Restoring a Glossy Wax Shine to your Boat’s Gelcoat
Detail Like a Pro
Boat wax and elbow grease equals a showroom shine: seems simple, but in reality it is a little more complicated and most boat owners simply just do not have the tools and experience to properly maintain a show room shine. Some just put it off until the finish is so degraded that it becomes an arduous task. Many use a service at a steep price.
The pros seem to get in and out in just a few hours and leave your boat looking like a tender on a two hundred foot mega-yacht. They work fast, and their materials list excludes your mandatory twelve pack, but there is more to their magic than just sobriety: they know the products, have a system and the proper tools to get the job done, but you can save significant money with a small investment into a good professional polisher and a little practice.
Four to five hours for a twenty-foot boat.
Removable masking tape
Microfiber towels (or clean lint free household rags)
multi-speed dual action random speed polisher
Foam polishing pad
The finish or shine on your new boat is a combination of a mirror like surface on the gelcoat and a pre-applied mold-release wax used in the molding process (many new boats are buffed and waxed using UV-stabilizing wax prior to delivery, but not all).
Gelcoat is formulated as a pigmented surface coat and has little structural strength, low UV resistance and once it has started to oxidize, poor scratch resistance. Its primary role is to provide the color and shine and create a laminar flow along the hull sides to prevent drag. It will become scratched and pitted quickly if left unprotected.
Get it Clean First
Do not polish until the surface is clean, or you’ll be grinding those dust, dirt and salt particles into your gel coat. After the boat has been thoroughly washed. It is also recommended that you tape off areas like the dash, tops, exposed seats, etc. that may be in the path of flying polish. Use a very high quality masking tape and protect any areas you feel may get hit by the polisher and make a blemish or mark. It actually saves time and you’ll be happy that you did it. It takes a few extra minutes but it is the proper way to polish a boat.
The Correct Product and System
Before you start this project you must determine if a polish is sufficient to bring back the luster and shine. Gelcoat, with even insignificant oxidation, generally requires buffing with a light compound or cream to bare a clean a surface with consistent coloration before waxing. If your original wax is still protecting the surface a polish will do. Try a small area and if the desired luster and shine do not appear go on to: Buffing
When choosing a polish, the new polymer-based formulas are easier to use, have a much longer life and offer a much more scratch resistant surface while guaranteeing UV protection. Apply the polish using a foam-polishing pad on a multi-speed dual action random motion polisher, they are the easiest to use in corners and angled surfaces. Imagine a grid pattern as you buff the hull, side to side, then top to bottom. This helps to ensure you don’t miss a spot. This will allow you to work quickly and effectively with out the worry of swirl marks and surface damage.
If your gel coat has oxidized even marginally you may consider using a buffing cream instead of polish. I have gone to the new polymer-based creams over traditional compounds. They break down to a polish as you work them and you do not need to go back and wash and polish after their use. They will remove micro scratches and oxidation while exposing fresh pigment and give the hull consistent coloration. On your dual action polisher/buffer, install a buffing pad. Historically, I have used four-ply cotton buffing pads, but they takes some time to master. If they are held too long in one location, or if you apply to much pressure, you can easily burn through the gelcoat, so I have gone to multi-fiber twisted pads that are much more forgiving, leave less lint and stay cleaner while preventing swirl marks and blemishes.
Apply a thin coating of the buffing cream over a limited area with an applicator. Buff with light pressure at 1800 – 2500 RPM until residue disappears revealing a deep shine. Remove any excess residue with clean dry microfiber cloth. Using too much product will cause you to overload the pad and have poor results. Start with a small amount of product you can always add more as needed. Be very careful when working near exposed antennas, lines and horns as mentioned before, especially striping. Slow the speed down when buffing on stripes and use less pressure on the buffer.
by Bill Klimas
Bill spent several decades experiencing the explosive growth in the recreational boating market as a business owner, consultant and project manager before starting a career in marine journalism. He was a full-time editor of The Boating News and was the driving force behind the highly successful International Yachtsman Magazine. He now works in Internet content management incorporating search engine optimization, social media, freelance writing and marketing consulting for manufactures and distributors across the recreation market.