Owning and maintaining a boat in freshwater versus saltwater is an entirely different experience. Freshwater boaters have the privilege of spending a day on the water, rinsing away the dirt or food that accumulated and heading home. For a saltwater boat owner, hours of work are needed once the boat returns to the dock after being out in rough sea conditions. However, it’s not just use, boats require maintenance even when left at the marina or on the trailer. What is the difference between saltwater vs. freshwater boat maintenance? 

How does salt damage a boat?

Salt is very corrosive. Its corrosive nature will quickly create rust on a metal surface that is not adequately rinsed. Think of corrosion at a much deeper level; it’s not just on exposed railings, rod holders, and more. Salt penetrates areas such as wiring, internal engine components, and fiberglass. Improper maintenance will leave salt embedded in gelcoat, broken wiring from salt intrusion, and potential seizing of mechanical engine parts. 

Freshwater Boat Care

While boats stored and run in freshwater will need less attention, that doesn’t mean they don’t require routine care. All boats need to be serviced, waxed, cleaned regularly. When an investment is made in a vessel, it should be given attention to detail to hold its resale value better. 

Many people ask, can I use a freshwater boat in saltwater?

Just because a boat is used in freshwater doesn’t mean it must be sold and replaced for saltwater use. All it means is that more maintenance time is needed. 

Saltwater Boat Care 


Storing a boat in a trailer generally means it will not endure a harsh environment daily as it would in a marina slip. Forget about the boat for a minute and think about the trailer that was submerged in saltwater. The boat trailer must be well rinsed after use. Also, remember to grease the wheel bearings.

The Hull of the Boat

An often overlooked area is the hull. The hull, if not washed and rinsed, can lead to salt becoming embedded. After every use, apply soap with a brush and scrub all areas of the hull. Another way to prevent this problem is to apply wax regularly.

The Engine

Most outboard engines today are built with an attachment to connect a garden hose. Each time the engine is run in saltwater, the motor or motors should be thoroughly flushed for five to ten minutes. If not equipped with a hose attachment, check with a local marine store for “earmuffs” placed on the water intake with a hose attachment. These can be used for outboard, inboard, and inboard outboard engines. 

The Topside of The Boat

Every single nook and cranny on the craft should be doused in freshwater and possibly even washed if extremely coated. Remember to rub the palm of the hand on the underside of the railing with water running, spray up from underneath in confined areas, open the bilge access and rinse the bilge, the exterior of an outboard engine, marine electronics, and even t-tops or bimini tops. Once the salt is removed, dry the boat with a chamois cloth to prevent watermarks. 

Boat Anodes

Anodes on a boat are designed to prevent damage caused by electrical currents in the water. These currents are more common than you think. The anode catches the current before it creates a problem with the critical components of the boat. 

Anodes should be inspected every year and replaced when they are about halfway worn away. 

Bottom Paint

The ocean is rich in living organisms. During the warmest month of the year, the growth of algae and barnacles can be rapid. Bottom paint is designed to aid in repelling the bottom of the boat, becoming fouled. If the craft were left untreated, the boat’s speed and fuel economy would drop drastically. 


The required maintenance of a boat kept in saltwater is far more detailed than those in freshwater. This should no be a deterrent, the bays, rivers, marshes, and open ocean offer great entertainment from beaching to fishing. If you’re in boating freshwater or saltwater, all that matters is spending time on the water and having fun.