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5 Easy Sailboat Exterior Upgrades


Simple, inexpensive improvements that take an hour or less.

Few sailboat projects can be described as quick, simple, and inexpensive. New canvas and sails are costly. Polishing, waxing, and painting are time-consuming. Happily, there are a few exterior upgrades that cost little to nothing and are readily affected by even the most work-shy sailor. Here are five ways to refresh a well-loved yacht and show her at her best.

After washing, hang lines to dry or tumble in the dryer. (Photo: Fiona McGlynn)

1. Clean The Lines

Dirt and salt make lines unpleasant to handle and shorten their lifespan. Fortunately a quick cold-water run through the washing machine is all that’s needed to make nylon and polyester ropes look and feel like new. Optionally, presoak rope in a bucket of water for a few hours. Be sure to coil the rope or pile it into a pillowcase prior to washing (unless of course you’re a Gordian knot enthusiast). Hang ropes to dry or tumble in the dryer on low heat.

Rust can easily be removed from fiberglass with a dab of oxalic acid. (Photo: Fiona McGlynn)

2. Remove Rust Stains

Nothing mars the image of crisp white sails or gleaming fiberglass like an unsightly rust stain. Fortunately, these are easily eradicated with a small amount of oxalic acid, often sold at hardware stores as wood bleach. Simply dab the oxalic acid onto the stained area to soak for a minute, then rinse with water and repeat as necessary. No elbow grease required! Beware that oxalic acid can bleach and discolor if left on for too long. It’s also toxic and corrosive, so take the appropriate safety precautions and avoid rinsing it into waterways.

“Stainless” steel is a bit of a misnomer. (Photo: BoatUS)

3. Restore Stainless Steel

Despite what the name suggests, stainless steel does in fact rust. Oxidization or “surface rust” can be removed with baking soda paste or a metal polish. I’ve used a product called Nevr-Dull (about $10 for 5 ounces through Amazon) to great success on our stainless-steel pulpit and stanchions. Regularly hosing down your stainless steel with freshwater will also cut down on oxidization.

The boat’s name may last forever, but the vinyl lettering isn’t. (Photo: BoatUS)

4. Replace Peeling Vinyl Lettering

Replacing scratched and sun-damaged vinyl lettering is a quick and satisfying job. Most graphics can be removed by applying heat with a hair dryer and peeling back the vinyl by hand. Use a razor blade to carefully scrape away any tricky sections. Once removed, thoroughly clean the area with an adhesive remover before applying new lettering. BoatUS members get 10% off BoatUS Boat Graphics & Lettering and 50% off duplicate graphics.

Time to clear the decks! A cluttered deck makes it challenging to quickly maneuver onboard. (Photo: Fiona McGlynn)

5. Clear The Decks

This old adage comes from the times of wooden ships, but is equally salient on today’s cruisers. Taking the time to clear and organize the deck will make for safer and more pleasant sailing.

  • Remove any cleats, winches, or rope guides that are broken or part of legacy systems.
  • Add rope bags to help tame mess in the cockpit. They often come with pockets for winch handles and cup holders and are a convenient place to stash sunglasses, phones, and sunscreen.
  • Stow empty fuel jugs, fenders, toys, and fishing gear in a secure locker.
  • Consider an inflatable kayak or paddleboard that can be brought below while underway rather than stored on deck.
  • Secure any deck cushions or upholstery in place with hook-and-loop tape or snaps.

Fiona McGlynn

Contributing Editor, BoatUS Magazine