Get the Shine On

Photos by Mark Corke

Simply removing accumulated dust and grit on your hull with a garden hose before the spring launch might make it a little cleaner, but to get a sparkle on your topsides you’ll have to spend a bit more time and effort. Fortunately, getting a spit-and-polish shine is neither difficult nor complicated. “I know some sailors honestly believe that they can pour some liquid soap in a bucket of warm water, grab a sponge, and clean everything up,” says Geoffrey Shattuck. “That’s a good place to start, but it takes more effort to get a result you can be proud of.”

Shattuck knows just what’s involved because it’s one of the services offered by his company, Shattuck Yachts, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Shattuck started out building wooden boats in Maine almost 20 years ago, but then he noticed that many owners didn’t have the time or, in some cases, the interest to put a proper finish on their boats. “If the gelcoat or painted surface is in good condition, with no serious scuffs or scrapes,” Shattuck says, “ all you need is a plan, the right tools, and enough time to do the job.” Here’s his advice.


When you’re ready to launch, wash the hull and deck with a liquid soap to remove salt and/or dirt on the deck and topsides. Of the various brands available (Star brite and West, to name just two), Shattuck prefers OrPine Boat Soap. One ounce of OrPine mixed in 3 gallons of water will wash a 30-footer. “Stay away from dishwashing detergents,” he says, “and avoid very harsh detergents.”


Once the hull surface is clean, it’s time to polish the hull. Elbow grease and clean rags won’t do the job. “I wouldn’t waste my time,” Shattuck says, “because, good intentions aside, you just aren’t going to muster the horsepower you need to do the job.”

The first step is to apply a polishing compound and then buff the surface until it shines. Shattuck has used 3M’s Imperial Compound for years on gelcoat; he uses 3M’s Perfect-It II polishing glaze on painted surfaces because it’s less aggressive. If a manufacturer of specialty paints, such as Awlgrip, recommends a product, that’s what he’ll use.

Wear gloves when you apply the polishing compound, and use a sponge for the application. Shattuck usually begins at the stern and moves forward along the hull to the bow. He begins at the sheer line and works down the hull in 3-foot squares, applying the polishing compound with a circular motion.

He then uses a foam (rather than wool) pad on a Makita variable-speed sander/polisher (light to medium pressure, 2,000 rpm) to remove surface oxidation and put a shine on the 3-foot-square section of the hull he is working on. To help prevent swirls from forming he keeps the pad (he prefers 3M pads) flat against the hull surface, moving it laterally until the surface takes on a shine. If the area still is oxidized when the compound has disappeared, he applies additional compound and buffs the surface again until it’s shiny. He’ll make sure the surface is as shiny as possible because the sealing wax, which goes on next, won’t add any additional luster, it merely protects the polished surface.


Once both sides of the hull have been buffed and are shiny, you’re ready to put on a coat of sealer wax over the just-polished surface. Shattuck likes the results he gets with Maguire NXT Tech Wax or Collinite 925.

Sealer wax is applied in much the same way as the polishing compound. Use a new sponge to apply the wax to a 3-foot square; again use a circular motion. Let the wax dry until it turns a chalky white; this makes it easier to see when you’re buffing the surface.

Put a new foam pad on your sander (use light pressure at 2,000 rpm) and move it back and forth laterally, keeping the pad flat on the hull surface.

The amount of time it will take to get your topsides shiny varies; surface oxidation takes longer to remove, operators’ enthusiasm and skill levels vary, and coffee breaks take time too. It’s reasonable to estimate that 8 hours of work will have a 30-footer gleaming.

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