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Freshwater vs. Saltwater Boating

If you love all that boating has to offer, you might not want to limit yourself to only freshwater or saltwater fun — and you don’t have to. New owners and those who’ve exclusively boated in the ocean or on lakes and rivers are sometimes intimidated to make the switch to a different body of water. Yes, there are some things to be aware of when changing the type of water in which you play — mainly to saltwater — but if you know how to take the proper precautions, there’s no need to limit yourself.

You want to keep your boat looking like new and running great for years to come, and while a quality boat is the first step, it’s up to you as an owner to take care of it the right way. Freshwater and saltwater boating experiences come with their joys as well as their requirements for proper vessel maintenance. Throughout this article, we’ll cover some of the things to look out for and steps to maintain your boat when switching between fresh and saltwater use.

Saltwater vs. Freshwater Boating

Saltwater vs. Freshwater Boating

Saltwater and freshwater boating both offer unique adventures, and if you like to chase tuna in the open ocean as well as enjoy the tranquility of a calm lake, it makes sense you’d want a boat that can do it all. If you’re considering buying a boat and joining the millions of recreational boat owners in the United States, it’s important to think about how and where you’ll want to enjoy the water and then choose a vessel that suits your purposes.

Once you decide where you’ll be using your boat — in freshwater, saltwater or both — then you’ll have a better idea of what type of boat you’ll want, as well as how you’ll need to maintain your vessel after each voyage and for long-term storage.

Make sure to check what a boat is rated for before you buy. Some vessels are made for both freshwater and saltwater, but others are designed to be used exclusively in freshwater and will need special attention if you decide to take them on an ocean trip.

While you’re able to get away with short trips in a freshwater boat in the ocean, you wouldn’t want to purchase one for long-term saltwater use, as it would require more maintenance and system modifications to be on-par with a boat designed for the ocean. Formulas aren’t limited to one or the others, so if you choose us, you will be good to go in either case.

Is There a Difference Between Freshwater and Saltwater Boats?

Difference Between Freshwater and Saltwater Boats

The conditions your boat faces in freshwater versus saltwater environments are very different. In short, freshwater poses very few problems to most vessels, while saltwater requires careful maintenance. Saltwater can corrode metal up to 10 times faster than freshwater. Additionally, ocean boating is often rougher and requires a hull designed to handle more intense conditions.

The first step in determining the suitability of your boat for ocean conditions is to examine it for its construction and capabilities. The main differences between freshwater and saltwater boats include:

1. Hull Construction

Where your boat is capable of going depends a lot on its design — most freshwater vessels have a hull designed to be close to shore and in relatively small waves. That isn’t to say you can’t go into the ocean on a calm day with small swells, but you’ll have to carefully choose your moment if you’re using a boat made for perfect freshwater conditions. Flatter freshwater hulls will make for a rough ride for you and your guests in ocean chop.

2. Engine Cooling

Boats explicitly designed for saltwater use have cooling systems that protect the engine from the corrosive damage salt can cause. These flushing systems eliminate the need to manually flush your engine after use, and you can keep your boat in saltwater for a more extended period. If you’re using a freshwater vessel without self-flushing capabilities in the ocean, you’ll need to flush the system yourself after every use.

If you take your freshwater boat in the ocean for the first time, take it slow to start. See how your boat handles larger waves and swells before you go out very far. Also, be sure to equip your vessel with emergency distress signals and a VHF radio in case you need to call for help.

Common Questions About Using Freshwater Boats in Saltwater and Vice Versa

Common Questions About Using Freshwater Boats in Saltwater and Vice Versa

Here are the answers to a few of the common questions you’ll be asking as you decide whether you can use your freshwater boat on an ocean excursion or your saltwater boat in your favorite lake:

1. Can I use a saltwater boat in freshwater?

In short — yes. Most saltwater boats are designed to handle the difficult conditions of an ocean environment and have no problem making the transition to freshwater.

2. Is there anything to look out for when keeping a boat in freshwater?

One thing to be aware of that’s more of a problem in freshwater is the development of blisters on your hull. Sometimes, usually, between five to 10 years after manufacturing, blisters can occur as a result of the gel coat absorbing water, usually as a result of being stored full-time in the water. A few small ones on your boat isn’t a big deal, but if there are several large blisters, you’ll need to have your hull repaired and re-coated by a professional.

You can avoid more costly repairs from blister damage by coating your boat before too many blisters start to appear.

Of course, it depends on the boat, but some boat buyers are under the impression that if a vessel has spent a significant amount of time in saltwater, then it loses more value than one only used in freshwater — partially because of the damaging effects saltwater can have on the components. However, with proper maintenance, a well-maintained saltwater boat can be in better condition that a poorly-maintained freshwater boat.

3. Can I use a freshwater boat in saltwater?

If you’ve been a lifelong freshwater boater and you want to make the transition to saltwater, does that mean you have to sell your beloved boat for a new one? Not necessarily. You may want to upgrade to a larger boat with a hull construction designed to handle more intense ocean conditions, but if your freshwater boat can handle the ocean, you can keep using it. Just be sure you keep up with maintenance and know how to flush its systems afterward.

Maintenance and Care

Maintenance and Care

No matter if you’re operating in freshwater or saltwater, keeping your boat is excellent running condition is all about developing a maintenance routine. When you keep up with routine maintenance and complete periodic checks, you’ll have a beautiful, reliable boat to enjoy.

