Guide to Restoring Gelcoat

Beautifully Waxed SailboatEach spring our maintenance experts field a lot of questions from customers on how they can “bring back the shine” to their boat. Choosing the right products for your job is critical to making the job (relatively) easy and effective. Below we describe the differences between compounds, polishes and glazes, as well as discuss how to get that ultimate shine back while making sure your boat's gelcoat is sealed and protected for the coming season.

What is the difference between a compound, polish or glaze?

Compounds and polishes are very fine abrasives suspended in a liquid, and are used to bring gloss or shine to a finished surface. You can think of them as a series of extremely fine “liquid sandpapers”. They are primarily used as the final steps in refurbishing aged or oxidized gelcoat or as the final steps in blending repairs. All of these products effectively remove a small amount of your gelcoat, so it's important to use the least aggressive option that will still get the result you want.

There are also several “one-step” products that combine a compound or a polish with a wax to help you reduce the amount of time spent on restoring your gelcoat. These products are a good option if you have very light oxidation and Fisheries Supply stocks several good ones.

The quality of the results you expect along with the amount of time you are willing to spend will determine how many of these steps you perform. With a reasonably well-maintained, lightly oxidized hull, you may decide that polishing is enough. For medium oxidation, you will need to use both a compound and a polish to bring back your shine. For heavy oxidation, you will likely need to start with an “extra-cut” compound, working your way to a lighter-cut compound, all the way through to a polish.

One more thing to consider...

Compounds and polishes consist of a sophisticated combination of abrasives, surface softeners, solvents, and additives – often intended for use on a particular substrate. Particularly hard surfaces like Awlgrip's 2-part polyurethane paint may require one type of compound or polish, while a softer surface like gelcoat will use another – so as you look through our offerings, make sure that you select compounds and polishes that are appropriate for your specific application.

Now – let's get on to the actual process of getting your shine back!

Step 1 – Compounding

3M Marine Compounding Material #6044Now that you've decided which compound to use – and you've purchased the appropriate compounding pad (click here to learn more about compounding and polishing pads) – you are ready to get to work!

Step 2 – Polishing

Meguiar's High Gloss PolishPolishing is a little different than compounding in that too much polishing can cause your gelcoat to overheat, actually dulling the shine – so don't overdo it. You'll also want to change out your compounding pad for a polishing pad – yes, they are different and this does make a difference – for more information, click here.

Step 3 - Waxing

Collinite Heavy Duty FleetwaxYour final step is to apply a good layer of protective wax to seal and protect the finish you've just worked so hard to acquire.

There are two ways to do this – either by hand, or with a buffer. Most everyone you talk to has an opinion on which is better (kind of like talking about anchors), but both work great if done well. If you decide to apply by hand (easier with some of the thicker waxes) do so with clean rags, soft towels or a microfiber cloth. Use a cotton rag to apply the wax, let it dry to a haze, and then use a soft towel or cloth to wipe it off. Use a circular motion for both application and removal and try to use the palm of your hand – not your fingers –applying the wax with smooth, even pressure. It's important to not let your rags get too clogged up with wax – so switch to a fresh one when it feels like your current cloth is getting full of wax. As always, finish by wiping with a clean microfiber cloth.

3M Scotchgard Liquid WaxIf you prefer to use a buffer, which is easier with liquid waxes, make sure you use the appropriate foam applicator for applying the wax and apply light, even pressure – keeping the machine moving at all times to avoid overheating. You will need to apply the wax with one pad, and then switch over to a microfiber pad to remove the wax. The 3M "Hookit" system is great for easily switching back and forth. Apply the wax to a small, 2' by 2' area, let it dry to a haze, and then remove. Finish by wiping everything with a clean microfiber cloth.

It can be advantageous to combine the two methods – apply the wax with a buffer, then remove it by hand. This can save a lot of time and effort in the long run, while still giving you good control over the layer of wax you apply. Different types of wax may call out a specific application process, so make sure you read the label carefully and proceed as directed.

When you've made it through all of these steps, not only will your boat be protected from the harsh sun and saltwater environment, it will also have that beautiful glossy finish that always makes us turn back and take one more admiring glance.

We hope you've found this Navigator informational – but if you have additional questions, please don't hesitate to contact our product experts at (800) 426-6930.