how to paint boat

How to Paint Your Boat: 9 Steps to Achieve a Slick Glossy Shine

If a man is to be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most. — E.B. White

If you agree with this sentiment and wanna give your boat a fresh paint job to make her shine again, this is the place for you.

Boats lead a rough life. We leave them baking in sun, rained on, floating in salt or fresh water, and fighting off plants and all sorts of creatures that wanna latch themselves to hulls.

Boats chafe from banging against docks and rubbing on fenders. Boats crash and scrape into trailers and skid up onto the beach. Not to mention the occasional obstacle they hit in the water.

And because of a boat’s rough life, chances are it’ll eventually need a new coat of paint, which is a job all boat owners will need to know how to tackle.

So whether patching up small areas or the entire boat, here are nine tips to make your new paint job go oh-so-smoothly.

How to Paint Your Boat: 9 Steps to Achieve a Slick Glossy Shine

1. Set Up

This step seems like a no-brainer, but it makes life easier.

Gather your painting supplies together. Just like painting your home or an antique automobile, it’s important to prep the area and the boat for its new paint job. If you want a paint job to shine for years to come any painter will tell you that 80 to 90 percent of the work takes place in the preparation phase.

Wash down the boat hull with soapy water using a scrubbing brush or scotch bright pad. This removes any wax buildup and impurities that may make the finish bubble up or look like an orange peel.

While washing the boat, wash down your work area too. This is also a good idea to spray down the area’s surface several times throughout the painting process to keep the dust and airborne particles to a minimum.

2. Protect Yourself (and the Environment)

how-to-paint-boat

Wear Gloves – Make sure to wear gloves—there’s nothing worse than peeling paint and epoxy off your hands for weeks to come. Latex gloves (Check Price on Amazon) will also help you from absorbing toxins through your skin.

how-to-paint-boat

Protect Your Lungs – Avoid breathing in dust from sanding dust and paint and solvent fumes. And don’t just wear a dust mask for particulates—use a paint respirator (Check Price on Amazon)! Paints have toxins, solvents and chemicals. The less you expose yourself, the better.

Always make sure to read the paint can’s warnings and dispose of paint cans, and other chemicals, in a way that protects our environment.

3. Prepare Surface

The time has come to fix the dips, dents, and gouges in the hull.

Make sure you’ve purchased products that work well with the paint you’ve chosen. There are many filler brands on the market. Here are some favorites, most of which are quick drying epoxy fillers (excellent on metals and other wood constructed boats).

I also like these because the 1:1 mixing ratio is easy to remember. They also dry smooth and fast, so work quickly.

how to paint boat

Interlux Interfill (Check Price on Amazon) – Has several filler variations, some with fast-cure. Interlux offers a lot of boat paints and fillers. Interlux even has a mobile app to help you decide as you’re standing in the store aisle. You can generally fill a hole with these products up to about ¾” before it begins to sag.

how to paint boat

AwlGrip AwlFair (Check Price on Amazon) – This premium epoxy is a great compound that can fill gouges, pits, dents or weld seams. It can alo be used above and below the waterline.

EMC2 QuantumFC – This filler is a higher-end, two-component polyamide-epoxy sealer. Very easy to apply, it also works well on a variety of surfaces.

4. Sand

Once you’ve filled all the dips and dents, allow time for the filler to dry. When it’s dry, it’s time to sand.

If you’ve got a wood boat, make sure to do what my Grandpa suggested: Sand with the wood grain. Always with the grain, never against it.

(Grandpa was an amazing woodworker. He made desks, hope chests, and other treasures. Not to mention the boat I recently learned about from my Grandma. I guess boating runs deep in my blood!)

Remember you’re only scuffing up the gel coat and removing any stains in the paint.

how to paint boat

A random-orbit sander (Check Price on Amazon) works best for this and will save you a ton of time. I generally suggest 120-180 grit sandpaper to remove any oxidized gelcoat. For deeper stains, use a finer 220-300 grit sandpaper.

When you’re done sanding, think again.

how to paint boat

Run your hand along the hull and feel for dips and grooves. You can even stretch a thin batten along the hull to double check that the hull is completely smooth. Add additional epoxy and sand again, this time with a longboard sander (Check Price on Amazon) using 320-400-grit paper.

This is a timely process but keep in mind that any impurity in this stage will look worse once the paint dries.

5. Apply Primer

Now that the hull is smooth, it’s time to apply primer.

Make certain the hull is clean and completely free of any dust, small hairs or debris. You will also want to spray down the area around the boat to keep dust from flying in the air. Finally, you’re ready to apply an undercoat.

Apply Undercoat

how to paint boat

The undercoat should be compatible with the paint you’re using. Tip: As a rule, two-part paints like Interlux Perfection (check price on Amazon) are much more durable than single-part paints. But for the DIY beginner, they may prove more difficult to work with.

Roll or brush undercoat paint onto the hull.

Tip: Use the same color undercoat or primer as the topsides paint (especially when painting over a dark-colored hull). Once finished, head back to your lazy chair and look at your hard work while waiting for it to dry.

Sand Again

Yes, you heard me, more sanding… using the 300-400 grit paper. Check the smoothness again. Find any dips or holes? Apply more epoxy or a second undercoat. Ultimate smoothness = ultimate shine.

Tip: To avoid an orange peel finish—and there’s nothing worse than orange peel—clean the hull with a solvent to remove any oils from your fingertips and hands.

Now you are ready to apply your topsides paint.

6. Apply Topside Paint

Now that your hull’s reached ultimate smoothness, it’s time to apply your topsides paint.

Before applying your topsides paint, put down drop cloths and mask all the boat’s areas you don’t intend to paint.

Check the temperature to make sure that it is between 55F and 75F with the humidity level below 80 percent to provide optimal curing.

Use a method called “rolling and tipping“, which is a fancy way of saying to roll the paint and go back over with a brush. This method works well but the trick is to only brush in one direction.

Tip: When painting a pontoon boat, you may want to consider using an aluminum anti-fouling paint.

7. Dry & Sand

Yes, more sanding. A beautiful, long-lasting shine is a timely process.

You’ll want at least 24 hours of drying time before you start to sand. But two to three days is ideal to allow the paint to harden.

Once it’s dry, give the hull a very light sanding. Dry – Sand – Paint – Repeat. Three coats should be plenty and will provide a deep shine once you apply your final topcoat.

8. Apply Final Coat

Finally, time to apply the final top coat! Whether paint or gloss, you’ll apply the final coat the same way you’ve applied the previous coats. Once you’ve painted the hull’s final coat, you’ll enter the waiting game.

This is the time when you wait (perhaps not-so-patiently) for the paint to dry. Most paints harden after two to three days, but to fully cure—give it a full three weeks of drying time.

There are products such as the previously-mentioned Quantum that cures in one week. Just make sure to follow the instructions from the manufacturer for all the details.

9. Enjoy the Ride

The sun’s shining, the coolers are packed, and the boat is ready for her splash! This is the day you’ve been waiting for so get that boat in the water and take her out for a spin.

For many folks, the word BOAT stands for Bust Out Another Thousand. However, if you regularly maintain your boat you’ll save thousands over the lifetime of boat ownership and you can put that money toward your BBQ fund for a picnic on the beach.

Get out there and enjoy the ride!


Nicole Anderson is a communication professional and freelance writer. She learned to sail on the Great Salt Lake and enjoys being out on the water as much as possible, as well as camping, hiking, and traveling the world. Anderson resides in the Salt Lake valley with her husband, Mike, and her border collie, Luke.