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Miller 05-01-2002 03:07 PM

Need HELP with gelcoat.
I'm going to help a buddy of mine this weekend to clean and prep his boat. The boat is only 3-4 years old and is in really excellent shape except for the gelcoat. It looks like someone used either a Scotch Brite pad when cleaning the boat, or used too much pressure with a buffer as there are small scratches and swirl marks on the deck and hullsides.

I had a similar problem with my finish after someone local did a poor job detailing and I had to use a lot of elbow grease to polish it up. However, this guy's boat is much worse. It doesn't look like he needs to add gel, but it sure needs some serious attention. I know that some of you are very knowledgeable in this area.

My friend is working with a limited budget and has no experience working with gelcoat. He has not done any wet-sanding or any other paint work. So, where do we start? What products would you recommend? Should he buy a buffer? Should he start with wet-sanding or should he just wash the boat and then use differing levels of polish and finish with wax? What brands do you recommend?

Finally, what specific tips can you guys recommend to get the best results? I'll be helping him, but I have had limited experience in this area as well. So, any tips will be greatly appreciated.


Sean 05-01-2002 03:20 PM

Hey Miller, long time no speak...

What color is the boat?? It sounds like it might be a dark color and I had a black Shadow Cat which was a real pain to keep looking good.

As far as wet sanding, that should be a last resort and I would only recommend it if there was alot of oxidation and deep scratches. Either way, this is not for the faint of heart as you can EASILY go right through the gelcoat.

On the buffing side of things, I use a buffer and 3M products for compounding. I forget the exact part number of the rubbing compound but it is tan in color and works well on minor scratches and oxidation. Compounding a boat with a machine is also not an easy task and coarse compunds can also eat up the gel.

My suggestion would be to go to an auto body supply shop and get some 3M compound and a good paste wax(I use Safety Klean wax which is also applied with a buffer--stuff will last forever...) Tell them exactly what you are doing and they should be able to recommend the right compound. could pay someone 18/ft to detail it and sit on a lawnchair drinking Coronas----oh, I forgot, Dave drinks the can stick to the club soda...:D :D

Good luck with it.

Miller 05-01-2002 03:38 PM

Thanks for the response Sean. Congrats on selling your boat.

My friend's boat is white in color and you can really only see the scratches when looking from an angle in the sun. At the right angle, or when up close, you can see the scratches. There is no oxidation, but the scratches are pretty fine and somewhat deep, but I don't think they go all the way through the gell so I think he can buff them out. But, it will take a lot work.

I don't think that he wants to spend the 18ft to have someone do the detail work, as he is trying to save some money for a new house and his significant other would kill him if he spends too much on the boat.

Sean 05-01-2002 03:42 PM

In that case, a light compound shoudl do the trick, but most gelcoat boats will show swirls and light scratches in the right lighting conditions no matter how well they are detailed. They are no nearly as perfect or shiny has a boat painted with graphics and then clearcoated. Just a thought.

pb 05-01-2002 03:58 PM

I have a black boat with with blues silvers and greys. It is a ***** to maintain. I did wetsand and buff my boat last year and it turned out fantastic.

Here is my opinion. For sure obtain a rotary buffer with a few NEW pads. Purchase a heavy duty rubbing compound formulated for gel coat(I can not remember if I used 3M or Meguires...I will check).
Begin first in an inconspicuous area that has the scratches. Apply the compound to the pad, lightly press the pad against the boat and begin buffing first moving the buffer to spread the compound then continously moving the buffer at a medium rate until the shine has come through and the compound is gone. STAY AWAY FROM EDGES IN THE HULL. ALWAYS START THE BUFFER WITH PAD AGAINST THE BOAT.

After you have done this small area check to see if the scratches are still visible. If yes I would LIGHTLY wet sand with 1000 grit and repeat the buffing process. Use water mixed with dish detergent when wetsanding.

Depending on how how deep the original sratches are you may have to start at 600 grit and then to 1000 grit then buff.

After you are happy with results of the buffing, follow up with a micro polish(using orbital buffer)to remove any swirls caused from buffing.
Finish up with a good wax.

It is ALOT of work but the results are well worth it.

Good luck

Sean 05-01-2002 04:23 PM

Good advice paul...definetly be careful on the edges, they'll burn through before you can say "Oh $hit!!"

pb 05-01-2002 04:34 PM

Sean, I used to work at a body shop in college for beer money. :D Burning a corner is not difficult.

Congrats on selling the boat. It sure was a nice machine.I showed my wife your boat many times...but she just would not go for it.

Miller, if you do have to get near a corner lift the pad so it just barely nicks the edge and let the compound do the work. You can also do the tight corner areas by hand(my preference just to be safe).


Miller 05-01-2002 05:36 PM

Can you guys recommend a good buffer/polisher and what brand of pads (cotton vs. foam, etc.) he should buy and who might have a good price on the net? Also, anyone have pictures of what the process looks like in various stages so we can compare as we're working on his boat to make certain that it is coming out correctly?


Sean 05-01-2002 05:46 PM

My buffer is made by Hitachi and and is about 8 years old. it is not variable speed(it is 2 speed) and does the job well(I used to do alot of detailing as a side business). I paid 170 bucks for it back then and have never had a problem with it.

I have heard Makita makes a good one, and I would advise going with a variable speed model.

Get the wheel with the velcro material and you can switch back an forth between the cotton/wool pads for compound and the foam pads for glaze and/or wax.

I don't know what to tell you about the's one of those things where you kinda know when it's done'll have to feel your way through it.

I do it like paul by testing a small area with compound AND wax to see what the final result will be before going any further.

Hope this rambling helps

cigarette1 05-01-2002 06:03 PM

I picked up a high-speed buffer from The Pep Boys for about $70. I used the blue foam pads with the liquid 3M compound. I only use it on the deck because the sides have kept their original gloss. My do-it-yourself job looks a hellava lot better than any of the $500 detail jobs I've paid for. Don't confuse the buffer with an orbital. The orbital is used for applying wax, makes waxing the boat a breeze.

That's what I do.

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