Monday, June 13, 2011

Gelcoat Maintenance-Waxing, Buffing, Polishing Hull and deck; Topsides. Part 2

Ok, so you've tried the easy stuff and still can't get a high shine.........The problem is the oxidized, "dead" top layer of gelcoat. This layer has been broken down by the UV and must be removed to get a high shine. The best wax job will result if the bare gelcoat is  already shiny! 3M, Meguires and others make a product they advertise for "heavily oxidized" finishes that has a light duty compound mixed in with the wax. Sometimes this will be enough to get the job done. Try a little of this by hand using vigorous polishing. If that is not enough try it with a high speed buffer and a wool pad. The random orbital buffers sold for waxing cars will NOT do you any good for this, they do not have the power nor RPM to be effective. You need a 7" right angle grinder with a wool buffing wheel. Be careful with this tool, it's very easy to get hurt or damage the finish of your boat as this tool is capable of burning right through the gelcoat if misused. (If you are not comfortable using one of these now may be the time to hire a professional.) If the gelcoat is still not shining then even more aggressive methods are called for. The next step is to use a high speed buffer with straight rubbing compounds or even wet sanding. In the worst cases I have wet sanded the whole boat with 1200 grit paper (It goes faster than you would think), buffed it out with 3M's heavy compound followed by buffing with 3M's Finesse (a very fine compound) to remove the swirl marks left from the heavy compound, resulting in a high shine that can then be coated in wax for a lasting finish.
Even the chalkiest of hulls can be brought back to life using the methods above provided there is a thick enough layer of gelcoat to allow it and even hiring a professional to do it will be far less expensive than painting the boat.
If you have any questions or need advice feel free to use the contact page on my website at:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Gelcoat Maintenance-Waxing, Buffing, Polishing Hull and deck; Topsides

Gelcoat. Ok, here we go: Your boat is looking mighty dull, you look out on the web and see all types of advice and products and don't know where to turn. Well, first off, if it looks like a miracle one step, super easy product: stay away! Do not use! If it looks too good to be true, it is! There are many "one step" products out there. Some, offered by 3M and Meguiars, among others, are ok if your gelcoat is just a little dull and regular wax isn't quite bringing it up to a high shine. Other products, especially the liquid, "wipe on - wipe off" stuff  are what you need to stay away from. If applied properly they can look ok, for a month or two, but.........they are essentially a secondary coating (read "clear coat") that you are applying over the gelcoat to produce a shiny finish. If not applied properly the result will be an immediate or slowly apparent milky haze that will look terrible! Even with a perfect application these products do not hold up and will tend to haze if not over the whole surface then in patches which looks even worse. The manufacturers then instruct you to apply further coats every season to maintain the shine but these coats just seal in any hazing, tend to haze themselves and simply build up layers of undesirable product over the gelcoat. When you finally get tired of the haze and want to shine the gelcoat properly, these products are really difficult to strip off and you cannot simply wax over them. They will end up costing you more money and time in the long run.

The tried and true methods are best. For boats that are only lightly oxidized either 3M's or Meguiar's "one step" products are ok, however they use a chemical process to achieve a shine, not any sort of compound (light abrasive). This may result in only being able to achieve a semi-gloss satin finish on the most UV exposed areas. This is because they are not capable of removing the "dead" or oxidized outermost layer of gelcoat. If a boat is more heavily oxidized, especially if I can get a gelcoat colored residue on my hand after wiping the gelcoat, then before any waxing you must remove that dead layer of gelcoat. I usually start by washing the boat using a 3 to 1 mixture of simple household ammonia and water with a little dish soap. This will get any loose oxidation off the surface and sometimes it's amazing just how much this step alone will improve the appearance of the boat. This mixture WILL STRIP WAX off so try to limit you run off to affected areas.{ For those of you who don't know, you should normally NEVER wash your boat (or car for that matter) with dish soap because it does wash off the wax. I usually use Turtle Wax soap (yes, car stuff) as this helps keep boatwax in good condition.}After the wash try a little of the 3M or Meguiars mentioned above on one of the worst areas. If it shines up then great, wax the boat. Once done then make sure go over the boat again with a coat of pure wax, something with UV inhibitors for a lasting shine. The one step products by themselves do not apply a thick enough coat of wax to do the job alone. If you re-coat every 3 to 4 months you should be able to use a regular wax product and it will be an easy wax on - wax off mission.  If you are still not getting a high shine then read the next post and I will detail some more aggressive methods.........................

