Gelcoating: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

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As a boat owner, you might own a captain’s hat, but what does it really mean to be the captain of your own boat? Well, one thing it means is that you have to familiarize yourself with the best boat maintenance techniques. Some people consider that to mean things like electronic devices on the boat, but maintaining the boat’s appearance is just as important.

One way to do that is through the use of gel coat. Of course, the gel coating process has its good, bad, and ugly sides. But once you understand what it is and how it works you can decide whether it’s the right choice for you.

What is Gelcoat?

Gel coat is basically the outermost layer of a fiberglass boat. Fiberglass is made out of multiple layers, a bit like some cakes. You can think of the gel coating process as putting the icing on the cake. It’s a way to give your boat a nice look while also making the boat hull a little stronger.

Aside from giving your boat a glossy appearance, gel coat can keep water from penetrating the layers of boat hull below. That’s something that most types of paint can’t do nearly as well. So, why is there still a great debate over gel coating versus painting a boat?

The Good: Gelcoat Lasts Longer Than Boat Paint and Looks Shiny

One important thing to understand is that both painting a boat and gel coating a boat hull are only temporary. Eventually, both types of substances will start to chip, crack, or peel. Either one can be patched or replaced, but there are differences between the two. For example, a layer of gel coat is generally harder than boat paint and won’t be damaged as quickly. It can also give your boat a bright, shiny appearance. If you are the type of boat owner that uses your vessel all the time or in rough seas, gel coat is a great way to protect it.

The Bad: Gelcoat is Less Versatile Than Boat Paint and Arguably Harder to Apply

One problem with the process of repairing gel coating on a boat with more gel coat is that it is a quick-drying resin. In other words, it has to be done very fast to achieve the best results. That’s why many casual use boat owners only use it for small, easy boat maintenance and repair jobs. It is actually quite difficult to redo large sections of a boat hull with gel coat, especially if you want to create a colorful or intricate design on the outside of your boat. Boat paints offer much more artistic versatility.

The standard types of gel coating that amateur boating enthusiasts use for repair purposes are also not that easy to apply. They have to be put on in multiple layers and sanded down to create the look that you want. If not applied properly, your new layer of gel coat can also easily become worn or damaged by the sun and the elements. Granted, painting a boat can also be an involved process, but most people agree that gel coating is more difficult, especially for those who have never done it before.

The Ugly: Good Gel coating is Expensive and May Require Professional Application

Finally, you should keep in mind that there are different types of gel coating available. If you want a professional gel coating job, you will probably have to hire actual professionals to do the work. So, you will need to weigh that expense against the type of boating you do and how often you do it. You might find it worth the investment, or you might determine that occasional touch-up boat paint will suit your needs.

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