Wax on...wax off


Waxing tips from the big cloud

One of my big winter projects while the boat is out of the water is to recondition and wax the hull.  I came across this great article on the internet, and I emailed it to myself for future reference.  But this web site has become my repository of boat tips, so I decided to include the waxing article here.  Alas, I have not kept the link to the original article, so I am placing it here without attribution.  When I find the original link, I will properly cite the reference, but for now it is unattributed. 

It is written in the first person so, of course, when the guy says “I”, it is not me, your humble correspondent, but rather the author.  As Cap’n Sparrow would say, “Savvy?”

I thought I'd pass on my secrets for keeping my hull looking like new without the use of "miracle coatings" other than regular "real carnuba" waxes, compounds and polishes. Wax is not polish and polish is not wax if you do it right! The instructions below are for GELCOAT not Imron or AwlGrip.

You'll need a few items first. A good Buffer - not one of the cheapies. I use a Makita model 9227C with a thumb dial for speed control and the difference between it and my old Craftsman is like night and day! Second, you will need two or three grades of the 3M wool superbuff pads. A heavy (left side of pic) for compounding, a medium (middle pad) for the polishing stage and a fine (the yellow looking pad & the foam pads) for the glazing stage. I sometimes use a 3M professional grade foam pad for the polish/glaze stage as well. It's very important to match the aggressiveness of the pad to the phase of the buffing. Very important!!

Contrary to popular belief, or what I call lazyman's belief, there is no such thing as a one step solution for wet sanding/buffing/compounding, polishing and waxing a fiberglass hull. The saying "you get what you pay for" is true and a $10 bottle of "one step" cleaner wax does not cut it, even from a reputable company like 3M, if you want your boat looking Bristol condition like it just rolled out of the Hinckley barn. Unless you're pinched by time and are satisfied with a half baked job, and most boat owners will be, you can stop reading here...

To do it right, you must first remove all the oxidation either by wet sanding, starting with 600 grit and working up to 1200 or 1500. Wet sanding should always be done by hand unless you're a seasoned body shop professional. If the oxidation is minimal, a good heavy duty rubbing compound, such as 3M heavy duty, and a compounding grade wool pad as seen in the picture above, can be the starting point. After the compounding phase is complete you move to a lighter weight wool pad and a true polish, not a compound or a wax, but a polish like 3M's Finesse It. The polishing phase is perhaps the most important because it gives that deep wet look to the hull even before you wax it. Skipping the polishing phase & using a compound only will leave very small, barely visible, scratches in the gel coat that will absorb more UV light, due to more exposed surface area, and thus oxidize the hull more rapidly. This is why you must polish the hull as the second phase or third phase depending on your level of oxidation. So phase one is wet sand (if needed), phase two compound, phase three polish, phase four glaze, phase five wax. In many instances you can skip the glaze if you use Finesse It but the glaze is what will really slow down the future oxidation.

Contrary to popular belief you should not be dependent on the wax for the shine of your hull. This picture was taken pre-wax but after the final polishing phase and a denatured alcohol rub down to remove any surface oils creating a false sense of shine. Most polishes and compounds contain oils that can give you a sense that there is more shine then there really is.

The wax is a protectant only and a final sealer only.  Unfortunately most people actually skip the polishing step thinking compounding is polishing. It's NOT! Once my hull is polished I do a fourth phase called glazing step & then two coats about three days apart of Colinite Paste Fleet Wax.

Wax takes a while to fully harden and this is why I do it two days apart. Most often one coat will sufice but for a really long lasting finish two coats is best ( I do three at the waterline).

The glazing step would be considered overkill by many but this is the step where you literally make the hull surface like glass by using products like Meguiars #9 Swirl Remover or Presta Chroma 1500 Polish. I now use Presta products exclusively but they are hard to find and very expensive but well worth it. Chroma 1500 polish has taken the place of both Finesse It and Meguias #9 for me actually giving me a one step polish / glaze product! The thing I really like about Chroma 1500 polish is that it's water based and has no oils that can give you a premature sense of shine. Their web site is here: http://www.prestaproducts.com/pprod.htm If you call them they will direct you to a distributor usually a body shop wholesale supplier. I also use their blue wool pad because Presta is a system matching the pads grade to the product grade!

