The best time to polish and wax your boat is now - How to maintain your yacht like a professional.

Every spring sailors around the northern hemisphere gather around the marinas to prepare their yachts for summer service. Some say it`s the best time of the year. Others find it tedious and tiresome. A recent trend, in our experience, more and more sailors opt for someone else to do the job for them. Understandably, their prioprities are spending more time under sail than doing maintenance.  

However, much is to be said about doing it yourself and taking the brunt of the work during lay up in the autumn.

It is easier than you think to get that new yacht look. Photo by Daniel Novello

It is easier than you think to get that new yacht look. Photo by Daniel Novello

Get to know your hull, topsides and deck really well

During rubbing, polishing and waxing you will normally get at least three full rounds around the boat. This is an excellent oportunity to check for damages that may have occurred during the summer cruise. The rudder, keel and sail drive or driveshaft need thorough inspection. You will also pass all your through hulls several times and will be able to visually inspect those too.

Chipped gelcoat, especially if the fiberglass is exposed, is not very smart to leave open a whole winter. Depending on how the yacht is covered, some water, dirt or moisture can find its way into the laminate. Expect time and cost to be trifold if you wait to fix this until spring. If you are in Scandinavia where temperatures usually drop way below zero during the winter months, it is even more important to take care of this as soon as possible.

It is easier to get hold of the experts in the autumn

Although the best skilled boatbuilders and service crew are usually quite busy all year, getting hold of a specialist from May through August may be an impossible task. Either you need something done or just a piece of advice. The autumn months are usually a great time for getting things done. Availability of skilled craftsmen and women and temperatures are better for repair work. Gelcoat for instance needs a certain temperature to kick off.

Skilled artisans are few and far between. Photo by Daniel Novello

Skilled artisans are few and far between. Photo by Daniel Novello

Do it yourself

It is easier than you think. Preparation is important as ever. So is the choice of tools and chemicals. In any type of maintenance work, the quality of the finished job are a direct result of how well the surface is prepared - especially how clean it is! It is always worth while to be very thorough about cleaning and recleaning before doing anything to the hull if you intend the job to last for some time.

Starting at the bottom and moving upwards towards the deck. Use a soap with dewaxing agents. Do this twice. And then once more. 

A well maintained Corribee 21 from the 70s. Photo by Daniel Novello

A well maintained Corribee 21 from the 70s. Photo by Daniel Novello

Take care of the yellows and blacks

Along the waterline most yachts will have a line of yellowish colour. Often referred to as a scum line. The cause is from constant washing of surface pollutants in the water. The most common pollutants that cause this stain are oil and diesel, especially if there is commercial traffic in your area or many leaking old boats pumping out dirty bilge water. Organic material such as algae or bacterial slime also play a part. There may be other causes such as industrial effluent or high mineral content such as iron that leaks out of the rocks or soil in the area. The scum line is found on all boats either they are from freshwater lakes in Sweden or in Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

Fortunately the cure is both simple and cheap. A hardware store or a chemist will sell you muriatic acid. This is often the active ingredient in other products sold for the marine market. Mix 1 part acid to 2 to 3 parts water. Always add acid to water-not water to acid to prevent any thermal reaction. Use a protective suit, glasses and gloves. Rinse with lots of fresh water. Make sure to hose off your trailer or cradle. The acids can be damaging to metals.

Black skid marks are usually found on the topsides from dirty fenders, rub rails on other boats and tractor tyres on the pier. And on the smooth surfaces on deck and in the cockpit where guests have stepped around without proper deck shoes. These are often impossible to wash away as they are almost printed on to the gelcoat. If a gentle whipe of solvent such as acetone doesn't remove it, a rubbing compound is required. 

The smell of freshly laid teak and polished winches on a Malø Yacht from Sweden. Photo by Daniel Novello

The smell of freshly laid teak and polished winches on a Malø Yacht from Sweden. Photo by Daniel Novello

Most chandlers and marines stores sell hundreds of different maintenance products. Our advice is to get hold of professional grade products. They are often not sold to consumers, but if you ask around the professional yards or boatbuilders, they might point you in the right direction.

During a recent refit done by the editor of Scandinavian Mariner Magazine, we asked what he did and what products he used.

