Many owners shy away from gelcoat repairs thinking it's a complicated and difficult project. But with the correct tools and materials, the right attitude, and a little time, professional-looking repairs are within reach for the average boat owner.
As with all repairs, preparation is key. Just slapping on some gelcoat will give disappointing results as well as look unsightly, and the repair will probably need to be redone within a year or two. It's better to do it right the first time.
If this is your first time repairing gelcoat, start with a fairly small repair in an inconspicuous place. Gain confidence before moving on to more visible spots on the boat.
Seaglass, my Grand Banks 32, had a small crack in the top of the forward cabin trunk that needed repairing. Here's how I did it.
Honoring The Epoxy King
You may not know the name, but any DIYer worth his salt knows well his revolutionary creation that altered the way boats are built and repaired. Meade Gougeon, 78, died peacefully at home on August 27. Along with his brothers Jan and Joel, he founded Gougeon Brothers in 1969. Their employee-owned company became world-renowned for pioneering the use of epoxy for marine use.
The Gougeons were behind the formulation and manufacture of West System and PRO-SET epoxies that were like nothing that came before them. Unlike polyester and vinylester resins, then commonly used to bond fiberglass components, epoxies are versatile (bonding to fiberglass, plastic, metal, almost anything), impermeable to water, resistant to osmotic blistering, and much stiffer and stronger.
The advantages of epoxy resins were not lost on professional boatbuilders who were swift to embrace them. DIYers have also come to love the versatility offered by epoxy resins. Metering pumps that keep resin and hardener in the correct ratio, and a range of fillers and fairing compounds, have further extended epoxy applications. Most epoxy the company sells is for fiberglass repairs.
Initially the brothers obtained access to Dow Chemical's laboratories (through a relationship with Herbert Dow, an avid sailor) to develop an epoxy that could be used for coating and bonding. In 1971, Meade launched Adagio — the first large, all-epoxy bonded and sealed wooden boat built without the use of fasteners. The brothers built the 35-foot trimaran, designed by Meade and Jan, in just six months.
They set up their small shop in 1973 in Bay City, Michigan, an epicenter for iceboat racing. They used their groundbreaking bonding process to become the largest builder of iceboats in the United States, and Meade was a champion racer. A year later, they moved onto larger, more traditional boats.
In 1979, Meade wrote The Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction. This iconic guide details composite construction techniques using epoxy and remains a favorite resource for professionals and DIYers alike. Epoxy boats built by the Gougeons include monohulls, multihulls, and even outrigger canoes, all aided by their tough epoxy construction. The brothers also moved their process beyond boatbuilding to airplanes and even spacecraft.
NASA's Wind Energy Project Office had Gougeon Brothers manufacture epoxy-laminated wood specimens for testing the strength of an epoxy bond between that and a threaded steel rod. The samples were so strong that they broke NASA's testing machine. GBI would go on to manufacture more than 4,000 wood/epoxy wind-turbine blades.
In 2015, Meade was inducted with his brother Jan, who died in 2012, into the National Sailing Hall of Fame. He is survived by his wife of 46 years, 10 children, and 14 grandchildren.
— Rich Armstrong
Tools and Materials:
- Latex or nitrile gloves
- Dremel tool with burr-type bit
- Mixing sticks
- Mixing cups
- Plastic spreader
- Waterproof abrasive paper in various grits from 180 to 400
- Sanding block
- Masking tape
- Plastic sheet
- Styrene for thinning (if spraying)
- Paper towels
- Clean lint-free rags
- Compound and polish
About two hours plus curing time.
About $25 for materials.