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3-Step Gelcoat Shine

3-Step Gelcoat Shine


Even if all you’ve got is the S.S. Minnow, a cared-for boat is a cared-for life.

We shared our interior cleaning insights with you last month. Now, it’s time for our exterior routine, which we hope will provide new ideas and helpful reminders for keeping your boat in tip-top shape.


Most boats are finished with a durable, ultraviolet-resistant, modified resin called the gelcoat. As they age, gelcoats become more porous, leading to staining, oxidation, and an overall chalky and drab appearance. Fortunately, you can prevent this natural wear and tear by paying close attention the various types of boat blemishes, and treating them as follows:

  • For light organic stains (bird droppings, plant matter, drink spills, etc), use a chamois or clean cotton rag and mild cleanser to remove the stain (we recommend FSR by Davis or West Marine Fiberglass Stain Remover).
  • Mineral stains include waterlines, black mineral streaks running down the hull from scuppers, and rust around exhaust ports, chainplate covers, & stanchion bases. Mineral stains require specially-formulated cleansers with acid or chelating agents, and there’s little scrubbing required (we recommend Star Brite Rust Stain Remover).
  • For heavier stains and thick calcium build up you may need a more aggressive option like caustic acid or degreaser with a soft-bristle brush. MAKE SURE to protect your eyes and skin with well-fitting rubber gloves and eye gear. Avoid abrasives like sandpaper and strong solvents like acetone.

man buffing boat in marina


Rinse the hull from top to bottom with a quality hose nozzle or pressure washer to remove debris. Then, lather 303 Boat Wash or another specialized boat cleaner in small areas at a time, rinsing and drying thoroughly as you go. To avoid streaks and UV damage, don’t use cleaning agents in direct sunlight.

Your boat might look slightly dull at this stage, and may require buffing to remove oxidation. Use a low-speed or orbital electric buffer (GFCI-protected Shurhold 3100) with a heavy-cut wool pad (not synthetic or foam), and apply four nickel-sized dollops of a compound (Presta’s Super Cut Compound) directly to the pad. Buff the hull to your desired shine. It may take a few inspections to make sure your boat has a consistent sheen all the way around. Avoid pressing too hard, and remember, always keep the buffer moving! 

Step 3: POLISH & WAX

Unless you use an all-in-one product that combines compound with a polish and wax, like 3M’s Restorer & Wax, you’ll need to repeat the buffing process with a high-quality polish like Presta Chroma 1500.

Otherwise, the quality of your compound and polish are arguably more important than your wax, so don’t skimp on those products! Buff water-wax in small areas at a time until the entire gelcoat is pristine. Scotchguard Marine Protective Liquid Wax is water-resistant and a budget-friendly option.

As always, keep your speakers covered throughout the cleaning process!

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