#56 Wax On, Wax Off

A scene from "The Karate Kid" in 1984 stands out in my memory. It was about a young man Daniel, who was challenged to compete in a karate tournament by bullies. He turned for help to their apartment's caretaker, a humble but eccentric Okinawan immigrant named Mr. Miyagi. Miyagi becomes his teacher and surrogate father figure who begins Daniel's training by assigning him to menial tasks such as waxing cars. In the scene I recall best, he shows how to apply the wax using one hand in a circular motion, then remove the wax with the other hand in the opposite direction.

Miyagi: "Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important. ..." After Daniel finally expresses his deep frustration seeing no reason he should have to do this, Miyagi reveals that Daniel has been learning defensive blocks through the muscle memory of his chores.

So this entry of Eliana's Journal is to describe how Debbie and I plan to become world class karate punch blockers capable of defending ourselves in any situation. Read on...

Here's The Problem

We love a clean boat. It's wonderful. We admire others who keep their boats nice. Research proves most people are generally happier and function better in a clean environment. This is good thing, right? No, it's bad. There is an unachievable standard for what a clean boat is. I'm not sure Intel keeps their ASIC lab as clean as boats are often expected to be. To the fastidious owner, it doesn't take much of a tarnish or smudge to make an otherwise perfectly functional finish unacceptable.

You may also recall me saying once that an N76 is easily manageable by two people in every respect except exterior maintenance. Truly, the outside surface area is daunting. I have no idea how many square feet of gelcoat and lineal feet of stainless steel there are, but it is significant. No question, right out of the box we agreed, all exterior maintenance should be hired out. Well, that's easier said than done.

We've found it difficult to consistently find good contractors. When we do, they are often under staffed, difficult to schedule, charge outrageous prices and deliver questionable workmanship. Now that's not universally true, but I would say the majority of time we struggle with it. Because we are constantly moving, finding and vetting a new crew each time hasn't been easy.

The Solution

It's now obvious we have to be able to wash and wax ourselves. Doesn't mean we won't hire help when we can. But the Catch 22 is that if we delay doing what needs to be done based on availability of help, it only compounds the work quickly. Once problems begin to appear, remedial work mounts at lightning speed. Washing and waxing regularly eliminates humongous amounts of work.

So we set out to discover the easiest, fastest, and most effective ways to wash and wax. Through experimentation, we are honing our technique and it truly is doable. Not saying easy, but every improvement we make takes us one step closer to self sufficiency which we so desire.


We wash every couple weeks variable by conditions. We tried using a pressure washer. It works OK, but I found managing the hoses, electrical cord, soap and the unit itself is work. Honestly, it doesn't clean very well either leaving a scale of dirt that would otherwise come right off with a gentle wipe.

We tried the rinse-only method. In fact, we still use rinse-only for the swim step, transom, sides and anchor platform upon each arrival. But the rinse-only method for the whole boat isn't even close to a wash and can't substitute.

We tried the dew-wipe method for a couple months last winter. Using a chamois to soak up morning dew does an amazing job of cleaning at the same time. Problem is it took us 45 minutes each morning to do it. By washing regularly, we only wipe dew from living area surfaces which only takes a few minutes.

The easiest and fastest way for us to wash is the old fashioned way. I call it the soapy-mop-rinse method. Wet the surface with fresh water, mop with soapy water and give it a low pressure rinse. We use Meguiars Flagship Wash & Wax soap. Using this product, the rinse water sheets right off so there is little drying and minimal water spots. The soapy-mop-rinse method works perfectly on gelcoat, stainless, windows and settee cushions.

We have gotten better and faster at washing. A good wax job REALLY helps. Simple things like reducing the paraphernalia to drag around and strategic hose routing speeds up the work. Waterproof bibs and gumboots are essential to stay dry. I can do the wash myself with Debbie following about half time to touch things up. She trades off between that and wash day housekeeping. If we start in the morning, we'll be done by just after lunch.

Bucket, soap, wash pad and wash mop. These simple items and a garden hose are everything needed to wash Eliana quickly. The key tool is the mop. It's head can flex in any direction to easily transition to all surfaces while you move along. If the mop doesn't work, switch to the pad.


I experimented with all kinds of polishes and waxes. One really needs a whole cabinet full of 'products' if remedial work is necessary. We've been there and done that. Now be it resolved that the easiest way and least work is to keep things protected routinely so the special forces aren't necessary.

