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How to Maintain Your Gelcoat

How to Maintain Your Gelcoat

By Katie Flanagan   August 5, 2021

Do you find yourself looking at the exterior of your boat’s hull and thinking your gelcoat just does not look right? Maybe your gelcoat looks dirty or stained. HMY Yachts sees gelcoat every day on all sizes of boats. It’s one of those things that can cause a boat to look tired, or amazing. With that being said, HMY reached out to Matt Modica, owner of Boat MD in South Florida to learn all you need to know about gelcoat, and why it’s so important to care for it properly. 

What is Gelcoat? 

“Gelcoat is by far the most common finish used on boats and yachts under 100 feet,” says Matt Modica. “Since my company specializes in boats in that range, we mainly work with gelcoat, and I can definitely say that its main advantage over paint is its longevity.”  

Matt explained why gelcoat has an advantage over paint, and that, “Any time we work with an older model boat that is gelcoat vs. paint, we know that the surface is thick, and we can often use as many heavy cut steps as we need to remove the dead outer layer of gelcoat without the worry of going through. This is not the case with paint as it is a very thin coating.”  

Gelcoat attracts dirt and stains, it’s sponge-like exterior allows for dirt and particles to find their way into the small porous openings in your gelcoat. Even if you take the time to maintain your gelcoat, chances are you will still have to handle the run-ins from the bird droppings, brown residue from the waterline, spilled drinks, and remnants of fish casualties.  

Matt shed light on taking care of gelcoat and what proper care can look like.  

Gelcoat - Proper Care 

“The biggest enemy of gelcoat is the sun, especially here in South Florida. Proper care and prevention are necessary for boats in this area in order to prolong their finishes,” says Matt.  

Gelcoat needs to be maintained with both washing, waxing, and polishing. If an owner can keep up with the washing and protecting of their gelcoat, the chances of the owner needing to polish their gelcoat are much less.  

  • Washing 

“Starting with washing, it is important to use a gentle boat soap that won't strip wax.” Gentle boat soap can be found at most marine supply stores and is an essential first step in caring for gelcoat. Matt explained that washing your boat on a regular schedule is recommended. This lessens the likelihood of the buildup of contaminants on the gelcoat surface between washes, which would cause the wax to deteriorate faster. Hence leading to your gelcoat being less protected from the dirt and other particles.  

  • Waxing 

The second crucial step in maintaining your gelcoat is waxing your gelcoat finish. “Keeping a wax coating on the gelcoat is also very important,” says Matt. Matt recommended using a wax that has UV inhibitors because this will slow the damage to your gelcoat caused by the sun. Matt stressed that the sun is not the only element that can cause damage to your gelcoat and weaken your wax protection. Most boats are exposed to other elements including salt air, saltwater, drink spills, and various other things that also weaken the wax coating on your gelcoat. Waxing is what helps prevent the breakdown of your gelocat. “It is important to wax your gelcoat several times a year."

  • What next? Restoration? 

If you find that you have not maintained your gelcoat with washing and waxing, or maybe the elements have taken a toll on your gelcoat over the years, you may notice your gelcoat is chalky looking. This usually means polishing your gelcoat is your next best option.  

“If gelcoat gets old and chalky, there are countless brands and types of compounds on the market to use when buffing or polishing the surfaces back to a gloss,” says Matt.  

 In this process of polishing the gelcoat, the old, dried-out gelcoat is compounded off. The less porous gelcoat below the surface is now exposed, giving the surface a glossy fresh look. Once the gelcoat has been buffed with compound, it should bring back the gelcoat’s shine. Matt explained, “it's important to use a Swirl Remover to get rid of any swirls caused by the compounds. This is because the Swirl Remover will give the finish a super glossy and swirl-free look. Then the gelcoat is ready to be protected with a good wax.”  

Following the compounding step, owners need to keep in mind that they should continue to wash and wax their gelcoat. This should help prolong their gelcoat and assist in avoiding the need to polish.  

Matt Modica stressed that, “no matter how much work you do to the gelcoat, it will require constant maintenance for the gelcoat to remain in top condition.”  

If anyone has any questions for Matt Modica at The Boat MD or is interested in finding someone who specializes in gelcoat maintenance, contact Matt online at http://www.myboatmd.com. Matt Modica has been the owner of The Boat MD since 2000. 


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