How to Hire a Detailer

Washing, waxing and detailing your yacht can be a big job, whether your yacht is 30’ or 60’. Aside from taking a lot of time to keep your yacht in good condition, it also takes energy, flexibility, balance, skill, and physical exertion. If you are someone who doesn’t have the time and/or the physical ability to do it all yourself, you should consider hiring a boat cleaner/detailer to do the work for you, especially if it means that the work won’t get done otherwise. Taking care of light maintenance issues now no matter who does the work can save a lot of headaches later!

If every time you set foot on your yacht, you have to wash it or clean it up and it takes away from the time you actually spend using and enjoying your yacht, then hiring a detailer can be a liberating thing. Imagine being able to dock on a Sunday evening after a weekend of cruising and head straight home instead of spending an hour or two washing the boat down and vacuuming up potato chip crumbs. When you’ve had too much wine and “red, right, return” has tapped out your mental abilities, it’s a lot easier to dial your detailer than do it yourself! Here are some tips on how to find and hire a good detailer and what you can expect.

Where To Find A Detailer And What To Look For

The best way to find a good detailer is to ask around. Who does your dock neighbor use? Who stops in at the boat supply store on a regular basis to buy more products? Who do the marinas recommend? Who does the brokerage you bought your yacht from use or recommend? There are a few things that any good detailer will have, use or do.

  • They will have insurance and a business license.
  • They will use products made for gel coat and boats rather than household or auto products.
  • They will not use harsh chemicals or cleaners on their first pass, but will only use those types of cleaners as a last resort and will be careful about disposing of them.
  • They will have references you can check.
  • They will call you if the work is going to cost more or take longer than the quote or schedule they originally gave you.
  • They have experience working on different types of boats, coatings and finishes and are capable of dealing with problem areas (specific types of stains, scratches, etc).

If you’re still unsure about who to use, then call around. You can find detailers listed in The Boaters Directory (, The Boaters Yellow Pages ( and on Yachtworld ( You can also find a wall of business cards posted at your yacht club, marina or favorite marine supply store. Decide to call three to five detailers and ask each of them the same questions, including what is their experience, what products do they use, what is their process for washing or waxing a boat, and what are their rates. What will make it easy for you to decide who to choose is that out of five calls, most likely only one or two will call you back!

The Cost of a Hiring a Detailer

As far as rates and prices go, there are really no set prices in the detailing industry. You can negotiate, but don’t think this is a service you can get at a rock bottom rate. A good detailer will be spending a lot of time, physical exertion and quality products on your boat and that is worth paying for if you can’t or don’t want to do it yourself.

Some detailers charge by the hour and some charge by the foot. If they charge by the foot, then you’ll know exactly what the total cost is going to be up front. If they charge by the hour, then at least ask them to give you an estimate of how many hours they think the job will take and to please let you know ahead of time if they expect to exceed those hours. If they do exceed the original hours, ask them to give you an updated estimate and explain why it’s taking longer. They may have run into a few problem areas you should know about or they may have underestimated the job when they first gave you the quote.

If they severely underestimated the job, you might question them as to why they didn’t fully realize the scope of the project in the beginning. For example, if you hired a detailer to wax and buff your heavily oxidized yacht and they gave you a “sounds too good to be true” quote, then they either low-balled the quote to beat out any other bids or they may not have enough experience to know that heavy oxidation often requires a two-step process, which takes longer, uses more product and requires a skilled hand at buffing.

In trying to negotiate a fair price or a price that fits your budget, consider two things. 1) Try to do some of the work yourself and 2) decide what’s most important to you. For example, you might be able to save a few dollars if you wash the boat yourself so that the detailer only has to wax and buff it. Or, if you feel you have the time and energy to wax and buff the topside (usually the easier part of the boat to reach and work on), then only hire them to wax and buff the hull. In regards to what is most important to you, is your end goal a well-protected boat or a cosmetically perfect finish? In the case of having your boat waxed, if you’re mostly concerned with simply protecting your gel coat with a good layer of wax, then a one-step wax process is all you need. If you are determined to bring back that showroom shine again and your gel coat is heavily oxidized, it will require a two-step wax process, which is often double the rate of a one-step process.

Finally, ask the detailer if they include any additional charges in their rate. All detailers must charge sales tax because their services are considered “retail sales”. However, some might also charge for supplies, special equipment or gear specifically used for your boat, mileage or other transportation and labor fees. Have them itemize and explain any additional charges before they start the work.

