The greatest improvement made in boating in the last hundred years is the development of fiberglass and various other composite materials used to build a modern recreational boat. It does not rot like wood, it does not warp or split and, if properly maintained, will last its owner for a very, very long time!
To fully understand how to care for a fiberglass boat, you should need to know a little about how fiberglass boat hulls are made. Generally speaking, at the beginning of the day that your boat was made, the resins and exterior finish (the gelcoat) were stored in drums or large vats and the actual fiberglass was stored in large rolls, not unlike rolls for carpet. Boat builders have large molds for each model of boat that they make and are usually comprised or two or more individual molds to fabricate the major components of a boat. There is usually one mold for the hull and one for the deck and there may also be a liner mold. In any event, after the molds are thoroughly cleaned and polished, they are sprayed with a paint-like substance called gelcoat which will harden and become the exterior, colored surface of the boat. (Most people are surprised to learn that the first thing the builder does in building a boat is to ‘paint it’ and then to build the boat within the paint job!). Once the gelcoat has hardened, the mold is sprayed with a chemical to bond the gelcoat to the fiberglass in such a way that the texture of the fiberglass cloth ‘roving’ will not show through the finished product. The mold is then covered with layers of fiberglass cloth and sprayed with a chemical resin to bond and harden the structure of the fiberglass. Several layers of fiberglass are applied with emphasis on corners, structural supports, engine mounts, etc. After this dries, the hull is ‘popped’ from the mold and joined with the liner and or deck components which are built separately.
The exterior finish of a fiberglass boat is called gelcoat and it is usually less than 1/8″ thick. This surface is the one you, the boatowner, will be most concerned with during the life of the boat.. If you permit the boat to sit out in the sun for extended periods, the sun will bleach out the pigment or coloring of the gelcoat and will greatly dull the shine that you saw on the showroom floor. Obviously, it is a good idea to prevent such discoloration if possible by keeping the boat in a shady, covered storage area. If that’s not possible, it’s a good idea to periodically apply a good marine wax or polish to the surface to protect the gelcoat.
Discoloration In the event of sun damage or discoloring of the gelcoat, you can normally restore the color and the shine with a good marine polish (available at any boat supply store – or from one of the many online marine suppliers), When applying this polish, be certain to wipe off all of the polish, particularly around cleats and fittings on the hull.
Deck ScratchesDo not permit passengers on your boat to walk around on your gelcoat decks with street shoes! Permit only deck shoes or tennis shoes with a softer sole to prevent scratching the surface by grinding in dirt particles. The kind of scratched can be very difficult to remove by polishing.
Docking Be certain that, when docking your boat, you provide for protection against the sides of your boat coming into direct contact with the dock, posts, or other hardware components. What looks like gentle rocking of the boat up against the dock can actually be doing severe damage to the gelcoat finish of the boat. Boat dealers call this “dock rash” and will depreciate your boat accordingly when its time to trade the boat in on a new one. Inexpensive plastic bumpers are available to hang over the side of your boat to cushion it and to keep the hull from ever contacting the dock. It only stands to reason that a very hard object such as a dock piling will damage a relatively ‘soft’ surface such as gelcoat – if they are permitted to scrape against one another.
Repairing Scratches If the scratches on your fiberglass boat are of the same color as the boat, that means that they are ‘in the gelcoat’. These types of damage can usually be ‘rubbed’ out with polish or rubbing compound. Great care must be taken not to rub too deep into the gelcoat as this would cause further and bigger damage than the scratch that you are seeking to remove. Go at it slowly. If a scratch is all the way through the gelcoat (usually white in color and having the texture of a lemon peel), the scratch is too deep for rubbing compound or polish. This level of damage should be referred to a professional fiberglass expert who has the tools, equipment, and skills to match the gelcoat color and repair the damage.
With a little care and preventive maintenance, the fiberglass hull and decks of your boat should outlast you! To meticulously prevent scratches and damage to the hull of your boat is to ensure, in the best way possible, that your boat will maintain the highest possible trade-in value. Of course, it also keeps the boat better looking and more fun to drive and enjoy. Have a great cruise!
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