Painting a Sunfish

Thread starter #1
I've read a number of threads on this forum about painting a Sunfish and have learned quite a bit. I was wondering if after you've painted your fish do you then apply a coat of gel coat? Could you mix the gel coat with the paint and apply it that way?



Upside down?
Staff member
As davavd said

4. It's (much) easier to do a nice painting job; gelcoating is difficult for beginners. There are other threads on TSF about this.
Thread starter #4
So if you put gel coat over the boat it would protect and seal it but it would still have the oxidized color? Does a good marine paint offer the boat anymore protection? Thanks.


Member Emeritus
So if you put gel coat over the boat it would protect and seal it but it would still have the oxidized color? Does a good marine paint offer the boat anymore protection?
I think what you've yet to uncover in your web search is that Gelcoat is polyester resin. So, also, is the resin mixed with the fiberglass fabric that makes up the hull of your boat. Gelcoat is formulated to be more water resistant and UV resistant and it's colored, but the basic chemical formula is the same polyester plastic as the underlying structural layers that make up the rest of the hull.

Like a car finish, properly maintained gelcoat has a high-gloss and is highly resistant to environmental elements. Also like a car finish, when neglected it oxidizes to become dull, chalky and sun bleached. Proper maintenance involves an annual treatment with a formula that replaces the leeched out plasticizing chemicals and adds back a UV protecting layer. With cars we call the leeching out process, "that new car smell". The special chemical treatment we call, "waxing". Boats need the same care to last and look good.

Fiberglass boats are built in a mold from the outside in. They begin by laying down a layer of gelcoat, after the gelcoat has partially cured they begin layering in the structural fiber reinforced resin coats. When the process is finished all the layers have chemically linked to become one solid piece.

The gelcoat layer of a fiberglass boat is right at about 0.02" thick. Paint layers are typically about 0.002" thick and two is the average..., or 0.004" total thickness. Both polyester gelcoat and marine formula polyurethane paint are about the same hardness and stand up to the elements about the same when cared for properly. Gelcoat has an advantage of being thicker so it can be abrasively rubbed out and polished up (not to be confused with maintenance waxing) more times before it needs to be recoated.

Properly maintained gelcoat on a "dry stored boat" rarely, if ever needs rubbing out so it lasts an incredibly long time. We are coming up on half a century for Sunfish and there are some beautiful boats out there with the original finish still gleeming.

Gelcoat is expensive to have re-applied so painting is usually the choice when the gelcoat has been rubbed off or neglected so badly it needs to be sanded away and replaced for looks and weather protection**.

**Maintaining the protection depends entirely on your degree of upkeep..., just like your car's paint job.
How bad of condition are we talking?
I restored the finish on mine. It was bad. If you ran your finger across it, it'd turn white.

I wet sanded, used rubbing compound, glaze, then wax. I used an electric buffer/polisher I got from walmart for $30 to apply the compound, glaze and wax.
People think I repainted my boat. Nope, it's still the 35 year old finish after some TLC.
Elbow grease is cheap if you're willing.

Crappy cell phone pic, but not bad, eh?

Edit: I found a better pic to add. :D


Thread starter #7
Thanks all for the advice and wisdom of your experience! I'm going to have a friend evaluate it and make a plan from there. Of course if the wind starts blowing it's going in he water!

Minifish what's a glaze?



Member Emeritus
My take on what level of product to use when.

What ever level you start at, always finish with the last category to preserve your efforts... and your boat.



Member Emeritus
Thanks, what's really amazing is the ad copy for the hull you see under the finish waxes said it's a 1970s vintage and sailed every year. No doubt hoisted onto a private dock rather than dragged onto a beach, still, that's upkeep.
If you don't mind spending a few bucks you could get it painted with AwlGrip from US paint, this two part paint is harder than gelcoat and is extremely fade resistant, waxing this product accomplishes nothing, simply wash and rinse. Application should be done by somebody knowledgeable in the product.