take out.
Commit to Weekly Washings
Okay, so we’ve discussed some maintenance tips so far, but what about cleaning your pontoon boat? Now it’s time to get into that and how you do it.
You’ll have to commit to cleaning the boat weekly, if not more often. In a perfect world, you’d clean your boat each time you’re done using it. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and so that’s not always possible.
It’s okay if freshwater dries on the surface of your boat, but not saltwater. We’ll talk about this more in the next section, but saltwater can rust and corrode aluminum and metal surfaces like no one’s business. You need to at least rinse the salt off your boat right after getting out of the water.
When we say clean the boat, we mean the entire boat, by the way. The bottom’s especially important since it spends hours sitting in water, as we just mentioned. Sometimes giving your boat a wash requires only simple items like a sponge, a bucket, and a hose. Other times, you need specialty products. We’ll cover some of those throughout this article.
Besides the bottom of your boat, you don’t want to forget the bilge, either. By keeping it clean, you can ward off unpleasant odors that make your day on the water less fun.
Clean Your Aluminum Surfaces Carefully
As we’ve said, most pontoon boats have a lot of metal and aluminum surfaces, especially at the bottom. You already know this metal is susceptible to rusting and corroding, neither of which you want.
You’ll have to choose the products you use on your aluminum surfaces carefully, then. Here’s some favorites among pontoon boat owners.
Star Brite’s Ultimate Aluminum Cleaner & Restorer should keep your metal surfaces looking spiffy and clean. Each jug has 64 fluid ounces of product and comes with a sprayer for fast, convenient use. Star Brite will polish dull and stained aluminum, restoring it back to its former glory.
The Sharkhide Aluminum Cleaning Kit for Boats isn’t cheap, but that’s because you get three cleaning products for your shiniest metal surfaces yet. Sharkhide promises a mirror finish. You can use this product on all metal surfaces on your boat, and with how nice your pontoon will look, you should.
Our last pick is Bio-Kleen’s Aluma-Kleen. You can get this metal cleaner in a one-gallon jug on Amazon. This ozone-safe product doesn’t use aerosols. It also biodegrades, so it’s good for the earth, too. Bio-Kleen eliminates discoloration, stains, and oxidation on metal surfaces, including aluminum.
Get Interior Detailing Done
If you’ve never gotten your boat interior detailed before, you’re going to want to. Not only can you reduce unwanted smells this way, but you can also keep mold and mildew off your beautiful interior furniture and other surfaces.
Besides the detailing, you should also inspect your companionway and interior steps. Sometimes you’ll have to varnish these areas.
Besides detailing and varnishing, make sure you clean the interior of your boat. This way, you can rid your pontoon of stains, messes, and nasty environments that invite mold and mildew. One product we like for the job? Boat Juice.
Boat Juice is an upholstery cleaner intended for interior surfaces. These include carpets, flooring, foam, plastic, vinyl, and upholstery. With UV protective properties, you don’t have to worry about the sun fading your expensive boat furniture. This product will also take care of dirt (even the ground-in variety), food spills, and stains.
Oh yes, and Boat Juice smells pretty nice, too, so you won’t mind cleaning with it.
Varnish Wood and Wax Metal
Besides your companionway and interior steps, other parts of your boat require varnishing as well. For instance, you should varnish most, if not all, wooden surfaces on your pontoon. This is especially true if it’s exterior teakwood.
For that job, use TotalBoat Marine Wood Finish. This teak treatment comes in three finishes: Natural Teak, Satin, and Gloss. With a formula that includes resin and linseed oil, TotalBoat’s finish will protect your wooden surfaces from UV and other weather damage.
When you varnish your teakwood surfaces, make sure you do it twice. You will likely have to sand from one layer of varnish to another, unless you use TotalBoat Marine Wood Finish. It doesn’t require sanding.
When you’re done varnishing, it’s time to get to waxing. You should wax your metal surfaces, but not just those exclusively. Remember to apply wax on all topsides as well as your pontoon boat’s hull. You should wax your topsides ideally before taking the boat out. This prevents oxidation that requires compounding and wet-sanding. As for the hull, again, wax it before riding in the water.
We want to discuss waxing the metal parts of your boat as well. Doing so not only provides a shine to metal surfaces, but it also rids your pontoon boat of rust buildup.
Many pontoon boat owners use Meguiar’s Flagship Premium Marine Wax for this job. This highly-rated wax comes in 32 fluid ounces per bottle. You can spread it with a polisher or even hand pads. Either way, you get a richer surface with better shine and improved color. Meguiar’s wax can also eliminate swirls, light scratches, and oxidation.
The polymers in the product work hard to ensure a glossy finish while warding off UV damage.
Test Fire Extinguisher Pressure
Although you never hope to use it, you shouldn’t ignore your fire extinguisher. Goodness forbid a fire ever does happen on your boat, you need the extinguisher to work.
First, you want to look for wear and tear, including chemical deposits, rust, leaks, and dents. If you spot any of these, you might need a new fire extinguisher. Don’t panic if you see oil or even some corrosive chemicals. You can typically clean these up and continue using the extinguisher.
The tamper and pin seal should remain undamaged. If something happens to this seal, again, you probably need a new fire extinguisher. The same is true if the nozzle seems gunked-up or broken.
You also want to test the pressure of your fire extinguisher. To do so, look at the color the needle hits on. If it’s green, then you’re in the clear. The pressure’s just right. You shouldn’t use a fire extinguisher with pressure that’s too low or too high.
Grease and Lubricate the Necessary Parts
Our final piece of advice is to go throughout your pontoon boat and look for any and all moving parts. If these require grease or lube, then apply it as necessary. You’ll probably have to do this at least monthly, maybe every couple of months. Dry parts and components will stop working, leading to mechanical failure and other issues on your boat you don’t want.
While cleaning and maintaining your pontoon boat requires a lot of time, work, and effort, this isn’t a job you can ever eschew. Caring for your boat will prolong its lifespan. That means you have many more years on the water to look forward to!