Cleaning a boat is an important part of maintenance, and polishing is what gives it that sleek, shiny look. However, the polishing process may be different depending on what you have. It is essential to know how to polish an aluminum boat.

There are three main steps involved, but the polishing step can be a two-step process depending on which method you use. Let’s look at two ways to make your aluminum boat shine again.

What you will need

polished aluminum boat

  • Aluminum boat cleaner
  • Cleaning pad
  • Rotary polisher
  • Polishing wheels
  • Aluminum boat polish or compound
  • Wax
  • Sandpaper
  • Safety flange (for rotary polisher)
  • Mask with respirator
  • Protective glasses
  • Safety gloves

Main method: DIY aluminum polishing with rotary buffer


Before You Begin: Preparation

Prepare the boat and all of your cleaning items before beginning the process.

  • It’s a good idea to wash the entire aluminum surface and parts, so remove accessories, electronics, and anything that might be water damaged.

You are free to use any product you wish. However, a good result takes time to complete, so beware of anything that seems too good to be true.

Soap or even homemade aluminum boat cleaner will suffice for washing.

  • For safety equipment, make sure you have a breathing mask, goggles and work gloves, as pieces of metal will break off.
  • It’s also a good idea to wear proper work clothes because aluminum polishing can get dirty, whether it’s a liquid compound or any other type.

Step 1: Clean the aluminum boat

The first step is to thoroughly wash the entire surface with a cleaner; the goal is to remove dirt and grime, so whatever works for you is fine.

Some people also use vinegar to help remove dirt. Watch out for buildup stains and consider using a degreaser if there is a high concentration.

You can use a cleaning cloth or sponge if you want, but some products don’t. Dry the cleaned surface and move on to the next step.

2nd step: Sanding

This is an important part of polishing any boat, regardless of your hull material. It’s not required, but you’ll get better results, and since you’ll be working anyway, it’s a good idea to pull out the big guns from the get-go.

  • Start with grit sandpaper below about 180, then work your way up to 400 or even 600 if needed.
  • The goal is to flatten the surface, so be thorough. Use a higher grit if you are unhappy with the smoothness. Tougher jobs may require up to 1500 grit for good results.

Step 3: Cut polishing

There are two phases to polish aluminum:

Phase 1 is for bringing out the shine from the dull surface, the cutting phase. This involves stripping the top surface of the aluminum to bring out its shine.

Apply compound to the edge of the pad while it’s in motion then start buffing; bring the rotary skate to the surface and work over the entire surface. No specific movement is needed, but side to side is a common way.

One of the best polishing tips is to not rush. Take your time to polish carefully. Some people make multiple passes, but one is usually enough if you go slow enough for the polish to be thorough.

You’ll need to reapply the compound to your stamp every now and then, but you’ll also need to remove bits of compound and aluminum particles from the edge of the stamp. Use a polishing rake for this; simply bring the rake into contact with the edge of the pad while it is in motion.

Step 4: color polish

The second phase of polishing is the color varnish which brings the boat to a mirror finish. While the first polish is already quite shiny, this step will make the shine radiant and immaculate. It involves the same method, but you will need a different compound and buffer.

Polish the entire surface of the aluminum as you did for the cut polish, and you’re done. You can also apply wax for extra protection.

Alternate Method – Hand Polishing

Bringing back the shine to your boat using a hand cleaner and polish is a tried and true method. However, be prepared for the time and effort you will need; you will need more if the condition of the aluminum surface is worse.

It involves the same preparation and requires the first two steps of the rotary polishing method above; boat cleaning and sanding. The only real difference is how we do the polishing.

There are many types of polish available, and 3M Aluminum Polish is a good example of a product that can be used for the entire polishing process.

Detailed steps: Hand polishing

  • Take a rag or pad and apply the polish to it. A small amount will do; bring it to the surface of the boat hull and start rubbing in a circular motion.
  • You will notice that the polished surface will begin to darken; keep rubbing a little more, and it will start to get shinier.

It will take a lot of rubbing to get it shiny, but the severity of tarnishing and oxidation are also factors. This method can also remove light oxidation. However, more severe oxidation may require significantly more work and a dual action polisher may be required.

  • Scrub the entire boat as well as other aluminum parts, such as the boat rails, until you get satisfactory results.
  • Don’t forget to reapply shoe polish to your cloth or pad after rubbing for a while. Some products also contain wax, so a separate waxing may not be necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the best way to polish aluminum boats?

The best and most effective way is rotary polishing. This method is able to restore not only faded luster, but even heavily oxidized and pitted surfaces.

It is also recommended to use aluminum boat sanding and polishing together. This will allow the surface to be even and to apply the varnish correctly. If there is pitting or oxidation, sanding is needed to fix the problem and keep it from getting worse.

Should an aluminum boat be polished?

Polishing is necessary to restore the aluminum boat to its new appearance, but cleaning and polishing will be more difficult if the boat has been left unattended for a long time, especially if there is heavy oxidation.

How to polish a painted aluminum boat?

The way to polish a painted aluminum boat is the same as most polishes can be used for both painted and unpainted aluminum. It’s always a good idea to inspect your chosen product for instructions.


Now you know how to polish an aluminum boat. After working on it, you will feel accomplished after seeing the result of your hard work. The best thing about this type of project is that the polished aluminum boat reflects the effort you put into it.

Have you tried polishing a boat yourself? What was the hardest thing about it? Tell us about your experience with him in the comments section below.

Remember to navigate safely.