How to paint a wooden boat

One of the great mysteries of the increasingly modern shipbuilding today is the amount of high-tech gobble-de-gook is expected to average boat builder home to go to when painting the boat after awful lot sanding, fairing and hard work is (mostly) and the fruits of your labor now require a shiny deep luster that the painting now promises to bring. This part, in my opinion, at least, is one of the best parts of the shipbuilding end! (Well, at least the start of the finish!)

Painting a boat used to be a relatively simple task. All we needed was a dry day, however, one of the brushes father, some turpentine, a roll of tape, a bit of pink primer left over from the decorating and a half gallon of shiny blue enamel paint from the local hardware store … Those were the days!

Today is not so, my friends! The unsuspecting boat builder who toddles off to the local chandlery or supermarket better be prepared for the worst, not only he (or she) face a huge financial onslaught on their wallet but a mind-boggling variety of genius mind high tech wow nonsense that (usually) uninformed shop assistant proceed to throw in their general direction in the faint hope that will give under the stress and buy several liters of the latest polurethanicalslitheryaminomolecular goop that just come in. For example, faced with trade names such as “coating Interlux Interthane ‘. I mean, come on, it sounds like a new game Space Invaders This is painting with blood! There are many others, but I’m sure you get the essence of what I say.

Another example of the kind of thing that drives me nuts is that you can expect to buy several liters of a two pack marine polyurethane paint iso-cyanate only to be cheerfully told its illegal to spray unless a permitted establishment possess, drone drone !! I guess they have to make new names to go with the new policies of the paint company to charge up to $ 150 a liter for some of these new fangled paints! What the hell have you found it so expensive to put in this stuff? I have the impression that paint was a few liters of linseed oil, turpentine, some drying agents and a few ounces of pigments for color … can it really be so out of touch?


So why do we paint wooden boats? Or any other boat for that matter? The first part of this question is easy. Boats look much smarter and better if they shine and gleam a bit … it’s only human nature after all. The second part of the question is: We want to protect. OK what? Well, rotten wood if not force, is not it? – False! Wood left to its own devices does not rot. Wood rots as a result of their environment. There are several cases of how, plain untreated wood can last for centuries as long as it is in the correct environment. Basically, there are only a few elements that start wood rotting. Biological attack from spores, fungi, temperature, high humidity or total absorption, physical attack borers and crustaceans that allow entry to all other above sea.

Let’s not forget that polluted waters can degrade timber to the point where it will rot …. we will add chemical attack to that list too. Therefore, since all these very compelling reasons we protect our boat by painting it to coat completely against these attacks.


The actual preparation of timber can cover a wide range of different needs. If the boat is brand new, you have to go through many preparatory steps that increased boat may have to go. With some forms of shipbuilding, where a boat was built by a different method, such as planks band or cold molding, we paint the boat as if it were a boat fiberglass, due to the fact that either layers fiberglass cover the timber or that the timber has been coated with epoxy that does not allow conventional paints to adhere properly. However, if we are to protect the bare wood, then we use a different approach. Wood in his bare natural state has millions of thin hollow tubes running through it, constructed of cellulose in its natural form. These tubes must be sealed to prevent water from entering it. Therefore, sealing and coating the first timber.

The first thing we do is to clean and remove loose paint and flaking or damaged most of the dust that remains on the hull – sounds easy if you say it fast, but it must be done! If necessary (and most times it is) degrease the hull using a proprietary paint degreaser after removing all dust preferably with a vacuum cleaner. Do not forget that is not absolutely necessary to get all the hull back to just dry, clean bare wood, grease and dust.

FILLING and imperfections

Obviously, not many timber ships are outside perfect. There are many blemishes, cracks, imperfections and cracks large and small to deal with by filling them and sanding flush before priming the boat. It is a bit of a chore but time spent here will reward you with a boat that will certainly look better plus have a longer life. Some people fill these holes and imperfections in timber with epoxy filler but it is not a good idea. Some time later, for example, when the ship is sent for repairs, it is the devil of a job to remove the resin of a fixing hole. It is better to use some kind of filler material suitable wood dries hard and fast but is never so difficult that can not be removed later. For example, the glass painter consists of a soft dough hard enough setting that can be applied then sanded and painted satisfactorily quickly. Carvel boats usually have their seams filled fair with a special seam compound after the boat has been primed. Once the boat has been filled and faired smooth and all dust removed we are ready to put some paint, otherwise. Remember, the difference between a work of professional and amateur painting is the preparation!


