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Do you Paint or Polish?

PUBLISHED: 00:30 26 November 2014 | UPDATED: 10:14 11 December 2014


Always a question for boat owners to consider, James Oakley from Bullet Polish offers some invaluable tips on the subject.

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Canal boats can lose their shine and vibrancy over time. Most canal boat owners will find themselves wondering how to make the paintwork look like new, but luckily it can be easier than you think to do this. 

The reason for dulling of paintwork is the dreaded oxidized - or possibly stained paintwork with a few scratches thrown in.

What is oxidation?

An answer to that, without getting hugely technical, can be seen in the image below. Dull or oxidized paintwork diffuses sunlight in all directions instead of reflecting it in one direction as polished paintwork or surfaces do.

Oxidation of paintwork on canal boatsOxidation of paintwork on canal boats

The severity of the oxidation will determine whether you try and polish or “cut” it out or opt for the re-paint.

The picture below looks horrendously oxidized; possibly beyond colour restoration - however you will be pleased to know that this paintwork was recovered by just a hand applied Colour restorer.

Cleaning a canal boatCleaning a canal boat

On the left hand side of the boat we see how dull this vessel had become and the owner thought that it was going to cost a fortune for a re-paint.

However with 2 applications of colour restorer we see on the right side of the boat we were able to recover the paint surface to a beautiful gloss again. This was the same for the whole boat, all 75ft of it.

Wax build up and airborne contaminates mixed with bird lime can also make paint surfaces dull or “milky” over time. One client solved this by first using Panel Wipe, a mild form of paint thinners (Halfords) and by applying this with cloths removed the buildup of old waxes from the surface, then went over again with a colour restorer and finally used a spray Carnauba Wax to seal the surface and bring it back to its glossy former self thus saving him several thousand pounds on a re-paint.

Once recovered then comes the task of keeping it shiny.

What to consider:

A great number of polishes, paste waxes & spray wax products contain Silicone. This is death to paintwork surfaces. Yes it makes them super shiny very quickly however if one has to go back to the “Body shop” for major or minor work then the silicone covered paintwork has to be taken back to bare metal again as paint will not stick to silicone and the same goes for products containing PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) which will make the project cost more.

Most “waterless wash” spray waxes contain Silicone and yes it’s great for onsite/on the water instant shine but in the long term it is a false fix. Avoid Silicones & PTFE enhanced products.

Consider using:

Carnauba (Car-noo-ba) Wax is the world’s hardest known natural wax and comes from the leaves of the Brazilian Carnauba palm of northern Brazil.

It only takes a small quantity of this wax to achieve a superb deep shine on most hard/semi hard surfaces. This can come in paste wax format, creams & spray wax formats too. The amount of “Elbow grease” you wish to use will determine your choice of product.

Other things to consider:


• Choose a good quality colour restorer, one that removes oxidation but also seals & shines at the same time.

• Consider a good quality cream wax or spray wax for the finishing coat & preferably one enhanced by Carnauba Wax. Again avoid silicone based products.

• Micro fibre Cloths for these types of products and the overall project are crucial. “T” shirts & yellow dusters are not going to do it nor will the old “Scrim cloth”. A good quality Microfibre will set you back about £1.50 each however there are ebay sellers who will sell you packs of 10 for less. The finish you expect will only happen with Microfibre cloths

• Application sponges, again ebay for these as they make application of colour restorer, cream & paste waxes easier and are cheap to buy.

• Set aside good quality time to clean the boat surfaces, to colour restore and to finish polish. We recommend a weekend should be enough time to completely restore & polish a 75 foot narrowboat but that time will have been well spent for the coming months of sunny or harsh weather as the surfaces will now be, in effect, “Armour plated”.

Once you have the colour restored and the finish wax is applied then sit back and watch the neighbors on the canal marvel how good your boat looks now.

Please note: If you have tried a small area of colour restoration and it is not removing the dullness in the paint then you may have to consider a re-paint.

For products and information about boat oxidation click the link to this short video we made last year 2013

Please  go to for information & to read the testimonials from happy boat owners or call James on 01886 821330

1 comment

  • After polishing my boat for the past 10 years I saw an article for Bullet polish I was thinking of having my boat painted but decided to give it a try, I am very pleased with the result,and glad I did not pay to have a new paint job, it does what it says on the tin. NB: Millie Anne.

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    Thursday, March 26, 2015

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