Skip to main content

DIY: Restore Your Boat's Finish in a Weekend

Bring back the gleam of your bassboat's gelcoat by wet sanding. Here's how.

DIY: Restore Your Boat's Finish in a Weekend

Befre and After: Oxidation from sun exposure causes a boat’s finish to look cloudy and unattractive, but there are ways to get your boat looking new again. (Photos by Shane Beilue)

I love the shine of a new bass boat. While some folks are drawn to sports cars, I always do a double take at a new bass rig being towed down the highway. However, with the cost of a brand new, fully outfitted bass boat clearing six figures, investing in the upkeep of my existing rig seems the more fiscally responsible option for now.

The 2004 Skeeter ZX225 in my garage was once a sparking thing of beauty; however, days spent in the sun chasing bass together have aged both of us, evidenced by the sunspots on my skin and the severe oxidation to the metallic blue gelcoat on the boat. Once the oxidation began a few years ago, the haze advanced further and became more apparent each year, particularly on the horizontal surfaces of the top cap, with a general cloudiness overtaking the former luster.

While various polishes and waxes on the market offer to improve the appearance of an aging gelcoat, the haze lies beneath the surface, meaning a superficial wax won’t penetrate deep enough to restore the shine. The only way to correct the dull haze is to gently strip off some of the old, oxidized gelcoat by wet sanding the boat’s surface.

At first, I didn’t fully understand the process and quite frankly feared I would do more harm than good by scratching too deeply into the boat’s surface. However, once I thoroughly researched wet sanding and saw the subsequent transformation, I realized it was something I should’ve done years ago.

You can achieve the same results in restoring the luster to a tired and dull gelcoat, bringing back that sense of pride when backing your boat down the ramp and gaining the satisfaction of doing it all yourself. The wet-sanding process can easily be accomplished in the span of a weekend.

Though multiple refinishing products are available from various companies, I landed on an all-inclusive kit from Pro-Tec (protecproducts.com), a company that specializes in restoring luster to boats, RVs and automobiles. I ordered the Restoration Care Kit for $72.95, containing soap for washing the boat, multiple sheets of sandpaper (1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 grit), sealant polish, various waxes for maintaining shine once restored, applicator pads and microfiber towels.

STEP 1: WASH

washing a boat
A soap and ammonia solution removes surface grime and wax build-up on the gelcoat. (Photo by Shane Beilue)

The process begins with thoroughly washing the boat with a few splashes of Pro-Tec Wash and Gloss Soap plus an ounce of ammonia in a bucket of water to cut through any old wax build-up accumulated over the years. Once complete, immediately move on to the sanding stage.

STEP 2: WET SAND

wet sanding a boat
Sand carefully around decals, keep strokes even and straight, and use plenty of water. (Photo by Shane Beilue)

Sanding is done in stages, moving from the coarsest to the finest sandpaper. The key to effective sanding is keeping the sandpaper wet and utilizing a “straight line” technique as you sand by hand. By not using a circular motion with the sandpaper, you’ll avoid creating swirls in the gelcoat that may be noticeable once the process is complete.

The wet-sanding process gradually removes thin layers of oxidized material from the boat’s finish. Should the sandpaper or gelcoat become dry during the sanding process, the grit will dig too deep and scar the thin gelcoat. Simply keep a bucket of water on hand to dip the sandpaper every few seconds as it begins to dry out. You can also sponge clean water onto the boat’s surface as needed.




Work the 1,000-grit sandpaper along manageable 4- to 6-foot sections of the boat’s surface. Dirty, hazy water dripping to the floor shows that the sandpaper is gradually removing the oxidized gelcoat. Once the 1,000-grit work is complete, the sanding process continues with 1,500- and 2,000-grit applications. It is important to rinse the residue from the gelcoat before moving on to the next stage of sanding. Use a clean sponge to wash the boat after each stage. Throw the sponges away after using them in this process, as they will have grit embedded in the pores and will scratch the finish should you use them to wash your car or truck.

Take your time with each stage of sanding, remembering you can always remove more gelcoat if needed. Keep long, even strokes on the large surface areas, and gently work around decals or hardware should you leave them in place, as I did. Once you finish the three stages of wet sanding, dry the boat’s surface completely so no moisture is trapped during the next step.

STEP 3: MOISTURIZE

buffing a boat
A buffer works best to apply moisturizer and revitalize the gelcoat’s desired sheen. (Photo by Shane Beilue)

One might say this is where the magic happens, as the results of your work start to become more apparent. The Nu Paint Moisturizer begins to restore the luster and brings the color back to the gelcoat. Apply it in the shade or in a garage so the surface stays cool and the moisturizer doesn’t dry too quickly. Use a power buffer at approximately 2,000 rpm for the application, as though you are waxing a car.

Recommended


Buffing will slightly heat the gelcoat and move the moisturizer material around to fill minor sanding scratches, leaving a smooth surface and restoring shine. After the product has set for 30 to 45 minutes, either wipe the surface down with a clean cloth or use a power buffer with a clean pad to reveal the transformed gelcoat. It should look virtually brand new.

STEP 4: WASH AGAIN

washing a boat
One more wash after the moisturizer is applied will make the boat look almost new again. (Photo by Shane Beilue)

Once you have buffed and wiped down the entire surface, rewash the boat with the mild Pro-Tec soap, this time without ammonia. While it will appear that the transformation is now complete, and the results will be rewarding, don’t run to the lake just yet. You need to put a sealant over the newly exposed gelcoat.

STEP 5: APPLY SEALANT

boat sealant
Two coats of sealant shield the gelcoat from oxidation and keep it looking shiny. (Photo by Shane Beilue)

Sealing the gelcoat with protective UV inhibitors prevents the oxidation process from happening all over again. Apply the sealant directly to the surface and rub it in with a new, clean applicator cloth; a buffer isn’t necessary for this step. Allow the sealant to set for 30 to 45 minutes, then remove it by simply wiping the surface with a clean cloth. A second coat 24 hours later is recommended to ensure thorough coverage across the gelcoat.

No matter the age of the boat or the level of oxidation, the process of wet sanding the gelcoat provides an incredible transformation to a tired and hazy fiberglass rig. The boat looks virtually new again, restores your pride of ownership and gives you a sense of satisfaction from the small investment of time and money to accomplish such a great result.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Learn

Bass Crash Course: Shallow-Water Power Lures

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Destinations

Minnesota Double Down: First Visit to New Farm Goes Perfectly

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Fishing

Bass Crash Course: Bass Fishing in the Wind

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Hunting

She Kills The Biggest Bird of the Year

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Fishing

Bass Crash Course: Unlock the Patterns Squarebill Crankbaits

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Learn

Tips for Cooking Over an Open Fire

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Videos

How to Build the Perfect Campfire

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Hunting

First Morning: Father/Son Iowa Turkey Double

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Destinations

Shot the Same Bird! UP of Michigan Double Down

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Hunting

Work and Play: Merriam's Turkeys in Wyoming

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Gear

Winchester Waterfowl Loads

Building on the success of the .350 Legend, Winchester releases a new straight-wall rifle cartridge for deer hunters loo...
Gear

Winchester .400 Legend

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now