How to Wax Your Boat in 5 Steps
Waxing your fiberglass boat keeps it looking like new, and provides essential protection for its gelcoat.
Boat wax helps stop gelcoat from oxidizing, and prevents water penetration and damage to the fiberglass beneath it. Waxing your boat is pretty straightforward, but like any other job, certain steps must be taken to get it done right. Here are some tips for waxing your boat in 5 simple steps.
Step 1 – Wash the Boat
Remove all the dirt and debris with the classic bucket of warm water, soap and sponge. Use regular dishwashing detergent instead of special boat soaps to get rid of as many contaminants as possible.
Detergent removes more of the oils and old wax than more gentle boat soaps and is also much cheaper. Rinse the boat off after the wash and let it dry completely.
PRO TIP: If you detect any mold or mildew, add a small amount of bleach to your bucket of soapy water.
Step 2 – Degrease the Boat
Soak a rag in solvent (acetone, toluene, etc.) and wipe down all the surfaces that will be waxed to remove any remaining traces of oil, grease and old boat wax.
Always move the rag in one direction to avoid smearing any old grease or wax around, and never run it back and forth or in a circle. Turn the rag frequently to present a clean area to the surface being degreased. Once every part of a rag has been used, discard it and continue with a clean one.
NOTE: Solvents are extremely hazardous. Always wear protective clothing and respiratory equipment when using solvents.
Step 3 – Apply Compound to the Boat
If the boat has been neglected and the gelcoat is badly oxidized, it’ll be necessary to use a rubbing compound before polishing it. Otherwise, you can skip this step and move on to polishing your boat.
Boat polish and rubbing compound are abrasives that wear away the rough oxidized gelcoat, leaving a smooth surface ready to be waxed. Rubbing compound is more abrasive than polish, so it’s used when the oxidation has reached a level too advanced for polishes to handle.
Work the rubbing compound in a circular motion until the gelcoat becomes smooth to the touch, then use a clean rag to wipe away any remaining rubbing compound.
PRO TIP: You can apply boat rubbing compound and polish by hand, but you’ll get a better finish and find it a lot easier to use an electric polisher or buffer.
Step 4 – Polish the Boat
Polish is a much finer abrasive than rubbing compound, and the goal is to leave the surface of the gelcoat mirror-smooth and ready to be waxed.
Work the boat polish in a circular motion until the gelcoat feels like glass and there are no visible imperfections on the surface. Use a soft, clean rag to wipe away any excess polish.
PRO TIP: Don’t work on one spot too long when applying rubbing compound and boat polish on gelcoat, or else you risk rubbing all the way through to the fiberglass.
Step 5 – Wax the Boat
Boat wax provides a protective layer that prevents air and water coming into contact with the gelcoat, which is what makes it oxidize.
The wax fills every tiny pit and blemish in the gelcoat and once buffed, provides a glossy, perfectly smooth finish. Apply the boat wax with a soft cloth or sponge in a circular motion. Allow the wax to dry completely, then buff the wax with a very soft cloth or towel to achieve a perfect shine.
PRO TIP: Applying and buffing several layers of wax will make the wax coating last longer, and offers maximum protection against water and UV rays.
Use Electric Polishers and Buffers
An electric polisher or buffer is an essential tool for compounding, polishing or waxing a fiberglass boat.
It saves you hours of arm-withering work, and the finish will be much better than applying it by hand. When shopping for an electric polisher/buffer, keep in mind that a random orbit polisher/buffer is more effective than a circular polisher/buffer. They’re better at applying polishes evenly and removing waxes without leaving circular swirls or streaks.
Polishing and waxing requires precision and control, so a polisher/buffer spinning at too high OPM can do more harm than good. Get a polisher/buffer that has variable speeds, capable of running at high and low orbits per minute (OPM) for the perfect finish.
NOTE: Never use power tools such as electric drills or sanders with a polishing or buffing head attached to it.