Best Boat Polisher Review
Questions you didn't even know to ask

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Finding the best boat polisher might seem like a simple task at first glance, but in an era of information overload many of you will find yourselves sifting through mounds of opinions and reviews.

Likely you will come away feeling more informed than ever, and yet, find that you are frozen with anxiety as to which is really the best boat buffer. Asking the right questions seems like an obvious solution until you quickly realize you lack even the experience or knowledge to ask the right questions. So if you find yourself quickly becoming frustrating during the deciding process, follow along as I lay out the dots for you to connect, and see what the perfect boat polisher for you and your world is!

Asking the Right Questions

boat polisher

Finding the best buffer to polish a boat with will be more than finding a quality buffer. Cars are not boats and boats are not cars. While most people realize boats are different than cars, they think that they are close enough to follow the same lines of logic as they would in choosing a quality car buffer.

The good news is that all the buffers on this page can also be used to polish both cars and boats with. As the person on the end of the polisher of choice you remain in control based on the moment.

The main problem with most boat polisher reviews is that people with little to no experience recommend the typical random orbital car polishers that have very little effect on boats due to their very safe and friendly way they are engineered. But working on fiberglass/gel coat is a very different material than car paint/clear coat.

Gel Coat is Not Car Paint:

While this is an obvious to most, the fact remains that despite the fact that you are probably a boat owner, my experience has shown that very few people understand the nature of the beast when it comes to gel coat or fiberglass. Let's lay out some facts regarding gel coat:

  • Gel coat is not just a material, but also a process used to make boats.
  • Fiberglass is not the final material in making boats, but more specifically refers to the fiberglass cloth that is used prior to the gel coat top coat used in boat making.
  • When people refer to fiberglass waxing, polishing, or oxidation, it is more correct to say gel coat as this is the material on the outside that you are dealing with.
  • Gel coat is very porous, has no final protective coating like clear coat on a car, and is a very tough and durable material.
  • When we talk about gel coat being tough and durable, this is not to be confused with its ability to not oxidize, as gel coat does oxidize very quickly as it is exposed to weather and the elements.
  • Anyone who has tried to wax a boat or RV with any level of oxidation will know how difficult it is as the oxidized and porous gel coat will literally soak-up any of the wax and make more of a mess than anything else.
best boat polisher

Why a Traditional Car Buffer Will Not Work:

Gel coat is very tough, durable material while also being very porous. This material will oxidize and create a dull, sometimes chalky effect that will soak-up dirt and pollution.

What adds additional complexity and confusion for boat owners is that often your boat will still appear to have some shine to it. And for this reason most boat owners like yourself will assume that aggressive boat polishing techniques and products are not needed....until you try polishing your boat with the simplest and least aggressive method by using a boat cleaner wax.

The Rude Reality!

The rude awakening for any first time boat owner (when I say first, what I really mean is more about your first time trying to polish your boat, rather than actually just owning a boat for the first time. I know many boat owners who have never attempted to polish their own boat) is when you try to wax or polish your boat. It usually goes something like this:

  • You either get a "new" boat, or you decide that your current boat could some freshing-up in the form of waxing and polishing to restore some of that shine and luster you feel it has lost.
  • You run to the auto parts store or the local boat center and look for the "best boat wax". (after all, we all want the "best" right?)
  • Suddenly you are standing in the aisle looking at not only a vast selection of car waxes (wondering if you can in fact use a car wax on your boat; which the simple answer is yes. The real question is if that car wax will actually do what you need it to do. But I am getting ahead of myself...)
  • You finally narrow your attention down to a few choices in dedicated boat waxes, marine waxes, boat cleaner waxes, marine grade polishes, etc., etc. (you are beginning to feel a little anxious as this point)
  • Now you stand there trying to make a decision after reading the labels of the different choices, while all the endless opinions when it comes to boat polishing simultaneously stream through your head while trying to pick out the perfect product in which to polish your boat.
  • Upon making your choice, you head home with both a feeling of excitement and anxiety that progressively build in your gut.
  • You whip out the closest rag you can find as your anticipation, excitement, and anxiety build to an overwhelming level!
  • You skim back over the instructions of the "best boat wax" (just to confirm before you commit yourself) and hastily rush to test out this product on your boat to check the results.
  • You apply the product to the rag, you begin to rub, all the while checking to see the newly shined section that you have now created.
Dewalt boat polisher

