How To Paint a Boat

How To Paint a Boat

Since your boat is often out on the water, at some point in the lifetime of your boat, its once beautiful color will flake or fade. You’ll either need to hire a professional to repaint it or do it yourself.

Painting takes a great deal of time and work, though. Think about prepping the hull and buying the paint and making sure the colors are even. But if you have the time and enthusiasm to paint, you can surely get the job done using some basic tools and a few spare hours in a day. 

Learning how to paint a boat can also save you a lot of money over hiring a professional to gain that vibrance back. After all, exploring with colors is always fun!

In this article, I’ll walk you through the basic and easy-to-follow steps to painting your boat. I’ll also go over the important parts of your boat that may need some fresh coats.

How To Paint a Boat: Easy Step-by-Step Guide

If your precious boat is starting to look a bit worn out, you can give it a makeover with a fresh coat of paint. The painting process may require some patience and time, but the result will be worth it.

Before you begin painting your boat, make sure you do it in a well-ventilated place. Painting on a cool, dry day is preferable, but you can’t have your boat exposed to excessive sun. Once you’ve established where you can paint your boat, follow these easy steps below.


The first thing you must do is to prepare your boat.

Start by cleaning your boat

Clean it thoroughly by removing any dirt and sand on the surface. The cleaning part should be the easiest part of the process as it comes out of the water. You can use a clean rag, a high-pressure hose, and a scrapper.

One of the best products to use is a non-chlorinated detergent to clean your boat. Rinse thoroughly, making sure there is not any soap residue.

Next, remove all the hardware

This may include the boat trim, rails, window sidings, cleats, and vents. And if you take some hardware off your boat, you can opt to cover them with paint using tape.

Removing the hardware is important so they don’t create any creases, which waters easily infiltrate the crack and ruin the pain.


Using a solvent and a rough sponge will strip it off an old wax coating. Getting rid of any waxy feeling on the surfaces will make it easy for your paint to stick. You may try running your finger through the surfaces of your boat. A waxy surface should feel like a candle.

If there are visible flaws, make any necessary repairs

You may want to fill in any cracks, chips, or corrosion before painting your boat. A marine-grade epoxy will be your best friend for correcting those imperfections.

The final step for the prep is sanding your boat

Do so thoroughly with an 80-grit sanding paper and a random-orbit or finishing sander. This will give your boat a very smooth surface base after all the repairs you’ve just made. It gives your boat a good grip surface which encourages even results.

You can also sand away the waxy, old paint as well as peeling paint. And if you have an existing non-vinyl paint and you wish to apply a vinyl type, then you must sand it away.

Always practice caution though and wear protective gear. Chip paints when inhaled pose a potential health risk.

Painting the Boat

And now, you can start painting!

This is where you get the most creative.

But first, you should choose the right paint for your boat

When picking the ideal type of paint, you might need to consider a range of paints. There are gel coats for recreational boats with fiberglass surfaces, simple enamels, or two-part paint mixes.

Most gel coats, though, are expensive, and will typically last a year or two. And while two-part paint mixes are longer-lasting, it will take some skills to mix and apply the paint. That is something that some boat owners might not have, but you can practice.

So, which one is the best paint? When it comes to longevity and look, a two-part polyurethane paint would be the best option. If you want to get the most out of your investment, you can opt for a single-part polyurethane. But, with all of these options, it will still boil down to your preferences as the boat owner.

Apply the primer and let it dry

This step is important as it creates a bond with your boat, keeping any bubbling and cracking away. But first, check that the primer you use works with your paint. You may refer to the label of the paint cans to verify.

After applying the first coat of primer, sand the boat’s entire surface with 300-grit sandpaper. Then, apply another coat.

Paint the boat with a roller and a brush

Using the paint roller, work your way from the bottom to the top. Make sure to do it quickly and paint the larger sections of your boat with the roller. When you get to the smaller parts, use the paint brush.

Let the paint dry and light sand

The drying part may take several hours. To make sure it’s completely dried, it’s best to give it a day. Then, lightly sand it with 300-grit sandpaper to smoothen out any imperfections like bubbles and spots. It’s ideal to sand the surface after each coat.

If you’re not satisfied with the finish, you may apply two to three more coats. Applying more layers ensure your boat’s surface doesn’t get damaged or crack so it can last long.

Types of Boat Surfaces to Paint

Types of Boat Surfaces to Paint

Depending on the surface of your boat, you may have to apply a specific painting technique to ensure great results. Remember to wear your protective gear.

How To Paint a Boat: Painting a Fiberglass Boat

If your boat has a fiberglass surface, the painting technique wouldn’t be that much different from painting wooden boats. But there will be a difference in the type of paint you’ll use. Plus, you’ll need to focus on some intricacies in the preparation and application.

The key to achieving a flawless finish is making sure your boat is carefully prepped. You should pay enough attention to the painting process.

