Selecting the Best Waxes and Ceramic Coatings for Your Boat, Part 1

waxes, ceramic coatings, boat hull

The glass-like shine achievable with proper hull prep and waxes or ceramic coatings can last for months. (

Keeping a shine on the exterior of your boat is not only a matter of pride, it’s also smart maintenance. A clean, shiny gel coat or painted finish sheds grime, salt and marine growth much better than a weather-dulled finish. It’s easier to keep clean, and it won’t deteriorate as rapidly, helping to hold the value of your boat when the time comes that you want to sell it.

Finish treatments can be broken into two categories, waxes and ceramic coatings. Waxes basically bring out the shine and protect a finish that’s already present, while ceramics add another layer or coating to the existing finish.

waxes, ceramic coatings, boat hull

Any wax or ceramic coating job starts with a good washdown. (Discover Boating)

Whatever protection you choose, it’s a must to prep the finish first. This starts with a soap and water washdown. On new finishes, that’s all that’s needed, while on those with some age, using a very fine rubbing compound may be needed to get rid of chalking and glazing on the old paint or gelcoat. Some products include a fine rubbing compound in the wax for one-step application, easing the job, but these are generally not adequate for severely aged surfaces. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully because some products can produce a surface full of swirls and dull areas if not applied correctly.

Waxes and Polishes

Many waxes for boat finishes are based on Brazilian carnauba palm wax, a natural product used to create a slick, non-stick finish. In addition to boat and auto polish, it’s also used in a wide variety of products from cosmetics to release agent for fiberglass hull molding. It’s environmentally-friendly and even used in food stuffs and pharmaceuticals.  


carnauba wax

Grade 1 yellow carnauba wax, the most durable level of natural wax, is used in Mothers Marine Polishes. (Mothers)

Other waxes are synthetics based on a mixture of chemical polymers designed to improve the sheen and resilience of vehicle paint. These are generally somewhat less shiny than carnauba wax and tend to cloud over time but may last longer.

In either case, they can bring out the shine of gel coat or paint and keep your boat new-looking much longer. A good wax job typically lasts 3 to 4 months in summer weather. In tropical conditions, reapplication three to four times a year might be needed to keep a finish in prime conditions, while twice-yearly waxing is likely to be adequate in more northerly locations.

Waxing is a simple process but just smearing on wax won’t bring a shine back to a chalky gelcoat. It takes some careful preparation, starting with a good washdown with boat soap. On a new or near-new hull, no further prep for waxing may be necessary unless you’re a real “shine-atic,” in which touch up with an automotive-style clay bar may be necessary to further smooth the finish before waxing.


claying bar

A claying bar allows an extra step to creating a flawless shine on boat as well as automotive hulls. (Mothers)

On more oxidized hulls with visible chalking, “compounding” is the next step. It’s a polishing process with extremely fine cutting compounds suspended in a poly base, done either by hand or with a buffer. 

The compounds are available in various levels of cut, from very mild to very aggressive—choose one that suits the condition of your hull. 


buffing compound, large pad

Using a light buffing compound on a large pad can quickly remove oxidation from a gelcoat. (Discover Boating)

Applying the compound by hand gets the job done, but it goes much faster with a buffer in the 7” to 10” size. And note that rubbing compounds come in various “cut” categories, with some of the more abrasive mixes capable of taking off some pretty serious scratches. But also be aware they can burn off your actual gelcoat as well if you use too much pressure, turn the buffer up too high or buff with the edge instead of the middle portions of the pad.

The pros advise working in the shade on a hot day, or in a garage on a cold one.

If your surface is already in pretty good shape, you can probably get by with a two-in-one cleaner/wax, which saves time and energy. 

Here are some good choices for waxing and polishing your hull, whether the finish is gelcoat or paint:

3M Marine Restorer & Wax

3M Marine Restorer and Wax is a combo product with a rubbing compound included in the wax polymers to allow easy, fast polishing. The company says it removes light to medium oxidation, filmy residue from lake, river or ocean water, rust deposits, exhaust stains and dock skid marks. The 32 oz. (0.9 l) size is about $40. The company’s website has detailed procedures for cleaning, detailing and refinishing—note they recommend different products and procedures for gelcoat and for paint;

shur-hold, pro polish

Shur-Hold’s Pro Polish is a polymer-based formula with cosmetic grade ingredients and contains no fillers or talc.  It goes on quicker and easier, per the company, while protecting your finish against sun, salt, acid rain, and other harsh environmental elements. There’s no white residue left as the product dries, because there’s no talc or other filler, so the job is faster and easier. The product is also economical, at about $100 for a gallon (3.78 L) jug. The company also offers Buff Magic Compound for cleaning up oxidized surfaces—it includes jeweler’s rouge, good not only for fiberglass but also metal fittings. Their website also includes a number of blogs on how to polish your boat;

star brite

Star Brite offers a full suite of hull cleaning, polishing and waxing products including Premium Cleaner Wax designed to both clean and polish hulls with light to medium oxidation. It’s a one- step process, but the company also notes that adding a coat of Star Brite Marine Polish will extend the shine. Both products are moderately priced, about $25 for a 32 oz. (0.9 L) bottle of Cleaner Wax, about $30 for 32 oz (0.9 L) of Marine Polish;

hula boat care

Hula Boat Care reminds us that “environmentally safe” products are a wise investment for all of us. The company says their cleaners and polishes not only claim that high ground, but also promise a superior, long-lasting finish. They offer packages including cleaner, sealant and compounding solutions that are easy-on with a buffer or microfiber cloth. A basic 3-bottle pack is about $40, a full restoration kit with buffing pads about $110;

Marine 31

Marine 31 offers a full kit including a Porter Cable 7424XP Dual Action Polisher, a cutting pad, finishing pad and the necessary polish, wax and sealer, all for about $220. The company carries a full line of cleaners and polishes as well as varying grades of wax. Their “heavy cut” polishes are aimed at severely oxidized hulls, while their Gloss and Color Restorer is designed for light touch ups;


Meguiars is unique in that they list all their ingredients on their site. (Their Oxidation Remover Heavy Duty Cleaner has 19 ingredients!) Meguiars also makes a heavy-duty surface prep, Ultra-Cut 105, designed to get off heavy oxidation, scratches and swirls—the company says it cuts away 1200 grit or finer sanding marks as well with an aggressive micro-abrasive. Used as directed, it’s safe for clear coat paint as well as gelcoat, according to the company. Price is around $30 for 32 ounces;

(In Part 2, we’ll look at the ceramic coating process, a longer-term solution to maintaining your hull.)