Restoring my gelcoat

I have a QCC 400X kayak and it was stored outside for sometime. Its gelcoat is oxidized quite a bit, so it looks chaulky. I have been reading online boat forums, about excellent results boaters/RV'ers get with circular polishers, compounding and polishing.

When water is on my kayak it looks new. This is from the pitting in the gelcoat caused by the oxidation. The water fills in the pits and all looks great. I think by leveling the gelcoat and then polishing and sealing I can bring it back, but there are so many things in the way like velcro strappings, deckline hardware etc.

I am debating whether to attempt this myself or hire a boat detailer. I would have to buy a good circular buffer (I have a random orbital, but it would require a circular). Thats about $180, plus pads and polishes, and I would probably need a 3-4" head instead of the 5-6" they typically use to get into tight places.

Has anyone done this on here? Any tips? I was thinking it would probably remove my decals too so I would need to get a replacement set of vinyl decals to re-apply when I am done. I would love my kayak looking new again.

Based on my experience resurfacing
two whitewater boats, I think you may not need a circular sander. I found that my random orbit sander removed material almost too quickly. Another question is whether your random orbit sander can stand up to long periods of use without burning out.

I have no use for gelcoat myself, but there are people on this forum who have great expertise in its repair and restoration. They’ll be up in the morning.

Get a small can of regular Penetrol at a hardware store. (It’s the same formulation as the much more expensive “marine” Penetrol sold at boat stores.)

Wipe on. Wipe off after 3-5 minutes. Your gelcoat will look like almost like new. It seemed miraculous to me on a 25 year old boat.

Ten bucks. Ten minutes.

Then put on some 303.

Don’t think it would harm decals or deck lines, but you could do a patch test on them first. I’ve put it over decals.

Should last a season.

You can see my restoration pics at:

Your boat’s gelcoat will be thinner than mine, so heavy sanding is not recommended. I would try using a product like Dolphinite first, to see if it will do the job. Worst case, hand sand it with a soft foam block starting with 600 grit and work your way up to 1500 or so before bringing out the buffer.

Here’s a thought,
but it will probably start a prolonged debate, so this will be my only post. I had excellant, long lasting results on my old deteriorated Foster Legend using a product called Poly Glo. I posted the results awhile back on this forum, so it should be archived. I have no dog in this fight, only my own experience, but for the few bucks it costs I would not hesitate to use it again. They have a good website which will address most of your questions. Thorough surface preparation is the key. Ken…

wet sanding
Speaking of wet sanding, take a look at a household cleaning product called the “Magic Eraser” from Mr. Clean. I know, it’s funny. But it is essentially a micro-abrasive sponge, and it works well at removing stains/dinginess from gelcoat. I tried it on a few spots on my white hull that were already wet sanded and had stained brownish from dirt/dirty water. It worked like well, magic. I’m not sure what grit sandpaper would compare if any, and it is abrasive so you’ll want to polish a bit after using it.

It depends on the degree of damage
If the gelcoat is in really bad shape, Polyglo type products (there are several of them) won’t work. If the damage is minor, they’ll hide it for a while.

You might check West Marine
They carry an array of gelcoat restoration & maintenance products (I’m partial to Meguiars) and their buffers are WAY below $180. Unless your boat finish is really trashed, that route may be all you need. I’d avoid sanding if you can.

no need to expensive hardware
I do repair and restoration work, and chances are all you’ll really need for this project is a decent 10" buffer (you can get a Ryobi at Home Depot for $40-50), and some heavy removal liquid rubbing compound, polish and wax (you can get a packaged set of Meguire’s for $30 at West Marine).

Remove any hardware that would get in the way of the buffing pad (screw heads you don’t have to worry about). Work in small areas - 2 feet by 2 feet. Work in the rubbing compound with the buffer, using the edge of the buffing pad to work out the worst oxidation. Let it dry for 15 minutes, then go back with a clean soft cotton cloth and hand buff out the dried compound. Continue on until you’ve done the whole boat.

If you see areas that still have the chalky look, attack them again with the compound and buffer. The polish is a finer grade compound, so it will remove an swirl marks the first pass may have left. You work with it exactly the same as you do the rubbing compound.

Waxing it will improve the shine and provide some protection. Do a good job compounding the boat, and an annual wax job may be all you need to do. And then either get a cover for the boat or move it inside to a garage or shed when you’re not using it, so you don’t have to spend as long cleaning it next time.

Depends on what one means by damage
I may be completely wrong about this because I really don’t know much about the chemistry of gelcoat.

Nevertheless …

It seems to me there are two general ways to shine up damaged gelcoat. But, preliminarily, what do we mean by “damage”. The gelcoat looks whitish because it is oxidized and hence, I think, pitted. This may be aesthetically unpleasing, but something is still structurally there, affording a layer of physical protection to the underlying composite.

The first way to shine up the boat is by a chemical application treatment such as Penetrol. I don’t know exactly how it creates the new look, but I assume it does so by filling in the pitting, optically canceling out the whitishness, and bringing out the original color. Something is added to the gelcoat; nothing (including the oxidation) is removed. The gelcoat stays the same thickness and remains structurally the same. This look won’t last because the chemical will slowly wear off. But it can easily and cheaply be reapplied.

The second way to shine the boat is to grind off the oxidation and dull gelcoat until you reach a colorful layer. This is fairly laborious and can be expensive if you don’t have the tools. It works, but you have thinned the gelcoat layer and reduced its structural strength. This, too, will only be a temporary fix because new oxidation will eventually appear. Which must be ground off. Ultimately and logically, you will reach a point where you have ground off all the protective gelcoat.

Some methods – maybe Poly Glo – are a combination of mechanical scraping plus chemical cosmetics.

Well, if you can get comparable aesthetics from the mechanical method and the chemical method, then it’s up to you to determine which method leaves your boat more “damaged”.

I just purchased a used CD Solstice GTS for my girlfriend. It had been a rental and stored outside for sometime hence the finish was dull and chalky.

I picked up a bottle of Meguiars Oxidation Remover,removed the rigging and buffed the whole boat with an inexpensive buffing pad on the end of an electric drill. The boat now looks shiny and well maintained. I don’t think you need an expensive power buffer to do a small surface area like a kayak…if you had a yacht it may be justified…just polish and paddle,don’t get too fussy…winter will be here soon enough.

hand polish
It is easy to do by hand with Starbrite marine polish. Do it once this week and again next week and you should be finished for a year or more.

You can get it at West Marine.