Fiberglas Maintenance 101
When you bought your boat it was new and you enjoyed the many day trips, since you are a busy person you didn’t take time to develop a routine; washing, waxing and depending on how big the boat is the list of “to do’s” can be daunting. It even depends on where you keep your boat as to how often it should be washed. An extreme example; during our detailing day’s, we had boats to wash monthly, one of our locations, a marina situated between two city bridges and one mortuary that would regularly incinerate the deceased, the boats in that marina had to be washed at least twice a month to keep all the dirt, grease and “ashes” off the boat
Regular wash-downs should be at least every two weeks. After washing, dry the boat using a squeegee then apply a cleaner wax to all the metal and aluminum to help prevent pitting and corrosion.
The following routine should be used when washing boats that have a wax on; you do not want to use a harsh soap (NO DISH Soap-they are all degreasers), many boat soaps will remove all the wax. If you practice the following steps your boat will look great and the wax will stay on the boat a lot longer!
- Make sure all hatches and windows are closed, if necessary remove outside cushions before you wash the boat.
- Take a diaper (rag) and some cleaner wax; rub out any black streaks along the windows, exhaust and where every your boat gets the back streaks. Each boat is different; you will know those “trouble spots” on your boat. If you do this step each time you wash the boat you’ll be adding a protection to those spots helping to keep the wax on much longer. Usually people make the mistake of trying to remove black streaks by using a strong soap all over the boat; they end up taking all the wax off while trying to take care of few black streaks.
- Add a few capfuls of Mer-maid® Boat Wash (or your favorite soap) to a bucket of water (warm water works best but is not necessary) and begin washing from top (bridge) then the bow along the sides ending at the stern. We like the doodle brushes that have a telescoping handle. Depending on the size of the boat we usually take the time to squeegee the sides. Because Mer-maid® Boat Soap has the carnauba wax in it we finished by taking a nice rag like a diaper or old flannel sheets (cut to size) and wiped down the windows until dry. The wax leaves a protective coating on the glass and when the glass is buffed out is looks great. As an added bonus the water-spots that you see on windows will not be as troublesome because of the extra protection on the windows.
Then, use the following techniques, depending upon how advanced a stage of oxidation the fiberglass gel-coat is experiencing.
Protect the surface by applying a carnauba paste wax once a year over the entire boat. Carnauba wax provides the most protection of any wax product for a long period of time.
Use a good high speed buffer. The handheld low cost electric buffers will not give good results. Use a machine that has 2,500 to 3,000 RPM. We used 3-M wool buffing pads available at most marine stores. We tried hand-waxing boats but felt good results were very hard to attain.
A cleaner/wax should be used in between the annual waxing on the topsides, you will know if the wax is gone, it will look dull and water will not bead up. Topsides take a great deal of punishment from the sun, weather and human wear and tear.
If you take care of your boat using these techniques, you will never have to deal with the more advanced stages of oxidation-and your boat will remain pristine.
An abrasive (light compound) cleaner wax is required to bring back the gel-coat’s luster and remove oxidation. The compound in cleaner wax acts like sandpaper, removing stains and oxidation. If you are not careful you can buff below the Fiberglas surface; never lean hard or buff too long in one spot. Learn to buff always leaning into your work lightly; if you can’t remove the stain/dirt go ahead and put a little more pressure for a very short time. Eventually you will learn to “feather”; starting with more pressure and easing up to a lighter pressure is feathering. If you are unable to remove stain/dirt see stage three.
OK-you’ve applied cleaner wax, like the fellow with the “pristine” boat. You now have a “pristine” boat too. In the future, follow the routine for Stage One to avoid future the “stage two woes”.
This condition means the pores of the gelcoat are exposed and your boat will no longer hold a “cleaner wax”.
If the deterioration hasn’t gone too far, you may be able to bring the gelcoat back. Again, remember that the gelcoat is thin-and once it is gone, the only cure will be to re-gelcoat or paint.
The following procedure is not for amateurs: Call a professional.
Using a medium grade compound (ask your local marine store staff for their suggestions) to gently remove the oxidation, taking care not to take off any more gelcoat than needed. I know some detailers mix compound into a cleaner wax; be sure not to be too heavy on the compound! Wash the boat before the next step.
Apply a good carnauba wax, this is a hard past wax and still rated by Power Boat Reports as the best wax because it lasts longer than a cleaner wax. If the can of carnauba wax is creamy in consistancy then it isn’t a true carnauba wax.
If the customer will pay for this next step or if you are doing the work this next step is going to really put a shine and finish the job to perfection. Apply a polishing compound, such as 3M liquid polish called “Finesse-it”. This compound is different from a cleaning compound: one cleans and the other polishes! This last step will leave a durable high-gloss finish. Follow directions for this product.
It’s best to test an area – the transom is the safest place-to see if good results can be achieved before putting more time, energy and money into your project. If you check the transom after a few weeks and are satisfied with the results, then go over the rest of the boat using the same steps. This is a good way to check on a new product you have not had experience with.
Preventive maintenance is the key to keeping your boat looking new. If you want to save money and beam with pride at your well-maintained boat, you will get yourself on a maintenance schedule-and stick to it.
Years ago when Mer-maid® Detailing was in full swing we found out that our customers were not happy with our wax job….stating the wax did not last long. I knew we were doing a good job when waxing, what was problem? I asked my customers that were happy with our work and found out that they were using very little soap when washing their boats. I checked local marine stores so I could recommend a gentle soap and was surprised to learn that all boat soaps were “strong”! We worked a year trying to achieve a soap that would not wash the wax off (that is what our dissapointed customers were doing) then added 2% Carnauba Wax to the wash. We were the first manufacturer to put out a boat wash with wax! That was over 20 years ago. Once you have a good wax on the boat always us a gentle soap when keeping the boat up between waxes!
Happy & Safe Boating.
Carol Albanese Founder & CEO