Bring Back The Gloss To The Colored Stripe On Your Boat

Q: The colored stripe on my boat is really faded. What’s the best way to bring back the deep color and gloss?

A: Colored stripes that run along the topside or on the hull or waterline often fade quickly and need to be polished on a regular basis if you want them to retain their deeper color and gloss. The first thing you need to do is determine if that colored stripe is a vinyl sticker or if it’s a painted stripe. Depending on which it is will determine how you care for it.

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. If your colored stripe is a vinyl sticker, there’s not too much you can do to it if it’s fading or peeling outside of removing it and replacing it. If it’s new or still in good condition, using a soft wax (with no compound in it) or spray wax to protect it will keep the color from fading over time. The darker the color, the more often you should apply wax or spray wax to it.

If your colored stripe is painted, it’s going to take more effort to bring back the color and gloss if it’s looking faded. The paint in the colored stripe can easily run if you use a buffer on it, so the first thing you want to do is apply a wide strip of painters tape on both sides of the stripe. This will prevent the paint from running into the lighter gel coat surrounding it.

The next step is to get your hands on a variable speed buffer or a dual action polisher. Do not bother trying to use an orbital polisher or doing it by hand as the results will be splotchy and not last very long because neither of those methods are able to cut through the oxidation that’s causing the fading.

With a faded colored stripe, you’ll want to do a two-step process. This means first applying and buffing with compound to cut through the oxidation and bring back the gloss and then following up with polish to protect the stripe from further oxidation. You don’t want to use wax on painted areas; instead use a non-wax polish. Cleaner wax typically isn’t strong enough to remove the oxidation in a colored stripe and although it might bring back the color at first, it won’t last very long, so skip the cleaner wax for this project. You can use a polish with compound in it as the second step, but you’ll want to use a true rubbing compound as your first step.

Before you begin, gather the items you’ll need:

  • A variable speed buffer, such as the DeWalt 849 or a DA (dual action) polisher
  • A bottle of compound for your first step – try 3M Perfect-It Rubbing Compound
  • A bottle of polish for your second step – try West Marine’s Pure Oceans NanoTec Fiberglass Polish
  • A white wool compounding pad
  • A yellow wool polishing pad
  • Microfiber rags

Apply the compound by hand and then buff it out using the wool compounding pad. You may need to do this a few times to cut through the oxidation. This is the step that brings back the gloss, so if you’re not seeing gloss, keep buffing.

However, keep in mind that if the painted stripe is on an older boat or was painted a long time ago, the paint may not be that thick anymore and if you buff too long or hard, you may hit primer. So take your time go and go slow.

Once the colored stipe is looking glossier, it’s then time to protect it with polish. Apply it by hand and then use the polishing pad to buff it off. When finished, wipe it all down with a microfiber rag. Remove the tape when you’re done.

Now that your colored stripe is glossy and protected again, you’ll need to keep it that way if you don’t want it to fade soon after. Use the polish at least once a month. This is something you can easily do by hand and it shouldn’t take too long.

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