  • And low and behold, based on the condition of your boat, you will see that in fact some degree of improvement has been achieved.
  • But that is not good enough. Because if one application can do that, then a second application and rubbing will certainly create even more shine. So you "rinse and repeat", all the while rubbing harder and harder each time. (after all; if rubbing hard can do this, then rubbing harder will certainly be better)
  • At this point you start to move to another section as your working area expands and you start to feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • At this point you are either going to be satisfied with your results (because your boat is not overly oxidized and your expectations are still relatively low) or you will come to the harsh conclusion that your attempts seem mostly in vain as your choice in product does not seem to be producing the results you were expecting. (wait till you look at this section from different angles as you see that the area you have polished by hand is creating a blotchy appearance. It will certainly be "shinier", but also blotchy in appearance as you examine your boat from different angles.)
  • Now is about the point that you start thinking that you really need to go shopping for the best boat polisher. (once again, you want the best of course)
  • But this is likely when you start recycling all the bad information and opinions that you have collected over time from endless so-called experts. (the boat forums, your "good-intentioned" neighbor, the owner of the local boat store, the other boat owner who lives across the street, etc., etc. The world has never suffered from a shortage of people with opinions. But most opinions basically suck.)
  • You have likely heard an endless array of conflicting opinions when it comes to boat polishing, boat polishers, compounds, waxes, marine grade, etc., etc. (see bullet point above)
  • Never use a high-speed polisher. Always polish by hand. You have to find a marine grade wax. A carnauba wax is the best. A synthetic sealant is the best. Blah, blah, blah and more blah! (are you as frustrated as I am yet?)

Because your situation is truly unique, the level of oxidation, overall condition, and many other factors, there is no simple answer that I can give to everyone. But the one thing I do know is that virtually every boat will begin to oxidize at some point and require some form of polishing to raise its level of shine and luster. Most boat owners simply do not realize just how suspecible their boat is to oxidizing. And just because your boat is still "shiny", doesn't mean it hasn't begun to oxidize.

I have seen plenty of boats that are kept indoors, meticulously maintained, but when I go to polish them, low and behold I find that in fact they are oxidized and cannot simply be "rubbed out" by hand and will require the use of one the high-speed rotary polishers below. It is interesting to me after doing literally hundreds of boats in my career, just how many boat owners are perplexed when I am standing there, looking at there well maintained boat that is still shiny, and inform them that there is in fact some oxidation on their boat.

It is at this point that the oxidation fully reveals itself when a person like myself, or you in this case, goes to wax their boat and begins to realize a few things:

  • The wax either soaks up so quickly that is is difficult to apply, and/or more difficult to remove.
  •  That a blotchy effect is created as you wax from section to section.
  • You are unable to fully restore the shine at all, or that the level of shine you are able to create delivers an uneven appearance from section to section as you scrutinize your work from different angles of lighting.

For this reason traditional boat waxes/car waxes will not work, just as trying to restore the shine by polishing by hand will also not work. Unless your boat is in pristine condition, you will require a specialized type of buffer known as the infamous high-speed polisher. These high-speed polishers are going to be the required choice if you want true professional grade results as well as permanent results.

And when I say results, I mean the ability to remove levels of oxidation as well as the ability to remove scratches from the gel coat. High-speed (also called rotary) polishers are the only animals with the ability to produce the necessary heat and friction for the more aggressive polishing that gel coats require.

"Don't Freak Out!"

