Cracking Gellcoat on Kevlar Sawyer

I have an old Sawyer 18.5 foot lightwieght kevlar canoe with problems.

First, I had this stored in a temporary storage garage which collapsed in the winters snow, causing some pretty bad damage to the hull and gunwales. This type of repair is fairly routie and I can handle it.

The other problem is that the outer layer, which I assume is gellcoat, has lots of crazy cracks running all over it. If I flex the hull with my hand, I can get the cracks to propagate. Repairing the existing cracks would be futile because they would just return so quickly. The gellcoat seams to be extremely brittle. Could this be due to overexposure to the Sun?

Paint on top of this would just crack and the hull continues to crack. Is there any way to deal with this problem? It is a really nice canoe and I would like to save it.

Any advise would be helpful

Thanks a bunch

Challenging problem, good question.
We’ve got some real knowledgeable gelcoat people on the board (I’m not one), and so let’s bump this to the top and see what happens.

I remember those 18.5 Sawyers. Would have liked to own one back then. I still have an 18.5’ Moore Voyageur from '73, though it needs new gunwales.

Elbow grease!!!
Sorry to say, the only real way to get rid of these “spider cracks”, is to grind them off and spray on new gelcoat. Gelcoat sprays pretty rough, which means you will need to wet sand it smooth and then buff with compound. I have restored a few fiberglass motor boats and this is what you need to do, no good way around it. If you try to put something over it, you are just masking the root problem and it will rear its ugly head later on. I think the gelcoat is old and just lost its elasticity and perhaps has UV damage as well? Was it stored outside for a period of time? Perhaps if you sand or grind off the old gelcoat, careful not to get into the weave, you could get a boat repair shop to respray it for you? Good luck!

Yeah, I thought as much. I wish we knew
whether the first layer of cloth under the gelcoat was glass or Kevlar. I’m racking my brain trying to think of a way to make the sanding task more controllable.

dont give up!

– Last Updated: Mar-22-09 6:04 PM EST –

There are new products around that might lay down nicer, I know that they have some gelcoats that lend themselves more to being sprayed for this reason rather than sprayed or brushed against a perfectly polished mold surface. Check out Jamestown Distributers for products, they have everything there is for the boating world and their prices are great. I think you just need to try different methods of removing the gelcoat and see what works best. I also have sprayed quite a bit of automotive paint and perhaps this might be another avenue for you. They make a 2 part acrylic urethane paint that sprays on very well and rubs out great. I dont see why this shouldnt be an avenue to look into.

Gelcoat was never intended to be applied to an exterior surface, it’s not paint. It’s also quite brittle when it’s new, doesn’t get better with age. Best bet is to grind it from the surface and have the boat painted with a decent two part urethane paint. These paints are not user friendly so better off having a professional apply them. A body shop (car) can do this quickly at a reasonable price and the paint will last for many many years.

Bill H.

The “Don’t Worry” Method
Spider cracks in the gelcoat happened to my Mansfield Prospector. I used the “Don’t Worry” method. I reasoned that the damage was cosmetic, not structual…and therefore would not noticiably harm the performance of the boat. They were also invisible from a distance, so I still looked cool to the landlubbers.

I would usually give the boat a good wax job every spring & fall, mostly for UV protection. The wax tended to fill in the spider cracks, smoothing out the surface somewhat.

The bottom of the boat had already collected a bunch of scratches from various beach & roacky shore landings, not to mention shooting over beaver days and the occasional "hidden hazard’s, so a couple spider cracks began to dwindle in significance.

The “Don’t Worry” method is not for everyone! There are those who would rather spend time sanding, drying, buffing, drying, mixing, sanding, drying, buffing, mixing, re-applying, and gasping for fresh air. These folks should NOT attempt the “Don’t Worry” method or twitching may ensue.

If you prefer paddling during your spare time, you might consider trying the “Don’t Worry” method.

I tried it once ans it still works for me!

Agree, I would never refinish my old
Moore, but I can’t even paddle it if I don’t put gunwales on the hull and refit the seats.

added ribs and refinished my champ
i picked up an old one off ebay in 2008. similar problems. After paying a body shop $200 to put a thin gel coat on a sawyer charger the year before, I decided to do the champ myself. I added three “ribs” inside to add strenght. it adds very little weight and helps with future bumps over river obstructions. I used 4"W X 40L" woven fiberglass strips, double layer, and west marine two part resin. messy, but pretty straight forward. My dad took one of his kevlar Saywer Chargers to the Saywer shop in Oscoda back in the 80’s and this is the same method they used to add strength, mainly to prevent oil canning (which also causes spider cracks). I then very carefully sanded the outside hull with a 6 inch disk sander. I also used a knife to flake off any loss gel coat around major cracks. Its very important not to sand down to the cloth because it frizzes up the kevlar. Looks terrible and you’ll only get a smooth serface again if you layer a ton of resin (adds weight). after the carefull sanding, I rolled on one coat of resin, let it dry 24 hours, sanded, and then applyed one coat of marine poly urethane for UV protection. I’ve read that a painting or even a pigment in a gell coat can add 8-10 pounds. My finishied job did not remove all the spider cracks but the hull is very close to its original weight, looks pretty darn good, and is stronger. I also like the natural kevlar color. good luck with your boat.

on a seperate note, I mounted a seat low in the center and love paddling this boat solo. It also lets me put my young boys, 11 and 8m in the front and rear seats to give them some real seat time on rivers. From the center, I can help out if they get in a pinch.