When you notice a small soft spot in the deck of your boat, it's often easy to ignore it, thinking the problem is one of limited scope. The problem, though, is that soft spots indicate an underlying problem that, if ignored, will spread. Repairing a soft spot in a fibreglass deck is both a monstrous dance with reciprocating saws and grinders that cut into your boat, and a precise ballet of blending chemicals, cutting materials, and applying them to the wound to produce a finished product barely distinguishable from the original.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Grease pencil
- 1-inch hole saw
- Reciprocating saw
- Hand grinder
- Automotive paste wax
- Countertop material
- Mold release spray
- Duct tape
- Fibreglass mat
- Fibreglass cloth
- Gel Coat resin and hardener
- Epoxy resin and hardener
- Small paint roller
- Common building studs
Tap the area around the soft spot with the butt-end of a screwdriver--a sharp sound is good, a hollow thud indicates a weak area. Mark the weak areas around the soft spot with a grease pencil, and include them in the perimeter of the hole you're going to cut in your deck. When you've located all the weak areas and soft spots, use a drill and a 1-inch hole saw to make a hole into which you can insert the tip of a reciprocating saw. Use the saw to cut the soft spot and weak areas out of your boat's life.
Apply a dewaxing agent such as acetone to the inside surface around the area you cut out. The limits should extend outward from the hole, 12 inches for each inch of deck thickness. Use a hand grinder to grind a 12-to-one slope into the inside surface of the area you cut out, so that for every inch of the thickness of the deck, you have 12 inches of slope.
Wax the surface around the outside of the hole with an automotive paste wax. Cut a sheet of countertop material that's a foot longer and wider than the hole, and paste-wax one side. Spray the paste-waxed side with mould-release spray (polyvinyl alcohol) and duct tape it over the hole, with the waxed side to the deck.
Pre-cut the fibreglass matting and cloth you'll use to fill the hole, using scissors. Don Casey, one of the boating experts for the Boat Owners Association of the United States, recommends beginning with "two layers of 42.5gr mat," then alternating the mat with 170gr fibreglass cloth. You'll need one layer of fibreglass for each 1/32-inch of deck thickness, with each layer of fibreglass cloth and mat 1/2 inch wider and longer than the previous layer.
Colour match the gel coat to your boat, mix the hardener into the gel coat resin -- too little hardener is better than too much; if you err in the mix, err on the side of caution. Working from beneath the hole, inside the boat, use a paint brush to spread a layer of gel coat that's about the thickness of a toothpick onto the waxed counter top backer at the top of the hole. As you wait for the gel coat to harden, mix the epoxy resin and hardener for the fibreglass. When it starts to harden, begin laying up the fibreglass and epoxy resin, three layers at a time, until the repair is complete, pressing the fibreglass into the epoxy resin with a small paint roller or a squeegee.
Wait at least 24 hours for the gel coat to cure before removing the sheet of countertop material. Allow the fibreglass to cure thoroughly before walking on the repair.
Tips and warnings
- Before you can begin to repair a large area that encompasses damage across multiple stringers, like the floor joists in your home, you'll need to replace the stringers you've removed. Use screws and a screwdriver to add "sisters" to the remaining stringer: screw a common building stud, cut to length, to each side of each end of the stringer you cut, so that these sisters cross the hole you cut out. Then make repairs as directed.
- This project uses a variety of power and hand tools, and a variety of chemicals. Observe all precautions indicated for power tools and work in a well-ventilated environment.
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