Fixing Gelcoat Gouges: How to Make Them Disappear

Finding a scratch in the gelcoat of your ship is enough to create a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, right? That feeling is multiplied by ten when those scratches become gouges. Your pride and joy may be damaged, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. No matter how much you paid for your personal watercraft, fixing gelcoat gouges is easier than most boat owners think.

The Inevitable Gouge

Many ships, including the ever-popular G3 Boats, utilize fiberglass in their construction. This material ends up with nicks and scratches no matter how careful you are on your vessel. Botched landings, fishing gear, and even a tool that slips from your fingers can cause unsightly marks.

To keep your fiberglass or other fiber-reinforced composites from showing their regular wear and tear, manufacturers utilize a gelcoat coating based on polyester or epoxy resin. Gelcoat is a modified version of these resins, capable of being molded in its liquid form before drying. This is what gives your boat that glass-like finish.

Despite being a protective coating, a strong enough impact will leave behind scratches or the inevitable gouge. While boat owners don’t have to worry about barely visible scratches, a gouge is unsightly. Thankfully, it’s a simple fix so long as the gouge isn’t too deep.

The Tools

Fixing gelcoat gouges takes roughly one to two hours. While it isn’t an elementary project, it’s a lot easier than fixing used outboard motors. Keep in mind that this method can work on scratches, nicks, and chips as well as gouges. Here are the tools you’ll need to get the job done:

•   Gelcoat resin and its accompanying catalyst

•   Coloring agents

•   Acetone

•   Mixing cups and stirring sticks

•   Masking tape

•   A hand-held grinder with a few bit sizes

•   Latex gloves

•   A dust mask (maybe two)

•   Cleaning rags

•   Sandpaper that can be used on wet and dry surfaces

•   A putty knife

•   A PVA curing agent

•   A rubbing compound

•   And some boat wax to create a shiny finish

Step 1: Matching the Color

You can obtain the current color of gelcoat from your dealer as long as your boat is a newer model. However, weathering might dull the color and create an imperfect match. Your best bet is to find the exact color then add pigments to create an ideal match.

Mix up your gelcoat, the pigments, and any other coloring elements in the mixing cups. Stir them with your sticks, making sure to wear both your dust mask and latex gloves during the process. You want to avoid breathing in the fumes from Gelcoat or getting it on your skin.

Step 2: Smoothing the Gouge

Take your hand-held grinder and smooth out the edges to the gouge using various sized bits to get the job done. Make sure to remove any loose material left behind from the damage. Then, clean the area with acetone after scraping away excess sealant.

Before moving forward, tape off the area with your masking tape. Make the tape barrier large enough to accommodate any small spills or splashes when applying the gelcoat. In-between the hole and the tape, leave roughly 1/16th of an inch to ensure you can match the gelcoat coloring.

Step 3: Applying the Gelcoat

By now, the remaining cost of your ship on that boat payment calculator is probably ringing in your head. Don’t panic! The gouge may look worse than before, but you’re about to fix that by finishing the gelcoat mixture and applying it.

The gelcoat resin you use has its own style of catalyst, which comes with the tub you purchase. Mix this catalyst in at the proper ratio, stir, and use your putty knife to spread the mixture evenly over the gouge. Remember, the gelcoat needs to remain in liquid form during this step.

Keep applying until the gelcoat is slightly higher than the surface surrounding it. Spray the newly filled gouge with a PVA curing agent and let it dry before peeling the agent back off.

Step 4: Sanding and Finishing

Next, it’s time to sand the area down with your wet/dry sandpaper. Ideally, you should use 320-grit and a soft block. Move onto 600-grit, then 1,000-grit to finish. Take your time with each level of grit to ensure a smooth finish.

You may not need to sand the area based on how well you applied the gelcoat. However, most people end up requiring this step to make the finished product as perfect as possible. After you create a smooth surface with the 1,000-grit sandpaper, use a rubbing compound to buff out the remaining rigidity.

Finally, apply a layer of boat wax to create a shiny finish. Remember to use your cleaning rags throughout this process to remove any unnecessary bits of gelcoat, compound, or wax. The gouge should look as though it never existed, leaving you with a pristine gelcoat finish.

What If the Gouge Isn’t Fixed?

Sometimes, a gouge is too deep for this process to work. In this instance, you need to apply fillers, epoxy resin, and sometimes even fiberglass depending on how serious the damage is. Not only does this cost more, but it’s also time-consuming and far more complicated.

If your gouge is still there or you know it’s too deep to begin with, you might be better off letting a professional make the repair. While you may have the skills to apply the right filler, a deep enough gouge required structural fiberglass work. Multitone finishes and diamond non skid surfaces run into similar issues that need professional repair; that’s why it’s good to have quality boat insurance.

Finally, fixing gelcoat gouges on a vertical surface is nearly impossible. Gouges in these locations require a paste, as the gelcoat will simply slide down before filling in the hole. Use your best judgment before trying a DIY fix and call a pro if you think it’s even slightly outside your realm of possibility.

Wrapping Up

Fixing gelcoat gouges isn’t rocket science, but it does take a little know-how and elbow grease. You can avoid a costly repair by following the steps above. Remember to use the right tools, protect yourself with the right equipment, and take it slow to make sure the finished fix looks its best.