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Keeping a shine on the exterior of your boat is not only a matter of pride, it’s also smart maintenance.

A clean, shiny gel coat or painted finish sheds grime, salt and marine growth much better than a weather-dulled finish. It’s easier to keep clean, and it won’t deteriorate as rapidly, helping to hold the value of your boat when the time comes that you want to sell it.

Finish treatments can be broken into two categories, waxes and ceramic coatings. Waxes basically bring out the shine and protect a finish that’s already present, while ceramics add another layer or coating to the existing finish.

Whatever protection you choose, it’s a must to prep the finish first. This starts with a soap and water washdown. On new finishes, that’s all that’s needed, while on those with some age, using a very fine rubbing compound may be needed to get rid of chalking and glazing on the old paint or gelcoat. Some products include a fine rubbing compound in the wax for one-step application, easing the job, but these are generally not adequate for severely aged surfaces. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully because some products can produce a surface full of swirls and dull areas if not applied correctly.

Waxes and Polishes

Many waxes for boat finishes are based on Brazilian carnauba palm wax, a natural product used to create a slick, non-stick finish. In addition to boat and auto polish, it’s also used in a wide variety of products from cosmetics to release agent for fiberglass hull molding. It’s environmentally-friendly and even used in food stuffs and pharmaceuticals. 

Other waxes are synthetics based on a mixture of chemical polymers designed to improve the sheen and resilience of vehicle paint. These are generally somewhat less shiny than carnauba wax and tend to cloud over time but may last longer.

In either case, they can bring out the shine of gel coat or paint and keep your boat new-looking much longer. A good wax job typically lasts 3 to 4 months in summer weather. In tropical conditions, reapplication three to four times a year might be needed to keep a finish in prime conditions, while twice-yearly waxing is likely to be adequate in more northerly locations.

Waxing is a simple process but just smearing on wax won’t bring a shine back to a chalky gelcoat. It takes some careful preparation, starting with a good washdown with boat soap. On a new or near-new hull, no further prep for waxing may be necessary unless you’re a real “shine-atic,” in which touch up with an automotive-style clay bar may be necessary to further smooth the finish before waxing.

On more oxidized hulls with visible chalking, “compounding” is the next step. It’s a polishing process with extremely fine cutting compounds suspended in a poly base, done either by hand or with a buffer.

The compounds are available in various levels of cut, from very mild to very aggressive—choose one that suits the condition of your hull.

Applying the compound by hand gets the job done, but it goes much faster with a buffer in the 7” to 10” size. And note that rubbing compounds come in various “cut” categories, with some of the more abrasive mixes capable of taking off some pretty serious scratches. But also be aware they can burn off your actual gelcoat as well if you use too much pressure, turn the buffer up too high or buff with the edge instead of the middle portions of the pad.

The pros advise working in the shade on

Here are some good choices for waxing and polishing your hull, whether the finish

Collinite Wax

Collinite wax products has been making car wax since 1936. Collinite is one of the original makers of carnauba car wax and Collinite’s Wax Products proprietary formulas are still gainin g accolades 70 years later. Among the most popular Collinite products is their Collinite Insulator Wax #845, a liquid carnauba wax that beads water for several months with one application.

If carnauba paste wax is your preference, Collinite Super DoubleCoat Auto Wax #476 offers up to a year of protection with a warm, reflective shine.

Collinite’s 850 metal wax brings your boat’s faded, rusted, and tarnished metal accessories and fittings back to life. This rejuvenating polish saves both time and money by combining restorative and protective properties in one step. Safely removes stubborn discoloration, mild rust, oxidation, and blemishes. Wipes off to reveal high lustre shine and coating that guards against future rust, stains, and weathering. For a variety of marine metal finishes; non-coated and non-painted metals.

Marine Washcoat & Shine

Attack’s marine washcoat and shine is a combined was and wax that uses an acrylionic formula designed for use with salt-attack mixer. It cleans and protects your boat and removes stubborn grime. Environmentally friendly and biodegradeable it leaves behind a harder than was protection and shine which has been tested to protect and delay the speed of UV damage.

3M Marine Restorer & Wax

3M Marine Restorer and Wax is a combo product with a rubbing compound included in the wax polymers to allow easy, fast polishing. The company says it removes light to medium oxidation, filmy residue from lake, river or ocean water, rust deposits, exhaust stains and dock skid marks. The 32 oz. (0.9 l) size is about $40. The company’s website has detailed procedures for cleaning, detailing and refinishing—note they recommend different products and procedures for gelcoat and for paint.

Shur-Hold’s Pro Polish

Shur-Hold’s Pro Polish is a polymer-based formula with cosmetic grade ingredients and contains no fillers or talc.  It goes on quicker and easier, per the company, while protecting your finish against sun, salt, acid rain, and other harsh environmental elements. There’s no white residue left as the product dries, because there’s no talc or other filler, so the job is faster and easier. The product is also economical, at about $100 for a gallon (3.78 L) jug. The company also offers Buff Magic Compound for cleaning up oxidized surfaces—it includes jeweler’s rouge, good not only for fiberglass but also metal fittings. Their website also includes a number of blogs on how to polish your boat.

Star Brite Marine Polish

Star Brite offers a full suite of hull cleaning, polishing and waxing products including Premium Cleaner Wax designed to both clean and polish hulls with light to medium oxidation. It’s a one- step process, but the company also notes that adding a coat of Star Brite Marine Polish will extend the shine. Both products are moderately priced, about $25 for a 32 oz. (0.9 L) bottle of Cleaner Wax, about $30 for 32 oz (0.9 L) of Marine Polish.

Marine 31

Marine 31 offers a full kit including a Porter Cable 7424XP Dual Action Polisher, a cutting pad, finishing pad and the necessary polish, wax and sealer, all for about $220. The company carries a full line of cleaners and polishes as well as varying grades of wax. Their “heavy cut” polishes are aimed at severely oxidized hulls, while their Gloss and Color Restorer is designed for light touch ups;

Meguiar’s Polishes & Waxes

Meguiar’s was the product of choice when fiberglass boats were first mass produced in the 1950’s, the PVA Release Agent used in the production of fiberglass boats dulled the finish, and Meguiar’s polishes & waxes were used to restore a high gloss finish. Meguiar’s changed the industry forever with the development of the very first Mold Release Wax, allowing for high gloss parts to be produced directly from the mold. Working closely with boatbuilders over the years, Meguiar’s has developed a comprehensive range of Marine products spanning from washes to oxidation removers to polishes to waxes and everything in between to rejuvenate your finish, restore the gloss and keep it well protected.

Mothers Marine

Mothers Marine offer a wide range of polishes and waxes suitable for the marine environment. Amongst them is Synthetic Wax an easy-to-use, high-tech synthetic wax formula that creates a long lasting protective barrier against harmful environmental contaminants and UV rays. Removes light oxidation and leaves behind an unparalleled deep gloss shine.

Mothers Marine Power Plastic removes light scratches, oxidation, haze, stains and yellowing, leaving a long-lasting protective polymer barrier against UV rays, water spotting, airborne contaminants and more.

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