How to Start a Boat Cleaning Business

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How to Start a Boat Cleaning Business

If you have a passion for boating, then you already know the kind of work that goes into maintaining a single small boat. If you’ve cleaned a boat, you’ve seen how time-consuming and physically demanding the task can be. Starting a boat cleaning business of your own can let you put your experience and talents to good use, helping other boat owners to maintain their vessels and keeping boats looking great. This can be a rewarding career opportunity and gives you the chance to build a business all your own.

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 to not only keep boats looking great but is also 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 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 mobile operations that travel to where the boat is located, so they commonly work in marinas and travel to private docks.

Industry Summary

While statistics referring specifically to boat cleaning aren’t available, details about boat ownership provide insight into the boat cleaning industry’s potential. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the recreational boating industry experienced a seven-year climb through 2018. Powerboat sales reached approximately 280,000 unit sales in 2018 alone, and that climb is predicted to continue in the coming year. The increase in recreational boat ownership is due to economic growth and increased consumer confidence. Consumers also sought out a way to spend more time with friends and family. Additionally, marine manufacturers have recently focused on offering products at various price points, making watersports more accessible to new buyers.

The result has been that more people are buying boats, and boat sales across all categories increased in 2018. Freshwater fishing boat sales increased by 2 to 4%, while personal watercraft sales grew by 6 to 8%. Pontoon sales increased by 4 to 6%, and cruiser boats between 22 and 32 feet also saw sales of 2 to 4% higher.

According to Linchpin SEO and the growth in boat sales, the boat rental industry is also growing, indicating another potential market for boat cleaning businesses. Rentals are predicted to continue growing through 2026, which means rental businesses will have more boats to maintain and clean. Direct-to-consumer rentals are currently undergoing the strongest growth.

The average age of boating participants has always been around middle-age, but that age is gradually increasing. Younger people are pursuing other activities, so the current median age of boaters is over 50 years. This trend will likely continue to increase, and older boaters are more likely to invest in boat cleaning, so they don’t have to do that task themselves.

Boats have gradually become more affordable, so they’re becoming more family-oriented. This increased affordability is due to improved engine technology and manufacturing efficiency. While some boats are now available at lower prices, boat sales still average $146,904 per boat. This figure does include expensive vessels like yachts, so that figure may be skewed somewhat high. Still, boat ownership requires plenty of disposable income, which means that many boat owners will want to invest in their purchases and likely afford boat cleaning services.

Target Market

A boat cleaning business will target boat owners, who are often just over 50 years old. A business may have a more specific target market, though. Some businesses may specialize in smaller motorboats and sailboats, while others may specialize in yachts and other luxury craft. In most cases, a boat cleaning business will need to market to boat owners who have plenty of disposable income and who either don’t have the time or capability to clean their boats or who want to invest in their boats with a regular and thorough cleaning.

 

Checklist for Starting a Boat Cleaning Business

If you’re thinking about starting a boat cleaning business, it’s important to do your research first. Here is a checklist to help you get started.

Step 1: Write a Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan. Having a business plan will force you to focus on important aspects of the business like who is your target market and why will they choose your service, marketing strategy to let potential customers you are open, projected sales and expenses, and lots more.

Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

Related: How to write a business plan

Step 2: Name the Business

Finding the perfect boat cleaning service business name can be challenging. Not only does the name have to resonate with your customers, but it also has to be available to use.

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

Step 3: Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.

When deciding on which business entity is best for a boat cleaning business, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.

A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay. The corporation can be a good choice because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.

That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.

The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.

Related: Guide to forming your LLC
 

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!

IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!

ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Step 4: Select your Location

Most boat cleaning businesses can be run out of a home garage or basement, which is used primarily to store cleaning products and equipment. If a business expands to become a multi-vehicle business with staff, it may be necessary to rent a garage or storage space. Rental costs will depend on the size, location, and amenities available at the space.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

A boat cleaning business owner will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located.

Some of the common local, state, and federal registrations a boat cleaning business may need to include a sales tax permit and Employer Identification Number, among others.

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 6: Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a boat cleaning business is another. To get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account

Keeping your small business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is important to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
 
Many banks offer free business checking accounts, so be sure to find a cost-effective option for your business.

Step 8. Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Effective marketing will help a boat cleaning business to develop a large clientele and a full schedule. Common marketing techniques include social media marketing, print advertising, online advertising, and handing out flyers and brochures at local marinas, yacht clubs, and boat brokers. Networking also plays an important role in marketing a boat cleaning business as it generates word-of-mouth awareness.

Pricing is generally better received when there are packages instead of an hourly rate, as potential customers may think you will be slow to generate more billable hours. Stick with two or three packages and then charge extra for additional services, such as hull detailing.

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.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 9: Get Business Insurance

There are several types of insurance to consider when starting a boat cleaning business. A few of these include:
– General liability insurance will help protect the business against damages it could face if a client is ever injured or their boat is ever damaged due to the business’ actions.
– Workman’s comp insurance protects the business against expenses like medical bills and legal fees it might face if an employee were ever hurt while on the job.
– Commercial auto insurance covers the business-owned vehicle and protects the business from expenses that it could face if the vehicle is ever involved in an accident.

The cost of insurance will vary depending on the business’ location, the value of the boats that it works on, and even the number of employees on staff. To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, look beyond the difference between premiums and consider other factors, like the differences between deductibles, policy exclusions, and policy coverage limits. Keep in mind that if you’re working on highly valuable boats, like yachts, you may need coverage limits beyond standard coverage, and that can increase the price of a policy.

Related: Common types of insurance a business may need

Step 10: Hire Employees

Most boat cleaning business owners can manage their businesses without staff, at least initially. As the business grows, it may be time to hire an additional boat detailer or two. According to ZipRecruiter, boat cleaners earn an average of $28,053 per year, though salaries can range from $17,500 to $50,00 per year.

Salaries are just one expense that comes with hiring employees. A business’ budget will need to include workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off in addition to salaries.

Related: Hiring your first employee

Step 11: Set up an Accounting System

Setting up an accounting system for your boat detailing business is critical to your small business’s long-term success.

Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business out of trouble with the government, but the numbers can be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.

Related: Setting up the accounting for your business

The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:

- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.

Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.

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

Startup costs for a boat cleaning business are minimal because this type of business doesn’t require a workshop or significant equipment investments. Plan to spend about $2,500 to $10,000 purchasing cleaning supplies and equipment. If you don’t have access to a vehicle that you can use as your business vehicle, this will need to be one of your business investments.

Some common startup costs for a boat cleaning business include:
– Cleaning supplies such as vinyl detergent, wood polish, glass cleaner
– Cleaning equipment such as a vacuum, steam cleaner, brushes, mop, and other cleaning tools
– Business van or truck and trailer
– Promotional materials, like business cards and brochures
– Signage

How much money can you make with a boat cleaning business?

Cleaning boats can be a profitable venture, but many factors will affect the profits that a business sees. Special offerings, like boat detailing services and winterizing services, can command higher prices and bring in more income from current customers. Other factors like a business’s location, reputation, profit margins, and years in business will also affect its profits.

Consider 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.

Are there grants to start a boat cleaning business?

It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start a boat cleaning business. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.

Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.

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 cleaning 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

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

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