How to Get Scratches out of Jet Skis

You’ve just gotten back from a fun ride out on the water, still dripping, you go to unload your Jet Ski and notice a scratch that wasn’t there before.

You’re shocked and hurt, understandably so, after all the care and effort you put into avoiding any accidents or rough terrain and still somehow a scratch now scars your craft.

To fix a scratch on a Jet Ski first identify the type of repair needed. Then you can begin the process of repair from the preparation of the damaged area and right through to polishing up the end product.

The truth is that we don’t always have control over the damages that happen to our vehicles and even with the perfect level of care there are going to be certain things we cannot avoid.

Wear and tear of personal watercraft is inevitable; the sea, by her very nature, is an untamable mistress.

Analyzing the Extent of the Damage

So now that we know there’s some damage to your beautiful personal watercraft it’s a good idea to understand the full extent of it.

Before you get your hands dirty give your Jet Ski, Waverunner or Sea-Doo a proper inspection. Identify the different spots of damage you want to fix.

Take the craft out of the water and ensure you are working in a shaded, open space.

As you work your way around the craft ask yourself the useful questions: where is the damage located? How deep are the scratches? Is it just cosmetic or could it be affecting the operation?

As you better understand the level of repair required you can make a better decision on how to get it done.

The last thing you want to do is begin the work and realize there’s far more to do than you expected. A half job can sometimes be worse for the craft than no work at all.

DIY or professional help?

After identifying as much information as you can it’s time to make the call on whether to do the repairs yourself or have a professional handle it. This is going to come down to a few factors.

Connection to Your Personal Watercraft

There are advantages to repairing your personal watercraft yourself. One of the top reasons is that it brings you closer to the craft itself.

There are few things more cathartic than working on a vehicle, water based or otherwise, and returning it to optimum condition.

You’ll appreciate your time on the water more as a result, getting to show off your hard work.

Costs Involved

If you’ve already done this sort of thing before and have access to many of the tools then there is going to be a cost advantage certainly.

Additionally, if you own multiple watercraft or use them extensively it would be handy to know how to handle a scratch or two.

However, if you must purchase a couple of the tools and supplies to get this home project going then it may even be cheaper to get a professional (source).

Power tools, resins, cleaning and repairing agents and even the efforts and time to learn the process must be considered.

Risks to You and the Watercraft

The extent of the damage is going to be a large factor in deciding whether to deal with this yourself.

There is a good deal of effort and some inherent risk to the watercraft in these sorts of DIY repairs. If there are a lot of scratches you want to fix or they’re very deep, it may be best to get it done by a pro.

The repair process gets more complicated and requires better tools the deeper the scratches. If the scratch goes through the initial fiberglass layer, it’s going to require a more extensive fix.

A good thing to note too is whether it’s just cosmetic damage or something affecting the operation.

If there are any mechanical risks, then it would be advisable to seek professional help.

The last thing you want to do is attempt a fix on something smaller and end up making things considerably worse.

These are powerful crafts; the priority must be ensuring it’s operating safely.

Fixing Scratches on your Jet Ski

There are several steps involved with a comprehensive repair project. Understanding what it is that makes up the personal watercraft can help identify which stage you are.

Primarily, the hull of the craft is made from fiberglass, an oft used and sturdy material. On top of this, there is the usual layer of gel coat, which provides the finish and shine to it.

In order to fix most superficial scratches, you will have to remove the first layers, even out the surface and then reapply the gelcoat on top of the now primed patches.

There are several things to keep in mind during each step, let’s explore them in more detail.

Cleaning the Wounds

Like with a cut on your skin, the first step to any basic repair is to clean out the affected area.

This ensures there are no unwanted particles that will cause unevenness or a lack of adhesion to anything applied on top. It will also give you an even clearer picture of the damage involved.

For this some water and soap should do fine. Use your judgement and a dry cloth to ensure that it’s dry afterwards.

If it still looks like there’s some dirt in the scratches some rubbing alcohol may help. Once that’s done you’re ready to get started.

Scratches in the Gelcoat

If there are even smaller scratches in the craft they can often be simply buffed out using fine sandpaper and rubbing compound followed by wax.

For these sorts of scratches you want to be as gentle as possible so you don’t cut into the gelcoat. This is good to leave to the end of a repair job as there are often more of these across a wide area.

With the deeper scratches that already cut into the gelcoat there’s a few more steps. The first step in a gelcoat scratch repair is to sand down the area effectively.

The objective here is to create a smooth surface to apply whatever repairs on top.

The best approach to this is to use progressively finer sandpaper or a grinding tool with the same flexibility. As you sand the area be careful to avoid going too deep or too wide. You want to make it easier to repair, not add additional damage.

Be thorough but as reserved as possible. The deeper the scratch the more gelcoat you’ll need to rebuild the area.

Prepare the Surface

After you’ve cleaned away any dirt and loose bits you can start preparing the area. The preparation stage is where you need to use the information you’ve gathered from inspecting the scratch.

The most common of these personal watercraft scratches are the smaller, shallower ones so let’s look at how to solve those first.

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Applying the Gelcoat

Once you’ve prepared the area you can start applying the gelcoat. The best way to do this from home is to get a gelcoat repair kit. There are many options available on Amazon.

These are designed for these sorts of repairs and provide the necessary materials to restore your watercrafts gelcoat.

Each one will have its own set of instructions so make sure to follow these carefully.

A good idea is to tape off the damaged area, ensuring that the gelcoat only ends up on the required, prepared section.

On top of this some repair kits will come with a thin piece of mylar or plastic to lay over the gelcoat and help it set.

