Refinishing Your Boat

By Aaron Ricketson

It is almost summer. That means it is time for bathing suits, vacations, and time spent in some form of water. Whether you are a fan of the ocean, or taking in the lake scene, if you have a boat you are going to want to use it this season. During the winter, there is a good chance you haven’t been able to spend much time working on your boat outside in the cold, slick conditions. Now is the time to be getting your boat into perfect shape so that you can enjoy it sooner. The better your boat looks, the more fun you will have – it’s a fact. The underside of your boat may be looking pretty rough after months of being locked on the land. If you are looking into refinishing your boat’s bottom, here are some tips and steps that you can take.

The first thing you are going to want to do is clean the boat. Just give it a nice going over with a hose. This is to get off any pollen or dirt or easily removed grime that may have been accumulated in your boat’s offseason. If you encounter rough or sticky spots that you can’t seem to get off with a basic cleaning, use lacquer thinner, varsol, or a special degreaser to remove the spots. Rinse after this and let it dry. Sometimes, you can use a squeegee to even speed up the drying process. The next step is going to be to remove any old wax that is still around on the surface. Use rags that are soaked down with toluene or another dewaxing solvent to remove the wax. The old wax should be removed because it restricts the polish or rubbing compound from spreading evenly in a later step. Sweep the rag in one direction and be sure to allow the solvent to just evaporate before the buffing.

Now it is time to buff the boat. First, you are going to need to determine whether you need to use a polish or a rubbing compound. Polishes are usually selected for a lighter refinishing while compounds are used for tougher jobs. However, be careful with the compound because it can burn through the gelcoat pretty quickly, causing a needed repair job. If the surface is extremely pitted and chalky, your best bet will be the rubbing compound. The next choice you have to make is to decide whether you will want to hand-buff or use a machine. Many people say hand-buffing is best, but if you choose to use a machine, use a low-speed buffer, not a high speed sander. This will give you more control, and while it may take longer, your margin for error is smaller. It is suggested that when you begin buffing, you begin at the transom and work toward the bow in sections that are about two square feet. Use a soft cloth if buffering by hand or that low speed buffer with a foam polishing pad on it. Put a circle of polish or rubbing compound onto your tool of choice and slowly work it in using a steady, even, and circular motion. If you’re using the buffer, be sure to touch it to the surface before starting it at its slowest setting so the polish or compound doesn’t go flying everywhere. Buff until the surface becomes glassy looking. If it gets to the point where you can see through the gelcoat, you have gone too far. Try to remove fittings ahead of time if possible to avoid trouble with buffing them. It is suggested that you do not use an electric buffer around non-removable fittings and tight corners so that it doesn’t get caught or damage them.

If you used a rubbing compound, some suggest a light coat of polish on top to give it the glossy look, but it is up to you. At this point you are going to want to hose off the boat to remove any dust that may have been accumulated from the compounding stage. Now it is time to apply a coat of wax to your boat. It is really dealer’s choice on wax, but again you will need to either use your hand or an electric buffer for this job. Still use the circular, steady motion that was used previously. Allow the wax to dry until it looks sort of hazy and you can buff the wax with a soft towl or terrycloth bonnet to give it that shine.

At this point, your buffing job should be complete. Feel proud of the job you have done and reward yourself with a nice outing on your favorite body of water. You have to show off the great work you have done! Happy Boating!

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