There are two schools of thought about treating bare timber with wood preservatives. I’ve heard stories that primers and paints not meet many of them. In my case, I’ve never personally had that happen to me, so I’m usually in favor of its use. However, I am convinced that in many cases where the paint refuses to stick to timber is because the wood has not properly dried after application. There is a definite percentage of humidity level that every timber has (and most of them differ slightly) where paint of any kind will not only have to maintain. It may be up to fifteen percent in some woods. Most importantly, make sure your wood is dry enough to allow any paint or filler to adhere to it. Remember too that salt deposits on timber will readily contain water and keep it moist …. if your ship is in salt water rinse with fresh water before you start painting. If and only if, the wood preservative is dry, the next step is:


The first coat of primer to go on your hull is metallic gray primer. It is a good primer to use because it consists of millions of microscopic flat metal (aluminum) plates that are on top of each other giving water a very hard time to move if … Pink primer for example, has circular molecules substances and allow water infiltration much faster … done! Grey primers also contain certain oils and most have anti-mold agents contained in biocidal (you and I) We put two coats of gray primer above the waterline and three, no less, below.


There is a whole world of paint primers out there and confusion about their qualities are very common. For basic dry wood, metal gray primers are good as explained above. Also many oil-based primer known companies are also very good and will do the job perfectly. Hi-build primers however must be approached with caution and I must say I’ve never had too well with them personally. Most of them contain titanium dioxide (which is of talcum powder for us long), even when fully cured can absorb large amounts of moisture that can actually prevent good paint adhesion. To avoid this only paint hi-build primers on good clear dry days and avoid excessive atmospheric humidity levels. Then, as soon as possible apply the topcoats to seal. Note also that the hi-build primers are a soft type of paint and can suffer badly scratches on rocky or pebble beaches and even the launch of boat trailers. When sanding these primers remember that huge clouds of white dust are released so be careful where sand and wear appropriate safety masks.


Again, there are many types to choose from. Packets leaving the first two-way. Polyurethanes two packs must be applied to first two-component epoxy primer. They have a fantastic finish and that’s fine, but be absolutely sure that the timber underneath is not going to move because the priests paint with such force that can and (plankers tape and cold molded boats cracks are your best bet here … except, of course, glass vessels). The main reason is that timber constructed boats move or “work” as it is known. You may well get away with it if your timber boat has been glassed in the new window …. not later as a preventative method to stop leaks. Rarely boats treated thus dry out properly and are still susceptible to movement as the timber inside the glass either rots because it was wet or too dry and contracts. Also boats that have been chined properly, that is, strips of wood stuck between the planks instead of being sealed, have a reasonable chance of not moving.

Well, what else? A pack polyurethane paints or individual containers can be a good choice for a shelter … are almost as bright and as durable as the two packages, but not quite! However, it is less expensive and easier to implement than two packs … there are plenty of them out there, so a little research is required plus your own personal choice … I will not participate in a slanging match about who are the best! However, remember that the products of most leading manufacturers of paints known are ok! It’s your call!

So next on my list are marine enamels. Again, it is worth remembering that anything with MARINE in front of him is generally expensive … a good place to avoid in this quest is the great chain of hardware stores that sport one or two paintings in this category, and fell in love with it myself before now. It is the name that we seek!

Even with decent quality marine enamels some of the whites have been known to yellow with age and the trick is to buy the gray colors such as cream or beige. My last choice in Marine enamels proper, it is a newcomer … a water-based enamel. I personally never used, but I’ve heard good reports and there has to be some advantages with them, quick cleanup for one and you can even take anticoagulants!

Some types of paint systems that are different from the above, and as usual, will probably attract a lot of criticism of those guys who like to write to the editor, for one reason or another. Mainly I think because something is not quite classic. Each of the following paints have different uses and attributes.


Over the years the quality of house paint enamels has been increasing dramatically to the point that many sailors I know paint their boats with it. It’s a bit softer (and definitely cheaper) than most polyurethanes and colors, especially the darker tones individual load, they tend to fade earlier than others. However, the fact that they can be an excellent choice, especially if you own a small boat and do not mind repainting every two years …. cheap to buy, easy to apply!

