Boating DIYs: How to Paint Your Boat

Boats go through a lot when they're in the water, and they require a lot of maintenance to stay in top shape. And while many boat owners take the time to check the mechanical components and handle any apparent repairs, one area that's easy to overlook is one of the most obvious: the paint job.

Even though boat paints have ingredients that help them withstand the water, even those can't last forever. A couple of years in and a boat will likely need a fresh coat of paint to look its best. While you can hire a professional to take care of things, it's also possible to handle the job on your own. Read on to learn how to paint a boat!

Boat Painting Basics

Required Materials

With that out of the way, it's time to look at the things you'll need to get your boat ready to go. As you prepare, you'll need:

  • Scraper
  • Rags
  • Painter's tape
  • Industrial solvent
  • Paint roller
  • Epoxy glue
  • Primer
  • Marine Paint
  • Sponge
  • Gloves
  • Marine Paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Power sander

Additionally, keep in mind that the chemicals in marine paints that help them last longer in the water can also be dangerous to breathe in. For additional safety, you can also get a mask to filter the air while you paint, especially if you plan to work in enclosed quarters.

The amount of paint that you need will depend on the surface area of your boat, so that will impact the price. Make sure you get enough of both primer and marine paint to cover all critical areas. Painting a boat on your own isn't a cheap project, and it can easily cost $1,500, even when you shop cheap. However, hiring a professional can cost even more. While it's hard work, the savings are worth it.

Pre-Painting Prep

Painting a personal watercraft can be somewhat of a time sink, but most of the work is in the preparation. Without an appropriate prep job, your paint won't sick, which can potentially cause issues for not just your boat's appearance, but also the condition of its hull, negatively impacting the value.


Before you can do anything else, you first need to clean off your boat as much as you can. Seaweed, sand, and dirt all tend to stick to your hull, and they all need to go before you can move any further. Use a high-pressure hose, rags, and a scraper to clean off as much as you can.

Boats tend to be much easier to clean off as they come out of the water, so take care of the scrub down then if you can.

Remove and Secure Hardware

Anything that can come off the boat's surface, you want to remove—even little things like window sidings or larger components like used outboard motors. If you leave them on, they can cause cracks in the paint, which will likely let water in and ruin the surface. For parts and pieces that you can't take off, use painter's tape to secure the edges.

Apply Solvent

You may have washed your boat thoroughly, but there's still one thing that needs to go: the waxy coating. G3 Boats and other brands add this layer to protect the hull, but it's not conducive to paint, and everything will peel straight off if you don't wash it down first. This stage is where your solvent will come in.

Using rough sponges, scrub the boat down with the solvent; if you can still feel the coating (which feels like a freshly waxed car or a candle), then you need to keep going. If you're unsure, it's better to give the boat an extra scrub rather than risk leaving some coating behind.

While taking off the coating, you may notice cracks or corrosion. This time is perfect for repairing the surface so that your paint goes on smoothly.

Sand the Boat Surface

After you've gotten the coating off, the final step is to sand down the surface, which will make the paint better stick to the surface. If the old coat of paint is different than the one you plan to use or it has become damaged or flaky, remove the previous layer entirely.

Again, marine paints sometimes are toxic. Wear equipment to cover your eyes and protect your airflow during this step.

Painting the Boat

Now that the hard part is over, it's time to get down to the final stretch of painting. For best results, you want to paint on a day where the weather is cold and dry. Also be careful of strong winds, which can also upset your paint job. The less potential there is for nature-induced issues, the less you'll need to worry about ruining the results.

Wetting down the area around your boat will keep any dust down. It's also helpful to paint in a covered area so that your boat has protection if inclement weather happens; you don't want to become caught in the open if the weather report happens to be wrong!

Apply Primer

Primer is essential for painting because it helps prevent cracks and the like from forming, plus it also helps the paint better stick to your boat. Because hulls can be quite large, it's quickest to use a roller to cover the central area, then use smaller brushes if you need to touch up smaller sections. Take care to roll the primer on as evenly as you possibly can.

At a minimum, you'll want to have one coat of primer, but you'll get better results if you put down two. Wait for the first layer to dry, sand the surface again, and then apply the second layer. This preparation will pay off in the long run.

A quick tip: In advance, make sure that your primer and paint are compatible with each other. You can determine this information by comparing the labels carefully, or by asking an associate when you shop.

Apply the Main Layers of Paint

After the second round of primer has dried, it's time to put down your foundational layer of paint, sanding in between coats. Just like with the primer, using a roller brush and touching up afterward will give the best results and will let you get paint down quickly.

Just like you did with the primer, wait for your paint to dry, sand the surface down, and apply another layer on top. Using two to three coats will make the whole job last longer than it would otherwise. On your final layer, you do not need to sand down the boat again.

If you want to add designs or patterns to your boat, you can do so on top of the final layer of paint. Otherwise, you want as smooth and even of a top coat as possible.

Finishing Up

While your boat likely looks excellent after all your hard work, it's not ready to hit the water just yet. Follow the paint manufacturer's guidelines on how long it needs to dry and cure appropriately; this process usually lasts at least a day, if not longer. Note that you may need to apply a fresh layer of wax to your boat for extra protection.

It's no doubt that painting a boat on your own takes a lot of preparation and time, but what you spend in a weekend's worth of time will save you roughly one-thousand dollars in labor costs. If you consider yourself handy enough to take on the challenge, the results will be worth it.

Considering buying a new or used boat? Use our boat payment calculator to help determine the value.