Outdoor Articles

Boat Wax – Shine On

by Pursue The Outdoors on March 8th, 2005 in Boat Care and Maintenance

It has been our experience that nothing so much insures the beauty and longevity of a fiberglass boat than the continual maintenance of a good coat of high quality wax. In this article we will explore the preparation, methods, and best practices for the long term maintenance of your boats gel coat through the use of wax.

The Problem

Gel-coat, the exterior finish on fiberglass boats, is a porous mix of polyester resins and pigments that must be sealed from the damaging effects of salt, dirt, weather, and ultra-violet (UV) radiation.

The primary purpose of gel-coat is to protect the underlying core from water, air and sunlight, which in combination will quickly loosen the chemical bond and render the structure useless. Neglect this gel-coat, and it becomes more porous, resins oxidize and what remains is a faded, dull finish prone to absorbing water into the laminate and destroying it.

In addition to the above functional definition we also need to say a few words about the beauty factor, the shine of a newly polished and waxed boat. In a great example of form following function, gel-coat kept clean and shiny, with a good coat of wax, will perform it’s primary function pretty much in direct proportion to the way it looks.


The Players

Now that we’ve named the problem, what are the choices for solving it? The simplest solution would, of course be to keep the boat away from sun, water, and oxygen. I said simple, not practical.

All of the “New”, “Easy On-Easy Off”, “Modern Chemical Miracle”, products may look great on TV (we’ve tried them all too 😉 but in the real world of salt water, sun, fishing, spills, and air pollution, they simply don’t hold up compared to the simple, natural, God made it, “Tree of Life”, Brazilian No.1 Carnauba wax.

Unlike the modern marvels of chemical engineering, Carnauba comes from a tree, the Copernica Cerifera palm tree, to be specific. The color and quality of the wax are governed by the age of the leaves and care used in processing of this hard, brittle, lustrous wax. It runs from a golden yellow in color to nearly white and has an unmistakable but pleasant “tree” smell to it.

Due to the fact that carnauba is a natural plant by-product, it will not react with gel coat or painted surfaces. The Carnauba Wax acts as a protective barrier providing a very hard film over your boats surface that protect against sun and weather damage, airborne contaminates, such as acid rain, spills, fish remains, salt and bird droppings, etc.

Carnauba even swells and closes its pores tighter when exposed to water. In addition, Carnauba dramatically reduces gel coat oxidation by diffusing the UV and infrared radiation from the sun which will oxidize and dull your boats finish.

Interesting Carnauba Facts

  • Pure Carnauba in its natural state is harder than concrete.
  • Typical retail waxes contain 3% to 5% Carnauba by volume.
  • Less then 5% of retail Carnauba waxes contain Brazilian No.1 Carnauba, the finest of all waxes.
  • The greater the concentration of Carnauba, the greater the level of protection and the higher the quality of shine.

How Does It Work?

3 things are needed in order for the chemical reaction which causes oxidation to occur.

  • Oxygen
  • Heat
  • UV Radiation

Eliminate one or more of these and you slow the process.

A protective layer of Carnauba wax keeps airborne contaminants from reaching the gel-coat and starting a chemical reaction.

This wax layer diffuses (refracts) both UV and infrared radiation from the sun. Without it the radiation is absorbed by the pigment in the gel coat causing it to over heat, and trigger the chemical reaction that will dry out, dull and oxidize the surface.

A waxed boat will have a lower surface temperature than an unwaxed one. The darker the color, the greater the difference
Using a high quality paste wax applied over a clean polished surface will give you 3 to 4 months of protection here on the Emerald Coast. This doesn’t mean the wax is gone in this time but the appearance and protection will begin to fade rapidly (based on our own experience, independent testing, and the reports of most of our clients).

For more information on the properties of different waxes, please see Wax Comparison Table.

Tying It All Together

By keeping the wax protective layer up, (3-4 waxings per year) your boat will always look good and you shouldn’t need any hard yearly compounding to keep it that way. This will save you money right now and add years to the time before the boat will need to be painted.

On the boats that we’ve maintained for several years we usually give it a thorough going over with a very fine compound in the spring just to give it that “bright” look. This removes only a very thin layer of oxidized pigment to give the wax a solid base to adhere to.

Happy Boating!

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