Why Detail your Boat?
Before answering this question it’s important to understand a few things about boat manufacturing. Most people believe the boat is manufactured first and the Gelcoat finish is applied last. Actually it’s the opposite. Boats are manufactured using molds and the Gelcoat is applied to the mold first through a spraying process. The spray application is only 15-20 mil thick (most boat manufacturers). How thick is 15-20 mil? A piece of copy paper is 4 mil so the Gelcoat is equal to approximately four to five pieces of copy paper. That is pretty thin!
After the Gelcoat is applied to the mold the fiberglass is added and cured. The boat is then removed from the mold exposing the Gelcoat.
What is Gelcoat? The Gelcoat is composed of thermosetting polymers which are very large chain-like molecules made up of monomers. The most common thermosetting polymer in boat manufacturing is polyester resin, which is modified to produce Gelcoat.
To the human eye the Gelcoat appears very smooth but under a microscope you would see millions of tiny pores with “peaks and valleys”. When exposed to air and sun these peaks and valleys become more pronounced (oxidation) and the Gelcoat appears dull. Further exposure to these elements, begins to breakdown the molecules and cause a “chalky” feel to the Gelcoat.
A quality compound acts as an abrasive, smoothing-out the peaks and valleys. Once the peaks and valleys are reduced the light will reflect off the Gelcoat more evenly and the shine finish will return.
A quality wax will fill in the valleys or micro-cracks and provide a layer of protection to decrease the oxidation and preserve the Gelcoat. How often should wax be applied? Think of wax as a “sun tan” lotion. It is only effective for a short period of time. You would not put sun tan lotion on in April and expect it to protect you the entire summer.
A quality wax lasts a lot longer than sun tan lotion however it will not protect the Gelcoat more then a couple of months with exposure to the sun, rain and salt. You should apply wax at least two times a season for Gelcoat protection, three times if your boat sits in the direct sun. My company adds
Summarizing, Gelcoat is the thin outer layer of your boat and is susceptible to weathering and degradation. It needs to be protected. Preserving its integrity will help maintain the value and performance of your watercraft.
About the author: The author owns and operates Squiggy’s Marine Detailing and Shrink Wrapping, LLC, providing services on Long Island, NY. (www.squiggysmarine.com)