Your boat has a predator out there… it is the elements! And more than the elements overall, the sun is your worst enemy. Gel coat surfaces don’t stand up too well against the harmful rays of the sun. Though you may not be able to see it immediately, your boat begins the fading process the first day it spends out under the sun. What can be done?
Your front line defense for protecting your sun from damaging sunlight is a good wax that has UV inhibitors in it. Keep your boat waxed at least a couple of times per season and you will do a great deal in protecting it. Why a couple of times? Because the harsh environment including the harsh U.V. Rays of the sun will wear your wax down over time and if it isn’t a good quality wax which has U.V. Protectorates in it, the sun will go through the wax like an x-ray and still work away at your gelcoat surface. Of course, ultimately it is good if you can find physical over head protection for your boat to keep those damaging rays off the surface of the boat.
But what if it’s already faded badly?
Dark colored gelcoat absorbs much more UV and heat from the sun than lighter colored gelcoat. Consequently, it breaks down rapidly into short-chain, low molecular weight “chalk” . This can happen in such a way that “pores” or micro crevices are eaten down into gel-coat. This situation is analogous to the way in which rust forms on metal. It starts on the surface and then eats down into the metal. Abrasives only remove the surface chalking and cannot reach down into the deep pores filled with chalk. In fact, abrasives can remove good gelcoat and scratch up the surface greatly increasing surface area exposed to new oxidation.
If your boat is already faded badly, it may still be restorable – there are several things that can be done to restore a boat’s surface. Sometimes we have seen boats faded so badly having been exposed to the elements for so long that the sun has damaged the gel coat several or all layers deep, right to the fiberglass. If all the layers of the gel coat are burned out then not even wet sanding will bring it back, because the very color pigments of the gelcoat are changed and damaged by the sun. These boats in this condition can still be re-gelcoated or even painted however.
Color restoration can be a little time consuming, and may cost a bit but there is hope. Our process of bringing a boat back to it’s original color works very well on nearly all jobs. We do not recommend that you go out and buy the color restorer products that are on the market today. These products can do more harm than good, and few, if any work. Many of them use oils to wet the gel coat. Problem is, they don’t get down into the layers of gel below the surface, and, being oils and compounds that are made to wet the gelcoat surface, causing a temporary look of shininess, the oils and compounds in those products degrade fairly quickly. The oils dry up and suddenly the gel coat looks just as faded as it did before.
To test this out, try a very simple wet finger test. Wet the tip of your finger and rub it on the surface of the faded gel coat. See how the color seems to have come back right there where you rubbed? And then, as quickly as the moisture dries, of course, the gelcoat looks all flat and faded again. This is what the color restore products do. They get the surface wet and it does look slightly better, but as the oils and chemicals dry out and degrade, the fading really hasn’t been addressed at all.
Some of these products not only help, but they hinder when you do want to restore the surface, because they leave a sticky substance on the surface that has worked into the pours of the gel coat and dried onto the surface, so then later when you want to wet sand the surface, you first have to sand through all of this hardened sticky substance before you even get to the gelcoat.
Once your boat is faded out completely all layers deep, the only real solution is re-gel coating or painting. But before you jump to that route, let us, have a look at it with you and evaluate the surface. It just may be restorable, you may be surprised!