How to Polish Pontoons & Take the Scuff off Your Boat

polish pontoons

If you’re a new boat owner, I’ll teach you how to polish pontoons in a way that makes them look brand new.

Spring is just around the corner, and you know what that means. If you don’t live in an area that’s sunny and warm all year round, springtime means that it’s time to dust off that pontoon and hit the lake.

If there’s one thing that’s true about most of us pontoon boat owners, it’s that we like to keep our boat looking razor sharp. After all, what’s the point of buying a good looking pontoon if it’s going to be scuffed up? However, keeping that mirror-like shine on the pontoon takes work and a little bit of elbow grease. 

What You’ll Need for Polishing Pontoons

Before you learn how to make a pontoon boat shine, you’re going to need to gather up some supplies. Here’s a list of things you should have handy:

  1. Two quarts of cleaner and one quart of polish. Sharkhide pontoon cleaner is great for getting the dirt and grime off your boat. If you want to take a green approach and are against cleaning pontoon boats with muriatic acid, JJV pontoon cleaner is also a great option.
  2. An electric power sander/buffer and five buffing pads.
  3. A paper towel roll and about 20 old cotton cloths.
  4. Wet/dry sandpaper between 600 to 1000 grit.
  5. One brass chisel and mallet.
  6. A gallon of lacquer thinner.
  7. Masking tape and plastic sheets.

Once you have all of this together, you can get started. It’s time to make your pontoon boat shine again.

Step One: Strip off the Old Coat

The first thing you want to do is remove any previous protection coats with lacquer thinner. Take some of those rags and wipe down your pontoons. You’ll be able to actually see the protectants dissolve away, which is a good thing. You won’t be able to properly clean and polish your pontoon boat if you don’t strip the protectants from the aluminum!

Step Two: Remove All Buildup

After the pontoons dry off, feel for any slag – rocky deposits – that have built up on the pontoon. Gently tap them away with your chisel and mallet, or give them a good wet sanding with your sandpaper. The sandpaper will also help buff out any scratches.

Step Three: Dry and Prep

Dry your boat and then tape down all of the parts that you’re not polishing. Be sure to cover your trailer with plastic sheets so that it’s protected from the corrosive polishing agents.

Once you’ve finished that, mix your cleaner with water. It’s usually three parts water to one part cleaner, but double check with the instructions. I like to mix mine in a spray bottle, but try whatever works for you.

Step Four: Clean and Polish

Spray your pontoons down with the cleaner, and make sure that you apply the cleaning agent liberally. There are a number of good products available to use, but Sharkhide and Toon Brite pontoon boat cleaner seem to be the most popular.

Remember, your cleaning agent needs to foam up nicely and sit for approximately five minutes before being rinsed off with water. Once all of the cleaner has been rinsed off, dry it once more before polishing it.

Related: Can you clean your pontoon boat with toilet bowl cleaner?

Now for the fun part

Once your pontoon is clean and dry, it’s time to start polishing. Grab your power buffer, apply polish, and begin hitting every nook and cranny on the pontoons. Make sure that you’re careful not to be too forceful. Otherwise, you could leave ugly circle marks into the aluminum. A good piece of advice is to buff in an “S” pattern rather than move up and down, as this will greatly reduce the chances of leaving marks on the aluminum.

The entire polishing process should take approximately two hours. Don’t rush it.

Step Five: Clean Again

Now that you’ve polished your boat, it’s time to clean the aluminum again. While this seems redundant and is probably one of the last things you want to do, this is an important step. You need to get excess polishing compounds off of the boat, or else it’s going to take away from the boat’s pristine finish.

Clean the pontoons the same way that you did the first time, but make sure to be very thorough so that you get everything off.

Step Six: Apply Protectant

Don’t worry, you’re almost done.

This is arguably one of the most important steps. After all, what’s the purpose of polishing your pontoon if you don’t add a protectant to preserve its shiny finish? Sharkhide is a popular protectant to use, but there are a number of good products available on the market. Just have a look at the various boat protectant and pontoon cleaner reviews and determine for yourself which one that you want to use.

While some people like to pour protectant directly onto a cloth and rub it in, I found mixing it works better. Take a bucket and fill it with three parts water and one part protectant, then rub that vigorously into the pontoons.

Also, there’s a second coat

It's important not to rush the process of polishing. Remember that buffing your boat to perfection takes time and a lot of patience, especially when applying your protectant.

Since it’s not uncommon to miss some spots here and there on the first coat of protectant, most people add a second coat the next day. You’ll need to give your boat anywhere between 24 and 36 hours undisturbed, so that the protectant can dry.

Tip: it’s very important that you give it the time to dry. Adding a second coat of protectant before the first one has dried properly will leave ugly splotches on your boat.

All Done

As you can see, learning how to polish a pontoon boat isn’t hard at all. It just takes a little time, patience, and muscle. A properly done polishing job can completely restore your pontoon boat to the same glory it had when it was first purchased. While this is a debated fact, some people think that polished pontoons actually improve performance by reducing the amount of drag in the water. Whatever the case, your newly polished boat will be sure to turn some heads when it hits the lake.

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