Do you miss the days when you showed off your shiny brand new boat? Every time you docked it, you probably felt proud of your water craft’s lustrous exterior that made it stand out among the rest of the ships.
But that was years ago, right? and your ship has aged now. However, the good news is that you can make your fishing companion look all shiny again. How? Give her a makeover by removing the faded gel coat from the hull and replacing it with a new one.
In short, re-Gelcoat the vessel and make her look ten years younger. You can give it a whole new look by choosing a different color of gel coat too. Now, you must be thinking, how much are you going to spend in the process?
Well, the cost to re-gel coat a boat is not too high, considering how beneficial gel coats are as a part of your ship’s maintenance. So are you interested in the beautification process? Read on.
Table of Contents
What Is a Gelcoat?
A gel coat is a thermosetting polymer that consists of either epoxy or polyester resin base. It is applied to fiberglass surfaces to give them a glossy, high-quality finish. Almost all watercraft manufactured using fiberglass have an outer layer of gel coating, particularly the hulls.
This polymer is applied in a uniform thin layer (0.02 – 0.03 inches) on top of the fiberglass in a liquid form, which then dries to harden and form a shell-like casing around the boat.
It often contains pigments and is available in many custom colors to make the boat’s exterior look appealing.
Why Is Gelcoat Important?
There is a reason why gel coats are applied to all marine crafts and boats with fiberglass hulls right at their manufacturing time. You might be surprised to know that fiberglass hulls are not entirely impervious to water and can absorb water to form blisters.
Though fiberglass is used in boats to provide durability, it is susceptible to damage and becomes weak ( fiber blooming) due to ultraviolet rays present in sunlight. This is where a gel coat comes in handy.
It is not just a coloring agent that glistens up the surfaces it is applied to; but also has unique protective properties. The gel coat prevents fiberglass from ultraviolet degradation, hydrolysis, and other harmful chemical reactions.
Is Gelcoat Better than Paint?
You might get tempted to get your vessel’s hull repainted with a high-quality anti-fouling/bottom paint. Although repainting seems like a quicker, cheaper, and less laborious fix, it is not suitable for protective effects, nor in terms of durability.
Paints are prone to chipping and provide almost no protection to the hulls from harmful chemical reactions. Paints last for only two years and are difficult to maintain. Furthermore, bottom paints contain copper, which is extremely hazardous.
Copper tends to mix in the water as you sail, poisoning the creatures below. It is also injurious to your health, and care should be taken not to let the paint get into your skin and eyes.
In comparison, Gelcoat is a safer option as it does not chip, is not harmful, does not contain copper, and is not prone to dissolve in water.
How Long Does a Gelcoat Last?
Did you know gel coats can keep your boat looking glamorous for up to 10 or more years? Give the old looking hull surface a new gel coat layer and forget worrying about it, as it will last you more than a decade provided you give it the proper maintenance.
All it takes is to apply a wax layer every three to four months, wash the hull with marine boat soaps, and store the ship in cool, dry places away from sunlight.
Just using a good quality carnauba wax, sealant, and fiberglass stain remover often will save the hassle of a labor-intensive Gelcoat job.
Average Cost Estimate to Re-Gelcoat a Boat
There is no exact estimate of the cost to re-gelcoat a boat since all boats are of different sizes and display varying amounts of damages that need different steps of re-gelcoating. Even if you plan to only go for a color change on a new undamaged boat, it still needs to go through specific steps.
So, if you are getting professional, they might charge you around $300 to $500 per foot for the entire process. One-third of the cost is for the materials, and the rest two-third is the labor cost.
As an example, with a 16-foot craft, prepare to spend around $8000 on re-gel coating. However, this is just a rough estimate, and prices can significantly vary.
Factors Affecting the Cost to Re-Gelcoat a Boat
Re-gelcoating is pretty simple if the old gel coat needs no repair. It just requires a few cleaning steps, sanding, and a final application of a gelcoat and wax.
However, the scenario changes if your gel coat is damaged. Following are the two main factors that affect the total cost to re-gelcoat a boat.
If a gel-coated vessel’s surface looks like a cracked eggshell, it means the ship is undergoing ‘crazing.’ Crazing is a common issue that can damage the vessels deeply if left untreated.
Labour and material cost increases due to crazing, as it needs a considerable amount of sanding and grinding to fix the cracks first. Then some heavy-duty epoxy is used for filling and patching before the final finish coat is applied.
Gel coats suffering from blistering need special attention too. It needs grinding to even out the affected area. Then epoxy laminates and fillers are used for filling and fairing. Repairing blisters can add a great deal to the cost of re-gel coating.
DIY Re-Gelcoating: Save Your Money
Instead of taking the watercraft to a yard, leaving it there for the work, and investing a considerable sum of money for laboring, you could try doing it all by yourself.
Not only will you save pennies this way, but also enjoy giving the vessel a makeover according to your taste.
Here is a list of items you will need for a 25-foot boat(to cover an area from waterline to gunwale), along with their average costs, followed by a step by step guide to re-gel coating your ship the DIY way.
- 3M tapes – $8
- UV tapes – $10
- Masking tapes – $5
- Dykem steel blue dye – $18
- Sandpapers – $18
- Brushable Gel Coat – $100
- Sander machine – $35
- Buffer – $20
- MEKP catalyst – $16
- Wax additives – $20
- PVA surfacing agent for gel coats – $45
- Pigments for gel coat – $17
- Tyvek Suit – $8
- Gloves – $12
- Respirator mask – $19
The list totals to around $350. So, once you have all the equipment, you can move on to the procedure.
Start by cleaning the hull with soap and water. Then wash it off properly with water, leaving no soap residue behind.
Use tapes and masking papers to cover surfaces adjacent to your work area. Cover and protect other parts of the boat by tarping them. And make sure you put on your safety equipment.
The next step involves examining the surface. Check the gel coat for any nicks, scratches, or cracks. If present, sand the area using 40 grit and then fill them up using epoxy putty. But if there are none there, you are good to move on to the next step.
This is the most critical and extremely laborious step in the process of gel coating. Start off by applying the steel blue dye on the entire surface and sand with 150 grit sandpaper.
When you see the blue stain no more, it means you have smoothed the area enough (this is going to take a while; just remember you don’t have to do it all in one day).
Once you have completed the sanding, you need to clean off the surface with acetone and move on to applying the gel coat quickly as you don’t want any dust particles to accumulate on the cleaned surface area.
Application of gel coat
Apply two layers of gel coat using a four-inch-wide brush that is neither too soft nor too hard. Apply it evenly at a thickness of 18-20 mils (use a mil gauge for measuring ). Let it cure overnight, and you will be ready to wet sand and buff it the next day.
Use a 300 or 400 grit wet sandpaper for the initial wet sanding. Move on to 600 and finally to 800 grit sandpaper. Then use a buffer covering a 4×4 foot area at a time.
Finish off by applying a layer of machine glaze followed by two coats of wax.
In the end, after all the hard work, you have a glossy, lustrous boat that looks professionally re-gel coated in a budget-friendly way.
Re-gel coating a vessel is the best way to make it look new and increase its longevity. If you have a small watercraft, I would suggest you re-Gelcoat it yourself. But, if you own a big boat, then glam it up with the help of professionals.