I have some good news for you:

  • The high-speed, rotary boat polisher(s) of today are much more user-friendly than any inexperienced person realizes.
  • The newest boat polisher(s) start at very low RPM speeds that make them incredibly safe and friendly even for the true beginner. (600 RPM's)
  • These boat polisher(s) are the same rotary polishers that professionals like myself also use when polishing on cars. (this can represent a greater winning combination for you if you have ever thought about learning how to do car polishing)
  • Polishing gel coat in many ways is safer than polishing on a car due to the fact that gel coat is such a tough material. (this represents a good problem if you are a complete beginner as gel coat makes a great starting point to become acquainted with a rotary polisher)
  • The difficulty with polishing gel coat is that unless you are a seasoned pro, you will not understand just how much work at all levels that is required to polish a boat to fully remove oxidation. (with that being said, it is easy to create a much greater level of shine using one of these professional boat polisher(s) and the right compounds than trying to "rub out" your boat by hand)
  • The real points you need to understand is that if you have ever polished a car, you will make some automatic comparisons that will mess with your head. As working on gel coat requires a far greater amount of speed, friction, products (compounds/polishes), aggressive polishing pads (wool pads) then is required for polishing a car.
  • Even if you have never polished a car by hand or with a buffer, you will still grossly underestimate just how aggressive you can get, and will be required to get for truly professional level results.

While I realized I may have just scared a vast majority of you away from the possibility of buying a boat polisher and attempting to polish your boat, as long as you accept it is going to be some work, you should not be discouraged. Once again, since gel coat is such a durable material, it would be very difficult to mess up your boat with one of these buffers.

And in the event that you just can't see yourself using a high-speed polisher to polish your boat and you want to go with what is considered the safer choice by many of the so-called experts and friends around you, I suggest you look at my page on random orbital polishers. 

Start with the Right Boat Polishing Compound

high speed dewalt boat polisher

Even though you are here to find the best boat polisher; I know how important it is to find the best compound to restore the shine and luster to your boat. Boat polishing is hard enough, you don't want an inferior boat compound/polish to make your life more difficult.

I start with what I consider my "sure-thing" as a professional and my choice as the top rated boat compound. I call it my sure thing as it never lets me down and has always performed better than any of the alternatives I have tried over the decades.

  • Can be used in any situation and on any boat: from mild to wild forms of oxidation; this product will perform.
  • The ability to remove heavy levels of oxidation and water spotting, while being able to finish to a haze free surface.
  • Waterborne technology allows for use in direct sunlight.
  • Not available to the retail level until recently. (the same compound used by many professional/commercial boat yards)
  • My "go-to" boat rubbing compound for years.
  • Can be used by hand or machine.
  • If you think that a quart of this compound is way too much you needn't worry as you will go through far more compound when doing a boat than you will polishing a car.

Darren's Note: I realize that deciding upon the best boat polisher is a difficult decision by itself. Part of that decision for many people is whether to even attempt to polish your boat with a buffer or simply accept your limitations as a boat owner, and just do the best you can by rubbing your boat out by hand.

Regardless of how you end up polishing your boat, you will need not just a compound or polish, but you will want a good one. And by good I really mean great! Not only does this compound out perform the competition, but it can be used with any type of polisher/pad combo. If you do decide to opt out of polishing your boat with a boat polisher, you can also use it as the best rubbing compound for your boat if you decide to rub your boat out by hand.

Choosing the Best Boat Polisher

Now that we understand that for true boat polishing a high-speed buffer (also most commonly called a rotary polisher) is needed, let me add some good news to the moment. A quality boat polisher will be about deciding between just (3) different polishers. There really are only 3 polishers on the market that are considered worthy of choosing by any professional; myself included.

Just know that the buffers listed on this page represent virtually the only buffers you need concern yourself with as these are the industry standards and each one represents true professional grade equipment. We are not talking cheap Harbor Freight (Horror Freight) tools here, but professional tools built to last decades of use. Like the adage says, "You get what you pay for" and if you think you are going to get a quality high-speed polisher for $40-$60, you are either very naive, delusional, or a little of both!

(added note: polishers and buffers are forever interchanged within the industry and are just a generalization. A good example is just like using the word "car" versus "auto")

FLEX (PE 14-2 150) POLISHFLEX Compact Variable Speed Rotary Car Polisher

  • The true Mercedes of the bunch!
  • German engineering, German quality.
  • If you have the money, this is a must.
  • The quietest and lightest of the bunch.
  • The best balanced of the bunch; feels friendlier just holding it.
  • Can handle everything from fine polishing to the toughest jobs.
  • Can be dialed down to a very slow start/operating speed of 600 RPM's (ideal for fine polishing or the gun-shy, first time rotary polisher user)
  • 600 RPM - 2100 RPM operational speeds.
  • Soft-start trigger control as well as speed set dial.
  • My personal and professional favorite.