If you can't find Presta Products use 3M or I find Meguiars "professional line" in the tan bottles far better than their marine line in the blue bottles. The blue bottles in the picture above are no where near as good as the tan bottle products or the 3M products for that matter. Just because something says marine it may just be an over priced cheap automotive product in a marine bottle.

If you were to rate products on a scale of grit wet sanding would be a 10 or most aggressive, compounding with a heavy duty compound would be a 7, Finesse It a 4.5-5, #9 a 2-3, Show Car Glaze a 1 & wax a Zero. Presta Chroma 1500 is a 4-1 grit product meaning the grit starts out as a 4 but diminishes to a 1 as it works into the surface. This technology is why it's expensive. If you now understand grit levels you can see why you can't just jump from Finesse It to a wax or from a compound to a wax. It still has a lot of grit in it and will leave swirl marks to absorb more UV rays leading to faster oxidation.

Don't be fooled by the "easy application liquid waxes" I've yet to find one that lasts and I've tried them all! Trust me I did this for a living when I was younger and no one wants to wax a mega yacht every three months! I used to detail "shiny boats" (mega yachts) and found Collinite #885 to be the longest lasting and hardest of the Carnuba's. One way to test if your wax will pass the test of time is to watch your waterline. If it becomes yellow the wax is dead & gone! With Collinite I can get 8 full months without any yellowing at the waterline. No other wax has even come close except for another Carnuba paste product called Tre-Wax.

If you are in the tropics you'll need to find a polymer-based wax because Carnuba wax does not last in the hot sun. Believe it or not we had good results, in the Florida sun with the automotive product Nu-Finish but you need three coats for it to really hold up and it can become "splotchy" if applied in diret sun or on a warm surface.

When buffing/waxing a boat, out of the water, a good trick is to cover the bottom paint with at least 2" blue tape (as seen in the picture above) so you don't "buff and wax the antifouling paint". It's important to tape neatly so you get wax as close to the bottom paint as you can without actually getting it on the paint. I usually do a 3/4 inch width tape followed by a 2-inch width giving me plenty of tape to save my buffing pads. Fouling of your aplication pad with bottom paint is the end of that pad until you can wash it in a commercial washing machine! Don't do it! To keep "sling", what happens when you use a rotary buffer, and it throws white dots of compound up onto your deck, off the decks, I bring old card board boxes to the boat yard. Lay them on the deck directly above the area you're working protruding about 12" over the edge of the deck and the cardboard will catch any "sling" on the way up.

Buffing & waxing a boat the right way takes time and is a committment. I plan on about 22 hours each spring and I'm only doing a three step polish/glaze/wax at this point (glaze is an ultrafine polish like Meguiar's #9 or Show Car Glaze). Actually I'm doing a two step with Chroma 1500 but most folks won't seek this out. Once you get caught up it's only a two or three step but the first season may take 40+ hours if your hull is heavily oxidized. I know most sailors will never spend the time but it pays off big time.

OK Some more tips.

Tips for keeping it clean:

  1. With two coats of a paste Carnuba on the hull I only wash the boat with IMAR boat wash. This stuff is great and it's safe for washing Strataglass dodger windows. The reason I use it is because it's the only product I've found that cleans but does not break down the wax. I'm still beading after 7 months. Do NOT use a soap with a built in wax or one that's a heavy detergent. You can order IMAR products from Defender or directly from the IMAR web site although Defender is cheaper. Using this and a very soft car wash brush on a stick works well and does not ruin your wax.

