Complete Guide To Boat Polishing: 7 Easy Steps (For Beginners)

In Boating by Shelby Sullivan

A boat is a major purchase that you will want to properly maintain to help protect your investment.

There are many maintenance tasks that you should accomplish regularly to maintain the value of your boat as well as keeping it in good working order.

One of these important maintenance tasks includes polishing your boat.

How to Polish Your Boat (In 7 Steps)

Polishing, or buffing, your boat can seem like a daunting task. Despite this, if you know what you are doing, polishing your boat is a completely possible “do-it-yourself” task.

Polishing your own boat is less expensive than hiring someone to do it for you. However, if you choose to do it yourself you will want to be prepared for the time and effort that it will take.

1. Make sure your boat is secure to the trailer and in the proper place:

Because boats should be waxed when they are out of the water, you will likely be accomplishing this job while you boat is on its trailer.

Make sure your boat is secure on its trailer and is parked on a flat surface.

You will be spraying products on your boat and moving all the way around it, so make sure there is nothing too close to your boat and possibly wax it while in the open air.

This will save you the headache of having to clean up any spray or mess caused while waxing.

2. Wash your boat:

Possibly one of the most important steps to waxing your boat is to first wash your boat.

Washing your boat will help to remove the old wax, dirt, grease, grime, minerals, and anything else that has accumulated on your boat’s surface.

You will also want to thoroughly clean the machines on your boat to keep them in perfect working order. Propellers should be waxed so that they stay slick and maintain effectiveness.4. Remove fittings ahead of time:

If your boat has any fittings that are removable, you will want to make sure you remove them ahead of time.

This can prevent your buffer from getting caught on them and potentially causing damage. It can also be easier than trying to polish or wax around them, even by hand.

Make sure when you remove your fittings you keep the necessary screws with the proper fixture. This will make reassembly much easier and protect against loss or confusion.

5. Select proper polish and wax:

Before you begin polishing or waxing your boat, you will first want to make sure you have the proper polish and wax that you will need.

Make special considerations based on what your boat is made of.

You will also want to make sure you get enough for your vessel. Take the size of your boat into consideration to determine how much product you will need.

If your boat’s surface is especially pitted then you will need a stronger rubbing compound to combat this. If you go this route you will want to be careful because Gelcoat is thin and a compound that is too aggressive could burn through it quickly.

Please see below for advice for choosing specific polish or wax.

6. Polish your boat:

It is not necessary to polish your boat every time you wax your boat, but you will want to polish it anytime the finish looks dingy, dull, faded, pitted, or scratched.

When you polish your boat, you will want to start at the back and work towards the bow.

Things to keep in mind when polishing your boat include:

  • You can apply polish or wax using an electric buffer or by hand.
  • Use circular motions to avoid streaks.
  • Work in sections of about 2 feet.
  • Buff until the surface looks glassy.
  • If you can see through the gel coat, stop, you have gone too far.
  • If you are using an electric buffer, start at the slowest speed, making sure the pad is on the boat before starting it to avoid spatter.
  • Rinse boat to remove dust raised by polishing before you wax.

7. Wax your boat:

Apply the wax either by hand or electric buffer using circular motions much in the same way you applied the polish.

You will want to wait to allow your wax to dry. When the wax dries it will look hazy.

The final step is to buff the wax until it shines. This can be accomplished with a soft towel or terrycloth. You will notice that the wax begins to shine as you buff away the cloudiness.

When the haziness is gone, your wax job should be complete.

Make sure you are also paying attention to any special instructions that are listed on your particular brand of wax. You will want to follow these instructions even if other brands tell you to do it differently. The companies put those on there for a reason.

No matter if you are buffing using an electric buffer, or by hand, make sure that you buff areas around non-removable fittings by hand. This will prevent the buffer from catching on them or damaging them. You should also work by hand in tight crevices where the buffer will not fit.

Polishing the Hull:

When polishing the hull of your boat, you will want to be careful to make sure you are using the proper polish for your hull type.

Below are some hull-types and special considerations that will need to be made.

Considerations For Polishing a Fiberglass Boat:

Fiberglass boats are made using a special resin that is called a gelcoat. The gelcoat is what protects the hull of a fiberglass boat as well as giving it the shine and color.

With too much exposure to the sun, this can wear away, or erode, which can make the finish dull or even chalky.

It can also lose oil as it ages, causing it to dry out which can give your boat a worn out or beaten up look.

When polishing and waxing a fiberglass boat, make sure to use the products that are specific to the hull and its specific gelcoat.

Polishing an Aluminum Boat (without paint):

When cleaning your aluminum boat, you can use a designated aluminum cleaner. This can save you money and time because they generally offer three-in-one use that includes:

  • Cleaning
  • Brightening
  • Polishing

These cleaners are often low-micron cleaners as well as an anti-oxidant that can be effective even on old or worn out aluminum.

You would apply and buff these cleaners like any other polish.

Considerations For Polishing an Aluminum Boat (with paint):

Polishing an Aluminum boat that has paint is the same as polishing one without. Most aluminum polishes can be used whether the boat is painted or not.

If you experience any discoloration or want to cover up scratch marks, you can purchase paint patch-up kits similar to those you might use on an automobile.

This can help your boat maintain a consistent look no matter what wear and tear it goes through.

Considerations For Polishing a Pontoon Boat:

Polishing a pontoon boat is not much different than any other boat, but it is possible that you might need to make an additional consideration, depending on the type of pontoon boat that you have.

Most pontoon boats, despite what the rest of the boat is made out of, have metal pontoons also known as tubes.

