Does Your Boat Need Fiberglass Polish?


It's that time of year to dig out the soap and fiberglass polish and get busy washing and polishing your boat. Yet you may have noticed that this article isn't dated, which in turn may have you wondering when it was written. Spring! many of you are thinking, because everyone wants their boat to start out the season looking great.


Or some of you may be thinking that Fall is a no-brainer, since after all, if your baby is put to bed for the winter all nice and clean and highly polished, there's that much less to do come Spring before you can hit the waves.


The truth is, any time of year during your boating season depending on where you live, is the right time to wash and polish (plus wax!) that gelcoat. If you have a new boat with an unblemished gelcoat you can skip the polishing step; otherwise, read on.


The Dreaded "O" Word


Except for vessels that are new or have fairly recently experienced the boat version of a complete spa treatment, almost all fiberglass boats will have some oxidation in the gelcoat. This could be anywhere from very light to the point where you're asking yourself if that old classic for sale out in the field in the next county, with weeds growing out of it, can even be restored. The degree of oxidation in a boat's gelcoat will depend on which fiberglass polish you'll need.


But we're putting the skier before the boat here. Despite what the label on that bottle of fiberglass gelcoat polish might say about cleaning and polishing, the cleaning it's going to do will be minimal. This will soon be obvious if you read all the directions, which will tell you to apply the stuff to a clean surface. If you try to polish your boat without first giving it a thorough scrubbing, you're going to be shoving dirt down into the gelcoat. There are many great cleaners out there designed to get fiberglass gelcoat squeaky clean, like ones from Starbrite and this one by MDR called Krazy Clean, which gets rave reviews.


Once the boat is clean and dry, it's time to polish. If the gelcoat has oxidation, you may want to use an oxidation remover, also called rubbing compound or cutting compound (or simply, compound), first. Although as with so many interchangeable words in the boating world, compound is often referred to as polisher and vice-versa. Yet if you take a gander at our products, you'll see compound labeled as compound, like this rubbing compound by 3M. There's also a complete fiberglass restoration kit by Meguiar's that contains rubbing compound, polish, and boat wax.


Before deciding on a compound, first decide how bad your boat's oxidation is. For instance, Meguiar's compound mentioned above is for boats with up to medium oxidation in the fiberglass, which of course will also work for light oxidation. But if your boat's fiberglass is heavily oxidized, look for corresponding products that will take care of it, like this one by 3M. And unless you're quite strong and energetic, or have a tiny boat, you may want to consider bringing your gelcoat back to life via machine vs. hands.


Many professional boat detailers say that the right way to remove oxidation from a fiberglass boat is by using a rotary buffer. Those who regularly wax their cars using orbital or dual-action (DA) buffers are sometimes horrified when they hear of such radical acts, but gelcoat is quite tough and can handle a lot more speed, pressure, and heat than auto paint can. This makes a good argument for why a high-speed polisher may be needed to get good, lasting results. It should also help newbies breathe a bit easier, especially those willing to take it easy at first and start at the lower settings until they find their sea legs. Or buffer arms.


Ready, Set, Polish


Finding the right fiberglass cleaner and polish can be tricky, and even more so when boat wax is tossed into the equation. Many folks confuse fiberglass polish with fiberglass wax, but they are two different fish in the sea. It used to be said--and often still is--that polish is designed to enhance gloss and remove very minor imperfections and swirls, but that polish does not protect the fiberglass coating in any way, as this is the job of boat wax.


Nowadays there are both types of polishes available. The old-school type is designed to act as a sort of conditioner for the gelcoat by filling the microscopic pores in the surface, and leaving behind a shine when buffed out. And that's it. But many others, such as Starbrite's Premium Marine Polish conditions, shines, and protects the fiberglass from UV rays and even repels stains. Whichever type you choose, make sure you read the label not only for the directions on how to polish a fiberglass boat but also to know if the product is compatible with your boat and your desired outcome. Some of these polishes, like the Starbrite Premium, can even clean metal and painted surfaces.


A question that is often asked by boaters is how often to use a fiberglass gelcoat polish. And for that matter, many wonder how often they should use compound and/or boat wax. Alas, there are almost as many answers to these questions as there are boats in the water in mid-July. There are those who say the entire process from compound, then polish, to waxing, should be done annually, with additional waxing at least once or twice more during the year.


Others will tell you to skip the compound unless your gelcoat is oxidized (makes sense) and go right to the polish and then wax, twice per year. Then there are those who will say to do this three to four times per year if your boat is not stored under cover. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the more minimalist recommendations which range from washing your boat regularly all year long and waxing it up to four times per year, to regular washing and not waxing or doing anything else for at least several years, lest the gelcoat wears thin from overdoing it.


Enough answers to drown you. But as always, it's up to you, the boat owner, to use your best judgment. You're the one who knows the weather patterns where you live and boat, how it's stored, whether you run in fresh or salt water, the conditions of the water, and a hundred other variables. Not to mention, your own personal preference. So whether it's fiberglass cleaner and polish or the type of polishing machine you're considering, at the end of the day, plenty of research and your own good judgment will go far toward ensuring that you'll be happy with your choices


Fiberglass Wax


The final step has arrived at last--the fiberglass wax! It may have been a long, tough project up to this point, even with a rotary buffer, if the gelcoat was severely oxidized. But wax time is the home stretch, and the anticipation is almost too much. we go again. What type of boat wax should I use?


That's a matter of personal preference and perhaps, to a lesser extent, your willingness to enter uncharted waters and try something new. This is because the world of wax has expanded to include remarkable new ceramic waxes like Scotchguard Liquid Wax by 3M, and Meguiar's Hybrid Ceramic Wax, available in a convenient spray bottle. Ceramic waxes aren't just for cars and trucks either, they work beautifully on fiberglass. However, the fiberglass must be correctly prepared and have no wax already on it.


Fans of ceramic wax say their boats and/or vehicles have never shone so beautifully before, and that cleaning them is a breeze. Some even claim that their boats and vehicles look better than when they were brand-new and are shiny even when dirty, even years later. High praise indeed, but is it true? The answer is probably, but with some caveats.


Those whose ceramic wax jobs approach the miraculous, with that near-miraculous shine that lasts for years, are almost always those who had their boats professionally done, at the cost of a few weeks and (at least!) several thousand dollars. If this isn't your cup of grog, then you may well be happy with the DIY types, many of which will still shine brighter and last far longer than traditional waxes.


But then, many folks prefer the more traditional methods and products, like trusty old-school carnauba paste wax, such as those from Star Brite, while others like hybrid wax--a seemingly odd blend of polymers (synthetic waxes) and carnauba. If this conjures up visions of a mad scientist performing alarming experiments in a lab at midnight while a thunderstorm rages outside, you're not alone. Many people wonder how such a concoction could work but somehow they do, and are available as both paste and liquid. Meguiar's is always popular, and we have their Flagship Premium Marine Paste Wax, as well as in the liquid form. 


Time to Show and Shine


Hopefully, this has answered a few questions and served as a good starting point for the fiberglass gelcoat care journey. Your boat is a huge investment, and bringing back a severely oxidized gelcoat can also be a huge investment in both time and labor, even if you save a lot of money by doing it yourself. But the rewards are well worth it, and once it's done right, upkeep is so much easier.


Go2marine's got you covered not only when it comes to soap, fiberglass polish, and boat wax, though. We also carry a full line of other cleaning products like metal polishes and waxes, glass and plastic cleaners and treatments, cleaning tools, and entire cleaning and washdown systems. Who knows? Your boat could end up being the cause of other boaters having to wear shades even on cloudy days.