Backyard Fiberglass & Gel Coat Work: You Can Do It.

I recently upgraded our crabbing skiff (see Trot Lining for Crabs, to see what we do with it), but my own excitement got the best of me. I bought the boat without inspecting the transom carefully enough, and came to discover that what I had diagnosed as a minor case of rot turned out to be a major case of gooey wood in the transom. Ouch.

Fixing the fiberglass on a rotted-out transom is no fun. Not at all – but you can do it.

Then I found that the built-in seat bases had also rotted away. That the bolts I’d use to secure my brand new swiveling uber-cushy padded seats would have nothing to hold on to. Through the years I’ve done plenty of backyard fiberglass work—I’ve built consoles, repaired transoms, and refinished gel coat—but all that experience took place long ago. Once I had a solid income and could buy newer boats, those sorts of chores and the knowledge and skills doing them entails fell by the wayside. I was, more or less, starting from ground zero. Here’s what I re-learned about backyard fiberglass and gel coat work, which may come in handy for some of you one day:

  • Git-Rot is amazing stuff, and works great for solidifying areas of rot you can’t reach—just as long as gravity is on your side. It drips down but doesn’t travel incredibly far sideways across the grain. So when you cut out the bad stuff, be very careful to open up all partially rotten areas from the top. Replace the bad wood with fresh ply wherever possible, and then Git-Rot the heck out of everything else below it.
  • Forget about exact color-matching the gel coat, as it’s nearly impossible (unless your boat is all one shade of white, and you can identify and buy that exact same shade gel coat). Instead, worry more about making neat edges with your tape line. Although you’ll be able to tell the difference in the old gel coat and the new stuff, it’ll look good as long as your lines are straight.
  • Only mix as much fiberglass resin as you’re sure you can use in 10 minutes. Otherwise you’ll find yourself throwing away a solidified container of resin you didn’t get to in time.
  • Don’t mix fiberglass resin in thin plastic containers. This stuff gets hot when it “kicks” and can actually melt through a cheap, thin container.
  • Wear latex gloves whenever you’re messing with fiberglass resin, gel coat, or cutting fiberglass cloth. All of these things can cause serious skin irritation if they get on you. And by “serious,” I mean you’ll be itching for days as though you had the world’s worst case of poison ivy.

One final bit of advice: before you buy that used boat, check out the transom and all other parts of the boat that were built with wood. Carefully.

Lenny Rudow: