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How to pressure wash your boat to prevent the spread of whirling disease

man cleaning a sailboat with a pressure washer

Properly washing your boat does more than keep it looking clean. It also prevents harmful aquatic life from spreading throughout Western Canadian waterways. Whirling disease, for example, is already affecting fish in four major watersheds in central and southern Alberta.

Anglers, tour operators and recreational boaters must take precautions to prevent whirling disease and invasive species from spreading. Cleaning your boat and equipment with a gasoline or electric pressure washer helps prevent harmful aquatic life from migrating to other lakes and rivers. However, it must be done correctly to ensure you thoroughly disinfect your boat.

What’s whirling disease?

Whirling disease is caused by a microscopic parasite called Myxobolus cerebralis and affects many species of trout and whitefish in Alberta. The condition causes skeletal abnormalities in fish, causing them to swim in a whirling fashion. This makes it difficult for them to feed and vulnerable to predators. Whirling disease is particularly harmful to young fish, with mortality rates of up to 90 per cent.

Infected fish often have black tails and skeletal deformities on their bodies and heads. Whirling disease isn’t harmful to humans or other animals, and infected fish are still edible. However, there’s no treatment or cure, and the condition can decimate populations of game fish that are essential to Alberta’s sport fishing economy.

Preventing whirling disease

The parasite that causes whirling disease spends the first part of its life in aquatic worms before being released into the water to infect fish. The parasite can migrate through infected worms, fish, or a surface that has encountered infected water. People can spread whirling disease by moving any of the following:

  • Infected live or dead fish
  • Infected worms
  • Contaminated equipment
  • Contaminated water, sand and mud

For this reason, boat owners must do everything possible to thoroughly clean their vessels and equipment before moving to another water body, as well as cleaning and disinfecting their footwear and clothing.

How to pressure wash your boat

Using a pressure washer with the correct attachments is an efficient and effective way to remove grime, algae growth and harmful parasites from your boat. However, it’s a task that you must perform correctly so as not to cause harm to the boat or yourself. Here are a few tips:

  • Use a pressure washer with at least 2,000 PSI and 1.3 GPM. This pressure ensures you remove any dirt, debris and contaminants from all cracks and crevices.
  • Use protective eyewear, closed-toed footwear and gloves.
  • Shut all doors, windows and hatches and pull all plugs to allow water to drain. In fact, it’s illegal to transport a boat without removing the plugs in most provinces.
  • Remove any loose equipment such as cushions that may fly off the boat.
  • Avoid using strong pressure settings on your pressure washer because they can remove coats of varnish and gelcoat. Start with low-pressure settings and wide nozzles before upping the pressure. Keep the nozzle 15 to 20 centimetres from the boat’s surface.
  • If the boat has high or difficult-to-reach areas, invest in a pressure washer wand and long pressure washer hose to give you extra coverage.
  • Use pressure washer detergents that are safe for boats and provide disinfectant properties. Avoid ammonia-based products. Vital oxide is a sanitizing solution that kills 99.999 per cent of bacteria, viruses and fungi while eliminating noroviruses, mould and mildew. It’s a gentle cleaner that’s safe to use on any surface.
  • Before applying detergent, give the boat a quick rinse to remove sand and other loose particles. Then, with the detergent injector, lather up the craft, starting from the bottom and working your way up. Remember to clean the boat trailer, too. Let the detergent sit for about 10 minutes. Don’t allow it to dry.
  • Be careful when pressure washing around decals, as you can easily strip them off. Spray decals at a 90-degree angle; start at the middle and work your way to the edges.
  • When rising, use a low-pressure setting and rinse your boat from top to bottom to avoid streaking.
  • Open all compartments and sponge out any standing water. Wait for your boat to thoroughly dry before applying wax and polish or travelling to another body of water.

Pressure washer parts and accessories in Western Canada and North Dakota

At Hotsy Water Blast, we carry more than 100 models of pressure washers, so you’re sure to find one that’s right for you. We carry electric- and gasoline-powered hot water pressure washers and have a comprehensive selection of pressure washer parts and accessories.

We have seven locations across Western Canada and two in North Dakota. Contact us today to learn more about how our pressure washers can keep your boat clean and parasite-free.