Tender TLC

1 July 2009 By Ofer Shelter
Photo by Mark O'Connell

Every yacht has a tender (if not two), and that tender needs loving care, as well as constant maintenance. Here are some tips on how to keep your tender in as ship shape as the mother yacht.

  1. Keeping a tender’s pontoons clean and shiny can feel like Sisyphus’ stone-rolling task from Greek mythology: It will always get dirty as soon as you clean it. I recommend using Inflatable Boat & Fender Cleaner/Protector by StarBrite, which both cleans and puts UV protection on the pontoons. (The easier way is to use some solvent, but I don’t recommend this, as a few months down the road and your pontoons will look old and pale.) The only problem with StarBrite is that it takes a lot of elbow grease. The way to do it is to apply the product in small sections, rubbing it in using a clean cloth. After a section is clean and the true color appears, wipe it down with a dry cloth.
  2. Afterward, wash down the tender with whatever kind of boat soap is normally used on the yacht, to get rid of any residue. Don’t use bleach or any product that will break down the UV protection you just put on. Sea water also ruins UV protection, so frequent rinsing with fresh water can save you work and money in the future. Rinse the tender at least twice a day, and wash and scrub when necessary.
  3. A tender with a hard hull rather than pontoons should be treated like the yacht during a washdown – polish the paint and be very careful not to scratch any of the surfaces.
  4. If the guests ask you during a snorkeling trip whether you practice your gardening skills on the tender’s bottom, you know you have a problem. If the tender is pulled out of the water at the end of each day, you have the luxury of not worrying about growth on its hull. But some yachts keep their tender in the water most of the season – in which case, growth is inevitable. This not only hurts the tender’s performance, as well as is a source of embarrassment. I recommend using the white Scotch Brite by 3M; it’s a little softer than the green pad, and you get the growth off and with minimal damage to the paint.
  5. It’s okay to use any other kinds of tools to get the growth off, but beware – don’t scratch the antifouling paint or the gel coat; otherwise you get double the growth you had before in half the time. Another good tip is to scrub sideways because gernally fouling grows in some current and will have its roots fixed for the pressure coming from the bow.
  6. Mold is the next most destructive to a dinghy. There is nothing worse than handing a guest a life jacket covered in mold. Deep in the tender’s lockers, you undoubtedly will find life jackets and other gear that has not been used. Whenever you have a sunny day, open up those lockers, take out the gear, clean it, dry it and let it sit in the sun to air out. Remember that this is the safety gear you will have to count on in the worst situations. Treat it right and you will get the same treatment back.
  7. Make sure you check the tender’s bilge daily and test the bilge pump. It is important to keep the bilge clean and sand-free. The last thing you want is an unhappy engineer who has to change the bilge pump. Another problem with sandy bilges is that algae grows in sand. This is wise to avoid because after a while the algae starts to smell – another sure turn-off for guests.

The tender is an important asset that deserves your attention. Think of it as a mini-yacht and keep it in good shape.

Know any good inflatable cleaners? Please share your tips for tender TLC below.