Tips for "yellow" looking hulls:

  1. Before waxing/buffing: If your hull is old and dirty buy a cheap rain suit, duck tape, rubber gloves and some ON/OFF (basically acid). Duck tape around your wrists so you don't get acid on you while reaching over head to wash the boat. Wait until a nice rainy day and wash the entire hull with ON/OFF. Buy a roll of plastic and rip it with a razor knife into 12 inch wide lengths. Tape this to the water line with 3M green tape (seems to work) at the top but let it hang on the bottom as a drip edge skirt. You do this so the ON/OFF does not eat the copper bottom paint and can drip on the ground vs. the bottom. Wash and rinse quickly a small area at a time and do this perferably before you before you bottom paint just in case. On/Off is basically FSR without the gel. However you can wash much faster with ON/OFF than you can with FSR. The ON/OFF will bring back the white of the hull by removing the metals or tannins (that rusty orange discoloration you get) that attach to the gel coat from the ocean. Maine has lots of metals in the water and ON/OFF is an acid that will eat it. You'll be amazed at the difference in the color of your hull. This is a good palce to start before waxing if your boat is older than a few years. Be carefull not to get On/Off or FSR on aluminum rub rails, cleats etc. because it will pit them. You could also use FSR but it will take a full day to do it right vs. 1/2 hour for the skirt set up and 1/2 hour washing.

Tips for applying the wax:

  1. Do I apply the wax by hand? Yes! DO NOT appy or remove the wax phase with the buffer! I use the 4 inch round MegGuire's foam applicators you can buy at an auto parts store (shown in the first picture) and a spray/mist bottle of water, like you use for ironing. The spray bottle is the secret trick for applying a true carnuba wax. Simply mist the hull and liberlally apply the wax. Wait for it to dry aabout 80% and buff by hand with a Micro Fiber rag. Do not use terry cloth! Once you use a Micro Fiber detailing cloth for waxing you'll wonder how you ever survived without one! The spray of water some how helps it attach and buff out to a harder, shinier easier to wipe off finish. It's sort of like when you get your shoes polished and the guy hits them with a mist bottle and then buffs the shine up. I don't think this trick works with the polymer/carnuba blends like the 3M paste but it's like gold with the Colinite carnuba as well as Tre-Wax. Another trick is not to wax a large area! Do a three foot wide swath from toe rail to waterline marking where your are waxing at the toe rail with a piece of blue tape. Also leave a little residue on the leading edge so you'll know exactly where to start. You'll wipe this leading edge when finished with the next swath leaving another leading edge to go off of.

    I have tried using my buffer to remove the wax but I the friction heat is bad for it and it does not shine as well or last as long. Buffing it off by hand, with a microfiber rag, gives it a harder shell because it's cooler and does not re-melt the curing wax. Have plenty of fresh Micro Fiber rags for the wipe off! On my 31 footer I use only four Micro's where it used to take about a dozen terry cloth rags but bring extra because if you drop one in the dirt it's done until you can wash it. I buy my Micro Fiber rags at Sam's Club or Wal*Mart. Try and find the best quality Micro*Fiber you can it WILL make a difference. Sometimes the quality of the Sam's Club Micro's is poor so I go to Wally World. You want the ones that sell individually or three to a pack not the 12 to a pack rags as the quality is bad on the big multi packs although as of late the Sam's Club multi-pack microfibers have been of quite decent quality! Most all auto parts stores also sell Micro Fiber detailing rags too!

Tips for decks:

  1. I buff the smooth and the non skid. I use Collinite there as well and it does not seem to make my decks slipery like a teflon or polymer wax does. You could also tape off the non skid and buff the white only letting the non skid flatten out. I did this on one boat and it looked great!

I hope this info helps and is usefull to some. If you do it be prepared to commit the time and increase the value of your boat as well!

Other opinions and tips:

  1. A bottle of "Liquid Ebony" at an auto paint store. $8 This is an ultrafine compound that they use for buffing out clear coat on fine autos. This will take off any oxidation and marks leaving a clean shine.