General topics
Sailing boats
Fishing boats
How to

 BoatNames Blog

A facelift for fibreglass gelcoat

No, Juliet, I am not paying for your facelift, however much you think you need it to meet your friends with confidence. My boat, however, needs to look good in all circumstances and for that, I shall do the job myself, as follows:

What is gelcoat?

Gelcoat is actually a resin containing several fillers, many of which are trade secrets of the particular manufacturer.  The resin is usually polyester, but in higher quality materials, it may be vinyl-ester or epoxy. Although it can be applied as a finish, it is more common for it to be put into the mould before the fibreglass glass substrate is added. This is the main reason why the finish on the mould itself is so critical because the gelcoat becomes the visible finish.

Why does gelcoat get dull?

The initial stresses involved in removing the component from the mould themselves contribute to degradation, but most damage occurs as a result of UV exposure, friction and general wear and tear.  In extreme circumstances, it is possible to re-coat the gelcoat but this is not generally a job for the owner, because the process is quite involved and the results will depend almost entirely on the quality of preparation and the sanding, sealing and polishing.

It is better policy to keep the gelcoat looking good from the start and typically, wax is added to maintain the shine and UV resistance.  However, preparation prior to waxing is vital.

The preparation process

Thorough cleaning is essential and this may be achieved with nothing more complicated than warm water, a little bleach and liquid dish-washing liquid, mixed together. It is best applied with a sponge that has been soaked in the liquid, then squeezed nearly dry.  Only when the entire surface is thoroughly clean should it be washed down with fresh water and left to dry completely.

When dry, the entire surface should be wiped over with frequently-changed soft rags soaked with “wax and grease remover” Plain acetone sold in paint stores will do just as well. Remember to keep changing the rags to prevent any deposits from getting back onto the surface.


Just like the gelcoat itself, waxes vary so it is best to purchase a good quality “name brand” product.  A lot of work can be saved by choosing a silicone-free polish, because it makes subsequent cleaning and application of vinyl material like names, striping etc far easier.Turtle Wax brand is silicone free and others may be available from a local panelbeater or online from

Pick a fine, warm, day for this work and avoid excessive temperatures and high wind that will adversely affect the job

The pad should be coated with the wax and applied in an even motion with the tool. Use a soft buffing pad constantly moving to avoid excessive wear in any one place. Although a pad in a electric drill will do, a better and inexpensive tool is a variable speed electric buffer. Kmart, SuperCheap and other chains sell these for as low as $25.. The wax should then be allowed to dry – it is a mistake to start rubbing it down immediately. Usually, depending on climatic conditions 2-3 hours should be sufficient. The use clean soft rags to remove any haze in the finish, being careful to clean off any buildup of polish in cracks or where fittings are attached.

With care and a little work, you will truly be delighted with the result.


    Blog by Name for a Boat