Keeping a Shine on Your Hull - Tamar Marine: Boating, Fishing & Marine Gear

Keeping a Shine on Your Hull

Keeping your hull clean and shiny isn’t just for looks, there are good reasons to keep your boat looking good. Clean, waxed fibreglass hulls resist sun fading, oxidation, and staining. A clean metal hull prevents corrosion and algae and dirt build-up.

It’s worth your hull a thorough rinse every time you use your boat, especially if you’ve taken it into salt or brackish water. And make the time to wash your boat properly throughout the season, and wax it for protection. The details differ a little by your hull type, but the basic tools and techniques are the same.

Tools for Maintaining the Hull

The basic tools to maintain any boat include:

To do more serious cleaning and protection, depending on the type and size of your hull you may also need:

  • Power buffer
  • Boat wax
  • Stain removers
  • Pressure washer
  • Steel wool

How to Wash the Hull

It’s best to pick a day that isn’t too hot. If you can’t a avoid a hot day, look for a day that’s overcast but without a major threat of rain. One a hot sunny day, parts of the boat may dry too quickly, leaving soap, wax, or other working compounds on the hull.

Start with a thorough rinse, taking care to knock off any loose algae, dirt or other detritus stuck to the hull or encrusted around the waterline. Don’t worry about stains yet, you just want the loose bits out of the way before you get to any serious cleaning.

Next, give the boat a scrubbing with soap and water, vigorously scrubbing at any stains or discolouration which doesn’t come off with a light brush. If you can’t get the stains off with soap, water, and a brush don’t worry, we can attack those with better cleaning products.

Deal with Stains

Commercial stain removers do an excellent job getting most marks off your hull. Several household chemicals also do a fine job, you’ll have to experiment a little to see what works best. Be careful with some household products, since you’re in a marine environment. Products septic systems are usually not safe or appropriate for direct use and dumping in waterways, so avoid strong toiler cleaners.

Hull stains break down to two different categories – mineral stains, or biological stains. Mildew, mould, algae and marine growth are biological stains can all seriously discolour fibreglass and metal hulls. As can mineral stains from rust, corrosion, and salt and calcium build-up.

Sometimes a stain may have a bit of both, like the brown “moustaches” some boats used in discoloured water pick up. The trick to getting the stains out is using the right removers and techniques for the stain and your hull. Fibreglass is much more delicate and easily scratched than aluminium, so you need to treat it differently.

Read the instructions on all commercial stain removers and follow all safety precautions! Many of them contain acids and strong solvents. Letting them dry on your hull can damage your finish, but getting them in your skin or in your eyes can cause serious harm. So glove up, wear eye protection, rinse thoroughly, and use as directed.

Stains on Aluminium

A homemade mix of vinegar and water is a very mild acidic solution that can get light staining off your tinny without a lot of expense and effort. Use about 50Ml to each litre of water, and scrub lightly with a sponge, cloth, of green scrubbing pad if it needs a little extra effort.

Many commercial aluminium cleaners will take out stronger stains. Avoid steel wool unless you can’t get a stain out any other way. You can scratch your hull and leave swirl marks if you rub too aggressively.

Remove any corrosion you find from the hull. If left, it will continue to corrode and you’ll have a bigger problem in the future. Scrape or chip any corrosion, or remove with steel wool. Make sure there is no structural damage, and the corroded spot is still sound.

Stains on Fiberglass

Vinegar and water can also take of mineral stains on fibreglass. For stronger stains, you may need a commercial stain remover. Rust stains from deck hardware and ground tackle can be quite stubborn, so look for a rust specific stain removed if you see them.

Avoid abrasive scrubbing to remove stains. Rubbing compounds may take out stains, but they are abrasive and will remove gelcoat as you polish. It’s better to put in more elbow grease with stain removers before you polish.

Polishing and Shining Fiberglass

Once you’ve gotten the stains out of your hull, it’s time to polish it up and give it a shine. Boat rubbing and polishing compounds will bring back a nice glow to fiberglass hulls, but it’s important to pick the right compound.

Most rubbing compounds have larger abrasives in them, and are good for removing stains you can’t get out any other way, and restoring oxidised gelcoat. These may be referred to as “cutting compounds” because they will cut through a fine bit of gelcoat to remove oxidation, and are available in different levels of abrasion.

Boat polishes have very fine to no abrasive, and are the best choice if your hull needs a shine but does not need any restoration of the surface. If you had to use a cutting compound to remove built up oxidation, going over the boat one more time with a polish will take out any minor scratches left by the compound.

Keys to Success

  • Work in Small Areas. Work one small section of the hull at a time. Start with a patch about 1/2 metre square. Apply the compound, work it in and remove it.
  • Apply compound to the rubbing pad, not the boat, especially if using an electric polisher.
  • When using and electric polisher, put the polisher on the hull before you turn it on, then start it when it’s on contact with the hull. If you start it spinning first, it may hop, skip, and jerk when it touches the hull, and spray compound all over.
  • Never hold a rotary polisher in one place or press hard on the edge of the pad. This can leave a permanent mark in the hulls.
  • Follow the directions. Different products may have different requirements for application, rinsing and removal.

Shining an Aluminium Hull

To get the best shine back on an aluminium hull, clean it as outlined above or use a pressure washer. Then use an aluminium cleaner to wipe down the whole boat and prepare it to polishing. Spray the cleaner on the hull and scrub it with a green plastic scrubbing pad. Don’t use steel wool unless you have stains you can not get rid of.

Once you’ve chemically cleaned the boat , rinse it and wipe it dry. Then apply aluminium polish with an electric polisher or a cloth, rubbing the enti

The cleaners and polishes for aluminium can be quite harsh, so wear good gloves, eye protection, and other protective gear through the entire process.

Waxing and Protection

To save some steps, you can try a combination cleaner/polish/wash designed to restore a shine and protect it with wax in one step. These work best on boats that are well kept up and don’t have any stains or oxidation. You follow the same general steps with one-step cleaner/waxes as you do with a final waxing step.

The general process of waxing is:

  1. Apply the wax with a clean cloth or pad to a section of the hull
  2. Give wax a few minutes to harden or dry
  3. Buff/polish with dried wax off the boat with a clean polishing pad or cloth

Start on a small section of the boat, about .5 to .75 metres on a side. You don’t want to work ahead, because you don’t leave the wax on so long that it dries out or becomes hard to remove. Pay close attention to the product instructions, it may specific minimum and maximum drying times.

When waxing, it’s best not to work in direct sunlight or the heat of the day, especially on an aluminium hull. The heat may affect the application or adherence of the wax.

Repeat seasonally

How often you clean, polish and wax your hull is a matter of how much you use your boat and where you use it. If you are a year round boater, you’ll probably need to repeat the process twice a year. Seasonal boaters usually clean and wax at the launching, and clean everything well before winter storage.

Keeping your boat in the direct sunlight and using the boat frequently will increase the amount of hull maintenance. If it’s practical, a boat cover can save you a lot of work.


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