Maintaining Your Boat’s Exterior

With proper preventative maintenance, you can keep your boat looking beautiful both in and out of the water.

Many people know how to maintain the exterior of a car or motorhome. They fix dents and dings and prevent rust with professional paint touch-ups to chips and scratches. But because you don’t usually see the exterior of a boat, you might be neglecting similar problems. With proper preventative maintenance and quick response to small damages, you can keep your boat looking beautiful both in and out of the water. Here’s what you need to know about maintaining your boat’s exterior, including necessary repairs for cracks and blisters.

Stay on Top of the Gelcoat

Most modern boats have a fiberglass exterior that is protected with a gelcoat. The gelcoat helps to protect the fiberglass from the wear of the water, but it also provides the glossy finish that keeps your boat looking sleek. Without maintenance, the gelcoat deteriorates and starts to turn cloudy, effectively making your boat look like it’s in much worse condition than it is. Treat your gel coat with both wax and polish. Wax helps to keep the gelcoat functional; it seals out dirt and moisture. Polishes help to remove discoloration from oxidization (the nemesis of colored exteriors) while restoring a like-new shine to the boat. Avoid using harsh soaps on your boat. Instead, wash the gel coat with a gentle detergent, and rinse it thoroughly. Never use a stiff bristle on the gel coat, as this actually creates tiny scratches in the gelcoat. You can buy stain removers intended to prevent discoloration from algae and other ocean or lake dwellers. If you allow your gelcoat to become grimy and cloudy, it takes a lot of work to bring back the look of a quality gel-coat. In some cases, the coat can become so damaged that it will need to be professionally restored. Usually, a severely faded coat needs power tools (such as an angle grinder) with varying degrees of friction. If hours of elbow grease aren’t part of your summer plans, you might ask an auto-body shop with boat experience to bring back your gelcoat. For boats with gelcoats that cannot be polished or fully restored, it’s possible to bring a boat back to beauty with an exterior paint job. Many older boats are painted for this reason, and with the right application, the paint can extend the life of a boat’s exterior. However, painting a boat properly is almost always a job for professionals.

Fix Scratches and Dents
Boats can become damaged with use, even if they spend most of their time in water. It only takes a carelessly placed hook, a bang from a board or a dock, or scrape along the hull in shallow waters to damage the finish on your boat. You want to fix these problems right away, especially if your boat is finished with paint instead of with a gelcoat. Look for these common signs of early damage:

  • Star cracks. These look like cracks radiating from a center point. Usually, they are caused by dropping something hard on the gelcoat. You can fix these early by grinding out the cracks and polishing and waxing the area. Larger cracks are more severe than smaller ones and require more immediate attention.
  • Distortion or rippling. This is the first sign that all is not well inside the exterior coat. Usually, rippling can point a wet core; water is getting inside the fiberglass layers beneath the gel coat. This is not solved with elbow grease but instead indicates the need for more extensive repair.
  • Straight cracks. This is another sign of moisture under the gelcoat. Sometimes, deep gouges can allow seepage, and during temperature changes, the gelcoat cracks because of the expanding interior.
  • Blistering. Blistering occurs when the finished coat is not of sufficient quality for the boat’s purpose. With exposure to sun and rain, you’ll see bubbling and small spots appearing. Boats with blistering need grinding and a new, better quality coating in order to stop further blistering from occurring.

    Conduct an exterior inspection often in order to catch these problems before they get worse. Generally, it’s less costly to fix a small area of a boat’s finish than it is to ignore the problem until it spreads further.

    Have Your Boat Checked After Accidents

    If you accidentally run your boat aground, or if you have an accident while towing your boat, even if it’s just a minor fender bender, take the boat to a body shop to be inspected for damage. Hull and bottom damage often goes unnoticed because most people rarely see the bottom of their boats and aren’t concerned with hull cosmetics. However, you don’t want to miss any damage that might occur from even a small collision. For more information about how to keep your boat in great shape, contact us at Chehalis Collision Center. We have experience working with boats, trailers, RVs, and other recreational and work vehicles.