Gelcoat is wonderful stuff. It allows a fiberglass boat hull to more easily slip from its mold. It’s great at that function. It can also be colored, thereby saving a step in manufacturing. And it looks reasonably good — some of the new gels look really good — especially after a wax job. And the newer formulations are more resistant to ultraviolet damage than older gelcoats.
But gelcoat isn’t a perfect finish. Over time, it gets ravaged by the sun, dulls and can become chalky. When that happens, you need to compound and wax with greater frequency just to maintain a so-so finish. Eventually, especially for some darker greens, blues and reds, no amount of compounding seems to work. Owners often resort to sanding before compounding, polishing and waxing to return the color and shine. At a certain point, the amount of work required to achieve a glossy, rich-colored finish can take days; in other words, almost the same amount of time it takes to prepare a boat hull for a paint job. This was true in my case.
Sure, paint prep might have taken a little longer. But it’s a one-time deal. And, once the hull is prepped and the paint coating applied, the DIY boater is free from the semi-annual arm-building marathon known as detailing. Unlike gelcoat, paint doesn’t need to be waxed to remain glossy. So, what is “prep”?