Does the gelcoat on your boat look chalky and old and need to be restored to shine once again? No problem—a little elbow grease, a buffer, some basic cleaning supplies, and a few hours of your time is all it takes. Check out the video by clicking on the photo, or read below, to see how you can get Mom’s Mink back to her original shimmering glory.
Basic steps for gel coat restoration:
- Tape off all fittings.
- Apply a boating of protective bee's (paste) wax.
- Apply polish.
- Remove excess wax and polish.
- Apply a second coating of wax or polish.
Step 1: Tape off all fittings
Start by taping off the boat’s rub rail, fittings, and other items that can’t be removed, but could get scuffed up by the buffer. Then get a good oxidation remover (there are plenty of them available on the shelves of your local boating supply store), and thoroughly buff the gelcoat with a power buffer. As you do so, remember to keep that buffer moving; hold it steady in one spot, and you could end up with an uneven shine.
*WARNING* After applying liquid oxidation remover to the power buffer, be sure to place it against the fiberglass before hitting the power button—otherwise, the buffer will send the liquid flying!
Step 2: Bee's wax
If you’re an angler, the next step is to lay down a coating of protective bee’s (paste) wax. It’ll help make it easier to remove fish blood, scales, and chum. Do this coat by hand, then continue on to Step 3.
Step 3: Apply polish
Now it’s time to apply a coating that will help seal the gel coat, and make it shine. You can use either carnauba wax (for the brightest shine) or fiberglass polish (for a longer-lasting shine) for this step. Both provide an excellent finish, though neither provides as protective a barrier as that paste wax does. This coating can also be applied with a power buffer, but be sure to change the bonnet first – never mix cleaners, oxidation removers, waxes, or polishes on the same bonnet.
Step 4: Remove excess
Working on the boat in sections, as the wax or polish dries, change bonnets again and use a fresh one to remove the excess dried wax or polish.
Step 5: Second coat
Think you’re finished? Think again—now it’s time to start over and give the boat a second coating of wax or polish, because one coat is never enough to bring out that awesome shine we’re looking for. And, now for the bad news: this entire second coat should be done by hand, so the buffer doesn’t remove too much of the first coat as you apply the second one.
With carnauba wax, your shine should last for a couple of weeks. If it’s finished with polish you may get up to a month of shine. Beyond that, sun and rain will weather away that pretty finish. Boaters who want to look good all the time will plan to re-wax every few weeks.
Next: Watch Getting Tough Stains out of Gel Coat.
For an overview of painting projects on all exterior surfaces—topsides, deck, and bottom—read How to Paint a Boat.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in July 2012 and updated in February 2019.