ACRYLIC transmitted by water

A few years ago, you would not have dreamed of painting your boat with acrylic paint …. he would have taken off in large strips. However, this does not apply today. My own boat, Nicky J has been painted in acrylic semi-gloss WATTYL “Cane” and it’s really amazing. I used gloss for the hull and semi-bright white epoxy primer single pack on bridges and it was really good. It not again seemed delamination. I paint the boat once a year with a roller and it takes less than a day … and she’s forty two feet long! It is another option!

Well, there’s your main paint choices but I urge you to remember one thing … preparation is King … that will save you money in the long run, for sure.

APPLYING his painting

There are, of course, the three main methods of applying your paints; Spraying, brushing and Rollering. Another is that many people use a combination of these last two, rolling and tipping, which will deal with that one later.

Let’s look at spraying. There are several prerequisites for a decent spray job. These are usually a decent workshop complete with suction fans and half decent ventilation using good spray equipment (cheapo underpowered stuff just does not cut the mustard) and, especially, adequate equipment and appropriate security. There are always exceptions to the rule and there is a guy who works at the edge of the construction outside in the weather and a fantastic job done … imagine how much better it could be if he worked for the Inside !! You also have to watch the weather, high humidity is not good and also where no spraying … in someone’s car as is often the case! Good excess paint is lost and wasted in the process. If you have a driving need for you boat to look like your car then sprayings for you! Oh, yes, it’s fast (more or less) too!

Brushing by hand can yield incredible results if you are patient and know what you’re doing. I’ve seen boats that at first glance appear to have been sprayed only to find that they were hand painted with powder brush ……. atmosphere of freedom and bloody good brushes (I want ie expensive) are an absolute must here.

Finally, especially Rollering. ‘Roll and toe “method This requires two people working together as a team shot the paint thin film and the other follows closely with a decent brush and bubbles.’ Tips’ left by the roller – unbelievably good finishes can be obtained by this method.

A word of warning, no matter which method you use. Do not be tempted to play in the paint drips or you will ruin the finish …. waiting paint has fully dried then deal with it! It is tempting but paint always seems to gel quicker than you think!


There are many facets to successfully paint a boat. We can not be good at all of them and you have to choose the right method for you have special skills. Much depends on the services that are available. Some people have to work in the garden, others can have huge hangars and even access to a store! I will say that some basic rules for painting, although smaller boat. Often, too, too smart or too sophisticated is often at the expense of what you are trying to achieve.

I saw boats that cost twenty big picture and they were really mean … why? Bad choice of painter, that’s why. If you choose a painter, not a crime to ask him to show some examples of their work. If it’s good, it should be much … there are many who return and jeans on, rest assured. All ships, each of them will have to return to work or even a year repainted inside. How long can get for your money is the trick. Unless you put freshly painted in a museum or in the garage and lock it away you can bet on the first day, nicks, dings, scratches and scars will be collected, it is inevitable your boat. Beware the painter who says:.. “Yes, it will be ten miles, but you and I will survive ‘The need for repainting is directly proportional to how far is the ship in recent years the only way to keep your boat is immaculate and perfect reality ever put on that old dirty water once it’s done! Be realistic about your capabilities and expectations. Simple can be better in many cases.

A simple formula to calculate the amount of paint needed (for one layer)

What is interesting if not exactly correct! But in fact there are very close. This applies to individual spray brush and roller. There is a different formula for that and I do not know!
ONE COAT = The total length of the boat x 0.85 x beam
Divided by square feet covered per liter listed on the paint can instructions.

If you can not work out the paint manufacturer will tell you if you call the hotline of the company.

Over the years, the wooden boats survived the elements despite the very crude and primitive forms of painting. Many ships were simply smeared start pitch, bitumen, turpentine and beeswax. The beginning of the Thames barge had survived for over a century in perfect condition, as it was used as a bitumen tanker !! The glossy finish of dark brown was the most perfect example of preserved wood I’ve ever seen. One of the most interesting boat I’ve ever seen was painted with paint the fence … told the owner only ever had painted once in thirty years! Another former shipbuilder I once knew told me the secret of the painting was a wooden boat painted with many layers of paint that you can afford!

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