Using Wax vs Co-Polymer “Hard Candy Shell” Finishes On Your Boat

vertglas1When it comes to keeping your boat looking as new as it can, how glossy it is makes a huge difference. Faded, oxidized gel coat can make a boat look older than it is and makes it more difficult to clean and maintain. Likewise, a nice glossy boat can look newer than it is, shows people that you care for your boat and makes washing it a much easier task. It’s also a easier to sell a boat that looks glossy and cared for than one that looks faded and neglected.

We’re often asked by boat owners what is the best way to keep a boat glossy. Some people ask us specifically about using the co-polymer protective coatings because they sound so easy to apply and the results you see online are always so amazing. Some of these types of co-polymer products include VertGlas, Poli Glow and MS Gel Coat Restoration.

We have tried all of these products both in applying them to gel coat and removing them from gel coat and what we’ve found is that they may give a boat a glossy finish, but only for the boat owner who has a lot of time on their hands, a good amount of money to throw at the project, a place to work that offers ideal conditions (not too hot, not too cold, not too humid, etc) and enjoys tedious tasks. If that’s not you, then best to stick with waxing!

How Co-Polymer Protective Coatings Work

These types of gel coat protective coatings basically give your gel coat a hard candy shell. Gel coat is porous and these types of coatings actually seal the gel coat to protect it from oxidation, which is definitely a good thing, but you can get a similar protection from today’s newer polishes. I’ll talk about those in a minute.

In order for these types of “hard candy shell” coatings to work, you have to start with a perfect canvas, which means no oxidation or wax on your gel coat. All boats eventually have some level of oxidation, so the first step in working with a co-polymer finish is to remove the oxidation using one of their “oxidation removal” products. They advertise this product as if it removes the oxidation itself, but what is actually doing the work of removing oxidation is the white scratchy Scotch Brite scouring pad that you use to rub the product in with. The advertising says “no buffing”, but it doesn’t say “you’ll still use your arms until they’re sore and tired trying to remove oxidation with the scratchy pad all over every inch of your boat”.

If you have a ski boat, then that won’t be much of a problem, but if your boat is any larger than a ski boat, the amount of work you’ll have to do using one of the co-polymer systems is going to end up being more work than if you had just buffed and waxed it.

You’ll also need to have the time and patience it takes to rub the scratchy pad all over your boat in an even manner so you don’t end up with splotchy results. I can tell you right now from over 15 years of experience – a human hand cannot create even results when it comes to applying or buffing off a wax-type product. That’s because a hand isn’t a perfectly flat surface and isn’t in the shape of a square or even a rectangle. We have seen numerous boats where it was obvious the owner waxed it by hand because the results are uneven and splotchy. It’s often why they end up calling us to come out and do it the right way with a buffer. Kudos to anyone who tries to wax their boat by hand though – don’t get me wrong, it’s important to try and keep up on maintenance no matter how you have to do it, but if you’re truly looking for a great finish, you really need to use a buffer.

In addition to not being able to achieve even results by hand, you should also never touch a scratchy pad to your smooth gel coat! It has enough flaws in it in the first place simply because it’s a porous finish, but to introduce hairline scratches in it by using one of these scratchy pads that all co-polymer systems recommend is only going to make matters worse. Once again, we see the results and it’s not pretty.

When To Use A Co-Polymer Finish

There is a time and place for these types of “hard candy shell” products. I’m not trying to knock them, I simply want people to be more aware of what type of boat and boat owner they’re meant for.

Type of boat: A small boat (less than 25 ft, no fly bridge), especially one with a colored hull or stripe on it that you can trailer out of the water so you can work on it on ground.

Type of boat owner: You have a lot of time and patience, are not in a hurry and are good at following specific instructions. You have a covered area to work in and you are dedicated to staying on top of this project and re-applying the sealer product as often as it’s needed (usually every 9 to 12 months), taking your time and following the instructions.

If that describes you and your boat and you’re willing to keep this project up every single year, then this would be a good way for you to protect the gel coat on your boat and have a glossy finish.

Why am I so hard on this type of product? It’s because most people start out with great intentions, but either they get frustrated with the time it takes or they don’t have the patience, physical ability or ideal conditions that it requires and they end up either doing it wrong (trying to skip steps or rush through it) and what we see most often is that they don’t bother keeping it up year after year.

What they end up with is a boat that now has a finish that is either peeling in places or looks dried and cracked. If the boat gets to this extent, you can’t just apply more sealer. You have to start all over and remove all the co-polymer finish that you so tediously applied however long ago and then completely re-apply it. And let me tell you from years of experience, it is not easy to remove the old finish! In fact, we won’t do it anymore. We send these boats to the boatyard.

Another major issue is that if someone has been using this type of finish year after year to keep their boat glossy (which is great if they have) and then they sell it, they often don’t think to tell the broker or new owner that they’ll need to keep using that co-polymer system if they want the boat to stay in that condition. Since the new owner isn’t aware of this, they try to wax the boat and wonder why they’re not getting good results. When they find out that a co-polymer finish was used and it now needs to be removed, whether they’re going to continue using the co-polymer finish or switch to wax, they then realize all the hard work ahead of them.

Is Buffing And Waxing Best?

Overall, the answer is yes for the reasons I just described. If you fit the category of ideal boat and patient boat owner, then go ahead and give the co-polymer finish a try if you’re willing to commit to using it from now on and staying on top of the project each year. If you’re not willing to commit, if you’re unsure or if you’re planning to sell your boat anytime in the future, then it’s probably best to stick to buffing and waxing.

I’m not saying buffing and waxing is any easier because we know that it’s not! It takes a lot of physical strength and skill to use a buffer properly and evenly so you don’t accidentally cut through to primer or leave swirl marks in your gel coat. And you’ll also need to know the best mix of compound and wax to use on your boat considering its level of oxidation and type of gel coat.

However, some of the nice things about using wax to protect your gel coat as opposed to the “hard candy shell” system is that you can re-apply wax anytime you need to on top of wax. You don’t have to strip anything first. You can use cleaner wax to clean stains and marks from gel coat. If you keep your boat waxed at least once a year, it won’t be as difficult to cut through oxidation with a buffer and then you can apply wax more easily. You can mix compounds and waxes or use any brand of compound and wax on top of any other brand of compound and wax. And you’re not using a scratchy pad on your gel coat!

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