How to Start a Boat Cleaning Service

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Our guide on starting a boat cleaning service covers all the essential information to help you decide if this business is a good match for you. Learn about the day-to-day activities of a boat cleaning service owner, the typical target market, growth potential, startup costs, legal considerations, and more!

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Start a boat cleaning service by following these 9 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 step guide to starting your boat cleaning service. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

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:

  • What are the initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your boat cleaning service is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

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

STEP 4: Open a business bank account

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.

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.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

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.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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

Business Overview

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.

Who is this business right for?

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.

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 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.

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.

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. Leading Edge Institute, Boat Detail Training and other companies 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 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.

Where can I 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.

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.

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Growing Your Business

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.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

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.

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.

Legal Considerations

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:

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

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

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

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.

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.
A smiling man sits at a computer and learns about corporate veils


To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

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.

Earning Potential

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.

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.

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.

Next Steps

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