Is Your Marina Part Of The Clean Marina Organization?

clean-marinaYou may have seen the white and blue Clean Marina signs around your marina lately and wondered what they mean. Clean Marina is an organization made up of several other environmentally friendly organizations that create rules and enforce policies in regards to helping a marina abide by local environmental laws.

As it states on their web site:

Clean Marina Washington was created in 2005 as an expansion of the EnviroStars program, which provides incentives for businesses to reduce and better manage their hazardous waste. Clean Marina Washington is an incentive-based certification program in which marinas assess their operations and implement improvements to better protect the environment. When they reach the qualification standards of Clean Marina Washington they earn the right to “fly the flag.”

Their four main goals are to:

  • Reduce and properly manage hazardous waste
  • Conduct marina operations with the goal of protecting the environment
  • Educate boaters on clean boating practices
  • Demonstrate innovation and Environmental Leadership

Now that you know the “boilerplate” reason for their existence, what does this mean for you as a boat owner who moors their boat at a Clean Marina and wants to work on their boat in its slip, wash and clean it or hire a detailing company to wash and clean their boat? It means there are many cleaning products you can no longer use and it changes the way you maintain your boat.

I read through their 112-page Resource Manual For Pollution Prevention In Marinas so you don’t have to. (Your welcome. Don’t worry, I was having trouble sleeping anyway. This helped immensely.) In this manual, they outline very specific rules and regulations that marinas that belong to the Clean Marina organization must follow. There are fines involved if they are caught being non-compliant, so most marinas are starting to take these rules more seriously.

As the owner of a boat detailing company, my crew is often having to deal with a marina manager looking in their dock cart or bucket to make sure the cleaning products we’re using are allowed or approved by the Clean Marina association. As we’re finding out, not many cleaning products meet their strict requirements. The word “biodegradable” means nothing to this organization. All cleaning products must also be free of phosphates, chlorinated compounds, petroleum distillates, phenols and formaldehyde.

What this means for you, the boat owner, is that if your boat is fairly dirty because it hasn’t been washed in a while or it isn’t washed on a regular basis (literally every couple of weeks) and you moor it at a Clean Marina location, you may only be able to wash your boat with water and vinegar, but not boat soap or any other type of cleaner that removes specific stains that commonly show up on boats, such as water streaks, green mildew, black mold or bird droppings. This can be extremely frustrating for the boat detailer who is trying to meet certain expectations of the customer and can’t get a boat as clean when only being allowed to use hose water as they normally could when allowed to use soap and other specific cleaners.

In fact, this is becoming a more common issue with our customers who moor their boats at Clean Marina locations where many have chosen to move their boat, permanently or on the day we come to wash it, to a different marina that doesn’t belong to this organization so we can do a thorough cleaning with products that will actually work well to remove dirt and stains. We have always tried to use biodegradable products and more natural products to clean boats with in the first place, but even most of those aren’t approved by the Clean Marina organization. In fact, as we have learned, very few products are approved.

So what boat cleaning products are allowed by the Clean Marina organization, you ask? So far, only two boat soaps we found and a few products you’ll find in the baking aisle of your local grocery store meet their requirements.

Boat Soap

In order for a boat soap product to be compliant, it must be biodegradable, phosphate-free AND not leave any suds in the water. After testing several “natural” boat soaps, we found only one product that meets all three of these requirements and one that meets two of them even though that particular boat soap had a Clean Marina “approved by” label on it.

  • Yacht Shine boat soap is approved by the Clean Marina organization and meets the first two requirements, but as we saw when we used it, it leaves suds in the water.
  • SeaSafe boat soap, although not officially approved by the organization, meets all three requirements.

Cleaning Products

The cleaning products Clean Marina recommends for cleaning different stains and marks off your boat is vinegar, baking soda and lots of “elbow grease”. Yes, they even state in their manual that good old fashioned elbow grease is what it will take to clean your boat the natural way. Not everyone has elbow grease to clean their own boat with, especially the older boat owner. And as for a boat detailing crew who works on 40 plus boats each week, the grease in our elbows would be gone after just the first few boats if we could only rely on water and baking ingredients to clean dirty boats with.

This is where a boat owner’s maintenance plan must be changed. If you can no longer use boat soap or cleaning products to remove dirt, mildew and stains, that means you’ll need to clean your boat almost weekly and constantly keep it waxed so that any stain or mark comes off more easily and has less of a chance to set in or soak into the gel coat. That might sound great to a boat detailer because it means more business, but I think it’s an unrealistic maintenance plan for a boat owner to maintain as often as it would be needed.

I believe in the vision of this organization and as someone who tries to live as environmentally friendly in both my personal and work life as I can, I think there needs to be a healthy balance in this area. Companies that make body and skin care or household cleaning products are starting to realize that consumers don’t want harsh chemicals in their shampoo, deodorant or counter top spray and are having to come up with more natural ingredients that can still do the tough job they need to. I am hoping this will be the next step for companies that make boat cleaning products as more people choose natural ingredients and more organizations start to police what is going into our waterways.

At the same time, this organization needs to realize that the mild boat soap people use to wash their boat with is nothing in comparison to the oil spills I often see floating on the water or the degradation of old boats left to die in their slip that have a constant white film floating around them. These issues also need to be addressed, as well as many others, to keep our waterways clean and healthy. And I’m sure that if enough people were using vinegar to wash their boat with, eventually the pH of the water would change and that would eventually cause environmental problems as well.

For now, we’ll continue testing natural boat cleaning products that are currently on the market or new on the shelves and report back so you can start to replace caustic or chemical-laden cleaners with more natural ones that actually work well.

Go to for more information and to see a list of all certified marinas.

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