How to Start a Boat Cleaning Service

Many boat owners like to keep their watercraft in pristine condition, but they don’t necessarily want to spend time cleaning and detailing their boats. They’d rather be out on the water, enjoying their boat, than at the dock making sure it looks nice. Boat cleaning businesses provide cleaning and detailing services for boats, so that boat owners don’t have to wash their boats themselves. In order to attract as many customers as possible, most businesses clean all types of watercraft.

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Learn how to start your own Boat Cleaning Service and whether it is the right fit for you.

Start a boat cleaning service by following these 10 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your boat cleaning service. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

STEP 1: Plan your business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a boat cleaning service?

The startup costs for a boat cleaning business are very manageable. They include:

  • cleaning tools (e.g. brushes, a mop, towels, a vacuum and a steam-cleaner)
  • cleaning materials (e.g. detergent, wax, glass cleaner, furniture polish and wood polish)
  • a vehicle for transporting supplies to different sites
  • a workboat and trailer

Business owners will need a workboat so they can access the hulls of boats that are in the water.

A vehicle and trailer will also be needed to transport the workboat and supplies to different sites. Businesses often service boats at different marinas, and driving between marinas is often more fuel-efficient and takes less time than going between them by boat.

Business owners who want to keep their startup expenses as low as possible can begin by using their own vehicle and purchasing an old, used workboat. A workboat doesn’t need to be fancy or even very seaworthy, since it’s generally kept in or around marinas. Any old, small boat will be fine as long as it’s stable, doesn’t leak and has a small motor.

Franchises are available for business owners who would prefer to purchase a franchise. They tend to be much more expensive than simply purchasing cleaning supplies and an old boat is, though. For instance, Super Clean Yacht Service Franchising Inc. charges between $12,700 and $50,800 for new franchises.

What are the ongoing expenses for a boat cleaning service?

The ongoing expenses for a boat cleaning service business include fuel for a vehicle and workboat, and the cost of replacing used cleaning supplies. In most cases, these expenses are minimal.

Who is the target market?

A boat cleaning service business’ ideal customer is someone who owns a large boat that they’re particular about. Such a boat owner will likely be willing to pay well to have their boat cleaned, and they’ll probably be able to afford a cleaning service if they can afford a large boat. Additionally, they will be more likely to hire a cleaning service than clean their boat themselves, because cleaning a large boat takes longer than cleaning a smaller watercraft.

How does a boat cleaning service make money?

A boat cleaning service business makes money by charging for boat cleaning and detailing services. While business owners may consider their desired hourly rate when setting prices, most businesses don’t bill by the hour. Instead, they offer cleaning packages for set fees.

For example, Yolo Yacht Services offers two basic packages and also charges extra for additional services. Similarly, Miami Boat Cleaning provides quotes based on the size of a boat and the type of cleaning services requested.

How much can you charge customers?

Boat cleaning rates vary depending on the size of a boat, the boat’s state and the services requested. Most businesses charge between $8 and $40 per foot. For instance, a 30-foot boat might cost between $240 and $1,200 to clean, depending on what was involved in the cleaning.

How much profit can a boat cleaning service make?

A boat cleaning service business can earn several thousand dollars in a week during the peak season. Cleanings that cost a few hundred dollars typically take just part of a day, so it’s easy to clean many boats in a week. Cleanings that cost a few thousand dollars can usually also be done within a week at most.

In the Northern United States, this is a highly seasonal business. People only use their boats for a few months out of the year in colder climates.

How can you make your business more profitable?

A boat detailing business can increase revenue by branching into auto detailing work. Auto detailing is similar to boat detailing, and boat cleaning businesses usually already have all the equipment that’s required. Auto detailing can also help a business survive the slower times of year when people aren't boating.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Boat Cleaning Service Name Generator

If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.

When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:

  • Your state's business records
  • Federal and state trademark records
  • Social media platforms
  • Web domain availability.

It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your boat cleaning service is sued.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can start an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.

Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.

Small Business Taxes

Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).