To be continued........................

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Outdrives

Here are a few thoughts on Outdrives:

If you are going to keep your boat in the water, don't buy one with outdrives! Outdrives are great for a lot of reasons but storing them in the water, especially salt water, leads to a potentially huge maintenance nightmare. Corrosion and marine growth are disastrous to an outdrive.

 I just got back from looking at a boat whose outdrive was being kept in the water. The outdrive was covered in barnacles and oysters, the tilt seals were shot, the trim position senders were shot, the case was a mess of corrosion pits and the baffles were dry rot cracked. The outdrive had been serviced and painted 10 months ago. You could see where the diver had scraped barnacles off the surface of the drive during the monthly cleaning, however, because of all the angles on the  drive you can also see where the antifoulant paint was scraped off. No diver will be able to clean up inside of the drive and that's where the barnacles and oysters do most of their damage since they grow up against the bellows and will then cut into the bellows when the boat is used. The drive had been bottom painted with the same stuff used on the hull and the cuprous oxide in the paint set up a corrosion reaction with the aluminum in the drive housing leaving pitting all over the drive housing, especially eating away at the collar behind the prop. The zinc probably went away in the first couple of months and nobody caught it. Then what bottom paint was left failed, the inside of the outdrive loaded up with barnacles and the "leak while running" he was telling me about was probably from a cut, in the bellows. To top it all off,when the seal behind the prop needs to be changed or anything else on outdrive has to be serviced the cost of labor to get it done is going to go up, maybe wayyyy up, depending on how much extra corrosion the mechanic has to fight. Stainless bolts in aluminum housings (what holds that outdrive together) react badly with each other, especially when left submerged in salt water.

This was an extreme case but all this damage is easily preventable: don't store a boat with  outdrives in the water! It's worth your time or money to either trailer it or pay for an in/out service dry storage.

 If you must store it in the water here are a couple of things you can do:

The outdrive must be bottom painted. There are several companies that make antifoulant paint specially formulated to not react with the aluminum of the outdrive casing. These paints are good but never as effective as what can be used on the hull of the boat. One solution is to paint the outdrive with a barrier coat first. Then you can use regular bottom paint for better antifoulant properties. When painting, thin some of the paint and use a Pre-val sprayer and make sure you get paint up inside all the crevices around and on the bellows. Apply multiple coats on the outer casing where a diver is going to do the most damage while scraping growth off in hopes that the diver won't inadvertently scrape all the paint back off. Paint the rams with the outdrive in the fully down position. You do not want to get paint on any portion of the shaft that slides up into the tilt rams.

On the outdrive I mentioned above his tilt ram seals were blown out and was no longer able to tilt the drive. After talking to him I determined he always left the boat with the drive tilted up because his slip was shallow at a moon tide and the drives would bump bottom. What happens is the barnacle and other growth form on the exposed portion of the trim rams and every time he would take the boat out (lowering the drives first) the "dirty" exposed section of the trim rams shaft would slide past the seal and wreck that rubber seal. Leave the outdrives in their full down position! If the slip is too shallow then get another slip or turn the boat around! Servicing those seals requires the boat to be hauled out and usually requires replacement of the end caps at minimum. If any pieces of grit manage to score the shaft then that too must be replaced or the damaged area on the shaft will continually eat seals up. When those seals blow out they will dump hydraulic fluid into the water which is not good for marine life and can cause a hefty fine to be imposed, not to mention your trim will no longer work.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Most Overlooked (and Cheapest) Part of Boat Maintenance

The worst thing you can do to your boat is to let it sit idle! The cheapest thing you will ever do to maintain your boat is to USE IT! If you don't have the time to use it (a lot of us don't) then get on a program of doing regular engine starts and system checks. Even if you have to pay someone to perform this service it will be cheaper in the long run then paying to fix what inactivity will damage! Yacht repair is extremely expensive. Paying a captain or service technician to regularly start the engines and energize the systems is cheap in comparison.