Makita 9227C

Makita 9237CX3 7-Inch Variable Speed Polisher-Sander with Polishing Kit

  • Complete polishing kit: This comes with wool pads that are most ideal when actually polishing your boat. Especially if there is ANY level of oxidation)
  • Professional boat polisher.
  • Can handle anything you throw at it.
  • You can't go wrong with this Makita either.
  • Can be dialed down to a very slow start/operating speed of 600 RPM's (ideal for fine polishing or the gun-shy, first time rotary polisher user)
  • 600 - 3000 RPM speed settings.
  • Soft-start trigger control as well as speed set dial.
  • Comes with wool cutting and finishing pad necessary for true boat polishing.
  • Bale handle is excellent for polishing sides of boats.

DeWalt Boat Polisher

DEWALT DWP849X 7-Inch/9-Inch Variable Speed Polisher with Soft Start

  • High-speed/ rotary polisher. (You will need to get some polishing pads and compounds/polishes)
  • True professional grade boat polisher.
  • You can't go wrong with the DeWalt. (the polisher I have used for decades until I got the Flex)
  • Can be dialed down to a very slow start/operating speed of 600 RPM's (ideal for fine polishing or the gun-shy, first time rotary polisher user)
  • 600 - 3500 RPM speed settings.
  • Soft-start trigger control as well as speed set dial.
  • What is considered the work horse of the industry. What you save in cost, you will lose in user experience you can have with the Makita or the Flex in particular.

Boat Polishing Accessories:

Shop from some of my favorite accessories when you are ready to polish your boat. These are only needed if you do decide to go with one of my top rated boat polishers from this page.

Darren's Note: I am including the very convenient pad and backing plate system that is also from the same manufacturer as the Rip Cut Compound. It is a direct fit backing plate system that insures a perfectly aligned polishing pad in a fraction of the time of other backing plates and polish pads you must align with just your eye.

CSI 62-305 Buffing Pad Backing Plate

  • These backing plates fit universally on any of the buffers above
  • Special backing plate that is part of the direct-fit placement system used by CSI
  • Use with any hook and loop (Velcro) polishing pads; but specifically made to fit precisely within the CSI wool pads below

CSI Tiger Cut Wool Pad 62-309

  • If you are serious about fiberglass boat restoration you are going to need more than a single wool pad that each of these kits come with.
  • These are the type of wool cutting pads I prefer and exactly the kind of cutting pad you will need first when doing fiberglass boat restoration.
  • These pads are made specifically to be used with the CSI backing plate as part of their direct placement pad system (No more mis-aligned pads)
  • I have tried other "wool" pads that are blends, but find they do not perform as well as these 100% wool pads.
  • If you are cheap, you can force your way through your entire boat with a single wool pad to remove the initial oxidation, but don't underestimate how nice a brand new pad will outperform an overly used wool pad.
  • Only you will decide when you need to change the pads out. Much of this depends on whether you use the pad washer or the spur to keep your pad clean in between compound applications.
  • I actually use both the pad washer and the spur.
  • After compounding a 2' x 2' section of your boat, I take the polishing pad to the pad washer, then I use the spur to remove any extra water and to further separate and loosen the wool fibers.

Polishing and Buffing Pad Cleaner, Spur Tool for Revitalizing Polisher Compound Pads and Bonnets by Canopus

  • For use on wool pads only.
  • Will keep your pad fibers separated and clean from excess spent fibers and compounds.
  • Can be used independently or after you have cleaned your pad using the pad washer from above.
  • I hold the rotary polisher against one of my legs while turning polisher to a fairly high RPM speed. Then I press the cleaning spur into the face of the pad to remove excess polishes/compounds after a few applications of polishes/compounds. (you will learn quickly the frequency you prefer in using this tool and/or the pad washer in keeping your polishing pads clean and fresh.
  • Also helps extend the polishing life you can get from each polishing pad.

Darren's Professional Tips:

using wool pad cleaning spurHere I am using the wool pad cleaning spur to clean the spent compound from the wool fibers.