You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:

There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Open net-30 accounts

When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.

Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.

Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.

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Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a boat cleaning service. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For more information about local licenses and permits:

Services Contract

In businesses where services are provided on an extended basis, a services contract is often put in place outlining terms and conditions of service. You may wish to require clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement clarifies client expectations and minimizes risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, and service level expectations. Here is an example of one such services agreement.

Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your boat cleaning business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.

Certificate of Occupancy

A boat cleaning service can be run out of a storefront or small office. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease space:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a boat cleaning service.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build your own location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your boat cleaning service will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

STEP 7: Get business insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your Boat Cleaning Service will cost.

Business Insurance for
Boat Cleaning Service

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.

How to promote & market a boat cleaning service

Yacht clubs and marinas are some of the most effective places to advertise a boat cleaning service business. Simply putting up flyers will frequently result in a few customers, who can provide referrals to other boaters they know.

How to keep customers coming back

A boat cleaning service business can set itself apart from similar businesses in the area by offering quality service at an affordable price. Underbidding other businesses will frequently attract customers, as many boaters are careful about how much they spend on their boats. As long as the service provided is professional, customers will likely call to schedule more cleanings in the future.

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Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.

STEP 9: Create your business website

After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.

While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.

Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:

  • All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
  • Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
  • Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.

Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.

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Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.

Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.

STEP 10: Set up your business phone system

Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.

There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.

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Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.

Start A Boat Cleaning Service In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

Anyone who enjoys being outside and working with their hands may like running a boat cleaning service business. Cleaning boats is manual work, and it’s often done at docks where there’s little protection from the elements.

This is a business that can be started while working another job full-time. Business owners can begin by cleaning boats in evenings and on weekends, when they aren’t working elsewhere. Once their business grows to support a full-time salary, they can then transition from their current job to cleaning boats full-time.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

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What happens during a typical day at a boat cleaning service?

Business owners spend most of their cleaning boats, which may include:

  • washing and rinsing off boats’ top sides and hulls
  • waxing fiberglass exteriors
  • vacuuming and cleaning carpeting
  • wiping down windows
  • polishing wood and vinyl

When not cleaning boats, business owners order supplies, schedule cleanings, bill customers and market their business.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful boat cleaning service?

In order to successfully run a boat cleaning service business, business owners must know how to clean and detail boats. Companies like Leading Edge Institute offer marine detailing courses. Most courses are a few days long and cost a few hundred dollars. Boat Detailing Training, for instance, offers a 2-day course for $550 and a 3-day course for $750. (Online courses generally aren’t available because cleaning boats is a hands-on process.)

Business owners may also want to purchase a reference book that they can refer to after their training is completed. Boat Cleaning and Detailing, and Boat Detailing Guide are two titles that cover cleaning boats.

Finally, business owners should also familiarize themselves with the business aspects of running a boat cleaning business. Start Your Own Boat Detailing Business and How to Start a Boat Cleaning Business are two books that cover business-related topics (as opposed to cleaning techniques).

Aspiring business owners who want to save money on training may want to spend a season working for a boat cleaning business. During this time, you can learn how to clean and detail boats, and you also may pick up some inside secrets on running a boat cleaning business.

What is the growth potential for a boat cleaning service?

Boat cleaning service businesses may have a single location that serves just one area, or they may grow to have multiple locations across the country. Boat Bathers in Chicago is an example of a business that serves one area. Pro Boat Clean, on the other hand, has franchise locations in the United States and Canada.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Learn from other business owners

Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a boat cleaning service?

When starting a boat cleaning service business, it’s important to carefully select the right cleaning supplies. They should be effective, so boats can be cleaned as quickly as possible. They also, however, need to be environmentally friendly because they’ll inevitably end up in the water. All supplies that are used on the exterior of boats should be biodegradable, at the very least.

How and when to build a team

A boat cleaning business can be run as a one-person operation, or it may employ a small team. Most business owners start out cleaning boats themselves and hire employees as their business grows.

Next Steps

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