Clean Hull, Happy Hull

Are you doing all you can to make sure your boat's hull is clean and efficient? A regular diver service can help.

Let’s admit it: We don’t always want to take the time or spend the money to get our boat’s hull cleaned, yet to skimp on it regularly, especially in Southern California, is a surefire way to slow you down in the water.


Yes, there are still intrepid boat owners who will strap on their old scuba gear and drop into the marina water to do their own hull cleaning, but as one San Diego boat-owning friend confessed, “You do it once, and then you know better.”

And that’s where there pros come in.

While there are a number of independent divers who’ve been at the task for years, there are also fly-by-night cleaners hanging around marina docks with their hand-lettered fliers touting their ‘years of experience’ but who end up being, well, flaky or worse.

Chats with people on the docks reveal many boat owners who have tales of prices and promises too good to be true that, indeed, were.

And why do we need to clean those hulls regularly anyway? (Admittedly, a somewhat rhetorical question.)


Because admit it, nobody wants to putz along in the water dragging the barnacles below, nor does anyone want his boat’s hull integrity compromised. Those mussels — a spike in zebra mussels was predicted this year — hard and soft algae, barnacles and unwanted crustaceans aren’t anything boaters want breeding on their hull.

And then there’s the saltwater toll on underwater metal parts. You may know it as galvanic corrosion. And when boat owners who majored in chemistry, or at the least paid attention in class, start spouting about galvanic corrosion and electro-chemical reactions, this writer knows it’s time to let the experts speak.

In San Diego, one of the premier hull cleaning service companies is Dockside Divers started in 2005 by San Diego native Brian Hall. It has grown exponentially and is now considered one of the city’s premier hull cleaning and topside care companies.

In 2016 the company added partners Jarryn Hallare and Ian Murray, who had been with Dockside Divers since 2012.

“These two bring valuable experience, knowledge and passion to their craft,” Hall said. “Both are excellent divers, but beyond that, Jarryn is the artist and underwater photo guy, and Ian displays an excellent business acumen and has great customer skills.”

Hall estimates they clean approximately 600 vessels every cleaning rotation, which in summer is 21 days; it’s 28 days from November through April, and the company’s Shelter Island location makes it visible and convenient to Shelter Island marinas and yacht clubs.

Hall said the company is proud to employ some of San Diego’s best divers, all trained to the rigorous standards of Dockside Divers and the California Professional Diver’s Association’s Best Management Practices (BMP).

“We use a wide range of cleaning tools to effectively remove marine growth and fouling,” Hall said. “We work very hard to preserve our clients’ boat hulls and bottom paint, and this helps extend the life and the performance of each vessel, thus reducing overall cost to the boat owner.”

He said he realizes not all boaters understand that an important and elemental component of their hull cleaning service is an inspection of all sacrificial anodes.

“You have all these different metals in the salt water, and a lot of people don’t understand galvanic corrosion takes place instantly,” he said. “If this isn’t addressed, this can corrode your propeller, rudder, shafts, through-hulls, trim tabs — any underwater metal parts.”

He explained the sacrificial anodes, installed on most saltwater vessels, are sacrificial because they’re used to sacrifice themselves to protect other more valuable underwater components on the boats, such as steel, brass and aluminum — metals more noble on the Galvanic Scale.

“Actually , Dockside Divers is frontline testing the switch from zinc to aluminum alloy in our anodes,” Hall said. “They’re showing equal to or greater protection and [the alloy] is environmentally friendly.”

Anode replacement varies according to the boat make, model and location.

“Having an educated/trained diver inspecting the anodes regularly is critical, and Dockside Divers includes the status of the anodes in our cleaning and inspection reports, and we replace anodes when needed and recycle the old ones,” Hall said. I have long appreciated an analogy shared by CF Koehler in a 2015 Dear Krabby column, one that he still pens for the San Diego Yacht Club newsletter. It compares anodes to horseradish. Yep, you read that right.

“You said you like the horseradish (in your bloody Mary)? Well, what if I added a bunch more because you liked it — it wouldn’t turn out too well. It takes just the right amount to be tasty without putting your sinuses into spasms. The same is true with zinc anodes: too much zinc, and the electro-chemical reaction between the zinc anode and cathode becomes too strong. This reaction is a form of electrical energy that has to go somewhere. It’s not picky either — it will find its way to the salt water by de-laminating gelcoat, blistering fiberglass and paint, and de-lignifying wood. On the other end of the spectrum, if you don’t have enough zinc, then your expensive metal boat parts will be susceptible to galvanic corrosion.”

