As a part of our on-going look at various jobs available to scuba divers, today we look at the highly competitive and difficult job of Hull Cleaning.
The Hull of a boat refers to its main body, and hull cleaning involves cleaning from waterline of the vessel to the bottom of the keel, all running gear, trims, shaft, transducers, knot meters, rudders and intakes. When we discuss hull cleaning as a job for scuba divers we are referring to smaller craft (up to 30—40 feet) in private marinas for both salt and fresh water.
The hull of a boat left in water over time accumulates all kinds of algae, marine life, and barnacles that attach to the bottom of the boat. This growth increases the fuel consumption of the vessel, by causing frictional resistance and increasing the weight of the vessel significantly which causes strain on the engines. Fuel economy is undoubtedly one of the major reasons for hull upkeep; a lightly coated hull of a boat could increase its fuel costs by up to 15-20%. A smooth clean hull is essential to assuring optimal performance of the boat and maximum fuel economy, no wonder the demand for hull cleaning is high among boat owners.
The job of cleaning a boats submerged exterior is no easy feat. Hull cleaning requires divers to clean the bottom of a boat without damaging the coating or scraping off the paint which is a difficult task to accomplish and requires technique and knowledge of different boat paint coatings. Cleaners often have to contact the manufacturer’s rep to get information about paint coatings used for certain boats before cleaning them. Making the cleaners job harder is the fact that most marinas freshwater or salt water, are often fouled by murky waters, boat oil, chemicals, sea weed or pond weed making it a difficult and often dangerous job. Fouled hulls can be sharp with barnacles growing on them, and hull cleaners require thick workman’s gloves to avoid getting cut on these sharp surfaces. Another hazard of the job is swimmers ear which is an infection of the ear canal caused by many types of bacteria or fungi.
Scuba diving equipment for this job varies from diver to diver. Apart the usual equipment comprising of a suction cup device to hold onto the boat an assortment of brushes and scrapping tools, breathing apparatus varies from diver to diver based on personal preference and regulations in place at the marina. While some use the regular back mounted scuba tank to do the job, others find this clumsy and inefficient, opting for the more complex hookah systems where a compressor on the surface feeds air down a long tube to the diver, substituting the need for a tank and allowing the diver to stay dong for much longer periods of time. Some marinas don’t allow these noisy hookah systems resulting in several hull cleaning divers to opt for a hybrid system where the scuba tank is left on the dock, and a long hookah pipe is used allowing the diver greater flexibility protecting the boat from tank dings and dents.
Entry into the job of hull cleaning is also no easy task, and almost impossible for the casual part-timer, as apart from being fiercely competitive, almost all marinas require a general Liability policy as well as a Workman’s Compensation policy even if you work alone. The price of the insurance makes it almost impossible to do it part-time. Also most boat owners rarely change their known hull cleaners in several years, often making it difficult to get new customers.
As for pricing, the job attracts different rates in different marinas and cleaning is charged on a price per foot basis, ranging from a dollar per foot to as much as $6/ft. The number of customers you have determines your income, which isn’t too much after you factor in liability insurance, and overheads. The rate for cleaning hulls is usually based on a percentage of the cost the marina charges for hauling out a boat from the water. If the haul-out charges are high, owners opt for underwater hull cleaning more often driving up the demand. Hull Cleaners often gain additional income by replacing propeller shafts, propellers and other maintenance activities, including above water exterior cleaning of boats etc.