It is extremely important to regularly run your boats engines and energize all systems aboard. I've been called to perform repairs on so many boats where the need for repairs could have been prevented simply by someone running the boat once a week and firing up all systems aboard. Corrosion is a major killer in the marine environment. Electrical connections turn green, metal rusts, even the inside of your engines corrode from the effects of condensation producing moisture on the interior surfaces that are above the oil level in the pan. Running the systems and engines helps keep some of this at bay.

When an engine is allowed to sit the oil coating the interior surfaces drains down and dries up over time leaving those surfaces unprotected. Condensation produces small quantities of moisture and corrosion to internal surfaces begins. Oil seals and gaskets dry out and crack. The small amounts of oil that do get trapped on upper surfaces of the engine slowly get thicker and turn into sludge and eventually into hard deposits. Running the engine periodically (once a week is best) will re-coat all those interior surfaces with fresh oil helping to keep corrosion down and to keep oil seals and gasket edges from drying out. The engines should be run until they achieve their full operating temperature. This will help any moisture present within the block and valve train to completely dry out and will put the engine through a full expansion/contraction temperature cycle. The piston rings in an engine don't seat fully until the engine is at operating temp so if the engine is not brought up to temp regularly deposits will be left on the cylinder walls that will later affect cylinder compression. That expansion/contraction temperature cycle also helps gaskets to stay seated and while running at full temp is the time to check for any leaks of oil or water.  On diesel engines the regular running will also agitate the fuel in the tanks (through the fuel return lines) helping to slow and break up any algae growth, and also will help to keep any growth or sludge from forming in the fuel lines and filters. On gas engines burning fresh fuel will help to keep the fuel in  the filters and float bowls (if carburetor) from turning to varnish and clogging the system up.

The transmissions will encounter the same corrosion problems as the engines if not run. Especially the shift shaft. This shaft enters at the top of the transmission and its bearing surfaces are lubricated by splash oiling when the transmission is in gear. Allowing  a transmission to sit for extended periods can result in difficulty shifting. When performing an engine start the transmission should be put in gear and allowed to run. I shouldn't have to say this but - if you are at the dock make sure your spring lines are tight before putting the transmission in gear!

An older engine with extremely low hours is not necessarily a good thing. Wear and tear is always a consideration when looking at engine hours but if that engine was not run for at least 15 minutes every other week minimum you might have more problems than are immediately apparent.

Every system in the boat will benefit from being turned on at least once a week.  When an electrical or electronic device is turned on the electricity flowing through creates heat. In the case of a light bulb or TV it pretty obvious but every wire and connection in the boat generates a little heat as electricity flows through it. The regular application of current (turning the device on) and the heat that produces is very important in keeping corrosion at bay.  I've seen boats a year old that were let sit where every connection is solid green, and half the systems on board don't work  and seen the same boat that gets used regularly where everything is fine with no need of repairs. The only difference being that the second boat was run at the dock every week. Every light on the boat should be turned on, water systems should be energized, winches and hydraulics should be run keeping everything lubricated and deposits within hydraulic and water lines to the minimum.

I know a lot of people don't have time to get to their boats that often or keep telling themselves that they'll get it done but then 6 weeks go by before their able to get down to the boat. There are many companies out there that will perform Engine Start/System Check services (though they may call it something different) who will put your boat on a schedule and see that the service is performed regularly. We charge $50.00 per visit for this service. If done every 2 weeks that service would cost $1300.00/yr. That amount may seem like a lot at first glance but you get a lot for your money.  Most importantly, that amount is probably LESS than you could expect to pay for repairs needed as a result of letting the boat sit idle for extended periods. As a fringe benefit you will get a mechanic who is already familiar with your boat and your needs and as such won't have to spend (bill) as much time keeping your boat in repair. A main benefit to this constant maintenance is that mechanic being able to identify potential problems as they happen or even before they happen and being able to keep you appraised of what preventative maintenance or repairs are needed before problems arise. It's nice to be able to just show up at the boat and be able to take it out without having to worry about or work on it! I operate out of Honolulu, Hawaii but if you are curious about rates or services available have a look at my web site at