How To Make Your Fiberglass Gleam
By Lenny Rudow
Keeping gelcoat properly maintained isn't just a matter of vanity, it's also a matter of protecting your boat's fiberglass. Now that we have that out of the way, let's get real — you do want to dazzle your slip neighbors with the mirror-like hull sides on Mom's Mink, don't you? You're far more likely to be able to raise a good shine come spring if you remove the season's stains now and protect the fiberglass from the ravages of winter with a couple of good coats of wax. Luckily, keeping your boat in tip-top shape is a lot easier than it was in the old days when wooden vessels called for scraping, sanding, and painting for hours on end. But don't get too smug. There's still a lot of work in your future, so let's get started.
Step 1: Remove Oxidation
For the purposes of this article, we'll assume you're starting with gelcoat that's slightly oxidized. If it's extremely oxidized, you may need to call in a pro. If your gelcoat doesn't show any signs of oxidation (yellowing and/or a chalky, dull appearance), skip to Step 2. Oxidation occurs naturally, as exposure to sun and weather break down the gelcoat's surface and turn it chalky and pitted. If your boat is more than a couple of years old and hasn't been meticulously maintained, chances are there's some level of oxidation. The more there is, the tougher this step will be.
You need to hit every inch of the fiberglass with a good oxidation remover. As a rule of thumb, it's best to use the least abrasive oxidation remover possible, so you don't grind away lots of gelcoat. How will you pick which one is right? Test a few different products on a small section of the gelcoat to find the least abrasive product that still gets the job done. If you try to deoxidize the entire boat by hand, you'll blow out your elbows; an orbital buffer is a must-have tool for this task.
Fit the buffer with a terry cloth bonnet, and pour a big "X" onto it with the oxidation remover. Then hold the buffer gently against the hull side with even pressure, and hit the power button.
WARNING: If you hit the power button before the buffer is sitting flat against the hull, it'll spray oxidation remover in every direction.
Once the buffer is running, sweep it back and forth across the hull, going over the same area three or four times and being sure not to leave any gaps in your coverage. Never hold the buffer still, or it can "burn" a divot in the gelcoat.
You've hit the entire hull? Now look carefully for spots the buffer missed because there are always a few (under the rub rail, transom corners, and around thru-hull fittings, for example) and do them by hand. Then put a new bonnet on the buffer, and use it to rub off the oxidation remover. If the oxidation was severe, or if the remover you chose was too weak, you may have to repeat this step.
The trick is to get the cleaning and maintenance finished so you can maximize your time on the water
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