How to Paint a Boat

There are three kinds of boats and each requires a little different paint job for it to last. In all cases, a marine-grade paint is necessary to get the maximum life from the paint job.

Wood Boat

Paint on a wooden boat is more than a cosmetic touch. It can actually protect and prolong the life of the wood.

The first step is sanding the wood. The to-be-painted surface must be clean, free from oils and grease and be able to absorb primer. Scrape away blistered or flaking paint first. Because boats curve and have angles, a small orbital hand sander or just sanding by hand is best on smaller craft like dinghies. Sometimes a paint stripper is necessary.

When the wood is cleaned and dry, a coat of primer is recommended. Boat primers contain chemicals that protect the wood from marine borers and other creatures in the water that destroy wood. This is most important when the wood boat will be used in salt water. Only oil based paint can be applied over primers. Allow each coat of paint to dry before applying another coat.

Metal Boat

Sand the boat down to remove old paint and clean the metal. Use the same procedures as on the wood boat. A paint stripper here can greatly speed the work. The final cleanup should be done with a steel brush.

Like wood, aluminum hull boats need to be primed. Use an aluminum oxide primer for this. When the primer dries, paint. Let each coat dry thoroughly before adding another coat.

On a steel boat, paint and rust must be removed. Getting rid of rust may take a chisel or a paint stripping wheel on a hand grinder. Failure to remove rust, even tiny bits of scale, means the paint will very quickly come off.

boat painting

Boat Painting

Apply a steel primer and let it dry. If there are divots in the metal from rust removal, a fairing compound can be applied to the surface with grout spreader. Fill in the holes and scrape tight against the metal to avoid a buildup outside the filled areas. Let this dry. Apply a coat or two of an epoxy undercoat. When these layers dry, apply paint.

Composite or Fiberglass Boat

First remove all the old paint. The problem here is to remove only paint and leave the gel coat over the fiberglass intact. Power sanders must be used with care in this case. Stripping compounds must also be used with caution, else they remove the gel coat.

When the old paint is gone, wipe down the boat with a gentle solvent to clean the surfaces. Let any extra solvent on the boat dry before applying a coat of primer.

Now pick a flow coat or two-part urethane. Several layers of finish are recommended for the best looking and most durable paint job. For the best finish, each coat must be lightly sanded before the next application.

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