Since all these buffers I have laid out above represent true professional grade equipment, I can say that you can't go wrong with any choice you were to make. Not only can they be set at very low 600 RPM speeds for finish polishing, but they all can handle any heavy duty boat polishing you can throw at them. For these reasons, these car buffers are really your first choice for a quality boat polisher.

The Makita is the only one that comes with a backing plate AND polish pads to polish your boat with. The other two boat polishers will require you to get separate polish pads only (DeWalt) or if you go with the Flex you will need both a backing plate and polishing pads. And just know that even if your boat still has some shine to it, you will not make much headway with a random orbital polisher and a foam pad as many would suggest. Because gel coat is such a durable material, it requires aggressive polishing that can only be had with a rotary polisher, a wool pad, and compounds that are more aggressive in nature.

Boat Polishing: Added Tips of Success

best boat polisher review

If you are a beginner, you will be very cautious when it comes to using a high-speed polisher like the one's above on your boat. Keep in mind the following:

  • Gel coat is extremely tough and durable. It is very difficult to screw it up even if you are a true beginner. Most of you will grossly underestimate just how much compound, speed, and friction is required to actually restore fiberglass to a high gloss and remove even small amounts of oxidation. You will use significantly more compound, pressure, and speed than if polishing a car. Do not make the comparison here as they are entirely different animals.
  • Because all of these polishers have what is called soft start and can be set to very low operating speeds, any beginner can start off slow, and work your way forward.
  • As a rule, whenever I do fiberglass boat restoration, I only use a rotary, wool pad, and one compound. ( I simply adjust the speed, pressure, and duration of my polishing) Because gel coat is a completely different animal then clear coat on a car, you will not need to be concerned about swirl marks or holograms like on car paint.
  • If you are familiar with polishing on cars with a buffer, you will go through dramatically more compound polishing a boat, than you do when polishing your car.
  • When polishing your boat, you may find it necessary to tilt the buffer and polish with the edges of the pad. This will cause more heat and friction and allow your tool and compound to become even more aggressive. Once the oxidation has been removed, simply finish polishing with the buffer as flat as possible to remove any buffer trails/swirl marks.

Good Polishing to Better Polishing:

Any of the polishers on this page are going to deliver professional grade performance. But there is more than just choosing a top rated boat polisher, polishing pads, and the right boat polishing compounds.

Having the right "accessories" will take your polishing experience to a much better experience if you are truly committed to learning this craft and performing like a true expert.

Pad Washer:

Grit Guard Universal Pad Washer

  • The best way to keep your pads clean and fresh during your boat polishing sessions. (or any of your polishing sessions)
  • Will also extend the life of any of your pads: wool, foam, or micro-fiber.
  • Ideal for eliminating the excess wool fibers right from the beginning by using the pad washer to season your wool pad even before the first application of polish/compound.
  • Ideally suited for fiberglass boat restoration as you will be going through large amounts of compound during the process.

Boat Polisher Review:

It is both natural and automatic for most guys to think that polishing on a car is essentially the same as polishing on a boat. Just know that polishing your boat is just like polishing a car; but only if the following is taken into consideration:

  • If your boat is in excellent condition and you are not trying to remove ANY oxidation, but simply trying to restore a little more shine.
  • The actual physical act of holding a buffer in your hand, applying some form of polishing, and polishing a surface.
  • Everything past that is very different.

Any first timer behind a rotary polisher, using a wool pad, and heavy duty compound will be in for a surprise if they already have experience polishing on cars. This is not to scare you away from trying to use a rotary polisher, scare you away from buying one, but simply inform you that polishing car paint, and polishing a boat or RV to remove oxidation is vastly different:

  • The good news is that because gel coat/fiberglass is such a "tough" material, it is very difficult to actually screw it up.
  • If you are actually trying to remove any level of oxidation, you will use far more polish, use far more pressure, use far more speed, use far more polishing time to remove the oxidation from your boat than you would if you were just polishing your car.
  • But seriously...just go for it. In many ways it is far safer than polishing on a car due to gel coat being such a durable or tough material. But to actually remove heavy oxidation from your boat, just know it will require plenty of work; but the finished results are very rewarding.

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