“Keep that Showroom Shine. How to Protect a Fiberglass Boat’s Finish”
HOW TO PROTECT A FIBERGLASS BOAT’S FINISH
Bass boats are easily the coolest, fastestlooking boats on the water, and they get their lightning-fast look from a high-gloss finish applied over bright gel paints mixed with metallic or poly flakes – Joe Balog
B ass boats are easily the coolest, fastest-looking boats on the water, and they get their lightning-fast look from a high-gloss finish applied over bright gel paints mixed with metallic or poly flakes. The right formula and procedure produces the eye-catching trademark sparkle we see on the showroom floor. Maintaining this look on the water is easy, provided we steer clear of a few obstacles.
Know the Coats
It’s important to understand how bass boats are built and the properties of the outermost layer in order to protect it. A clear coat covers everything on a metallic/poly flake boat. It’s responsible for producing such a wet, shiny look. Immediately below the outer clear is the flake itself, which rests on the boat’s gel coat.
For boats with no flake – often the case with straight white, black or grey gel coat hulls – there is usually no outer clear coat. The gel coat is the topcoat.
Block UV Rays
The greatest threat to a bass boat’s finish is the sun. Over time UV rays can break down the outer coating, leaving it pitted and yellow. In addition, gel coats can oxidize – the oils within the gel itself rise to the surface – rendering the finish white and chalky.
The best way to beat the sun at its own game is to avoid it altogether when the boat’s not in use. Complete concealment in a garage is best, but even a carport or boat cover helps. The worst-case scenario is storing a boat on the dock, where reflective rays hit it from all sides.
Stop Threats from Moisture
Another overlooked threat is water; more specifically, moisture. Safeguard against having it enter a boat’s finish by maintaining airflow in the storage area, and never leave a wet boat covered up for very long. In time, moisture could find its way between the boat’s gel and clear coats, resulting in a hazy look.
Keep Fuel Away
Always immediately clean any fuel accidentally spilled onto a boat. If left unattended, gasoline can penetrate just about anything, and can actually discolor fiberglass.
Once the proper precautions have been taken against the biggest threats, the best way to protect a boat’s finish is to keep it clean to avoid damage from less obvious causes. Hard water stains – actually mineral deposits left after evaporation – can be abrasive enough to damage the finish if they’re merely wiped off with a dry cloth. Over time, these “micro-scratches” can add up to give a boat a “used” look. A 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water or a commercially available spray-on detailer will help. Premium sprays will also provide a slick coating, which helps prevent bugs and stains from sticking and reduces scum-line buildup. Bass Boat Saver detailer spray is a reliable, popular choice, as are the products by Boat Bling. Be sure to spray overlooked areas around the boat’s transom, particularly adjacent to the jack plate, to benefit fully from the protection.
While a daily wipe-down is a good practice, establishing a well-waxed outer surface is key to maintaining a pretty rig. The first step is to remove any oils, swirl marks or extra-stubborn deposits through the use of a cleaning wax or polish. There are several products on the market (they usually advertise the ability to rub out fine scratches), but a top choice among many pros is Collinite’s Fleetwax.
Cleaner waxes can be applied with a buffer or by hand, but one word of caution: Excessive rubbing can do damage. If you’re unsure of how to do it right, consult a professional.
In the case of boats with excessive wear, oxidation or yellowing, the best choice to prevent irreversible damage might be to hire a professional with experience in restoring fiberglass finishes. Boaters who take on major DIY projects should, at the very minimum, do their research. There are step-by-step videos available on YouTube, but be diligent about whom you trust for your info.
Once a rig is properly cleaned and stripped using polish, a protective outer surface must be applied. High-quality carnauba-based waxes do a good job of sealing things up and protecting the boat’s finish from UV exposure. Here, you get what you pay for (Marine 31 Gel Coat Carnauba, a high-end product, runs about $50 a bottle), but the protection is worth it.
A practical plan to keep a finish in tip-top shape includes an annual buff with cleaner polish, followed by a topcoat wax applied about three times a year. Another choice is a modern “allin-one” process that includes a very light polish, combined with a high-gloss finishing wax. While the final product won’t offer the lasting protection of the conventional two-step approach, convenience is a benefit. Meguiar’s Flagship Premium Cleaner/Wax receives high marks from experienced marine techs.
Finally, for the ultimate in protection, consider hiring a professional offering a polymer-based topcoat (here, the surface must be meticulously cleaned prior to application). While polymer application is costly – often running four figures when included with a full detail job – it’s advertised to maintain a showroom shine all year, with little more than a regular wipe-down from the boat owner.
Any step that can be taken to protect the boat’s finish is a step in the right direction. After all, resale value and pride in ownership both go up when your rig looks shiny and slick.
Boat wax, detailing spray and a little TLC can keep your rig looking sharp and protect its resale value for many years.