How to Refurbish an Old Fiberglass Canoe or Skiff

by Edwin Thomas
Refurbishing old fiberglass canoes restores their luster.

Refurbishing old fiberglass canoes restores their luster.

A cheap way to pick up a canoe or skiff is to buy a used one, but used boats rarely come without problems. At a minimum, you will want to return an old, worn-down canoe to a fresh, like-new appearance. Past that, an old canoe might have cracks or holes and need repair. Refurbishing an old fiberglass canoe or skiff can prove to be a lengthy task, but the result will be a fresh-looking boat that you can rely on.

Repairing Damage

1. Inspect the hull of the fiberglass canoe or skiff for cracks or holes. Also inspect it for any scratches or gouges that you want to remove, and circle those with a wax pencil for future reference.

2. Sand the edges of any hole(s) with medium-grit sandpaper so that the edges are smooth and have a concave face. In other words, the edges of any hole should be sanded to form something of a bowl.

3. Measure the crack or hole with a tape measure. For a crack, cut two pieces of fiberglass patching cloth with dimensions that extend 2 inches in all directions around the crack. For a hole, cut cloth sized to be stacked on top of another to plug the hole. A patching cloth will be 1/32 inch when dry, so if your hull is 1/2-inch thick, you need 8 cloths. Each cloth should be a little larger, and only the last one needs to be 2 inches larger than the perimeter of the hole.

4. Tape a layer of plastic wrap over the outside of the hole, then tape a layer of cardboard over the plastic wrap. This provides a solid base for placing your patching cloths.

5. Mix the epoxy from your patching kit in a disposable paper bowl with an old popsicle stick or something like it. If you are patching a crack, coat the first patch with epoxy and lay it smoothly over inside the crack. Then lay the second patch over the outside of the crack. To patch holes, lay the epoxy-coated patches into the inside of the hole, using the smallest patch first and so on, until the hole is plugged with patches, and the top patch covers and seals the entire plug.

6. Leave the patchwork to set overnight. Return the next day and pull off the cardboard and plastic wrap.

7. Sand the surface of the patchwork so it is flush with the hull of the canoe or skiff. Remove most of the excess fiberglass with rough-grit sandpaper. Then smooth the work out with one medium-grit sanding and one fine-grit sanding for a nice finish.

8. Repeat this procedure to eliminate any scratches that were marked with the wax pencil earlier. Sand the scratches out with rough-grit sandpaper, then produce a smooth finish with medium- and fine-grit sandpaper. If you intend to paint the canoe or skiff as part of the refurbishing job, you may wish to sand the entire hull with fine-grit sandpaper at this stage.

Painting

1. Pull off any old stickers by warming them with a heat gun or pouring boiling water onto the sticker. Remove the gummy adhesive left behind with a putty knife or an acetone solvent.

2. With masking tape, tape off end caps, gunwales, and other points on the canoe that you do not want to paint.

3. Sand the entire surface of the canoe with fine-grit sandpaper, unless you already did this while removing scratches. Rinse off the hull and let it dry.

4. With either a roller or brush, apply a light layer of fiberglass primer to the hull of the canoe or skiff. Allow this to dry for at least eight hours.

5. Apply at least two coats of fiberglass paint or marine paint to the hull. Allow each coat at least eight hours to dry before applying a second coat. Keep an eye out for streaks forming behind your painting strokes, and push out any streaks with a foam brush.

6. Pull off the masking tape used to protect areas from paint. If it looks like some of the paint will come with the tape, use the putty knife to control the peeling.

Items you will need

  • Wax pencil
  • Power sander with rough-, medium- and fine-grit sandpaper
  • Respirator mask
  • Tape measure
  • Fiberglass patching kit
  • Scissors
  • Plastic wrap
  • Cardboard
  • Masking tape
  • Paper bowl
  • Popsicle stick
  • Heat gun (optional)
  • Acetone solvent (optional)
  • Putty knife
  • Fiberglass primer
  • Paint roller and/or paint brush
  • Fiberglass paint or marine paint
  • Foam brush

Photo Credits