Gelcoat Restoration

After the excitement of the shiny new boat wears off, so too does the “shiny” part.  The outer finish layer of your boat, gelcoat, is a synthetic, resin-based substance sprayed on by manufacturers before the fiberglass layup process is started on a boat’s mold. This is what gives the new boat a smooth, mirror-like shine. 


            Over time, unprotected gelcoat will begin to oxidize, especially in the harsh marine environment.  This is what leaves your boat with a faded finish and a chalky appearance.  Leaving your gelcoat unprotected will eventually result in a rougher surface that makes your boat vulnerable to stains and heavier oxidation.


            On a positive note, nearly all gelcoat can be restored and shined as long as it hasn’t completely worn away.  However, all but the most motivated owners dread the thought of a sore arm and the hours spent buffing and waxing the gelcoat on their boat.  What happens next is often either a half-hearted attempt at waxing, a very expensive detailing bill after paying someone else to do it, or a boat that keeps getting dull and faded with age. 


            At this point, a lot of owners just give up and accept their dull boat.  Besides, a shiny boat won’t help you catch more fish, and shiny topsides wont help you sail faster, so why bother?  Of course, when it’s time to sell the boat to buy the bigger model, you might regret the dull, neglected finish and its effect on the resale value.


            Maybe it’s not too late for you- if you are fortunate enough to currently have that brand new boat (monthly payments and all), this whole process just got a lot easier. Because now, unlike other owners, you only have to worry about a thorough cleaning and applying a quality protective coating such as wax. Periodically waxing your boat at this stage will not only ensure you keep that “like-new” shine but will also protect your boat (and your arm) from any necessary restoration projects in the future.


            Well, what happens if you let that new-boat finish fade over the years? Or maybe you bought an old boat and don’t want people to think that its one of those “You haul it out of my backyard and you can have it for free...” type of boats.  There’s a few options:


The Tried-and-True “Cut and Buff” method-


            You know what this entails- grab the hull cleaner, wash and scrub the boat, wet sand the boat, wash the boat again, buff the wet sanding scratches out with rubbing compound, buff the remaining scratches out with polishing compound, then apply a traditional wax a few times a year.  Then go ice your arm.


            It definitely works, and has cleaned up many an old boat, but it sure is labor intensive.  You can pay the folks at the boatyard to do it for you, but all that time and labor will cost hundreds of dollars every year.


The “Acrylic Sealer” method-


            This one’s much easier to apply, just clean the hull with an acid solution, wet sand any stained areas, then coat it with acrylic sealer (it’s basically industrial floor wax, the stuff you’d use in a school or office building).  Looks good from far away, but the stuff is pretty thick so don’t let people take too close of a look at it.  Also, it tends to yellow with age, and removing it (again, with an acid-based stripper) isn’t a fun job at all.  So, your boat’s gelcoat goes from shiny (new) to dull to shiny to yellow.


            If you don’t mind donning the rubber gloves once a year to prep the boat for a new coat, this can be a cheap way to make your boat shine. 


A new “Nano-Coating” method-


            Recently, nanotechnology has become popular in industrial coatings.  These finishes are designed with ultra-super-small “nano” particles.  Because they are so small, the particles can fill surface imperfections, leading to a more consistent finish along with much better adhesion to the surface.  These coatings have been used on almost everything- highway bridges, storage tanks, concrete walkways, trains, and airplanes.


            In early 2016, one company, Feldten Marine, has taken this technology and adapted it for use on fiberglass gelcoat boats used in the harsh marine environment.  They formulated their nano polish with the uv-inhibitors and non-yellowing properties it needed to function well on a fiberglass boat. 


            Have we finally found a new technology that can replace polishing and waxing?  To prep for nano polish, you need to wash the hull, wet sand heavy oxidation, and remove any stains.  Once your boat is prepped, you go straight to the nano polish.  It’ll take some effort to apply, but there’s no need to wax over it once you’re done. 


            The best part of this is, once you apply this polish you never need to remove it. The nano particles are so small that they permanently bond to your boat’s finish, filling imperfections.  The finish won’t yellow either.  So, next time you need to reapply, just wash the boat off and reapply a coat of nano polish, building onto the old layer of polish.  The nano particles are so small that there’s no worry about excess buildup.


Which one to use?


            Each form of polish and sealer we looked at will make that old boat shine again.  However, when you look at the options, it appears that the new technology of nano polish has won the prize for ease of application and longevity.  It might be time to throw out the wax that’s been used since the inception of fiberglass boats and embrace nanotechnology.  Your arm will thank you.