Another helpful tip is to try the gelcoat on a block of wood or piece of cardboard first. This will let you see how it looks as it dries.

The gelcoat repair process will be rather similar across all these kits though. Usually they involve a resin and a separate hardener which will prime the resin.

Once the two are mixed, follow the specific instructions for your gelcoat repair kit, you’ll have a few minutes to apply the resin before it starts to set (source).

When it comes to choosing which repair kit, try and get something recommended by your personal watercraft dealership.

Very often these have specifics deliberately made for your type of craft as well as the color options that’ll match.

The aim of this repair project is to get it looking good, matching the color of the original craft will be far more appealing then having something that looks patched.

It is your choice though and perhaps contrasting patches would be more appealing to you.

Patience and More Sanding

Probably the most important things to remember throughout this repair process is patience and persistence.

Each of these steps will take the time they take. Apply the primed resin with deliberation and efficiency, observe how it sticks to the craft and how many layers you will require.

For light scratches you might be able to get away with just the one.

Either way you must allow each layer to set for the required time before moving ahead.

Once the scratch is filled out and the gelcoat is dry you can start to blend it in with the rest of the craft. For this step use light sanding tools, watching carefully as you go.

You’re looking to make the surface as smooth and uniform as possible. Sanding is an important step so make sure you have the required grit to get your patchwork smooth.

The lower the grit the coarser the sandpaper. Depending on your gelcoat you’ll want to start close to the 600 mark and progressively go higher in grit up to 1000 and preferably even higher (source).

This means start with the slightly coarse stuff and get as fine as possible.

There are also two types of sanding, wet and dry. Dry sanding is for removing layers while wet sanding is more for providing a shiny finish.

You can use water to soak your sandpaper, ensure it’s designed for wet sanding, and apply it after the dry sanding is complete. With wet sanding use higher grit to create a smoother finish.

Smoothing it All Out

Once you’ve sanded down the repaired gelcoat you can start looking for that shine. Using a rubbing compound begin by buffing out the patch. Use marine polish after this and wax for even further shine.

By providing as smooth a surface as possible in the previous steps this should round out the process.

The truth is that there will be a learning curve to this sort of project. The more effort and practice you spend learning these DIY repairs the more confident you’ll become with them.

You’ll be back on the water with your glistening watercraft in no time!

Deeper Scratches

For scratches that pierce through the hull of the craft it is advisable to get professional assistance.

These sorts of home repairs take a lot more effort to fix up and often end up looking rather shoddy even when done well. Due to the risk and resources involved in these repairs it’s often worthwhile having it done properly.

Working with fiberglass can also be a tricky process with some risks involved. If you’re determined to attempt these repairs go and look at videos on YouTube and similar platforms for detailed guides.

For best results try and find videos that are made by the manufacturers as they’ll know the safest ways to go about it.

Different hull materials and how to repair

Avoiding the Hassle

The truth is that the smaller scratches on a personal watercraft are very difficult to avoid. It is a powerful machine and the water can be a cruel mistress.

Plus, with the risks of towing the craft and long-term storage you’re bound to pick up a few scrapes along the way.

There are still ways to try and limit this sort of damage and certainly help in avoiding the bigger, more costly types of damage to your craft. Let’s look at some of the precautions available to reduce any unnecessary risks.

Good Maintenance

A good practice to have with any aquatic vessels is good maintenance. After each use wash down the craft with some fresh water. This will help prevent any build-up of organic materials that might compromise the outer layers (source).

Additionally, there are many different types of wax that can help protect the paint or gelcoat. Decide as early as possible if you’re going to do home repairs on your personal watercraft and try and do them as soon as you spot them.

This will prevent them from getting any worse and making the repair process more complicated.

Know your Terrain

One of the biggest risks of injury and damage to your personal watercraft comes from using it in the wrong environment (source).

When you go out, make sure you find water that is designated for these sorts of crafts. Very shallow water and rocky seafloor can cause some devastating damage to any aquatic vehicles.

Another reason to be aware of your surroundings is that rough water and excessive traffic can pose risks. Be wary of other people and crafts in the water and ensure you’re setting out when the waves aren’t too intense.

Water impact can cause fractures in the gelcoat of personal watercraft when they jump over waves and wakes.

Safe Docking and Storage

Ideally, you’ll want to avoid excessive beaching of your personal watercraft. The coarse sand and possibility of rocks can leave a nasty impression on the hull.

The same applies to docking your craft. If it’s too close to the port the waves may push it against any hard surfaces nearby, wearing away at the gelcoat.

An option here could be an anchor bag which will allow greater freedom in docking and less risk to external damage. The objective is to reduce the chance of accidental scratches whilst you’re not around.

The same sort of mentality applies to towing and storing your personal watercraft. Out of the water there is an even greater chance of acquiring various nicks and dings.

Use caution and common sense when loading your crafts into and out of the water. During storage try and keep it out of the elements as much as possible.

Insure for Extra Safety

As we know, it is impossible to prevent all damage to your personal watercraft.

It is meant to be used and that will inherently cause degradation and allow for more accidents. Therefore, it’s advisable to get these vehicles insured against such risks (source).

In many cases you’ll have to get a specific type of personal watercraft insurance to cover as much of the risks as possible.

If you are using it regularly this makes a lot of sense and will protect you at the least from serious damage to the craft. Peace of mind can be a valuable tool while skirting across the water. 

Final Thoughts

There we have it; a run-through on how to fix scratches on your personal watercraft. You can also give it a complete makeover, paint your ski or apply vinyl wrap to restore the look.

At the end of the day, it’s your choice on how best to deal with them. Know your limits but have confidence in your capabilities.

Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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