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Proper maintenance for your boat exterior

Submitted onJuly 20, 2009 No comments yet, share your thoughts

This week we discuss proper maintenance for the exterior of your boat. Since fresh water boaters just have to look at the boat to make them look clean (jab jab) our focus will be on the roughneck boaters that have to battle the sun and salt water.

Exterior Yacht Maintenance

Compound, polish and wax- why, when and how?

The ‘why’ is easy: because unlike your abs, you can’t fake or hide a good boat exterior. Keeping her shiny makes you the envy of the marina, dramatically increases your likelihood of keeping her and can save you tens of thousands if not hundreds in a new paint job or in lost value. (Some say there are similarities to marriage in this, but after 16 years, a beautiful baby and one more on the way I’m not allowed to comment) Bottom line is that it should be as automatic as an oil change.

When and how is a little more entailing. The rule of thumb in sunny Florida is to wax the topsides (the house) every 90 days and the hull from the waterline up every 180 days. This of course can vary by numerous factors such as frequency of washes, newness of the boat, type of products used and the season, but you can figure 3 to 4 times a year to maintain a good looking sheen. The how process depends on the condition of the surface, but at a minimum it will be 2 steps meaning a soft polish to remove the old wax and debris followed by the new wax. As your surface ages it might require 3 steps by adding an abrasive a rubbing compound to the mix. Compounds are used when there is heavy buildup, to remove oxidation and/or to remove light scratches that have not fully penetrated the gelcoat or paint layers. Its purpose is basically to rub off a tiny layer of the surface to reveal the fresh coat beneath. This is typically followed by a fine grit polish with the purpose of eliminating swirl marks and other imperfections caused by the application of the more abrasive compound material. After all looks great the wax is applied to seal in that finished look and hopefully keep it looking that way for the next 3-4 months.

Are Gelcoat and Paint treated differently?

3M Restore and wax Yes and no. The same products can be used for restoration and maintenance jobs on both surfaces. The only deviation is with Awlgrip’s warranty which requires you to use their Awlcare products to maintain coverage. Other products won’t hurt it, but save yourself from a battle with their claims department and after the warranty is up you can switch to whatever else you wish. For tough restoration jobs many pros will use levelers from trusted brands such as Hi-Temp. Levelers are used for the same purpose as compounds, but act very differently. Instead of a paste that wears down the surface like sandpaper, a leveler is very creamy and goes through a chemical reaction when applied to a wool pad and rubbed onto the paint. The leveler heats up the area breaking down the surface of the paint. The real difference between gelcoat and paint is the manner in which the products are applied. For example, too much pressure from the pads can peel or burn areas faster on paint than on gelcoat. The technician is just as important as the right product; sometimes exceedingly more.

What’s the deal with 2 and 3 steps?Proper yacht maintenance: Meguiar's Boat Wash

You’ll hear people say 2, 3, 4 or even 5 step jobs referring to the number of steps required to restore the surface to a like-new condition. In severe cases the process can include an acid wash to remove tough oxidation. For this, the technician will dilute muriatic acid which is excellent at breaking down mineral and organic materials. Not to be forgotten is the stainless and the glass. The stainless will require a polish such as Metal Wax (which contrary to its name is not actually a wax, but rather a polishing material) followed by regular wax or sealer. Window glass is generally just washed, but many people will add Rain-X or Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze to give it a protective coating. Mirror Glaze is also what’s commonly used to handle all the plastic windshields and it’s even safe to use on navigation equipment screens to get the light scratches out.

What about in between the deep cleaning?

All professionals use a variety of products (some even home-made secrets) to restore a surface, but most will stick with one brand through the steps and only use others for spot work. The consensus around here is that 3M makes a fine line of products that overlap nicely and have a solid reputation. I found a neat selector aide on the 3M website that helps you decide which product is best for the job. You can also purchase many of them at the Lucid Store. Equally as important as waxing is a regular wash. This can vary from every two weeks to every other week, but should not go much further than that in frequency. If you live in an area with lots of dust, smog, airplane residue (or birds) you might add a water-only rinse in between those washes. A favorite of the local pros is Meguiar’s Boat Wash because it’s effective, doesn’t break down the wax, gives you lots of suds (really just a visually pleasing effect) and it’s bio-degradable (environmentally safe). This last point is especially important for those of you in marinas with strict discharge policies. For quick spot cleans in between waxes 3M Marine Restorer and Wax is a one-step product that you’ll want to keep on hand.


Ask 10 people and you might get 10 different tips on how to get it done best, but the steps are always the same. At least now you understand the basics and can understand/justify the detailer’s invoice. The good news is that it’s always money well spent. You’ll enjoy your boat far more when she’s looking good and she will retain her value or at least her ability to sell faster. By far the biggest sales deflector is a dirty boat or a dull finish. We say that 90% of the sale happens on the dock for a reason.

If you’re in South Florida and would like us to recommend a detailing specialist or if you just want to pick our brains on anything boat related drop us a line at contact@yachthelpdesk.com

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