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!
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.
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.