The way you paint fiberglass is a bit complicated. Fiberglass boats should be painted using the “roll and tip” method. If you can have someone to help you paint it, they can roll the pin as you lightly stroke across the roller’s pattern with a brush.

Make sure to apply multiple thin coats instead of thick strokes. You can do three consistent coats at a time. And depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, you’ll want to allow enough time for each coat to cure.

When it comes to choosing the right paint for your fiberglass boat, here are your options: 

Single-Part Enamel Paints – easiest application and affordable. However, their gloss doesn’t last that long and is prone to UV damage over time, thus it needs regular maintenance and waxing.

Single-Part Polyurethane Paints – these boat paints also offer easy application with a gloss that lasts. Plus, they are more affordable than two-part polyurethane paints listed below. 

Two-Part Polyurethane Paints – two-part paints offer the best-looking results that last the longest. However, you need to mix them, so it’s more of a laborious process. These paints also require an epoxy primer and specific temperature and humidity levels for a more precise application. 

How To Paint a Boat: Painting the Hull

This part is easier to do than the topside paint since it’s a larger and smoother surface area. It also doesn’t have hard-to-reach tight corners and angled areas. Start by covering any hardware on the boat hull first. You can use masking tape to protect the hardware from the paint.

Keep in mind that a boat’s hull runs more or less vertically so you’ll want to apply in thin, consistent layers. Thick applications will just result in messy drips and runs.

How To Paint a Boat: Painting a Non-Skid Surface

Painting a boat with a non-slip or non-skid surface isn’t quite the same as dealing with other surfaces. You can’t sand it nor paint the small imprints, but you can still give it a facelift.

The key is getting a textured compound or one with tiny abrasives in it to maintain its anti-skid properties. These products contain grit or little rubberized pellets mixed with marine paint. They’re formulated specifically for painting the deck.

Painting the boat’s non-skid surface also requires a special roller brush since the compound has tiny solids mixed in. This way, you’ll be able to spread the paint evenly. Make sure to do some prep work and apply several coats until you get the desired result. 

How To Paint a Boat: Painting the Bottom

Doing the bottom paint is also a completely different and new paint job experience than dealing with the hull and the topsides. You may want to consider going for anti-fouling paint to keep marine organisms from invading your boat’s bottom.

Strat by de-waxing the boat bottom by sanding it if your boat has a layer of gel coat. If your boat has an existing pain, you can go ahead and sand or power wash any clinging or loose paint. 

The best part about painting this part is that you won’t have to tip the bottom paint. You can just paint the boat bottom right on since no one actually sees that surface, anyway.

Make sure to time the launching of the boat. Depending on the paint you use, some products will take more time to dry. You should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions about the time frame.


What kind of paint do you use on a boat?

You should use enamel paint. Though less resilient than polyurethane, the versatility of this paint makes it a great option for wooden boats. This paint can expand and shrink with the wood without breaking. You should coat your boat with this paint at least once a year for the best results.

Can I paint my boat myself?

You can perform an excellent job at painting your boat provided that the surface is properly prepared and you took care of it throughout the process.

What kind of paint do you use on a boat hull?

Topside boat paint is the one that is applied just higher than the waterline of your boat. It can encompass the hull’s sides, the deck, and the interior. Alkyd marine enamel and one and two-part polyurethane are commonly used as topside paints. You can also use two-part buffable acrylic urethanes.

Can I paint my boat with car paint?

Yes, you can, but only if you paint it over completely smooth gel coatings with a urethane topcoat. Even though the paint isn’t as robust as gel coats, it can improve the look of older boats. If you have a discolored boat, sanding it with super-fine sandpaper would be good.

Can you paint over gel coat on a boat?

Yes. If the gel coat is in good shape with no significant cracking or warping, the procedure is relatively simple. Just clean and prep the surface, use an epoxy primer, sand it, clean any residue, and apply the topcoat.

Can you spray paint over fiberglass?

Yes, you may use the same spray paint that you do on metal surfaces on fiberglass coats. Make sure that the spray paint you use is of high-quality, automotive-grade paint.

What paint will stick to fiberglass?

Acrylic paint clings effectively to fiberglass, addressing one of the most difficult parts of painting the material. This paint is less prone to cracking and blistering. It also holds up well if you wash your boat. This paint is water-based paint, simple to apply, and has fewer chemicals, making it more eco-friendly.

Final Words

Nothing is more exciting than seeing your beloved boat with fresh paint. It makes you want to seize the summer and sun all day, every day.

Make sure to follow the steps I’ve provided, and take your time in preparing the boat for painting. This will be a very time-consuming process that requires a lot of patience, but you’ll appreciate the final result.

Sanding might be an uncomfortable part of painting the boat for some. In this case, consider hiring a professional boatyard to get it done. This is a more efficient option than relying on yourself when you’re not sure what you’re doing.

Good luck!

Note: Keep in mind that chemicals like paints, primers, and boat solvents produce fumes and paint chips are toxic. It is important that you wear complete protective equipment before doing your painting job. You should also refer to the warning labels on all of the products you use.

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