Our BoatUS team of experts weighs in on their go-to products for boat care and maintenance.
303 Aerospace UV Protectant
I've used 303 on a wide variety of boating applications for decades — great on vinyl, plastic, synthetic and natural rubber, PVC, finished leather, colored gelcoat fiberglass, and more. First developed for NASA to protect hoses and other rubber items from Florida's brutal sun, it's like sunscreen for your gear. It works great on kayaks and other plastic boats, but I've used it on a lot of land-based items, too. For instance, I can vouch that it helps protect trailer tires from UV damage and also works awesomely well on vinyl hot tub covers and the plastic cabinet of the tub itself.
It's also great for detailing automobiles, however, as the name implies, 303 is a protectant, not a cleaner. Whatever you're applying it to has to be cleaned first. Note that it can't be used on unfinished leathers (such as suede), fabrics, floorings, clear plastics, gauge panels, or headlights.
Advertised as nontoxic and having an environmentally friendly formula, 303 has a thin, milky appearance that dries to a clear, matte finish. It doesn't leave a wet-looking shine or a greasy residue. 303 doesn't air dry, so you have to wipe away excess product.
It contains no silicone, ammonia, alcohol, or petroleum distillates, which means your plastic products won't turn chalky if you stop using it — but trust me, you won't want to. I buy it by the gallon, both because it's cheaper and I keep finding stuff to use it on. Starts at $12.99 (10 oz. spray) | GoldEagle.com
— Frank Lanier
Smith's Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer
If you're battling wood rot or deterioration, this is the secret weapon you want in your arsenal. I've used it to help repair everything from wooden masts to plywood decks and can't say enough about how well it works.
According to the manufacturer, the tough, flexible resin system in a solvent blend dissolves the sap, oil, and moisture found in wood and adheres to the wood fibers. It strengthens the wood while still allowing normal expansion and contraction with temperature and humidity. When repairing mild dry rot, it impregnates the wood, resisting further attack by fungi and bacteria.
Smith's Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer is a two-part product that you mix in equal parts (1:1 ratio) based on the job at hand. Unlike the other popular products I've tried to address dry rot (which have a thick, epoxy-like consistency) CPES is much thinner, with a consistency similar to kerosene. This allows it to more readily penetrate the wood you're treating. When repairing wood, apply enough to saturate the wood, let it dry, then keep applying until it doesn't accept anymore. It also works great as a wood primer before applying paint or varnish, and comes in warm- and cold-weather formulas. Starts at $68 (2-pint kit) | SmithandCompany.org
— Frank Lanier
3M Marine Adhesive/Sealant 5200
When it comes to creating a strongly bonded permanent seal beneath the waterline, nothing but nothing beats 3M 5200. It also works well as a straightforward adhesive, often creating a bond so strong you'll break fiberglass or wood before you can pull it apart at a 5200 joint.
5200 is a polyurethane that's resistant to swelling, vibrations, weathering, shrinking, and shock. It creates an elastomeric bond, maintaining flexibility (though noticeably less so than some adhesive/sealants), and has the consistency of hard rubber once cured.
That was the good part. Now here's the bad part: This stuff is also a monstrous pain in the keister. It has an incredibly long five- to seven-day cure-time before reaching full strength, is as messy as any sticky goo on the planet, and is exceptionally good for ruining clothing and shoes. If it gets on your fingers, it will soon magically appear in your hair, on your shirt, or — someone is about to get very angry with you — the living room couch.
People also have an unfortunate tendency to misuse 5200, employing it for tasks like sticking a cup holder to the helm or affixing a cushion to a seat base. The problem here is that 5200 works so darn well, years later you may find yourself attempting to rip it away bit by bit with a pair of pliers. There are some products made specifically to remove adhered 5200, but these can create a whole new mess factor. So use 3M 5200 sparingly and with forethought. But when you need to seal a screw or permanently affix a fitting below the waterline, you can count of 5200 to stand fast through the years. $25.99 (10 oz. cartridge at WestMarine.com) | 3M.com
— Lenny Rudow
Techron Marine Fuel System Treatment
Ethanol in the fuel supply has been the bane of boaters for years. Several products have been developed to battle it, but none I've used have had the immediate neutralizing effect of Techron Marine. Since pouring this green-blue elixir into the fuel burned through all four of my outboards (plus a lawn mower) I've had zero ethanol issues. Zero.
Chevron is pretty tight-lipped about what exactly goes into this stuff, but it does say the company spent years working to create the best possible additive specifically for marine engines. It's an alcohol-free formulation (so it won't contribute to water absorption), includes detergency cleaners, and has corrosion inhibitors. Chevron says Techron maintains four times the oxidation stability over fuel out of the pump and stabilizes fuel for up to 24 months. These are claims I certainly can't verify as a user, but which I have no reason to doubt, having experienced its effect. One ounce treats 10 gallons of fuel, and it's available in 4-, 10-, and 128-ounce bottles.
There are a ton of fuel additives out there, and depending on who you believe, some are great while others amount to little more than black magic and marketing claims. I love this stuff because it sets my mind at ease, knowing that what I'm using actually works. Starts at $6.99 (4 oz. at WestMarine.com) | ChevronLubricants.com
— Lenny Rudow
Teslong Inspection Camera
Much has been said about problems lurking behind liners in fiberglass boats. Most of us, at some point, need to see what's back there: leaks, deteriorated fastenings or chain plates, rot in wood supports, and much more. And ripping out sections just doesn't cut it ... no pun intended. But there are tools available that can solve the problem.
I have a Teslong pistol grip digital inspection camera with an HD screen that displays what's at the end of the probe. You can record what you see on a Micro SD card, make a video (horror movie?), or just look at the screen, which you hold in your hand. There are innumerable uses for this tool on a boat, as well as elsewhere. Just make sure you're not sticking your probe into hot wires or other hazards.
The probe comes in various lengths. It's flexible but not so much that you can't push it along to explore. The probe has LED lights and cameras on both the tip and the side for illumination and multiple views. The manufacturer says that most of the probes are splash-, water-, and dust-resistant, and rated IP67 (maximum depth of 1 meter up to 30 minutes). I wouldn't want to stick my probe underwater, but I'm comfortable with doing what I need to do with the device. $129.99 for NTS300 Pro model | Teslong.com
— Tom Neale