How To Polish Your Boat To Shine Like A Perfect 10

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s gel coat gleams brightest of them all?

Fishing boats aren’t just a mere form of on-the-water transportation, they’re also a symbol of your virtuous work ethic, socio-economic achievement, and success at living the American dream (start humming the National Anthem, now.) But in order to fulfill its modern iconic role, your boat must be a clean boat. A spotless boat. A shiny boat. A gleaming, brilliant, soil-free beacon of glory for all to see. Of course, you already know this. The real question is, how do you get her back to looking like a perfect 10 after that chum-splattered, salt-encrusted fishing trip? Use these tricks and tactics.

boat shine
She’s not just any old boat, she’s your pride and joy – so keep those hullsides shining.

Gel Coat – This is the skin of every fiberglass vessel, and you need to treat it right for your boat to be a showpiece. The beauty treatment begins by washing the entire boat. If the hullsides are chalky or faded looking from years in the sun, give them a rub-down with a color restorer or gentle rubbing compound with oxidation remover. Next hit it with a base coat of paste wax, not that liquid carnauba type. Yes, we know liquid wax is a lot easier to apply and that liquid carnaubas have the best gleam, but this first layer is for protection and paste wax lasts a lot longer. You’re done? Good – now do it again. Two coats are necessary for the optimum results.

boat care
You say waxing is too much work? Then this is the look your boat has in store for you.

After the base coats of paste, you’ll want to give the gel coat a third waxing, this time with the liquid carnauba. When you buff this coat, use a fine-fiber pad. Good job, but you’re not done rubbing and buffing just yet. To get things really gleaming, give the boat a coat of polish, like Shurhold Serious Shine Quick Detailer.

This stuff is an aerosol that leaves a mirror-like finish in its wake. Now stand next to your boat with your head about six inches from the hull. If your reflection is so clear you can count your nose hairs, you’ve done good.

boat shine
Now that’s what we call a looker. Let’s keep her looking that way!

Non-Skid – Diamond or oval non-skid decking is tough to get clean. Serious scrubbing will only take you so far, and waxing the stuff is suicide – it’ll turn your deck into a skating rink.

Step one is to remove any stubborn grime with a strong boat soap and/or degreaser. There are plenty of dedicated “non-skid deck cleaners” out there, but most of them are just repackaged souped-up boat soaps, so don’t get your hopes too high. Often, you’ll have to resort to a potent brew like Soft Scrub.

But take note: this stuff has bleach in it, and will make the fiberglass dull over time. Save this hard-core treatment for once or twice a year. After you’re finished, give the non-skid a thorough scrub with regular soap and then rinse it off for several minutes, to be sure all the Soft Scrub is washed away. Finally, make those molded-in diamonds shine like diamonds with an application of Woody Wax Fiberglass & Non-Skid Deck Wax, which stays grippy underfoot.

Rails and Pipework – The next material you can get maximum shine from is metal.

If there are any rust stains, get rid of them before polishing. (Boeshield Rust Free does an excellent job, but this stuff is acidic and you’ll need to be careful thoroughly rinse it away and not to get it on gel coat). Then use regular metal polish to restore the shine. After that metal reflects a blinding glare some captains like to wax it, but this can lead to slick surfaces where you’d rather have a firm grip. A sealant like Flitz Boat Sealant will have the same effect, without making those surfaces quite so slick.

boat shine
Adding a bit of shine to those metal rails and fittings goes a long way to making this Whaler look like a winner.

Clear Plastic and Isinglass – Clear plastic windows need special treatment. Hard scrub brushes and harsh soaps can scratch, dull and haze the material, and if you don’t clean it with care you’ll regret it within a few seasons. Stick with cleaners that are intended specifically for this product, like Plexus or Meguiars Clear Plastic Detailer.  When you use any of these products, apply them with a soft microfiber cloth.

Marine Vinyl – Seats, cushions, and coaming bolsters need some love and care, too. Most modern marine vinyls are treated with anti-microbials (which prevent mildew and mold growth) at the factory and you don’t want to scrub these away, so whenever possible, clean the vinyls with a soft rag, gentle soap, and water. At some point, however, you’ll be faced with stains and have to scrub with a dedicated vinyl cleaner. So be it. At this point, using protective products like Armor All is a good idea.

boat shine
Flawless-looking vinyl doesn’t stay that way by accident, so treat those seats and cushions with TLC.

One additional step you can take to keep those vinyls looking better for longer is to simply remove exposed cushions from the boat after every trip. Dedicate a spot in the garage for your cushions and/or bolsters, and in the long run, you’ll end up spending less time cleaning than you will pulling and replacing them between trips.

Sunbrella and Canvass – The best way to keep your tops and covers looking good is preventative maintenance. Sure, you can clean light dirt out of these materials with warm, soapy water. But once dirt, fish blood, or other stains become “set” in, it’s very difficult to remove them. Stop the stains in the first place, by treating the canvass to a generous helping of Marykate Fabric Waterproofer every other month. Not only will this stuff cause water to bead and run off the fabric, it’ll also provide a protective barrier against stains. And don’t just put it on the outside of covers and tops, do the underside as well. Flying fish blood, drinks, and other things often stain the underside of canvass tops because many people don’t think to regularly clean there.

You did your best, but the canvass still got stained? You can put relatively small tops and covers through the washing machine. But be careful – don’t set the machine on “hot” or you risk shrinkage. Instead, be sure to wash it in cold water. After it dries, give both sides of the fabric a waterproofer treatment.

Outboard Cowls – Most outboard cowls have a finish that’s very similar to car paint, so treat them as you would your land vehicle. Use several coats of a regular automotive paste wax every few months, and wash down at the end of each day of use with a soap that contains wax. For extra shine, give it a shot of that Serious Shine we mentioned earlier.

boat shine
You can see the entire boat reflected in that outboard cowl – and it’s 12 years old. Monthly paste wax and countless soapy waxy washdowns did the trick.

Let’s say you’ve been doing all of the above, but the years have taken a toll and your boat just doesn’t look up to snuff anymore. What luck – it’s time to buy a new boat! Congratulations friend, you’re going to look great in that hot new ride. Treat her like a gem, and she’ll keep shining for you for years on end.

Get more great boating information and tips from Lenny Rudow on BD.

Lenny Rudow
Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chie...