What Is Gelcoat Paint and How to Successfully Apply It

What is Gelcoat Paint?

Gelcoat is a “paint” used on boats. It is made out of resin composed of fiberglass. The paint comes in different colors to add personality to the boat, while also being practical: Gelcoat will not crack because it is specially formulated to stretch and bend unlike other paints.

When choosing a Gelcoat to put on your boat, you will want to be sure that you buy general purpose. General purpose is what is most often used on boats and cars because it is less likely to get marred up. Gelcoat that is labeled “Tooling” is used for in the home on surfaces like sinks and tubs. It has a harder finish, not quite appropriate for your watercraft.

When you mix Gelcoat, you will need to add a catalyst. The catalyst will allow the substance to harden correctly. Most Gelcoats require you to use 1-3% of the required catalyst, most often MEKP, which you can stir in using a paint stirrer that you purchase at the hardware store. If you don’t mix the Gelcoat and the catalyst correctly, you can be left with a product that will not harden or one that is too brittle to be effective.

How to apply Gelcoat

Gelcoat is easily applied in the same way you would paint your house. It can be painted on with a roller or a brush. If you want a more professional looking job, you will want to invest in a special paint sprayer that works with substances like Gelcoat.

Applying a new Gelcoat to your boat

When applying a new gelcoat to your boat, you will want to carefully sand the surface you wish to paint. Sand paper with a finer grit is your best option as it is less likely to leave unsightly scratches. You can also use a sander to get the bigger areas and save yourself some time.

Gelcoat Application

Gelcoat Application

After sanding, remember to wash the surface thoroughly. You can use acetone for the first wash, followed by a second wash of water and soap. Be sure to allow the surface to thoroughly dry before you move on to the next step.

After the surface has dried, use painter’s tape to create an outline of every part of the surface you wish to paint with your Gelcoat. Follow the directions on the Gelcoat you have chosen in order to properly mix it with the catalyst for optimum performance. It is important that you follow the exact directions on your particular brand as all preparations could vary by company.

Using a paint brush, apply the Gelcoat in even amounts to the entire surface you wish to cover. Once the coat is dry (the estimated drying time should be on the packaging, add a second coat and repeat as necessary until you get the look you were going for. You will want to make sure to take the painter’s tape off during the drying period of your final coat. Painter’s tape is harder to remove from dry surfaces.

Once the Gelcoat is completely dry, use a wax made especially for boat surfaces to shine up the finish.

As long as you follow the directions on your particular brand of Gelcoat, you will have a beautifully preserved boat that looks like a million bucks- and you can proudly say it was a DIY project.

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