Boat Maintenance: How to Use Gel Coat
May 27, 2013
Clear coat is to cars as gel coat is to boats. This is the tough but thin layer of protection that sits on top of the paint and protects it from water, wind, dust, dirt, and debris. Because the gel coat is subjected to great strain every time you go out for a water adventure, it’s important for every boat owner to know how to maintain and restore the gel coat throughout the boat’s lifetime. With good boat maintenance, your gel coat will last for several years and keep your vessel looking incredible.
What is gel coat?
When you touch your boat’s hull, you’re not actually getting through the paint itself—you’re touching the gel coat finish. Gel coats keep water out of your hull by creating a strong shield over the porous fiberglass. It is made out of pigmented resin that acts as both a water repellent and an aesthetic accessory for your boat.
However, even the most durable gel coats can get cracked and damaged over time.
The harsh marine environment acts on your boat on a daily basis, and the sun’s ultraviolet rays only compound the damage. Too many nicks, scrapes, and gouges against the dock, another boat, or a piling will ultimately compromise the integrity of your gel coat. If left untreated, a damaged gel coat will allow water into your boat’s interior and affect your boat’s seaworthiness.
Reapplying gel coat on your boat
You can ask a professional boat detailer or a marina staff to assess your boat’s gel coat and perform the necessary fix, but what’s the fun in that? As a boat owner, you should have firsthand knowledge of how to care for your boat’s gel coat on your own.
Before anything else, you have to make sure that your boat’s hull is prepped and ready for a new layer of gel coat. Haul the boat out of the water so you can work on the hull for as long as you need to. Next, carry out these preliminary measures:
- Remove louvers, snaps, cleats, rails, and striping tape from the hull.
- Take out seals from the edges of parts or fittings if you need to perform repairs around that area.
- Put duct tape on adjacent deck fittings and gunwale molding that you can’t remove.
Now you’re ready to apply gel coat on your boat. Here’s how:
- Strip off the old gel coat. Use acetone or sandpaper to get rid of the old, damaged gel coat and bare the paintwork. Wash the hull thoroughly once more and allow it to air dry.
- Apply a thick layer of gel coat to the base of the boat, using either a spray applicator or a paintbrush. You can’t apply just a thin layer of gel coat because it will not do much to protect your hull. Instead, go for several layers, but allow each one to dry first before applying a new coating.
- You can also sand each layer to remove brush marks (if you’re using a paintbrush) and even out the surface for the next application. Your boat can do well with as many as four layers of gel coat.
And if you decide after all to go to a professional boat detailer, make sure to ask them these questions first –
to determine if they are really the pros they say they are 😉