How to Choose the Right Marine Coating

If you’re new to the boating hobby or industry, you may be surprised to learn that not one size fits all when it comes to marine coatings over your boat. Like a brand new wall, a coat of paint or varnish protects the surface of your boat. Unlike a wall though, your boat is constantly under attack by water, especially on the bottomside. Your boat’s also constantly under the sun and also susceptible to fouling, which is the attachment of marine life to your hull.

The kind of marine coating you choose for your boat will depend on your boat “substrate”- or, what your boat is constructed from. This is typically wood, fiberglass, aluminum, or steel. Fiberglass is rapidly becoming very popular in boating, while wood remains as the classic of the boating industry. Aluminum is very popular for new boaters since its lighter and less expensive.

If you have a fiberglass boat, it’s 99% likely that you already have a marine coating over your boat known as a “gelcoat”. This is a very hard resin material with pigment that’s an alternative to paint. Almost all fiberglass boats come with this prefabricated marine coating. You have two options when it comes to fiberglass. In several years, you can renew the gelcoat by replacing it with a new coat, or you can strip the fiberglass and replace the gelcoat with paint.

Marine Coating

Marine Coating

For fiberglass, paint typically lasts a shorter period of time and is a more time intensive process to apply to the boat. In the long run, paint can be preferable to a gelcoat because of the customizability of paint in that you can have antifouling and biocide paint that protects the hull from marine life. Also, gelcoat needs annual maintenance of sanding and polishing to keep the coat protective. Gelcoat is still a great method of protecting your fiberglass boat, but you must weigh the costs and long term maintenance with paint to decide which is best for you.

Wood boats are great in that you can paint practically any kind of marine coating on them as long as you have your boat properly chinned to prevent warping. Epoxy coatings provide the most protection, especially two-step epoxy, but it’s especially important you have minimal “movement” (or warping with temperature change) of the wood in your boat. Varnish is also a very popular marine coating for wood as it brings out the natural beauty of your wood while providing an excellent level of protection for your boat.

Aluminum, steel, and other metal boats require a bit extra protection because they can corrode if water penetrates the marine coating barrier. Especially for aluminum, boaters prefer to use an epoxy paint with an added layer of special primer which keeps corrosion and rust away. Since metal is susceptible to dents, dings, and scratches most of all, you also must be prepared to sand any damage down, fill it, and recoat it if necessary. Not completing this step can lead to disaster for your boat as rust will most likely develop.

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