"The boat was a Malø Yachts from the early eighties. It had been severely neglected by the previous owners. The hull was sound, but the gelcoat had not been cleaned or polished for many years. Old gelcoat is incredibly porous. If you look at gelcoat in a microscope it looks quite like the surface of the moon. Dirt and pollutants had accumulated over years.

Firstly the hull was cleaned with a heavy duty pressure washer to remove surface dirt and salt. Then the hull was washed with some industrial strength soap to dissolve even more dirt and grease. Muriatic acid was sprayed along the water line and rinsed off with lots of fresh water. By now, the pressure washer was put away and a bucket of warm water and a sponge was used.

The hull was let to dry off for a full day before the next step. 

A Malø Yacht inside for a refit. Photo by Daniel Novello

A Malø Yacht inside for a refit. Photo by Daniel Novello

Over the next week we tested different rubbing compound on a small area at the stern. With at hull this oxidised consumer grade rubbing compound will have little effect.

In the past, sanding the gelcoat with 2 - 4000 wet and dry paper has proved to be effective. But here the topsides were well over 35 feet on each side and wet sanding such a large area is time consuming. The product I ended up using was 3M Fast Cut with a wool pad. Using a spray bottle with fresh water and a drop of soap proved to smooth out the process as well. 

The machine was a heavy duty FLEX polisher with variable RPMs. This proved to work well and all oxidation and marks were gone after a couple of rounds.

Work smarter

Although this kind of work is heavy on the arms and shoulders, there are a few tricks that helps: 

Firstly, masking off the waterline and boot strips are important. The rubbing compound will eat its way through and colour and bottom paint will be spread all over the hull if you forget masking off. If you have a teak gunnel or deck, be sure to cover those as well. Teak is particularly vulnerable to stains from rubbing and polishing compounds.

Secondly, be careful to work in small areas at the time. Finish off half a square metre at a time. I used small strips of blue masking tape approximately every two feet as a visual marker. Let the areas overlap generously. When in doubt, step a side to look at the hull from a different angle or shine a torch.

Thirdly, working at the correct height is important. Not only does it relieve the upper body and arms, it also helps holding the polisher and pan it back and forth in a controlled and easy manner. It is easy to forget that the machine and the rubbing compound is supposed to do the hard work for you. Not the other way around. Switch to a new polishing pad once the compound begins to clog up.

Two comforting thoughts during this ordeal are: 

One: it gets easier as you move through the steps. Polishing a smooth hull is lighter work than rubbing. Waxing an even smoother topside is lighter work than polishing. Wiping down the wax with clean microfibre cloths at the end is extremely satisfying. 

Two: the enjoyment of seeing your yacht look progressively prettier is motivational too.

After rubbing I degreased the whole hull with acetone before moving to the next step. 

Polishing is done to smoothen the surface after the rubbing. The rubbing compound will sometimes leave swirl marks and that has to be removed. Polishing helps eliminate rotary swirl and hologram effects. Expect to go over the hull at least twice. Product used was another 3M product called Perfect-it III Ultrafina SE. Again, step away from the hull to look at it from different angles and in different light to see if there are any missed spots.

Weapons of choice. Photo by Daniel Novello

Weapons of choice. Photo by Daniel Novello

Lastly the whole hull was waxed. Of all the waxes and combination chemicals, the 3M Marine Ultra Performance Paste Wax is by far the best I have used. It is easy to put on and buff off. I use big high quality microfibre cloths to put the wax on in circular movements. Make sure you repeat the movements to secure properly applied wax on to all areas. Let the wax dry completely and buff to a high gloss using clean microfibre cloths or a random orbital polisher."

Enjoy being the first out on the water

Either in Scandinavia or in the south of France. April and May are known to be the best months to go cruising. Weather is warming up and so are the people. Marinas are uncrowded and service is better all around. Instead of spending the spring time maintaining your yacht, having done almost all of the work in the autumn all is left is to enjoy life!

A note on safety.

Using products in the article may cause eye, skin, nose and throat irritation and may affect the central nervous system causing dizziness, headache or nausea. Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents may be harmful or fatal. Therefore, always use protective clothing, eye protectors and breathing masks.


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