It doesn't make much sense to wax without a light polish to remove any remaining dirt or stain. I've tried waxing alone and the two step process of first cleaning, then waxing. I've concluded it makes no sense to do it either way. So I set out to find the best Cleaner + Wax product that would clean and wax in the same pass.

After sampling several products I found the best and fastest results were with Meguiars Flagship Cleaner Wax. It cleans aggressively without requiring heavy pressure on the pad. Plus the wax buffs out beautifully and is longer lasting than anything else we tried. And another very important feature, unlike most others, it can be applied in direct sunlight with no problem. The only downside to this product is it doesn't like water. So if the surface is the least bit wet, you better get it dry.

Like washing, I began by assuming mechanical help was necessary such as an orbital machine. I thought it would be the only way to go fast. Wrong. Like the pressure washer, it's a pain in the you know what and logistical nightmare. I also found it gets heavy when you have to reach with it.

The method we found that works the best is the old fashioned way. I use a sponge applicator to apply the wax. Knock it down with a clean microfiber towel. Then buff with a baby diaper (available at West Marine). This system works for everything. Big areas, nooks and crannies, railing, window frames, everything. Most of the time I'm working over my head, below my feet or in a cramped area and yet with these very light tools you can wax on, wax off with the best of them.

A few additional tips: First is to wear kneepads. Amazing how it makes the job easier. Second, I place the applicator pad in a zip lock bag between sessions and it stays perfect. Third, have a big supply of knock down towels and buffing diapers, keeping them constantly clean. Cuts the work dramatically and is worth doing a washer load each evening.

Now, though, I will reveal the most important secret discovery for making boat waxing easy. A ladder. Not just any ladder. Nooo, this ladder is PERFECT and I love it. It's called the LITTLE GIANT, extends up to 15' and can serve as an adjustable step ladder accessible from both sides. Best of all, it weighs only 35 pounds and stores in the wash locker with the rest of the stuff.

One other problem we solved was how to do the bow and anchors. We twisted Eliana in the berth so the bow paralleled the dock and the anchors were over the dock. Then with the aforementioned PERFECT ladder we were able to knock out the bow in no time. To get the other side, we just reversed her position on the same dock. No fuss.

We set up our supplies bench in the cockpit.

The ladder isn't necessary for washing, but is essential for waxing. It can contort to different shapes and lengths to work everywhere.

Here the LITTLE GIANT works perfectly as a two sided step ladder.

We've found this simple combination helps us immensely.

By putting Eliana in a twist, her entire bow parallels the dock.

Here's the view from the front.

The anchors are then perfectly positioned for the stepladder.

We wax every square inch we can get to, even the inside edges of hatches. Here, we even waxed the inside trim pieces between the outside glass and screen.

Screw and bolt heads are sometimes hard to get wax in, so I use Boeshield T-9 or Corrosion Block. Squirt and wipe.

Notice how neatly the awesome LITTLE GIANT fits in the wash locker!

Before Signing Off

Anyone that has tips of their own on washing and waxing, please share them in the comments section. Simply click below to go to our website where you can add a comment. We're interested in anything that makes it easier, faster or better.

As always, we appreciate our readers very much. Please pass along the EJ link to others you think may find it interesting.

Rick Heiniger

N7617 Eliana

Lying: Richmond Bay Marina

Mileage: 8,203 Nautical Miles

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Bob T 1/9/2018
Rick, do you have any update since this great info was posted? New products or techniques that are working better for you since then? Thanks, very informative.
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No I was never able to improve on this system. I highly recommend it!