You will want to polish and wax these similar to how you would an aluminum boat. You can even use the same aluminum cleaner.

The only time a pontoon differs is in consideration to the boat itself.

Some pontoon boats are made of metal and can be treated the same way as an aluminum vessel. This means that both the body of the pontoon and the tubes can be polished with the same materials.

Other pontoon boats, however, have fiberglass in the main body of the boat. This means that you will want to use a fiberglass specific wax and polish and will have to use two separate sets of products for different parts of your boat.

Make sure you know the specifics of your particular vessel before beginning to polish and wax it.

Polishing a Stainless Steel Propeller:

Something else to keep in mind is the proper care of the propeller. If you properly take care of your stainless steel propeller you can prevent corrosion and rust.

You should always clean your propeller, but this is especially important if you boat frequently in salt water.

Stainless steel is mistakenly believed to be corrosion proof, this is not true. Stainless steel is resistant to corrosion, but it still happens.

Corrosion can be caused by exposure to the elements such as water, salt, or dirt, chemicals, or contact with other objects often referred to as “pitting”.

To care for your stainless steel propeller you should use a soft cloth or sponge with fresh water and a cleaning detergent.

DO NOT use a steel wire brush, sandpaper, or steel wool.

You can also apply a polish coating regularly to help aid in the protection of the stainless steel as well as its shine.

Why Wax Your Boat?

When you are done polishing your boat, you will want to finish it with a wax. This will protect the polishing job that you just completed in addition to its many other benefits.

Some of the other benefits of waxing your boat include:

  • Protecting your boat’s surface from the sun’s UV rays.
  • Increases the durability of your boat’s paint.
  • Adding depth and shine to your boat’s paint job.
  • Protecting your boat’s surface by sealing it off from dirt.
  • Protecting your boat’s gelcoat.
  • Prevents oxidization from degrading the glossy finish.
  • Preserves the luster of your boat’s hull.
  • It protects against impurities that can be found in the water.

While you do not need to wax your boat after every journey out, it is recommended that you do it at least twice per season.

How to Know What Type of Wax to Buy:

When you are waxing your boat, you will want to make sure you are using the appropriate wax for your vessel.

With so many options on the market, you may be wondering which one is best for you.

Choosing a wax will largely depend on the type of gelcoat you have on your boat’s surface.

You want your wax to work with your gelcoat to maintain the gelcoat’s shine and to provide a protective barrier between your gelcoat and the water.

There are a few types of wax that you can choose from, but no matter what type you use, you will want to make sure that you use one that is meant for the specifications that are required for boats in particular.

You will not want to use the same wax for your boat that you would use on your car. Boat wax has special ingredients that are designed with boats in mind. These are harder and more water-resistant than automotive waxes.

There are a few types of boat waxes:

  • Carnauba-Based Wax: this is a high-quality option that gives your boat two layers of extreme and long-lasting protection. This wax, when used regularly, will maintain a clean and polished look for your boat and will protect it from UV rays, dirt, acid rain, and even bugs.
  • Metal Wax: metal wax is ideal for metal boats. This wax works for copper, aluminum, brass, chrome, and even stainless steel. In addition to the hull, this can also protect your marine accessories. This wax comes in a paste or liquid.
  • Fiberglass Wax: As the name suggests, this wax is designed for fiberglass boats. This wax may not need rubbing or buffing when applied.

When buying wax for your boat, make sure you look for the type that works for you and your boat. Each wax is made differently and you will want to make sure you get what you need.

If you are still not sure, some owner’s manuals will detail what types of products should be used on your boat.

When you have finished, you will want to allow for the wax to dry. If you do not allow it to dry properly it will not set correctly to protect the Gelcoat.

The time that it takes to dry will vary usually between 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure you read the directions properly and wait for the wax to take on a hazy appearance before buffing it out and completing your job.

The Cost of Getting Your Boat Polished Professionally:

If polishing your boat seems like it will take too much of your precious time, you can always get it done professionally.

Getting your boat professionally polished and waxed is a much easier, but more costly, solution to maintaining the integrity and appearance of your boat’s surface.

The cost of this service will depend on what type of work you get done. You can get your boat professionally washed, polished and waxed.

Price is also highly determined by the size of your boat with larger boats being more expensive.

Getting your boat professionally polished and waxed can range in price from $6.00 to over $20.00 per square foot.

Pricing can change based on size, location, and company. One example of a possible price scheme is:

  • 20’ or smaller: $6.00/foot
  • 21’ to 25’: $8.00/foot
  • 26’ to 30’: $10.00/foot
  • 31’ to 35’: $11.00/foot
  • 36’ to 40’: $13.00/foot

Some places can structure it differently, such as offering specific packages that include different levels of services for all boats up to a specific size with an increase in price for boats that are bigger.

Make sure you know what price you will spend at the company you choose and make sure that it is in the budget. These prices can add up if you get this done more than once a year.

Why Polish Your Boat?

Polishing your boat is the most effective thing that you can do to maintain its glossy shine. This will help to keep your boat looking newer for longer.

This may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Polishing your boat is a relatively easy process that can make a big difference in your boat’s appearance and value.

Polishing your boat is not what most people think it is. The polish used on boats is actually abrasive and is used to remove the pitted surface.

If you use an abrasive polish, you will be able to remove the imperfections, any discoloration, and any scrapes that are present.

Make sure that you polish your boat only if it needs a light refinishing. If the surface is extremely dull or pitted, you will need a stronger rubbing compound than standard polish.