Salt is not a boat’s friend, and the only way to combat the destructive nature of saltwater is to be vigilant. If you’ve developed a freshwater maintenance program and you plan on moving your boat to a new saltwater home, you’ll have to update your routine to account for the corrosiveness of an ocean environment. By protecting your boat before there’s a problem, you’ll avoid costly repairs and down days.

Here’s what to look out for and how to protect your boat:

1. Electronics

Some freshwater vessels have electronic systems that aren’t designed to repel saltwater like their saltwater counterparts. This doesn’t mean you can’t take them in the ocean at all — you just have to be careful and thoroughly clean and protect them after use. However, if you plan on converting your freshwater boat permanently into a saltwater vessel, you’ll want to consider replacing certain electronics with marine-grade systems.

2. Anodes

Anodes function as sacrificial protection for your boat’s metal components that contact the water. Electrical currents in the water naturally erode the metal on your boat, so the anodes draw the electrical current to themselves and protect your expensive components.

If you’re transitioning your boat from freshwater to saltwater, you’ll want to replace the magnesium anodes to aluminum or zinc anodes for marine use and vice versa. Replace your anodes yearly or when they are about halfway corroded.

3. Barnacles

Another essential maintenance item to keep in mind when storing a boat in saltwater is barnacles. If you keep any vessel in a saltwater harbor, you’ll need to have your hull cleaned to prevent barnacles and algae from building up. Buildup not only damages your hull, but it can also slow you down in the water. Most harbors have divers that offer a hull-cleaning service — they’re usually reasonably priced, and you can avoid getting in the water yourself.

4. Rinse and Flush

A good rule of thumb when boating in the ocean is to give everything that came in contact with saltwater a thorough rinse when you get back to the dock. Not only does this get the salt crystals off your boat and keep everything looking nice, but it also protects your systems from saltwater corrosion. Salt acts as an abrasive when dry, so it’s best to get it off all surfaces before it crystalizes. We like to recommend keeping a shammy and a microfiber cloth onboard to wipe everything down and get rid of water spots.

Also, be sure to check and rinse anywhere water can pool, like your bilge and enclosed tanks.

If you’re moving a freshwater boat to saltwater, you’ll need to manually flush the engine after use — usually for about five to 10 minutes, but double check the procedure with your dealer or in the owner’s manual. There are also additives you can use to fight corrosion — they coat your engine’s system and help prevent the damage caused by saltwater.

5. Check the Bottom Paint

Before you put your boat into the water, make sure it has a fresh coat of bottom paint — it protects your hull from saltwater and helps minimize barnacles and algae. You’ll want to inspect your bottom coat whenever you pull your boat out of the water and get a fresh one every few years, according to manufacturer recommendations.

You can get away without a bottom coat in freshwater for a few weeks, but it’s a necessity in saltwater. Ask your boat’s manufacturer about what type of bottom paint is right for your region, as the salinity and species of marine growth require different bottom coats. It’s a good idea to pull your boat out of the water every once in a while to check the hull.

6. Storage

Some owners opt to store their boat out of the water to reduce maintenance costs from things like corrosion, which can be an effective strategy. However, it’s important to not leave your vessel for too long without exercising the systems. Just like cars, boats function better when you use them regularly.

Note — Not all freshwater and saltwater locations put the same type of stress on your boat. For example, a region with a mild climate and salinity is easier on a boat that one with high salinity and freezing temperatures. Consult with your boat dealer and harbor authorities about any region-specific precautions you should take, like bottom paint type or anode replacement frequency.

7. Trailer Care

If your store your boat out of the water, your trailer requires the same care as your boat after use in saltwater. To protect it from corrosion, you need to rinse all components of your trailer thoroughly — brakes, lights, under the fenders and anywhere you can get water.

If you’re in the market for a new boat, don’t underestimate the importance of a quality trailer. Get one made with high-grade materials that will last. Aluminum trailers are better for saltwater use than galvanized steel because they’re more resistant to corrosion.

While drum brakes are usually cheaper and less expensive to install on a trailer, their design allows water to pool. If your trailer has drum brakes, consider buying a drum brake flush kit to protect your brakes and extend their life. Disk brakes are better for flushing because they’re easily accessible and don’t allow water to pool.

Try to wash down your trailer as soon as possible after pulling your boat out of the water. And for long-term protection, consider using a little silicon grease to protect connectors from corrosion.

Always do a general trailer check before leaving for the water, to protect your boat and your safety. Make sure your boat is level on the rests, that the tie-downs are on and that the brake lights are working.

About Formula Boats

No matter what type of boating you like to do, the most important investment you can make is in the quality of your boat. Here at Formula Boats, we make vessels built to last and push fun to the limit for years. As a family company since 1976, we only make boats we’re proud to call our own.

We make boats for those who don’t compromise

When your boat has the performance and function you need, you can focus on the adventure at hand and make memories to last a lifetime. There’s no better way to connect with family and friends than with a beautiful, sunny day on the water.

Whether you’re a fan of river watersports, open ocean fishing or just relaxing in the sun, our wide range of models has something for everyone. We make boats for those who don’t compromise, and that’s what you get with a boat from us — world-renowned quality, performance and design. Browse our selection or contact us today for more information.