Even the best-built boats need TLC over time. That tiny upholstery tear in the passenger seat needs attention before it spreads. Same thing with the spider crack in the gelcoat. Someone spilled a glass of red wine on the cockpit carpet, and it’s looking pretty shabby, too.
Every boater likes their pride and joy to be shiny, spiffed up and head turning on the water. Unlike an automobile, you don’t just sit in a boat. They are our floating platforms for everything we love about the water—watersports, entertaining, fishing and more. Don’t be stressed about normal wear with seating, carpet, gelcoat and other parts that get a lot of human contact. Accidents happen. It’s all part of the boating lifestyle.
Here are some fixes that you can do yourself. Or, you leave the work to the experts at the dealership. Above all else, don’t neglect minor repairs that could grow into more expensive and problematic issues later on.
Spider cracks or stress cracks commonly begin as eyesores, but can grow, deepen and eventually damage the hull. A heavy object dropped on a gunwale, or rub rail damage from a hard docking are the culprits. Unless those incidents caused the problem, it’s worth a look to see if a high stress area is the cause. If so, the problem area might need reinforcing to prevent reoccurring cracks. Seek professional help if that is the case. Otherwise, follow these simple steps for smoothing over minor cracks.
What you need
- Cone shaped silicone Dremel bit
- Sanding block
- Plastic spreader
- Safety glasses and rubber gloves
- Acetone or solvent wash
- Shop rags
- Sandpaper: Medium (60-80 grit); Fine (220-240 grit); Super fine (400 grit); Ultra-Fine (800 grit)
- Gelcoat paste & hardener
- Coloring agent (source from manufacturer or dealer to match hull color)
- Plastic wrap and mixing sticks
Step #1: Prep and clean
Remove any hardware or obstructions in the repair area. Thoroughly wash and clean it with soap and water; use the acetone on a shop rag for stubborn stains.
Step #2: Sand
Use the sanding block with medium-grit sandpaper for small surface areas and long cracks. Individually sand each one, otherwise cover the entire area. Lightly sand the fiberglass surface until dull.
Step #3: Grind
Use the highest speed possible on the Dremel and grind from one end of the crack to the other. Grind down through the crack until the uncracked gelcoat or fiberglass is exposed. Avoid applying too much pressure to damage the laminate. Run the Dremel lightly along each crack and then repeat.
Step #4: Prep and clean
Re-sand the area to smooth out any rough edges. Wipe clean and then again with the acetone.
Add a coloring agent to match your boat’s gelcoat, if necessary. Seek the advice of your dealer for details about matching the color. Make a test batch, apply to a piece of cardboard and allow to dry. This is important because gelcoat can change color as it hardens. You can compare the test panel with your boat. When satisfied with the results, mix a final batch and use it to fill in the cracks, covering all sanded areas. Avoid leaving any air bubble or gaps. Use the putty knife to smooth out the surface. When finished, cover the surface with plastic wrap for curing. Allow to completely dry.
Step #6: Final finish
Wet sand the new gelcoat with the fine grit sandpaper until flush and smooth with the surrounding area. Then lightly wet sand again with the super fine sandpaper, and finish by wet sanding with the ultra-fine sandpaper. Clean and then apply wax or polish—use the same product as you normally use for the boat.
The shopping list will cost you about $75. Job time will vary, but plan on about three hours per square foot.
Vinyl upholstery is the least durable part of your boat’s interior. Unlike more durable fiberglass, softer seat fabric is prone to tears and punctures. Those can grow with pressure, as in when someone sits in the seat. Sun and water can add to the problem. For small jobs, use a vinyl repair kit. Those come with a tube of clear vinyl adhesive, grain pattern paper, spatula, hardening powder, color compounds and an electric heat tool for sealing the repair. For larger repairs, the best option is removing the affected seat and taking it to the dealership. The manufacturer might offer re-upholstering services, and the seat can be recovered with the same type, color and style of fabric. If not, the dealership can recommend a trusted upholstery shop near you.
Most boat windshields are made of durable Plexiglass material. Replace the windshield for large cracks or holes. Your dealership can order a replacement part from the manufacturer that matches the model of your boat. For smaller jobs, here is the step-by-step process.
What you need
- Small drill bit
- Plexiglass adhesive
- Adhesive injector
- Rotary polisher
- Soft foam buffing pads
- Plexiglass cleaner
- Soft rags
How to do it
Drill a fine hole at the end of the crack. Use a tiny bit of the same size as the crack. Doing this will prevent the crack from spreading.
Fill the injector with plexiglass adhesive and fill the crack with a thin layer. Avoid using too much pressure when injecting the adhesive into the crack. Wipe away any excess.
Place the foam buffing pad on the head of the rotary polisher. Use the lowest speed and use slow, circular motions to buff the sealed crack. Do this until the surface is smoothed out.
Use the soft rag and apply a small amount of the cleaner. Clean and allow to dry.
You probably wouldn’t dream of replacing the wall-to-wall carpet in your home as a DIY project. Your boat is smaller and that should make the job easier, right? Not necessarily. Those angles and curves require precision cuts and installation. If your entire boat needs new carpet, let the dealership do the job. For smaller jobs—like carpeting storage lids or the cockpit floor—you can do yourself if DIY inclined.
What you need
- Heavy duty staple remover (for stapled surfaces)
- Scraper blade
- Glue solvent
- Carpet cutter
- Floor roller (or heavy rolling pin)
How to do it
Step #1: Remove the carpet
Use the scraper tool to separate and remove the carpet from the deck. All the adhesive and residue must be removed. Glue solvents are available and might seem to be the fastest, most efficient process. Before you use any solvent on the deck, contact the dealer or the manufacturer. Some are hard to clean up and can do more harm than good. Thoroughly clean the surface with warm, soapy water and a soft brush. Allow everything to dry overnight if possible. Do not dispose the old carpet!
Step #2: Cut the carpet
Unroll the new carpet on a clean surface with the backing up. Use the old carpet as a cutting template. Place it backing up on top of the new carpet. Trace each piece with a marker to size. Measure the lips of storage lids and add that measurement to the traced surface. Use a carpet knife to cut the carpet.
Step #3: Glue the carpet
Fit the carpet to the section to be glued with the backing down. Spray or apply glue over a small area at the center of the application area. Once the center adheres, apply glue to small surrounding areas and work in sections toward the edges. Use the floor roller to press down the carpet. Allow to set and then repress with the roller.
You might think of the service department at a marine dealership as the place to go for repairs to your boat, motor and trailer. Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Boating Centers does all that and more, including all the above jobs, and regardless the brand. The factory-trained Power Pros can handle carpeting, windshield replacement and repair, and fiberglass repair jobs, big and small.