You’re walking down the docks to your boat one beautiful afternoon and notice she isn’t looking too shiny. You decide its time to roll up your sleeves and break out the wax. To bring her back to a showroom finish. To much, chagrin the luster won’t come back with some wax on wax off, what thaaa….
Unfortunately, its time to break out the buffer and go to town and start grinding on your gelcoat. But where do you begin? Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through the steps. You too can achieve professional results and be the envy of everyone on the dock.
What you’ll need above all else are time and patience. This isn’t a snap your fingers and you’re done job. The process takes time.
For the sake of this article, we’re gonna assume the worst, your boat hasn’t seen wax in quite some time.
Step 1: Assess the situation
Before you begin and cut too much or not enough (with compound), you need to assess the condition of your boat. How heavy or light is the oxidation?
For those of you who don’t know what oxidation is, simply put its how dull looking is your boat.
If you rub your hand on your boat and pull back a chalky white hand, you have heavy oxidation. Does your dark blue hull look white instead of blue? You guessed it, heavy oxidation.
Moderate oxidation occurs from normal wear and tear, sitting in the harsh sun and salt naturally, even with proper care.
Brand spanking new boats can have oxidation. I’ve hopped on freshly delivered boats that need several stages of cutting in order to finish the boats down perfectly for wax.
If the gelcoat isn’t prepped correctly you won’t get the best results you can out of your wax job.
Step 2: Perform a test spot
This is going to save you a lot of cursing several hours down the road. Instead of buffing out an entire side of the boat and realizing you didn’t compound your boat aggressively enough.
What I like to do is test several spots because certain areas of your boat take more abuse than others. I like to test the brow on a flybridge or foredeck and a spot on the hull.
By testing it will give you the proper products, steps, pads and buffer combinations to use. Perform all the steps including wax to make sure the boat is perfect.
If you have a colored hull make sure it holds, how many times have you tried and watched the oxidation reappear 30min later and start cursing under your breath? Yeah, I’ve been there too learned the hard way!
Step 3: Start Compounding your boat
Now its time to start grinding some gelcoat. Since we’re facing heavy oxidation, we gonna start aggressive, really aggressive. Take your bottle of Exfoliate (our heavy cut compound) and either apply enough to cover the surface of a 2’ X 2’ area or lay down a small bead to the same 2X2 area. With your rotary polisher (my preferred one is Makita its an absolute workhorse) and a white wool pad.
Start slow with firm pressure and keeping the buffer flush to the boat, work in a cross-hatch pattern, on a slow speed. After you have spread the product around on a slow speed bump the buffer up to about 2.5 on the dial. As the product works in release pressure. Exfoliate is designed to breakdown into a polish, minimizing swirling and scarring in the gelcoat or paint. Towards the end of its working life, slow the speed of the buffer down to about 2 to leave the surface with minimal swirls.
The key is to not work too big of a section as you do not want the product to dry, you run the risk of scarring the gelcoat, creating more work for yourself and will damage the gelcoat. Buffing too fast and you can burn the gelcoat, yikes!
After you’ve successfully worked the product in you will be left with a slight haze, wipe it down with a clean microfiber and inspect the area. Looking better already? You betcha! Once you feel you have achieved the level of correction with Exfoliate, move on to Brighten & Tone.
Step 4: Continue Compounding with a medium grade compound
Now that the surface has improved and we have luster again in the gelcoat, we need to keep up the good work. A medium cut compound like Brighten & Tone will level out the gelcoat even further. Pad selection for this stage we can do one of several options, a fresh white wool which will give you aggressive cutting again, a white foam waffle or a yellow wool, which is a polishing compounding pad.
Brighten & Tone is a two in one compound designed to work into a polish like Exfoliate. Repeat the process above, working a 2 X 2 section without allowing the product to dry on the surface. The beauty with Brighten & Tone is she doesn’t dust up and is designed to work with Dual action polishers.
Wipe down the area and inspect. By now your boats looking pretty damn good. We probably have a few swirls to get rid of now. You’ll never know it looked dull only a few hours ago.
Now its time to really make the boats surface pop! Polish to a mirror shine.
Step 5: Polish to a perfect finish
After you have successfully leveled your boat’s surface we need to polish for that extra pop and to eliminate the remaining swirls. Moisturize is the perfect final step before waxing. You can use your rotary with either a yellow or blue wool pad or a foam polishing pad.
Start with your 2 X 2 section and a few drops of polish on your pad and start slow. With each change in direction crank the buffer up a notch until you hit 2 on the wheel. There’s no need to push hard here, keep enough pressure on the wheel to keep it flush on the surface.
Wipe down your area and inspect it to make sure you have gotten rid of all the imperfections in the surface.
Step 6 (optional): Polish with a DA buffer
If the surface isn’t where you want it to be you may have to make another pass with polish to eliminate any stubborn swirls. When this happens I like to use either a Rupes with a microfiber pad or a porter cable dual action polisher. These refine the surface to a picture-perfect result.
I like to place a few drops of polish on the pad when I use these polishers instead of placing directly on the gelcoat.
Typically I make 4-5 passes with my polisher and it bites into the gelcoat enough to give you the results you’re after. You’ll notice after this step the gelcoat is popping like she just came out of the mold in the factory.
Step 7: Pre-wax wash
By now your boat is pretty dusty and has some oils left on the surface from all the various compounding and polishing. She needs a good bath to ensure the boat is ready to be waxed. All the dust and oils need to be gone. If you’re unsure on proper washing techniques read my article on how to wash your boat like a pro.
Step 8: Waxing or sealing your boat
You made it! The last and final step, which will lock in those picture perfect results is to wax your boat. Our long-lasting polymer sealant Sunscreen is just what the Yachtie ordered.
There are two ways you can wax your boat either by hand or using a dual action polisher. I prefer the latter, it gives you speed and efficiency and by this point, in the game I’m sure you’re feeling pretty tired.
Take your DA and a fresh foam pad. Apply some wax to the pad to prime it and start applying on a speed of 4. Work in a cross-hatch pattern to ensure you cover the entire surface. Sunscreen is designed to work in large areas. So you can do hull sides at a time before going back and wiping it off.
After you’ve let the wax haze up wipe it off with a clean microfiber towel.
You made it! You have perfectly restored gelcoat with durable protection. The best way to keep your boat looking like this month after month is to wash her regularly with the proper products. If you’re hanging out at the dock don’t be afraid to wax a section at a time.