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Maintaining the Quality Appearance of Your Boat

Reprinted with permission from Bob Pone

Lets face it, while we'd all like our boats to have that showroom shine forever, few of us devote the hours required to achieve or maintain it. But, unless your boat is very large (in which case you'll probably just let the paid crew worry about it), maintaining a passable level of cleanliness and shine doesn't require major effort or a huge time commitment.

When it comes to performing cosmetic maintenance, think of the job as a 4-step process: 1. Clean It, 2. Correct It, 3. Polish It, and 4. Protect It.

By addressing each of these steps you'll be able to do a quality job—even without a paid crew.

1. Clean It

The first step in every cosmetic maintenance project is to remove all the loose dirt, salt, and scum from the surface you're working on using a general-purpose boat soap/water solution. For smooth surfaces use a large non-abrasive sponge or wash mitt, For non-skid areas a soft bristled brush works well. Keep flushing the surface with water as you go. You don't want to rub particles of dirt into the gelcoat or paint surfaces.

For stubborn stains, such as exhaust marks, rust or black streaks, use one of the full-strength stain removing products. These products work by penetrating and lifting the stain, so apply them and let them work for several minutes before wiping them off. Several applications may be necessary in really tough cases.

2. Correct It

Here we'll talk mainly about correcting the appearance of fiberglass, removing oxidation, repairing cracks in the gelcoat, etc. This stage may or may not be necessary depending on the condition of your boat. It is also the step where the most variation and confusion about techniques an products are likely to occur.

The sheer profusion of products manufactured which claim to restore “like new” brilliance makes it difficult to sort them all out. Basically, what all these products are designed to do is to render the surface smooth, clean and free of imperfections, usually through some kind of abrasive action. Precisely how much abrasive action is required is the confusing part. You want to use the minimum necessary to remove stains and oxidized gelcoat or paint, without removing the sound material underneath. Always err on the side of too little abrasion, rather than too aggressive a compound.

If the hull is only slightly oxidized, the quickest and most popular way to care for it is with so called one-step cleaner/waxes. These products have very mild abrasives to remove minor oxidation, solvents to help lift stains, and they leave a layer of wax protection. The results will not be as flawless or durable as if you used individual products to complete each step, but they do save time.

For more heavily oxidized or stained fiberglass, more aggressive compounds, perhaps even sandpaper, will be required to get down to a clean, surface. Take it easy! You don't want to burn through any more paint or gelcoat than necessary.

3. Polish It

As paint or gelcoat ages, it loses oils and dries out. Polishes replenish these oils to enhance the gloss and restore luster. In addition, polishes can be used to remove swirl marks or tiny scratches. Pure polishes, those that contain no waxes such as Meguiar’s #45, must be over coated with wax or reapplied frequently to maintain their high gloss. Other polishing formulas include Teflon or waxes to increase the durability of their shine.

Polishes for metal are basically abrasives that perform pretty much the way the fiberglass compounds in the Correct It stage work. Plastic polishes, designed to keep your vinyl windows and Lexan ports clean and clear combine extremely fine abrasives to remove scratches with oils designed to feed the plastic material and prevent it from becoming dry and brittle.

4. Protect It

The final step, protecting the finish, is crucial if you hope to minimize the need to perform steps 2 and 3 in the future. A good, thick coat of wax protects the gloss of your paint, gelcoat or metal parts by sealing the surface against dirt and preventing oxidation from degrading the finish. Most premium waxes are formulated with carnauba, an extremely hard wax grown in South America. Despite what the names of some products seem to indicate, none is ”pure” carnauba. Without some form of softeners, carnauba is too hard to be spread onto a surface. Premium waxes combine carnauba with polymers that form a chemical bond between the wax an paint or gelcoat for added durability.

Whether to use liquid or paste formula wax is a matter of personal preference. Liquid is generally easier to apply, just pour it out and wipe it on. Paste formulas require a bit more rubbing, but you'll often end up using less so a can of wax can often last longer and therefore cost less than liquids.

Which products work best?

Recognizing the desire on the part of virtually every “ship's” captain to command an impeccably maintained vessel, manufacturers have created an array of cleaning, polishing, oiling, sudsing, rubbing, and rinsing products designed to enable you to turn even the ugliest of ducklings into a Swan—or Tollycraft, or Beneteau, or Bayliner.

But get any 10 experienced boaters from around the country together and ask them which boat soap they prefer and we bet you'll get at least 9 different answers. And even the two that agree on boat soap aren't likely to agree on waxes.
The fact is that there are so many good, effective cleaning and maintenance products out there that it's pretty hard to go wrong with a product that's been around for any length of time. If a product didn't satisfy at least some percentage of boaters, it would simply disappear. There is no shortage of competition in the maintenance supply market.

Because of the many marine stores supplying boaters across the nation (and around the world), they have noticed that every area has strong regional preferences for certain brands of cleaners, waxes, polishes and teak oils. Usually a particular product becomes a favorite because it's formulated especially to suit the climate and conditions in the region where it was invented and perfectly suits the needs of boaters in that region. The same product may or may no be as well suited to conditions in other areas of the country, but other regional preferences can make it hard for a product to gain a foothold outside the area in which it initially becomes popular.

The beauty of the whole thing is that, unlike so many boating products, maintenance products are cheap! In other words, you can afford to experiment. It is recommend that you initially try whatever products seem to be most popular in your area, then experiment from there. The incredible selection makes trying different products easy, since many marine stores carry just about every one of the most popular brands from around the country.

Remember you can't go too far wrong with most products available today. But the critical key to good maintenance is making sure that it's performed on a regular, scheduled basis. Experienced boaters know that, while there is work involved, they reap both monetary and spiritual rewards for their diligence. They become familiar with their boats, know their tiniest details, and enjoy them more thoroughly. And when it's time to move on to another, they find that the higher resale value of a well maintain vessel has greatly minimized their costs of ownership.

The information contained herein is provided by Bob Pone. Neither ABA nor Bob Pone assume any responsibility or liability for events that occur due to actions you or others on your behalf take based on the information given. You are proceeding at your own risk.

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