See why that stays with me years later?

And then there are the organisms, including nasty creatures like those various and highly abundant tube worms and other hull-fouling species of concern to Southern California marinas.

A study by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) found more than 40 fouling organisms in two study sites: the inner and outer ends of Shelter Island Yacht Basin on San Diego Bay, and Santa Barbara Harbor.

It determined the amount of fouling to be “significantly less” in Santa Barbara, which doesn’t bode well for boat owners in Southern California. It also determined in the 2012 study that some non-native invasive species were found to be tolerant of copper paint, which has been the saltwater boater’s go-to in the past.

“In the last few years I’ve noticed an increase in fouling growth during the summer months, and that our water temperature is a bit warmer,” said Leonard Stepien, founder and owner of 24-yearold Omega Diving Services & Yacht Maintenance in San Diego’s South Bay. “I personally think the water is warmer due to climate change in the long run, combined with the current cycle we’re going through.”

Stepien, who works with his sons Artur and Tomasz, was a part-time rescue diver in Poland and worked in a copper mine. All are members of the Independent Professional Divers and work for brokers and private clients in South Bay, San Diego Bay and Mission Bay.

Besides invasive species tolerating copper, there remain other risks. These hitchhikers can be transported to other waters and marinas the next time you head out for a spin, and, if not tended to by regular cleaning, can cover a copper-painted hull and thus offer a piggyback ride to the copper-sensitive species.

So, do copper antifouling paints continue to control organisms, even invasive species? “There has been some adaptation to copper paint by organisms, but primarily the copper content has been reduced, which makes the paints’ antifouling properties less effective and requires more frequent cleaning” Hall said.

To combat those nasty fouling organisms, a UC Cooperative Extension/Coastal Resources research piece recommends frequent and gentle cleaning to extend the life of hull coating and reduce the risk of spreading non-native fouling species.

“I agree with this research,” Hall said. “In 14 years of experience, and since switching to the 21-day frequency eight years ago, we’ve seen extended life from our customers’ bottom paintings. With regard to the invasive species, removing or deterring them from growing past juvenile status definitely helps slow spreading as they don’t reach a reproductive state.”

And what about the study from Australia’s James Cook University that suggested in-water hull cleaning might stimulate fouling growth?

Andy Anderson of Orange County’s Anderson Hull Cleaning — marking 30 years serving Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Dana Wharf Fishing Fleet — says, no, that’s not the case.

“I’m working with the City of Newport, the Parks and Rec department, and I’d say we have more pollution with human beings throwing stuff into the drink. When we clean a dirty boat, we look behind us and there are all these feeding fish. It’s all natural stuff we’re cleaning off.”

The Santa Monica-born Anderson started diving and cleaning hulls at age 16 when his dad had a 34 Californian in Newport’s Dunes Marina.

“I had half the marina at that age,” he said. “My parents used to pull me out of school to get me caught up on my route.”

In 1987, the youthful entrepreneur became a union electrician, and for the next 32 years did his hull cleaning business on the side. He retired from that and in 2007 started Anderson Hull Cleaning. He now has five employees and more than 425 boats on a 30-day year-round hull cleaning schedule.

“It’s a fun job; it’s still fun, and I don’t mind being to work at 5:30 in the morning,” said the licensed and insured 51-year-old owner/diver. “Unfortunately, the downside is it’s hard to fi nd trustworthy employees.”

For hull cleaning, Anderson’s company uses 150-foot hookah hoses attached to any of his six 13-foot Boston Whalers.

The bottom line, no pun intended, is you need to schedule regular hull cleaning, for many reasons including the very life of your saltwater vessel.

“Galvanic corrosion is a boater’s largest single concern. A dirty hull can be cleaned and fuel efficiency can be restored, but corrosion can destroy very valuable metals and can even sink a boat,” Hall said. “Also, what boaters don’t think about often enough is the impact you may have on your neighbors because electricity knows no boundaries. Using top-quality sacrificial anodes and having qualified divers monitor them can help deter this constant nuisance.”

“Having a professional and reliable diver is very important,” said Stepien, who has kept his Polish accent. “Divers maintain underwater parts of the boat and clean and replace zincs, if needed, to make sure there is no electrolysis. A professional diver spots any potential troubles early and communicates that to the owner.”

“A clean hull is a fast hull,” Anderson said with emphasis. “And it extends performance and fuel economy.”