How to Repair Gel Coat Scratch and Gouge Repairs

From rope chafing on cockpit coamings to impact damage from winch handles, gel coat scratches and gouges are almost always an inevitable part of boat ownership. The good news is that repairing them is not as difficult as it may seem. 

Boat ServicesUsing the gel coat repair kit, you can restore light to moderate oxidation in minutes. Start by matching the resin and pigments to your boat’s color under plenty of natural light.

Whether you want to repair gelcoat scratches, chips, or gouges, you must prepare the area you are working on to ensure your repair will blend in with the rest of the boat’s gelcoat. This will involve sanding, cleaning, and masking areas you don’t want to be exposed to. You’ll also need a good quality primer and a high-quality gelcoat that matches the existing color of the hull. In some cases, you will also need to tint the new gelcoat or boat paint as well.

Gelcoat is different from boat paint, as it protects the underlying fiberglass structure as well as providing a smooth glossy finish. Gelcoat has to be cured properly so it will last. It is important to use a professional product like Durabak that has been designed specifically for the boating industry. The company’s products are easy to work with and have been tested under harsh conditions. The company’s website has a list of the products that are available to order online.

The first step in preparing the surface of the gel coat is to clean it thoroughly. This will help the primer adhere to the surface and will ensure that any gelcoat cracks are filled correctly. It is also a good idea to wash the entire boat to get rid of any dirt that may have built up on the surface.

Once the surface is clean, it’s a good idea to cover any areas that you don’t want to be worked on with painter’s tape or masking paper. This will prevent sanding particles from getting under the masking paper and causing unwanted waves in the finished result.

It’s also a good idea to set up a dedicated work area for the job. This will help keep your tools and equipment organized and clean while you are working on the boat. It will also make it easier to clean up afterward and avoid the risk of a mess in another part of the boat.

Once the primer has cured, it’s time to apply the new gelcoat. You’ll need to apply a few coats, leaving 15-20 minutes between each application. Once the gelcoat is applied and you can run your finger over it without picking up any of the gelcoat, it’s ready to be rubbed down with a light 800 grade paper then polished using rubbing compound.

The fiberglass and other resin-based materials used in the construction of your boat create a tough outer layer that’s known as gelcoat. While it does a good job of protecting the fiberglass from water and other chemicals, a strong impact can still damage the gelcoat and leave you with a scratch or gouge in your boat’s surface. Fortunately, these are fairly easy to repair if they’re caught early enough.

If a gelcoat scratch is shallow, you can easily wet sand and buff it away to restore its smooth, shiny appearance. It’s important to get rid of these scratches as quickly as possible, though, so that moisture doesn’t permeate the underlying laminate and cause serious problems.

For more serious damage, you can try using a gelcoat filler that provides both filler and finish in one application. However, this method can require some patience and may not be the best option for a deep or wide gouge.

The first step in repairing gelcoat is to clean the damaged area thoroughly with a degreaser and acetone. This will remove any wax buildup and greasy residue from the surface, allowing the filler to adhere properly. Next, you’ll need to choose a color match for your gelcoat. This is typically a simple process, but you should keep in mind that weathering can dull the original color of your gelcoat.

Once you have your colors, mask off the surrounding areas of the boat and prepare your work area. Be sure to use plenty of tape and plastic to protect the rest of the boat from drips and spills. Also, be sure to wear a dust mask and latex gloves when working with any chemicals.

Select a spot on the hull that is identical in color to the damaged gelcoat, and use this as your mixing palette. Apply 1,000-grit sandpaper to the damaged area to remove any scratches or chalking, and then use rubbing compound to flatten it.

Now that you have the gelcoat in good shape, you can move on to addressing any deeper scratches and chips. It’s a good idea to do this as soon as you notice them, since ignoring them could allow water to seep into the fiberglass laminate. Deep scratches will need to be filled with resin and an epoxy-based filler, while small chips can be repaired using gelcoat paste.

As with scratches and chips, gouges are a natural result of boating and will be found at some point on any fiberglass vessel. They are also a major reason why boat owners should routinely inspect their gelcoat for damage and perform some minor repair work as needed. With proper care and regular inspections, these dings will be easy to fix.

Gelcoat is an important material on a boat that provides more than just a glossy shine; it also protects the fiberglass and other structural elements underneath from damage, moisture and UV rays. It’s not uncommon to find gelcoat in rough shape, however, and even a small gouge or scratch can stand out quite dramatically. While the damage might not be catastrophic, it is important to take action as soon as possible to prevent more serious problems like blistering and spider-web cracking.

The first step in removing a gouge or chip is to clean the area thoroughly with acetone and mask off adjacent surfaces that you don’t want covered in gelcoat or sanding dust. For more severe gouges, you may need to open up the crack or scratch with a miniature grinding tool or something as simple as the sharp tip of a can opener (a dremel is ideal). Once you have opened the surface, sand it lightly with 220-grit sandpaper and then clean it again with acetone.

To fill a deep chip or gouge, select a portion of the hull that is identical in color to the damaged area. This will become your mixing palette on which to colour-match the gelcoat. Once you have the pigments, decant enough plain white gel coat to complete your entire repair and place it on your palette. Then use a rubbing compound to flatten the patch and make it match the surrounding hull.

If you have a textured or multi-toned hull, these repairs will be much more difficult to accomplish on your own and will likely require the help of a professional. A qualified fiberglass expert will be able to perform these more complicated repairs, which may involve ‘bleeding’ the blisters, grinding down to the laminate, allowing the hull to dry out completely and then re-coating with anti-fouling paint and a new topcoat.

The tough gelcoat of fiberglass boats acts as more than just a smooth, glossy surface; it protects the underlying fiberglass from hydrolysis and UV damage. But this durable film can deteriorate with time and use, leading to fine cracks known as spider cracks or star cracks. While these small, radial lines may seem cosmetic problems, they can be a sign of structural damage that should be addressed by a professional.

Luckily, these fine cracks are relatively easy to repair with the right materials. First, you’ll need to remove any oxidation with wet-sanding, using around 320-grit marine sandpaper and a sanding block. Next, clean the damaged area thoroughly with acetone to remove sanding residue and any waxes that can interfere with adhesion of the new gelcoat. After the area is cleaned and de-waxed, tape off all perimeters around the damage to prevent contamination during the gelcoat repair process.

To tackle the spider cracks themselves, you’ll need some gelcoat repair putty that can be tinted to match your existing gelcoat color. To make sure the putty adheres to your damaged fiberglass, first gouge out any narrow cracks and scratches that aren’t wide enough for gelcoat paste to fill (a Dremel tool is ideal, but you can even use a sharp point on a can opener). Then, gently open up these holes so you can fill them with the gelcoat putty.

When applying the gelcoat putty, be sure to mix it according to package instructions to get the best results. If your putty doesn’t have a tint, you can easily match it with one from your local paint store. If you’re working with gelcoat, however, it’s recommended that you use a color matching gelcoat repair kit that comes with tints to ensure the perfect match.

Once you’ve repaired any cracks or scuffs on your fiberglass boat, consider adding a protective layer of Durabak over the gelcoat for added durability in the water. Durabak is a heavier-duty alternative to gelcoat that’s more affordable, easier to apply, and trusted by the U.S. Navy for heavy-duty applications.