Tips from the Boatyard: Gelcoat cracks

Published on January 11th, 2018

For more than 35 years, Practical Sailor has been taking the guesswork out of boat and gear buying with bold, independent boat tests, and product-test reports for serious sailors and boaters. In this report, they offer the magic fix for hairline gelcoat cracks.

Spider cracks can indicate impact damage or serious structural problems that will need to be addressed to prevent spreading, but most often they result from relatively inflexible gelcoat that is too thick. Stress by thermal expansion or when bulkheads and liners were installed can cause minor flexing. Cracks from larger issues­—a winch, for example, that was inadequately mounted—will need to be fixed before cosmetic repairs begin.

Our test boat has had a few spider cracks since a few months after she came out of the mold. They never got worse. A prior owner had “fixed” a few with Evercoat Gel Coat Scratch Patch gel coat repair, with ugly results. We tried West Marine Gel Coat Scratch Patch, and although very careful, the results weren’t really an improvement.

Finally, we tried a very minimalist approach using Magic Ezy Hairline Fix. It’s not cheap—$25 for a 0.43-ounce tube­—but it’s hard to find a solution that’s much cheaper except in buying a large volume of gelcoat that would go to waste. It’s available in ten colors.

The instructions direct you to clean the cracks out with a fine needle and then to wash, rinse, and dry. Although slightly tedious, the needle step is very important. Do not attempt to widen the crack—the Fix will seep into very thin cracks. They then direct you to carefully fill, level, and wipe around the crack. This worked perfectly on flat sections, but it broke down for us on corner cracks or through non-skid, where leveling difficult.

Where there is compound curvature, leveling is impossible. Instead, we often simply smeared the product over the cracked area, waited about 5-10 seconds (depending on temperature) and wiped it off firmly with a paper towel just before it set. Although this did not result in perfectly filled cracks, they were now white and nearly invisible. Repeated treatments gave more improvement.

We like that we couldn’t make things worse and that it was a simple project, without the need to trim after curing, sand and polish. It took just a few minutes of easy work, and after six months was still good.

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