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How To Start A Boat Cleaning Business

How To Start A Boat Cleaning Business

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How To Start A Boat Cleaning Business

How To Start A Boat Cleaning Business

Boating is a popular leisure activity, one that’s been growing over the past several years. Not only do many boat owners take pride in keeping their vessels well-maintained and looking spick and span, but keeping the boat clean is necessary to maintain their investment.

If you’ve cleaned a boat, you’ve seen how time-consuming and physically demanding the task can be. So, by combining hard work with the growth of boat ownership means an opportunity to start a profitable business.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to start a boat cleaning business, addressing key aspects of the industry, essential steps to getting your business off the ground, and answers to common questions.

Business Overview

Boats spend much of the year immersed in water, leading to barnacle and algae growth, mildew, salt corrosion, and other issues. Regular cleaning can help keep boats looking great and is essential to their protection and maintenance, but cleaning a boat is a big job. Boat cleaning businesses offer everything from hull cleaning to waxing to interior cleaning and polishing, too. They’re a convenient option for boat owners who don’t have the desire or time to maintain their boats as needed.

In addition to general cleaning services, some businesses provide more in-depth boat detailing services. These services may consist of polishing metal, conditioning vinyl, and polishing the boat’s exterior, too. Boat cleaners are typically mobile operations that travel to where the boat is located, so they commonly work in marinas and travel to private docks.

Industry Summary

The boat cleaning industry is a subset of the broader boating industry, which includes boat manufacturing, sales, rentals, and ancillary services like cleaning and maintenance. This industry thrives in regions with high boating activity, such as coastal areas, lakeside towns, and marinas.

While statistics referring specifically to boat cleaning aren’t readily available, details about boat ownership provide insight into the boat cleaning industry’s potential. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), the U.S. recreational boating industry, valued at $170 billion, is experiencing robust growth and vitality. After a stellar performance in 2021, with marine expenditures reaching $56.7 billion, 2022 saw a minor dip in new powerboat sales. However, this dip aligned with pre-pandemic numbers, and the demand remains high going into 2023. With more boats comes more need for maintenance, making boat cleaning an increasingly valuable niche.

Factors contributing to this buoyant industry include Americans’ increasing preference for outdoor recreation and lifestyle. The impact of this sector isn’t limited to affluent individuals either, as a majority of boat owners earn less than $100,000 annually.

The boat cleaning business industry is highly competitive, with many players offering quality services at competitive prices. To stand out, many boat cleaning businesses have expanded their services by offering mobile boat cleaning services, where they come to the client’s location to clean their boats. This is a convenient option for boat owners who do not have the time or resources to take their boats to a cleaning facility. 

Steps To Start A Boat Cleaning Business

Step 1: Assess the Market

Starting a boat cleaning business might sound straightforward, but it goes beyond just knowing how to scrub a deck or power wash a hull. The very first thing you need to do is a bit less hands-on but equally essential: market research. Before you jump in, invest your savings, or even print a single business card, you need to know if there’s enough demand for a boat cleaning service in your area.

Understanding the Market

First, check the data. How many marinas are in your area? What’s the volume of boat traffic? Are there high-income neighborhoods where boat ownership is common? Answering these questions will help you gauge the size of your potential market. You could even speak to local boat dealers and marina staff to get their perspective.

Assessing Competition

Next, take stock of your competition and take note of their prices, areas covered, packages offered, and overall customer satisfaction. What do their customer reviews look like? And more importantly, what are they missing? Could be it’s customer service, or maybe it’s a specific cleaning service they don’t offer. This gap in the market could be your entry point.

Identifying Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The boat cleaning business is competitive. To stand out, you’ll need a USP – something that sets you apart from the others. Maybe it’s eco-friendly cleaning products or an unbeatable turnaround time. Your USP could even be something as simple as exceptional customer service. Whatever it is, make it compelling and relatable to your prospective customers.

Talk to Boat Owners

Talking to boat owners is another way to assess market demand for a boat cleaning business. Approach local marinas and boatyards and have conversations with the owners. Ask if they have had their boats cleaned and, if so, ask about their experiences. Ask for their opinions, what they would like, and what they think could be improved. By doing this, you will be able to have first-hand information that could help you to enhance or adjust your business plan to cater to potential customers.

Step 2: Create a Business Plan

The next step is to create a business plan, and while this isn’t a required step, I recommend it. Many people will say they wrote their business plan because the bank wouldn’t lend them money until they had one. Even though the cost to start a boat cleaning business is small, the business plan can also serve as a roadmap for your business, outlining your goals, strategies, and financial expectations. But beyond this, it also acts as a reality check, forcing you to critically examine your business idea and its viability.

Regardless of whether the plan is for a lender or planning, I would say the financial projections section is one of the most important sections of the business plan. Here, you will estimate how many customers you’re likely to get in a week, month, or year. Then, you will calculate the costs of starting and running your business. This should include everything from equipment and supplies to advertising and possible employee wages. This information will give you the information to answer the question, do the potential earnings justify the expenses?

Related: How to write a business plan

Step 3: Secure Funding

After you’ve done your market research and crafted a business plan, the next step is to secure the funding you need to kickstart your boat cleaning business. Why? Getting the funding can be challenging, and having it in place early ensures you can continue with confidence.

If personal savings aren’t enough, bank loans are a common source of funding. Lenders typically require that borrowers invest at least 15% of their personal funds towards the total project cost. They also look for good credit scores and sufficient collateral. If a bank views a loan as too risky, they may opt for an SBA loan guarantee, which can provide additional security for both the lender and borrower.

Sometimes, friends and family can offer financial support. This route can be more flexible and less formal than traditional lending, but it has drawbacks. Emotions and business can be a volatile mix. To keep relationships intact, always put any agreements in writing, outlining terms and expectations clearly. It’s essential to maintain professionalism, even when dealing with loved ones.

An often overlooked source of funding is microloans. Microloans are offered by local economic development organizations and are often easier to get than traditional loans. Some microloan programs even offer business training alongside funding, which can be a huge benefit for someone new to running a business. These loans can serve as a stepping stone to larger funding sources in the future.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 4: Register the Business

Registering your boat cleaning company involves several key steps, so before you get to work cleaning those boats, you’ll need to make sure your business is legally sound. While specific requirements can vary from state to state, the general process includes choosing a business structure, registering your business name, and obtaining necessary licenses and permits.

Choosing a business structure: The first step you’ll need to take is deciding on the legal structure of your business. There are four main types:

  1. Sole proprietorship: This is the simplest and most cost-effective structure. You’re the sole owner, and there’s no separation between you and the business. This makes startup and tax filing straightforward but exposes you to personal liability for business debts.
  2. General partnership: Similar to a sole proprietorship, but involves two or more people. All partners share the profits, losses, and responsibilities.
  3. Corporation: A more complex structure that involves shareholders, directors, and officers. Corporations offer the owner(s) liability protection but come with higher costs and more regulation.
  4. Limited Liability Company (LLC): A hybrid between a sole proprietorship/partnership and a corporation, providing liability protection without the administrative requirements of a corporation.

Sole proprietorships and LLCs are often the business structure of choice for boat cleaning businesses.

Related: Comparison of business structures

Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.

Some popular LLC formation services include:

IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

ZenBusiness - Best for beginners. $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Northwest - Best privacy protection. $39 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.

Related: Tips and ideas for finding a boat detailing business name

During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.

Related: Finding a domain name for your business

Obtain business licenses and permits: Depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Related: State guides for general business licensing

Step 5: Purchase Equipment & Supplies

With the funds in place and the business registered, it’s time to stock up and purchase the equipment and supplies to run the business.

Step 6: Develop a Pricing Strategy

Determining your pricing strategy is the next step in starting a boat detailing service.

Begin by understanding your cost structure. This includes both your fixed costs (like equipment, business licenses, and insurance) and variable costs (like cleaning supplies, fuel, and maintenance). Knowing your costs will help you determine the minimum price you need to charge to cover your expenses and make a profit.

Next, research your local market. What are other boat cleaning businesses charging for similar services? This will give you a benchmark for setting your prices. However, don’t just copy their prices. Consider the value you offer, such as superior service or unique cleaning methods, when setting your rates.

Step 7: Prepare to Open!

After securing funding, registering your business, and purchasing the necessary equipment, there are likely still several important steps to complete before launching your boat cleaning business. Every business will have different needs, but here are some of the common tasks:

Business insurance: Insurance is essential for protecting your small business from potential risks. Look into general liability insurance and property insurance to cover any damages or injuries that might occur during your cleaning services.

