Introduction: How to Clean a Canoe After Ocean Use

Salt water, sunshine, and thousands of miles on a car roof rack can shorten the life of any boat.

A hand crafted ultra-light weight or wooden canoe needs specific preventive care at least twice a year.

Anyone who has spent any time around salt water knows that it will quickly corrode any metal parts, so adding an extra cleaning after trips to the islands is probably a good idea.

This little lesson was created to help fellow paddlers take care of their beloved canoes. It's not the end all be all for repairs, but it should be a great place to start.

Step 1: Materiels, and a Little Disclaimer

Materials recommended:

  • car wax (nothing fancy) and applicator pads
  • rubber gloves
  • teak oil with dip pan
  • old t-shirt (for the wax, and teak oil)
  • soap,water, sponge, bucket
  • brass polish
  • tools to tighten hardware
  • grit sand paper (80-180 grit should do fine)
  • tunes
  • three hours on a lazy rainy Saturday
  • garage beer

Disclaimer: As with any chemicals, use them in an open space. A garage with a good breeze or fan is optimal. Every canoe is different so follow the manufacturer's directions first and foremost.

Step 2: Wash and Wax

I always start with a good clear water rinse immediately after pulling out of the ocean. Once the canoe is in the garage, give it a good sports car hand wash and wax.

My big Traveler canoe is composite with a clear coat; so a good wax really cleans up some of those inevitable hull scratches. The inside of the hull should be hand cleaned too, take this opportunity to inspect the canoe for excess damage.

Hand drying the hull will make this whole process a little shorter also, and it keeps water spots from getting trapped under the wax.

Step 3: Tighten Up Hardware!

Pretty self explanatory, don't over tighten, but a seat or yoke coming loose during a multi-day trip is never fun. It's hard to find tiny screws in heaps of leaves at night, so keeping everything tight is key to avoiding sitting on your beer cooler for two days after your seat fell apart.

Step 4: Sand

This is very particular to the type of canoe so get with the manufacturer or craftsman to find the best technique.

My canoe is mostly Ash and Cherry wood and only the ribs are actually treated. To take out any of the oar scars and dents from crashing into things, I use a slightly course paper and follow it up with fine.

But again, research the wood and test out different sand paper grits.

Step 5: Wipe It Down and Put It to Bed

Yep this is a two day job. Use an old T-shirt with damp water to clean up after sanding. This keeps particles from getting trapped in the sealant.

If you have time, let it dry overnight before preceding on to the next steps. I don't know for sure but adding sealants to wet wood doesn't seem smart.

Step 6: Apply the Sealants

I know I sound like a broken record but get with the manufacturer to find the best sealant to lengthen the life of your canoe. I use teak oil and it does pretty well.

I liberally apply the oil to the gunnels, seats, deck, thwarts or anything wood and not permanently sealed. Go easy on the yoke unless you want sticky shoulders and hair after a long portage.

Remember, the heavier you apply, the longer it will take to really penetrate and become less tacky. I leave it totally alone for at least 24 hours after application.

Make sure you check the hull after applying for any drips. I've never let it dry on something I didn't want it on. But I fear that it will permanently stain if not removed quickly.


(Rubber gloves are probably a good call too.)

Step 7: Polish the Hardware

Salt does a number on the hardware, but a little muscle with some good polish can make it good as new.

I don't push particular brands but Nevr-Dull from the George Basch Company is really great and it lasts forever. I have had this particular can 15 years; it's still 3/4 full and works just as good as the day I got it.

I have lots of brass on my canoe; it looks great but one has to really keep up on it.

Again use gloves and ventilation

Step 8: You're Done, Get Back Out There!

Let the canoe sit again for at least 24 hours to let the sealant dry. Then get back out there on the water, and enjoy some sunshine.

I hope this was helpful and that your proud seafaring vessel is protected for years to come.

Godspeed and happy paddling!