How to Polish Your Boat

Tips to make your boat gleam.

February 24, 2012

If you’re like me, you enjoy caring for your boat’s finish yourself. These waxing tips come courtesy of my decades of boat ownership.

The Machine
Inexpensive random-orbit polishers wax OK but don’t do diddly when compounding. Professional-grade sander/polishers, such as Makita’s venerable 9227C, are great in experienced hands. These circular rotating machines require a knowing touch, since they can “burn” the surface and/or leave nasty swirl marks if not used properly. Perhaps the best choice for most boaters is a variable-speed, dual-action polisher that combines the user-friendliness of a random orbit with the power of a circular polisher.

The Speed
When compounding, if the speed is too high, the aggregate gets used up faster and loses its ability to remove oxidation. Stick to 2,500 to 3,200 orbits per minute (OBM). Waxing and polishing can be accomplished at between 3,900 and 4,600 OBM. Higher speeds are useful when removing paint defects and swirls. Wax and compound makers often specify a machine speed, so check the label of the product you’re using.


The Pad
Compounding is best accomplished with a wool pad since it has the right properties for “cutting” or removing surface oxidation. A pliable foam pad is great for waxing and polishing. For a slicker-than-slick finish, simply top a foam pad with a microfiber bonnet.

Wear a dust mask and eye protection, especially when compounding. Always plug into a ground-fault, circuit-interrupting receptacle (GFCI) if working while the boat is in the water.

Quick Tip: Tie the polisher’s cord and the extension cord into a square knot where they connect to prevent pulling the plug as you move around the boat.


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