Shawn Hughes and his brother Randy hope their business will clean up at the Santa Barbara Harbor

Paul Wellman

Shawn Hughes and his brother Randy hope their business will clean up at the Santa Barbara Harbor

Faces of the Sea: Shawn Hughes

Hull Cleaner Shares His Perspective on Boats and Building a Business ‘Bottom-Up’

Shawn Hughes has spent many hours staring at the side of boats most of us never see — their bottoms. As owner of Scrub a Dub Dive Service, it’s his job to see the grit, barnacles, algal slime, and occasional octopus that settle on a boat’s hull and then scrub them away.

A clean hull is as necessary a part of owning a boat as an oil change for owning a car. A mucky hull causes a boat to drag in the water and use more fuel, and it makes it harder to maneuver. Most boats sport a coat of anti-fouling paint on their hulls to discourage life from flourishing, but this only slows down, rather than stops, growth. Anti-fouling paints have another drawback. They usually employ copper as an active ingredient, and copper in high concentrations is toxic to marine life.

Anti-fouling paint’s imperfections allow Hughes to make his living. Even with a painted hull, boats sitting in the Santa Barbara Harbor need to be wiped clean about once a month. The work isn’t complicated and doesn’t involve any fancy equipment. But it does require diligence and great attention to detail. Hughes continues to do all his cleaning the old-fashioned way — by hand with a cleaning pad or brush — because it minimizes paint removal and the release of copper into the environment.

Although Hughes is happy to clean all boats of all sizes, he particularly enjoys racing boats. The quality of his mostly invisible work becomes apparent when speed is of the essence. Hughes jokes that the highest compliment he has ever received was, “Thank you, Shawn, for cleaning my bottom. That’s why I won.”

In most cases, however, the quality of Hughes’s work goes undetected, which means that, “getting new customers can be a challenge because there is loyalty,” explains Hughes. Hughes credits the successful launch of his business to being a Goleta native and a regular face in the harbor since before he could walk.

Hughes now has more customers than he can handle and has hired one of his younger brothers to help with the hull scrubbing. Hughes is also looking to expand his business in new directions. As a past racing director for the Yacht Club, Hughes managed and maintained a fleet of boats and hopes that he might one day hold a similar role for the greater Santa Barbara Harbor community. In any case, things are looking good for this almost-28-year-old entrepreneur, proving that a bottom-up approach to business really works — at least for professional hull cleaners.

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