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How to Restore Gelcoat on a Boat? (5 Simple & Easy Steps)

Fact checked by William Hart

how to restore gelcoat on a boat

Does your watercraft appear dull and tired? Is the gelcoat porous and damaged? It is normal that the gelcoat on a boat loses its luster over time. But if you don’t take action quickly, the damage will be irreversible.

Before you pay for gelcoat repair services, check out our DIY procedure. With some pro tips and tricks on how to restore gelcoat on a boat, you can get it done like a professional.

Table of Contents

What You Will Need

If your gel coat is in severe condition, boat wax won’t restore its shine. In that case, you’ll need a heavy-duty rubbing compound.

Steps to Restore the Gelcoat on Your Boat


Step 1. Clean

Nothing you put atop will stay without a clean surface. So, the first step is to give your boat a thorough clean. You should mix boat soap with water, then use a sponge or boat brush to scrub the hull and deck with this solution.


If you find any stains, make your own stain remover by mixing a cup of household bleach detergent with soapy water. Since bleach harms vinyl materials and corrodes metal fixtures, avoid these areas.

You should apply the solution to the stains, wait for two to three minutes, then remove them with clean water. Don’t leave the chemicals on for too long.

When you finish scrubbing, rinse the surface, wipe off any water residues, and let it dry naturally.

Step 2. Degrease

Boat soap and stain remover won’t get rid of stubborn oil spots on the gelcoat. For reliable results, you should degrease the surface.

Pour a generous amount of acetone or cleaner degreaser on a rag and wipe the surface. Remember to put on rubber gloves to protect your skin.

Step 3. Wax

Once the surface is clean and dry, mask off the areas you don’t want to wax with heavy-duty masking tape (e.g., boat decals, vinyl pinstriping, small details). The rotary buffer can easily spin off any loose tape. So, secure the tape properly to protect the vulnerable areas.

Apply the wax to the hull with a paintbrush. After that, spray some water on your buffer and start buffing the gelcoat using circular motions. Read the instruction on the wax to know how fast you should run the buffer.

Let the surface dry, then wipe off any excess with a soft cloth. Now, is your surface new, smooth, and reflective? If not, repeat this step. Buffing a boat should take you at least 30 minutes.

Note: Place the electric buffer on the surface before switching it on. You don’t want water to splash everywhere.

Step 4. Polish


Put some boat polish on a clean cloth and apply it to the surface using circular motions. You should rub in small sections until the surface looks glassy. Don’t use the electric buffer as it might remove the wax layer you applied in step three.

We recommend carrying out this procedure every three to six months to maintain the gelcoat’s appearance. When your boat is not in use, cover and store it indoors for maximum protection.

Step 5. Use a rubbing compound if necessary


If your boat is neglected for so long that the polish fails to offer the boat gelcoat restoration you desire, you’ll need a gelcoat rubbing compound.

Firstly, make a mixture of PH-neutral dish soap and water. Then, saturate a cloth with the solution and use it to remove the wax layer. Sweep the cloth in one direction, not back and forth.

Afterward, apply the rubbing compound just as the wax. You should paint it on the surface, dampen your buffer, and buff it in using circular motions. Finally, reapply the wax and polish your boat.

This extra step will help restore the chalky gelcoat. However, the gelcoat is removed little by little when constantly applied with these heavy-duty products, so do not go overboard. Only use a heavy-duty rubbing compound once every few years.

Helpful tips


Gelcoat is a polyester resin that has pigments. It covers the exterior of a boat. When you neglect to care for this layer, the resin will start to dry out, break down, and become oxidized.

An oxidized gelcoat trap more dirt, particles, and grime, which makes its condition worse. If you don’t take action to stop this vicious cycle, you will eventually have to replace the entire layer. So, save our helpful tips from experienced boat owners.

#1: Keep your hull clean

The most simple and effective way to prevent gel coat oxidation is to keep your hull and deck clean.

You should rinse your boat with fresh water after each use. This will prevent water residues from staining the gelcoat and building corrosive salt spots. In addition, make sure to wash your watercraft with boat soap or PH-neutral dish soap every three months.

#2: Invest in a rotary buffer

Restoring oxidized gelcoat by hand might take you the whole afternoon. Plus, you must carry out this procedure every season. So, why not invest in a rotary buffer? The device will get the job done more quickly and excellently.

Do you notice the shine your boat gets when you have it professionally done vs. when you do it yourself? The trick lies in the buffer and the user’s experience. Many aggressive compounds can only bring the best results when applied at a certain speed.

#3: Choose the least invasive method to restore the gelcoat

If you have taken care of your gelcoat, all you need to restore it is a boat wax. But if the boat wax doesn’t work, learn what compound is best for your situation before purchasing.

Some compounds are much more aggressive than others. You want to match the aggressiveness of the compound to the condition of your gel coat. Don’t go over a lightly oxidized hull with a heavy-duty compound. It will remove most material underneath and shorten the coat’s lifespan.

If you go with a heavy-duty compound this time, replace it with a boat wax or a one-step gelcoat restorer for a boat the next season.

Restoring faded gelcoat appropriately requires knowledge and experience. This video will explain the products you should use:


The guide on how to restore gelcoat on a boat includes four basic steps – clean, degrease, wax, and polish. But to achieve the best results, you must learn to use the right products.

Exquisite boats are only for diligent owners. We’re glad that you researched this topic and learned to maintain your precious watercraft properly. When you finish the procedure, please share your results in the comments. We would love to check it out.

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