Tips for Protecting a Boat From Saltwater Damage

Boating in saltwater can be fun, but that same water can be your marine vessel’s worst enemy. Salt corrodes metal, wood and other parts of a boat over time, so the last thing you want to do is let it sit. 

Tips for protecting a boat from saltwater damage

Saltwater is harmful to just about every part of a boat, including gelcoat. Enough salt exposure on any surface speeds up deterioration to the point of no return if it’s not addressed quickly. It’s critical to protect every surface of your boat from saltwater damage, especially the motor.

Saltwater can corrode metals, wiring and electrical hardware. It can also damage the surfaces it touches in the forms of blistering and discoloration, and corrodes at a faster rate than fresh water. Here are some ways to protect your boat and its motor from saltwater damage.

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Keep Your Boat Clean

Let’s start with the obvious: keeping your boat clean. Regular soap and freshwater scrubs from bow to stern after every outing help keep salt off your boat. Don’t forget to clean all wooden (and especially) metal parts like cleats and anchors, which are more susceptible to saltwater corrosion. 

Keep saltwater off a boat cleaning

And even if you don’t use your boat but it’s exposed to salty air, give it and its trailer regular freshwater rinses. Cleaning your boat to protect it from saltwater also includes a good waxing and polishing to repel saltwater.

Use Salt-Friendly Bottom Paint

Find a salt-repelling anti-fouling paint for your boat’s hull not only to prevent saltwater damage, but to keep barnacles, algae and other marine growth off it as well. A good anti-fouling paint provides a solid barrier between saltwater and the hull. Just remember that no paint lasts forever, so it’s important to repaint the hull before the existing coat starts to wear off.

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Get a Boat Lift 

While it might not be cheap, renting or buying a boat lift makes it easy to wash and keep saltwater off the bottom of your boat. Storing your boat on a lift protects it from saltwater corrosion, as well as marine growth, blistering and discoloration. 

Saltwater corrosion prevention boat lift

A boat lift also offers convenience, as the boat can be lowered back into the water quickly when it’s ready to be used again. It’s also a great alternative to the hefty fees marinas and storage facilities charge on a monthly basis for a slip or housing for your boat.

Now that we covered a handful of ways to protect your boat from saltwater corrosion, let’s talk about protecting the motor. 

Protect the Engine

One good way to protect a motor from saltwater corrosion and barnacles, and the propellers from banging into stuff, is to tilt the motor up once the boat is docked. 

Saltwater corrosion prevention tips tilt motor up

As for the inside of the engine, flush it out with fresh water after every ride to remove salt from the cooling system. Flushing the engine protects the cooling system and the entire engine itself from saltwater corrosion.

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Keep Up With The Anodes

We just mentioned tilting the motor up, which also helps keep the anodes (or zincs) from corroding faster. Anodes are called “sacrificial anodes” because their job is to absorb corrosion while submerged in the water before it reaches other metal parts of an engine. Checking the anodes regularly and replacing them after they’re halfway eaten is another defense against saltwater damage.  

Treat the Fuel System

Keep the engine’s fuel system clean and free of salt by using a fuel additive such as a stabilizer or engine treatment. These products combat engine corrosion, including saltwater damage, by preventing and removing water and gunk buildup. 

Lubricate the Engine

Another way to protect a marine engine from saltwater corrosion is by lubricating metal parts. Using a grease gun and marine grease on moving metal parts provides an extra layer of protection against the harmful effects of saltwater exposure. For added protection, use a silicone spray on the powerhead throughout the boating season. 

Get Boat and Engine Covers

Finally, both boat and engine covers are great ways to combat saltwater corrosion. Just make sure the boat and the engine are completely dry before putting the covers on to prevent moisture buildup.