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How to Keep Your Boat Interior Smelling Fresh

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Fresh Air

Keeping your boat’s ventilation system clean and running efficiently is as important for your health as it is for that of your boat.

When you step aboard your boat, one of the pleasures is taking a deep breath of ocean air. It’s part of the getting away from it all aspect that draws so many of us to the water.


So when you open that saloon door and you’re repelled by a nasty odor, or worse, the smell of fuel, it can be disconcerting, even dangerous. One of the problems with boats is that they sometimes don’t get used that often. Keeping a large space closed for a week or two in a damp environment creates a perfect storm for the growth of mold, mildew, and other airborne threats to a person’s respiratory system and overall health. I’ve heard of cases where family members with conditions such as asthma couldn’t sleep on their boats because of problems with air quality.

Air conditioners do more than just cool a stateroom or saloon. They also “condition” the air by drying it, which keeps the onboard environment less damp. Eliminate dampness and you reduce the probability of mold and mildew developing. For people who use their boats regularly, simply maintaining the air-conditioning system and regularly replacing filters will keep air quality at a high level.

If you do run into minor odor and air-quality problems, accessories such as Dometic Marine’s ( Breathe Easy Portable Air Purifier or In-Duct Air Purifiers can often be the cure. The 6¼- by 4½- by 1¾-inch Breathe Easy portable unit ($130) reduces odors from mildew, food, tobacco, and other sources using Photocatalytic Nano-Mesh technology with ultraviolet light. What all those fancy words mean is that as air enters the filter, the UV light bulb in the purifier activates a titanium-diode catalyst on the surface of the mesh—which looks like a big scouring pad. The pollutants and odors are absorbed and clean air passes through.

The Breathe Easy In-Duct model (shown) uses the same technology, but installs in-line in air conditioning duct hoses. The 4-inch-diameter version is for use with a 6,000-Btu air conditioner, while the 5-inch model works with systems up to 8,000 Btus. Go with a 6-inch unit and the maximum Btu rating is 12,000. The 7- and 8-inch diameter units work with 16,000- and 24,000-Btu units, respectively. Dimensions range from 10½ inches long to 13½ inches long.

So what if you try these filters and the smell is still there? The problem may not be something in the air. It could be something in the small amounts of water in the nether reaches of your boat.

I once saw a TV news story about mosquitoes. A scientist explained that a bottlecap worth of water is enough to breed thousands of them. So imagine the nasty stuff that can grow in a stagnant puddle of water in the hot, dark bilge of a yacht. Yuck.

The Arid Bilge system

The Arid Bilge system uses a vacuum pump and hockey-puck-like pickup to keep bilges dry.

Al Baurley, president of Arid Bilge Systems ( in Deerfield Beach, Florida, developed his product to keep a yacht’s bilge free of water and other fluids, thereby reducing chances of mold and mildew forming. Moreover, keeping water from puddling under an aluminum or steel tank holding fuel, water, or waste may help you do away with the possibility of rust and leaks. A dry bilge also facilitates maintenance because you can notice leaks more easily. And finally, accessories in or near bilges, such as thrusters, water heaters, and shore-power cord reels, last longer in dry environments because their electrical connections aren’t constantly damp.

The Arid Bilge system is simple. Using a constant-pressure vacuum pump, it removes water from the bilge area on an instantaneous basis. A collector resembling a hockey puck is installed in the bilge sump and, depending on the system’s size, a hose that’s smaller in diameter than a drinking straw, connects the puck to the pump.

Inside the pump housing is a collection chamber. When vacuum in the chamber hits 21 inches, the pump sends the collected fluid overboard via a through-hull fitting. Usually the outlet tube is linked into an existing through-hull hose to keep from having to add a dedicated through-hull.

The most popular model is the Series 2, which has a 16-ounce collection chamber, 100 feet of tubing and three intake pucks for $1,630. It’s been used on boats from 23 feet to 170 feet long, the latter with multiple installations. Arid Bilge Systems also makes Series 4 and Series 9 models for even larger vessels.

Arid Bilge Systems has been around since 2004 and Baurley says he’s had many memorable clients. One was a gentleman from St. Louis who kept his boat in Florida. He would go to sea for four to six weeks at a time and would simply become acclimated to the smell on his boat. One time, he had three bags of dirty laundry when he returned home and one bag of unworn “clean” clothes. When he opened the clean bag in his laundry room, he couldn’t believe the odor that wafted out. He immediately realized that he’d been breathing in that foul odor during the entirety of his most recent six-week cruise and had simply gotten used it. The next day he called Arid Bilge and now enjoys every breath when he’s aboard.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.