Fiberglass Gelcoat Restoration in 3 Steps
Some things look cool when they’re a little ragged, like muddy ATVs or faded jeans. However, a boat with faded gelcoat just looks plain neglected. Gelcoat is a soft resin that protects a boat’s fiberglass hull and provides a mirror-smooth shine.
Before we get into the 3 easy steps to restoring your boat’s fiberglass gelcoat, let’s touch on why it fades. Over time, exposure to UV rays oxidizes the gelcoat, giving it a dull, chalky appearance. Oxidized gelcoat also becomes porous, which leads to deterioration. There’s nothing you can do about gelcoat eventually fading, but you can restore it to its former glossy shine.
Step 1 - Clean the gelcoat. Rinse down the topside and hull with fresh water to remove as much dirt as possible, then thoroughly clean them with marine-spec biodegradable boat wash.
It may be necessary to scrub molded non-skid areas to dislodge stubborn dirt. Give the topside and hull another freshwater rinse and allow everything to dry completely
NOTE: Before continuing to the next step, mask fittings and the rub rail with tape to prevent scuffing during the polishing and waxing processes.
Step 2 - Polish the Gelcoat. Polish is a light abrasive that removes tiny imperfections and gently smooths the surface of oxidized gelcoat, restoring its glossy appearance.
You can apply marine polish by hand, but it’s less strenuous to use an electric polisher/buffer. Keep the buffer moving constantly to prevent wearing through the gelcoat in any one spot, and work in sections. Once you’ve polished the gelcoat, change the electric polisher/buffer’s bonnet and go over the gelcoat again to remove any excess polish and smooth off the gelcoat.
PRO TIP: If the gelcoat is badly oxidized, use rubbing compound first. Rubbing compound is a more abrasive polish that cuts deeper into oxidized gelcoat. You’ll still need to polish the gelcoat after applying rubbing compound.
Step 3 - Wax the Gelcoat. Use a marine paste wax to provide a physical barrier that stops water, salt and other contaminants from coming into contact with the gelcoat.
A quality marine paste wax contains UV inhibitors to delay further oxidation to the gelcoat. As with the polish, you can apply paste wax by hand, but it’s easier to use an electric polisher/buffer. After applying a coat of marine paste wax, change the electric polisher/buffer’s bonnet and go over the gelcoat again to remove any excess wax. Repeat the process until you’ve built up several layers of wax over the gelcoat.
NOTE: Apply marine paste wax in the shade, never in direct sunlight. The more coats of wax you apply, the more protection you’ll give the gelcoat. This means the gelcoat won’t oxidize as quickly and you won’t have to polish and wax it as often.