Bookkeeping: Set up a bookkeeping system to track your income, expenses, and taxes. You can do this manually, hire a bookkeeper, or use software like Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks.

Contracts: Having contracts in place is crucial for outlining the terms of your services and protecting your business. These might include service agreements, cancellation policies, and liability waivers. RocketLawyer and Law Depot have free and inexpensive templates that may be helpful.

Business bank account: Open a separate business bank account to separate your personal and business finances. This will make tax time easier and give your business a more professional appearance.

Marketing: Develop a marketing strategy to promote your business. This should include creating a professional logo and website, leveraging social media, and using local advertising. Consider offering grand opening specials or referral discounts to attract initial customers. Building a strong reputation is also essential in this industry. Word travels quickly through local marinas, so if a business does a great job cleaning boats, other boat owners will quickly learn of that. The opposite is also true, so focus on providing great customer service and going above and beyond with every job.

Greg’s Tip: When setting pricing, offering packages instead of billing at an hourly rate is recommended. The problem with some customers is they may think you will be slow to clean their boat to generate more billable hours. Stick with two or three packages and charge extra for additional services, such as hull detailing.

Greg's Business Tip

Common Questions When Starting A Boat Cleaning Business

How much does it cost to start a boat cleaning business?

Starting a boat cleaning business requires an initial investment of approximately $1,800 to $3,200 to cover equipment, licensing, insurance, marketing, and other start-up costs.

The largest upfront cost is purchasing the necessary cleaning equipment and supplies, which can run $800 to $1,500 for pressure washers, hoses, brushes, towels, cleaners, buckets, and more. You’ll also need a vehicle, preferably a van or truck, to transport the equipment and safely store chemicals and tools.

Licensing fees depend on your state and municipality, but expect $50 to $100 in total for local business licenses and permits. Liability insurance is highly recommended and can be $400 to $600 for the first year.

Initial marketing, like business cards, brochures, website, and social media ads will likely require $500 to $1,000 to properly promote the new boat cleaning service and attract customers.

Is a boat cleaning business profitable?

Cleaning boats can be a profitable venture, but many factors will affect the profits that a business sees, like a business’s location, reputation, profit margins, and years in business.

However, for a clearer picture, let’s use some general figures. Typically, boat detailing services can range from $10 to $30 per foot, depending on the boat’s condition and client requirements. So, for detailing a 30-foot boat at an average of $20 per foot, you’d earn $600 from that job.

When it comes to expenses, you’ll likely spend around $75 on high-quality cleaning products per boat and approximately $50 for equipment maintenance and other miscellaneous costs. So, your expenses per job would be around $125.

Here’s how the math works out for one job:
Revenue: $600
Expenses: $125
Profit: $600 – $125 = $475

Assuming you can secure 10 jobs in a month, your monthly profit would come out to $4,750, or $57,000 annually.

Be sure to factor in that boat cleaning is a seasonal business unless you’re located in an area like Florida or Southern California. Consider complimentary services that you can offer, like winterization and spring cleaning, to get more frequent business from your existing clients.

What skills are needed to run a boat cleaning business?

Starting a boat cleaning business doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and experiences can increase the chances of the business being a success.

Knowledge of boats and the boating industry: A background in the boating industry helps a business owner work around boats intelligently and safely. An experienced boater may also have an existing network of connections to help build the business.

Boat detailing experience Experience cleaning and maintaining boats is a must. If a business owner doesn’t have this experience, they’ll need to learn from someone who can educate them on proper products and techniques to use on different types of boats.

Knowledge of cleaning chemicals and safety: Boat cleaning products contain different chemicals, and using the wrong product on the wrong surface can damage a boat. A business owner will need to know which products to use and how to use them properly.

Attention to detail: An eye for detail is a must and will help a business owner ensure they do a quality, thorough cleaning job.

Customer service skills: Running a boat cleaning business involves frequently working with customers, so strong customer service skills are important.

Networking skills: A business owner who has strong networking skills will be able to build up the business and make important connections with dock owners and more.

What is the NAICS code for a boat cleaning business?

The NAICS code for a boat cleaning business is 713930.

The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.

Related: What is a NAICS code and how to find yours

American Boating Association
Boat Owner’s Association of the United States
BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water
Clean Marina
International Detailing Association

How To Start A Boat Cleaning Business

How To Start A Boat Cleaning Business

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