While many boat owners concern themselves with major damages that require absurd amounts of time and money to fix, it seems that smaller issues get overlooked. However, if you want to keep your vessel looking like new for years to come, it’s important you don’t ignore the little things. These include unsightly blemishes to gel-coated surfaces that occur to even the most careful boaters. Fortunately, though these scratches and scrapes detract from your vessel’s overall appearance, they can be fixed more easily than you might think.
Take a walk down the docks at your local marina, or perhaps a stroll through the boat yard. If you look closely, you’ll likely see minor scratches and blemishes in the gelcoat on almost every boat you pass. There’s no doubt that far too many boat owners in Florida and beyond don’t properly care for their vessels and severely undervalue preventative maintenance and easy repairs, but gelcoat damage is something that just comes with the territory.
For many boaters, it either goes unnoticed or ignored simply because it doesn’t pose any real threat to safety or performance. Unlike a faulty motor or structural damage in the hull, minor gelcoat scratches won’t impede your vessel’s ability to operate safely. However, letting these damages go untreated for too long can lead to several issues. Mainly, the beautiful boat you likely spent a lot of money on isn’t going to look its best and, if you have any pride in your belongings, you’ll probably want to address even these minor repairs. Aside from the aesthetic decline, gelcoat damages can also lead to far less value when it’s time to sell your boat. Bottom line, it’s best to just take care of minor gelcoat damage like scratches when you see them.
So, how would you go about repairing a scratch in your gelcoat? Many boaters are afraid to even explore the idea of a DIY repair job at any level given the lack of technical knowledge among recreational mariners, but, believe us, it’s easier than you might think. Of course, you could always consult a professional and, if you really don’t know what you’re doing, you might want to explore that option, but a little bit of research, time and effort will set you up for success. Furthermore, taking the time to do it yourself will save you a lot of money, as the whole process can be often completed for about $20.
Minor surface scratches can usually be buffed out with a polishing compound, but deeper scratches need to be filled. To fill them, you’ll need a gelcoat paste as well as hardener, pigments, mixing sticks and sealing film, which are usually all available in a gelcoat repair kit. Additionally, you’ll need sandpaper and a flexible plastic spreader.
First, you’ll have to prepare the scratch before you fill it. Because gelcoat paste is too thick to simply spread over a deeper scratch, you must use a screwdriver or some sort of tool to open the scratch. Simply spreading the paste over the scratch will bridge it but won’t fill it, leaving a void in the scratch. It should look like a fairly wide V that’s easy to fill.
Next, it’s time to color match before catalyzing. Color matching is by far the most difficult part of the process, particularly for colored hulls. Most gelcoat repair kits provide pigments to add to the paste, and you should do so a drop at a time. You’re likely not going to achieve a perfect match, but the goal is to get as close as possible to the original color.
To catalyze the mixture, you must add hardener, which should also be available in any kit. Though the manufacturer of the kit will have instructions, you should follow the general rule of four drops of hardener per ounce of mix. You’ll have at least 30 minutes before it begins to harden.
Now, it’s time to spread the paste into the scratch with a flexible plastic spreader. You can let the putty bulge a bit since it shrinks as it hardens and you’ll be sanding away any excess, but don’t overdo it. Once the scratch is filled with paste, be sure to scrape away any paste beyond the scratch before it hardens.
After spreading the paste into the scratch, you need to cover the scratch to allow the gelcoat to cure. Most kits provide a plastic film to cover the area with, but, if not, a small piece of a plastic kitchen zipper bag will do the trick. The goal here is to cover the area with a smooth material that won’t adhere to the paste. To secure the film over the repair area, tape down each side with tape that won’t leave any adhesive residue.
Finally, after at least a day of waiting, peel the plastic off the repair area. The final step is to simply sand it down and polish. First, take 150-grit sandpaper on a sanding block and use short strokes to sand only the bulging surface. Be sure to avoid the area around the repair. Then, once the dried paste is flush with the rest of the surface, switch to 220-grit sandpaper. Repeat the process with 400- and 600-grit sandpaper, wet-sanding until you achieve a uniform appearance on the surface.
To polish, make sure the area is completely dry and apply rubbing compound. To complete this part, take a clean cloth with the compound and, in a circular motion, buff it in. You may have to apply some pressure initially. Though this entire process comprises many steps, it can be completed by anyone and doesn’t take much time or money.