Working with a Detailer

Communication is key! The first thing you should do when you meet with your new detailer is communicate to them exactly what you want them to do and what your expectations are.

For example, if you hire a detailer to wash your boat, are you expecting them to clean out the hatches, polish the chrome, wipe down the fly bridge and clean your canvas covers or simply wash the gel coat and non-skid? Does washing the boat include the dinghy? The detailer might consider “washing a boat” as washing the structure and non-skid of your boat whereas you might consider that service to include everything on the outside of the boat. Tell the detailer exactly what you expect to be included with the service so there are no surprises for either of you, both in the quality of the work or the final bill.

Defining terminology is also important. When I’m describing my services to a new customer, I divide the general term of “boat cleaning” into four areas or categories. This way, they’ll know exactly what my services include and I’ll know exactly what they’re expecting. For example:

  1. Washing – the boat’s structure, non-skid and fly bridge or helm area
  2. Detailing – polishing chrome rails, cleaning and brightening vinyl, cleaning out hatches and canvas cleaning
  3. Waxing – waxing and buffing the boat by hand or with a power buffer, using rubbing compound if needed
  4. Interior cleaning – inside the boat

Here are few more tips about working with a detailer
  • Be realistic about what a detailer can and can’t do for you. Heavily oxidized boat? Hire a detailer. Repair hairline cracks? No amount of wax or rubbing compound will buff these away. You’ll need to hire a fiberglass repair service.
  • Don’t expect a 25-year old boat or a boat that hasn’t been washed or waxed in a long time (a couple of years or more) to look brand new again with a simple one-time wash and wax. It can certainly look good again, but it may require a few wax jobs to really bring out the gloss of the gel coat and it will definitely need to be put on a regular maintenance program.
  • If you’re uncertain about the products a detailer is using, then either request they use specific products or provide them with the products you want them to use.
  • Ask the detailer if they work alone or have a crew. If they have a crew that does most of the work, ask the detailer how often they check on their crew during the cleaning process. As I’ve always said, a worker won’t care as much about the job as the business owner has to. Make sure the detailer (owner) is on the job at some point for quality control purposes.
What To Do If The Detailer Missed Something

If your detailer missed something the first time around, simply ask if they would come back to take care of that area. Most detailers are looking for specific problem areas or stains when cleaning a boat for the first time, as well as simply getting to know your boat and all of its nooks and crannies. If you see an area or stain they missed, it’s not necessarily that they did a bad job, but more possibly that they overlooked it because they were focused on other details. Work with them so they gain a better understanding of your requirements and expectations, and over time, you’ll have a detailer you can count on who knows your yacht inside and out, as well as your expectations.

If you ask the detailer to go back and work on an area you thought they missed, but they either refuse or tell you they’ll have to charge you extra for cleaning a certain area twice, then go back to that area with them and have them show you how they cleaned it originally. If they really did miss that spot and they clean the area in front of you, it will instantly look cleaner and it will be obvious if they missed it the first time around even if they said they didn’t. If they clean it in front of you and the stain or dirt doesn’t go away, then it might be a stain that requires a stronger cleaner (for example wax rather than soap) to remove. If you hired someone to wash your yacht and there are many marks or stains that didn’t come off with the wash, then it’s not the detailers fault unless you also asked that person to use wax to remove those marks when they were done washing the yacht.

A Quick Note About The Crew

Boat detailer’s that come highly recommended are very busy people and because of that, they often have a crew of people who do most of the work for them. If you’ve met the owner of the detailing company, most likely they will have looked and acted professionally. That may not be the same case for their crew, but don’t judge a book by its cover until you’ve seen their work. We like to hire people who actually want to do this sort of work (boat washing and waxing) as opposed to someone who just needs a job to earn a quick buck.

​But consider that very few people actually choose boat washing and waxing as their life long career, you may only get a good six to 18 months out of each detailer.

However, the owner of a good boat detailing company is in this business because they enjoy the work and they enjoy running their own business. They realize the importance of repeat customers and will try to do whatever it takes, within reason, to win your business. Give them time to get to know you and your boat. If things are still getting missed, then it might be time to try another detailing service. Tell each detailer you’ll give them a couple of chances before you move onto another company. Remember, boat detailers are only human and have to put up with harsh weather, physical labor and dirty boats. Even detailers have their days!

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