I stood in the marine store and looked at 75 feet of shelving lined with dozens of bottles of boat wax, reading descriptive words like premium, ultra, UV protection, nano technology, exceptional, durable and easy-on. In some products, the label carried three or four superlatives. The average price for a 16-ounce bottle was $22.96, not counting the $4 bottle of Turtle Wax we tested. The highest was more than $55. What a dilemma. You know it and I know it, but what we don’t know is what really matters when buying a wax for the boat. What works best?
Bottom line is that, at an average $1.44 per ounce with between 8 and 10 ounces required for waxing a 21-foot boat, that’s a pretty stiff bottom line. So BoatingLAB decided to see who put on the best shine.
How We Tested
To measure shine and application qualities, we taped off eight spots on the white gelcoat panel of a well-oxidized boat. We used enough wax to coat each spot of roughly 144 square inches and rubbed it in until we had created a uniform coating on each test panel, taking 90 to 120 seconds per spot. We let the spots dry and then buffed. We then reapplied the same waxes to the same spots for the second round of gloss tests. Most waxes boosted their score, as we expected after the second trial.
To measure the gloss, we held a black ruler with yellow hash marks against the gelcoat and peered down the side of the boat to see how many inches of the ruler we could read in the reflection.
Some of our waxes were designated “cleaner waxes,” a moniker that suggests it is better equipped to remove oxidation and chalk from gelcoat. Some were simply polishes, but we used each the same way, regardless of designation.
How We Scored
Gloss After One Coat of Wax - 1, 2, 3 or 4 (inches), 4 being best.
Gloss After Two Coats of Wax - 1, 2, 3 or 4, 4 being best.
Color Shift of Panel After Wax - 0 for heavy shift through 5 for no color shift.
Cost Rank - We scored costs high, medium and low, high earning a 1, medium a 2 and low a 3.
These scores were added to get what we called an “overall approval factor,” the higher the better.
We found each liquid wax applied easily in under two minutes, which resulted in no score awarded for application time.
We would love to have tested wax durability, but leaving the test boat in a checkerboard state of slickness wasn’t going to be acceptable to our guinea pig’s owner. Darn the luck!
Attwood Premium Marine Polish
Promises: UV inhibitors; biodegradable bottle
Not a cleaner wax, the instructions recommend using Attwood’s Cleaner Wax on oxidized surfaces before application. We skipped the cleaner and applied.
Results: A combination of impressive shine, no color shift and modest cost gave this wax an overall high score. It’s one of only three that did not improve gloss with a second coat. We needed a cleaner wax to do that.
Collinite’s No. 870 Fleetwax
Promises: Radiant finish; incomparable durability
This is a cleaner wax, marketed to provide a hard, long-lasting shine, and also marketed heavily to the recreational vehicle and aviation industry. It is sold to remove dirt, grime and oxidation.
Results: Collinite’s thin liquid wax didn’t have a flow nozzle, so dispensing without spilling took care. We were surprised we saw no improvement in reflectivity after a second coat. Its cost rank was above average.
Flitz Polish for Metal, Plastic and Fiberglass
Promises: No ammonia; safely cleans, polishes, protects
Advertised on the back label as a cleaner, Flitz was one of two waxes formulated for metal but recommended by the label for fiberglass.
Results: Scoring an average “2” in reflectivity, there was no improvement after a second coat. The green dyed wax left a green tinge on the gelcoat. The hull staining and high cost factor earned it one of our lowest scores.
Meguiar’s Premium Marine Wax
Promises: Protection from UV damage; enriched color and shine
Advertised to remove light oxidation, the product description suggests using the wax only after the surface has been cleaned and restored to a “like new” or “average” finish.
Results: The wax worked well and quickly with good cleaning capabilities to remove oxidation, boosting shine. It has a clean, pinelike aroma, rather than the petroleum odor most of the other waxes had.
Scotchgard Marine Liquid Wax
Promises: Protection from UV rays; exceptional durability and gloss; pleasant tropical scent
Touted as using “reactive chemistry that bonds to your boat’s surface,” Scotchgard's label makes no reference to cleaner qualities.
Results: The shine accomplished and the price rank put it in the middle group of contenders. We found the scent of the product to be petroleum-based with a hint of alcohol, not tropical.
Turtle Wax Hard Shell Car Wax
Promises: Hard shell lasting up to 12 months
We don’t ordinarily fear using auto wax on boats, but a neutral color or no dye in the wax would be a smarter choice for Turtle Wax, even if that’s inconsistent with its marketing mechanisms, i.e. green like a turtle.
Results: Its high luster saved it from the dismally low score it should have gotten. It tinted the white gelcoat green, completely negating the cost/shine benefit factor by doing so.
West Marine Pure Oceans NanoTec Fiberglass Polish
Promises: Biodegradable; superior protection; citrus scent
Not a cleaner wax, the citrus base of the wax is reported to be more environmentally friendly than petroleum bases. We could not verify that claim.
Results: Its citrus odor made it pleasant to work with. It was the thickest, creamiest liquid wax we tested and so easy to get just where we wanted it. Its value price (fourth in cost factor) and shine gave it a high overall score.
Promises: No rubbing or buffing; nonslick wax finish — even blood hoses off
This petroleum-based “wax” has an oily character. It is advertised to work on fiberglass and to be particularly beneficial to nonskid decking. Application is to wipe on and to not wipe off.
Results: Its high cost and low luster lowered its score significantly. It also stained the gelcoat an oily brown — exactly the color of the compound. There was no discoloration of metal, and we recommend this product for protecting aluminum marine structures.