Boat Maintenance - Cleaning and Waxing

July 4, 2013 best-boat-waxThe wax you so diligently applied in the spring may be wearing thin after all the rain and bad weather we've had so far this summer. Boaters often swear by the products they choose; silicone based, paste waxes, carnauba, PETF or mystery additives, but none protect forever and some, not even a few weeks. So starting with the exterior and working our way to the boat bottom, let’s discuss boat maintenance.       There are usually three steps needed to get a good finish on a fiberglass boat; Cleaning, Polishing and Protecting and each step may actually have sub steps.  The number of steps (and the amount of labor involved) depends on the overall condition of the gel coat. Note that painted surfaces (Awlgrip and other specialized paints) require specific cleaning and waxing techniques. Cleaning This step includes getting rid of salt, dirt, mold, grease, and stains. If your boat is still looking ok and you just want to touch up with wax, a mild soaping solution that will not remove the existing wax is your best choice. The worse the finish, the stronger the cleaner needed, to the point of starting with solvents (acetone, MEK or Interlux Fiberglass Solvent Wash # 202), acids or even wet dry sandpaper (800 grit). Remember the gelcoat is a 0.02” to 0.03” thick colored epoxy or polyester coating and it’s easy to sand or polish completely through it.  Vinegar is great for removing salt and there are dozens of cleaners available.  Read the label, ask around and read online reviews to see what will work best for your specific requirements. There are also new “Green” products that work as well as traditional cleaners. Polishing This is commonly called compounding and can be done either by hand or with an electric polishing machine or buffer (at low speed and pressure, done gently to preserve the gelcoat). Clean the buffer pad regularly with a screwdriver or stiff putty knife (carefully, at low speed). The goal is to remove a microscopic layer of the gelcoat, exposing clean color and the pores of the material which will later be filled with the wax coating. Various ‘Grits” of compounding materials are available, from rough to micro polishing finish. The finer the grits, the more smooth the finish. Remember, polishing creates the gloss, waxing, protects it. Protecting As you guessed, this is the waxing part.  The goal here is to use the cleaned pores of the gelcoat to become filled with and help hold the wax onto the surface and to build up a microscopic layer of natural wax or polymer. Usually done in the shade and in small sections, each wax is different, some need to dry out and then be buffed, some buff out while still wet.  Again, you may have a favorite product or ask your neighbor what they use to get that great finish. Generally paste waxes last longer but are harder to apply and liquid waxes the opposite. Done either by hand or with a machine, slow speed, small areas and minimal pressure usually work best.  Lead the cord of the buffer up and over your shoulder and down your back while working to eliminate the chance of wrapping the cord in the buffing wheel.   And remember, there is always an alternative to summer cleaning and waxing….. Let the yard do it !   We'll cover more boat maintenance next week.   Capt. Rick Delfosse  203-216-7800      

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