John Maurer 10/15/2011
One more idea. Wax the shower walls and it makes it easy to keep soap scum from building up. If you wax and then remove and wax again the finish will be easier to maintain the next time. Just like multiple wax coats on any vehicle will make it easier to clean the next time.
John Maurer 10/15/2011
I could offer some advice on car wash products that I used on a 32' Regal, which should help you keep your boat clean. A website, www.vaughanind.com is where the products came from and I can attest that the Special Detergent works well as a soap that helps to preserve the wax and shine. Cotton towels washed and then fabric softened are great to remove wax. The Fast Break worked to eliminate water spots but you lack a proper applicator to make it useful. The 403 works great as a glass cleaner with just an ounce or two in a quart spray bottle, then filled with water. Just spray on then wipe off using a terry towel that is damp in a horizontal stroke. This helps to eliminate streaks and even if it does streak, it doesn't inhibit sight lines. I have no connection to Vaughan Industries, just used their products for 25+ years.
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Bill Funke 10/11/2011
Great stuff Rick! I find it amusing that I can be so interested in someone sharing how they clean and wax their boat! I was telling my wife about your most recent entry and all I got back from her was a blank stare... then she smiled and patted me on the head as she walked away...I guess not everyone appreciates every detail of the boating life! I sure do so keep the entries coming!
Tom DeJose 10/11/2011
Hello Rick and Debbie, I am really enjoying your site and the wonderful story of you and your vessel. I share your dream of cruising the oceans and exploring the world via the seas. The only significant cruise I have made so far is the trip from Los Angeles up to Marina Bay, a mere 400 miles, but I loved it. I am your neighbor, for a while at least, while you are here. You may have noticed my old, small vessel which I live on, along with my small dog, Gromit, about 20 feet from the lovely Eliana. My vessel is a 1979 CHB trawler, just 41', single diesel and full displacement hull in the spirit of the Eliana. You met my friends, Darrell and Gloria, with the 40' Hershine Trawler. Very good people, and it was very nice to have them here at the dock for a few days. Thanks for sharing your boat and your adventures; look forward to the next chapter. Tom Store Manager, West Marine
Don Cochrane 10/9/2011
Did you enjoy the play Don Hi Don, We went to see Rita Moreno tell her life story. It was incredibly well done. Loved it. Met Christine afterward for gelato. She was charming. We had an interesting visit. Rick
Bob 10/9/2011
Hi Rick, Were you and Deb able to see any of the fleet week highlights today? Hi Bob, We have company this weekend so weren't able to go over to see things first hand. We did see the Blue Angels performing. At one point they swooped around nearly right over the marina. Amazing. Rick
Charlotte 10/9/2011
We use a water filters with our hose.stainlesssteelwaterfilters.com No water spots! Thanks for the tip about the mop, I have been looking for something like this and have ordered one from Griots.
Mike 10/6/2011
Rick good for both of you for doing that work. I would love to know what the mop is that you are using. Mike Hi Mike, I got two of these online from Griots. The mop handle is amazing. The head rotates 360 degrees and flips back and forth 180 degrees. With a little practice you can go from floor to wall, to top of rail to outside wall to ceiling just by manipulating the handle a little. The handle is also extendable so when working in a narrow walkway, you use it short. But when going over a big area, I extend it long and use sweeping motion to get over ground fast. Rick
Darrell 10/6/2011
Rick and Debbie Thanks for the help. Getting away from the dock in Richmond. With the wind and rain, it almost got ugly. Thanks again !!!! Bailador Darrell & Gloria
The Karate Kid is one of the all time great movies!
Tony 10/4/2011
Kudos on keeping your ship in shape! One question I have is do people complain about the run off going into the water? I boat on a crystal clear lake in Maine, to 15' or 20' deep anyway, and there are people (I am one of them) who take the water quality very seriously and it is quite a "no-no" to do anything like wash your boat, dirty dishes or hair in the lake. Are the Meguiars Flagship products eco - safe or is it just a regular event that all ocean boaters understand? I am not trying to stand on a soap box (eco - safe or otherwise) just curious. Thanks for the great blog. Dear Tony, Thanks for a good question. We try to keep all the products we use inside and out to be as environmentally safe as possible. Honestly, though, I hadn't checked these. Here is what I have gotten from Meguairs.... "While all of Meguiar's car wash soaps are biodegradable, none of our other products are currently being marketed specifically as green/eco friendly. We have regularly altered formulations to stay in keeping with ever changing regulations concerning VOC emissions, etc. In some cases we have been able to successfully alter the formulation of a given product without compromising it's effectiveness, ease of use, etc, but in others (M16 Professional Paste Wax comes to mind) we could not alter formulation without negatively impacting the product. That is something we refuse to do, so rather than produce a compromised product we cease production of it." Rick
that is one gorgeous yacht both inside and out. takes pride of ownership to a high level. would love to see a complete shot of the yacht after being waxed, almost looks like the hull has a mirror finish. quite envious. great blog, jon
Jackie in Sammamish 10/4/2011
Interesting blog. I bet you two are in great shape because of this frequent workout. The pictures really show off the sheen! Good job!
Ok, so for those of us who have not waxed our car/pickup for over a year - I'm feeling like a total failure. Won't sign my name but you know who I am in St. Joe (and you have my email).