Waxing tips from the pros

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For the best results, use the right soap and apply a good coat of wax in the early morning or evening

For the best results, use the right soap and apply a good coat of wax in the early morning or evening

Regularly cleaning and waxing a boat makes good maintenance sense. It protects the gelcoat, staves off oxidation and enhances the boat’s resale value. The process isn’t rocket science, but it does require following the right steps and using the right products, according to professional detailers who shared their insights with Soundings.

It’s vital to rinse salt off the boat after a day on the water to prevent the corrosion of stainless steel deck hardware and deterioration of wax. It’s also important to keep the boat clean when it isn’t being used, especially when the marina is near a city with an airport or is in a port with plenty of ship traffic. “We get a lot of fallout from jets,” says Tracy Baldwin, 40, owner of Newport Yacht Detailing in Newport Beach, Calif. “There are more pollutants in the air, and boats require more frequent washes and waxes.”

Margarita Xistris, 39, owner of Nautical Details in Stamford, Conn., and Angel Morales, 24, managing director of detailing for Nuts & Boats in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also identify localized pollution as a concern for boat owners. “A good maintenance program is essential to keep up with the dirt in the air,” Morales says.

Black streaks, dust, grime and salt must be removed to preserve wax and gelcoat. Baldwin’s company services yachts to 100 feet, and some of his upscale clients have their boats washed every few days. He uses environmentally friendly Simple Green.

Xistris uses OrPine Wash & Wax. She says a great way to remove black streaks is to dab a little of the product on a rag and apply it directly to the stains. “It’s a great trick,” she says. She uses Awlgrip’s AwlWash Wash Down Concentrate on boats with painted surfaces. “You’ve got to use the right product,” Xistris says. “Painted surfaces aren’t like plain gelcoat. You need something formulated for paints.”

Most detailers interviewed say they prefer OrPine Wash & Wax because it has a little wax in it. Every time it’s used on a boat, it adds a small amount of wax while cleaning. Others recommend Meguiar’s Flagship Premium Marine Wash.

More isn’t better when it comes to boat soap, no matter the brand. “You’ve got to use the right amount,” Morales says. “If you use too much, it can actually wear down the wax and dull the finish.”

Washing boats in searing heat isn’t a good idea, either. Tackling the job early in the morning or evening is best. “You shouldn’t be out there washing your boat hoping to get a suntan,” says Mike Myers, 50, owner of Gem Polishing in Tracys Landing, Md. “The soap will dry on the surface in the hot sun, and it puts a soap buildup on the wax that can make it look dull.”

Myers logically points out that it’s best to wash from top to bottom, and to use soft cleaning pads and brushes. “You don’t want to use anything abrasive,” he says.

Heath Schuman, 36, president of Schuman’s Cleaning Service in Grasonville, Md., cautions against using common dishwashing detergents to clean boats. “It’ll take the wax right off,” he says. “Wax is a grease, and detergent is a degreaser. You’ll have some wax left in areas and others will be bare. The UV rays will penetrate the bare spots, and that all adds up to an uneven surface of wax that looks dull in some spots and shiny in others.”

Applying a good coat of wax is as essential as cleaning. “Gelcoat is like skin. It shouldn’t be allowed to dry out,” says Chris Sanders, 24, president of Sea Level Yacht Services in Fort Myers, Fla. “Wax fills the pores and keeps the finish looking good.”

Waxing schedules vary regionally. In Florida, for example, detailers wax every three to four months because of the intense sun, whereas in New England waxing twice a year is typical. Most detailers apply two or three coats, starting with a cleaner-wax followed by a liquid or paste wax. By far, 3M, Collinite and Meguiar’s top the list of preferred manufacturers among those interviewed. Among the most popular products are 3M’s Marine Liquid Wax, Collinite Liquid Fleetwax 870, and Meguiar’s Flagship Premium Marine Wax.

Wax should not be applied in direct sunlight or in high humidity, though this obviously isn’t always possible. “Applying wax in shade and low humidity is ideal,” Sanders says. “But you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. So if I’m forced to work in the sun, I have a team of guys on the boat to apply and buff wax quickly, before it dries.”

The swarm approach isn’t likely to work for a do-it-yourselfer. Myers advises boat owners to choose their “window of opportunity carefully” and “be ready to wax when it’s cloudy or very early in the morning.” He points out that some waxes begin to break down when the temperature of gelcoat rises above 90 degrees. Applying wax on a hot surface defeats the purpose.

Myers also says it’s important to be methodical, use the right amount of wax, and to work on a 1-by-2-foot section at a time. “If you get ahead of yourself and the product dries on the surface, it’ll be a nightmare to remove,” he says.

Many boat owners use buffers to apply wax, but most detailers use them sparingly and ensure that the operator is trained. “If the boat’s in good shape, everything is done by hand,” says Schuman, whose company details as many as 400 boats a week. “The only time I put a wheel on a boat is if it has oxidation. People think a wheel is easier, but it really isn’t. It’s awkward; you have to be trained to use it; and if you don’t know how to use it you’ll get streaks and swirl marks.”

Morales, who grew up in Rhode Island, says boat owners in colder climates should never leave wax on boats stored for the winter without buffing it out. “It’s a myth that the wax protects better that way,” he says. “Wax fills the pores in gelcoat. It won’t work right if it’s not buffed out before it dries.” Morales says he tried this trick once on a sportfisherman and ended up having to compound the boat. “It does more harm than good, believe me.”

Failing to clean and wax a boat has consequences beyond a dull hull. The gelcoat will oxidize, and compounding will be necessary to bring back the shine. However, compounding works through abrasives that remove a thin layer of gelcoat to even out the finish, and it shouldn’t be done often.

“You only want to compound once or twice in a boat’s life,” says Sanders. “Repeatedly doing a heavy restoration buff will sooner or later wear right through the gelcoat. Washing and waxing on a schedule eliminates the need to get that aggressive.”

If heavy oxidation has occurred, detailers say restoration should be left to trained professionals. “When you’re getting into restorative jobs, you have to know what you’re doing. If you don’t have the experience, you can cause real damage,” Schuman says. “You can destroy the resale value of your boat faster than you think.”