Painting Your Boat Like a Pro

A high-quality finish begins with proper preparation, and Practical Sailor’s hands-on refinishing projects on crafts ranging from an 11-foot sailboard to a 41-foot Ericson offered our experts plenty of insight into prep-work challenges. Preparing the hull’s surface for painting is a laborious process, but if you review the primer on prepwork and our do-it-yourself notebook that accompanies our top-side paint test, you can save time and avoid the most common pitfalls. If you are set on a do-it-yourself spray paint finish, former technical editor Ralph Naranjo walks you through the process in a sidebar to his extensive, three-year-long topside paint test. These articles offer a good foundation for getting a high-quality finish without shelling out thousands of dollars for a professional paint job.

As Naranjo demonstrates in multiple test boat projects, probably the biggest challenge comes when working with two-part paints. These are usually more sensitive to temperature and humidity than single-part monourethanes or acrylic enamels, which typically are less glossy and less durable than two-part paints. The trick to getting a perfect two-part finish is achieving the right balance of flow and cohesion, so the paint does not sag, run, or orange-peel. This is why we recommend novices undertake a few practice projects like oars or a dinghy before tackling an entire hull.

The quality of your painting tools also makes a difference. For one of our test hulls (a Catalina 22), we used the two-person roll-and-tip method, which entailed one person applying the paint with a roller and the other tipping the rolled-on paint with a brush. If you want to take this route, our article on choosing a paint brush will come in handy. It compares high-quality natural bristle brushes to hardware-store varieties. We also offer a guide to caring for your brushes after using them. And if you plan to save some paint for touch-ups, we have a few tips on preserving leftover paint and varnish.

As the years go by, dulled linear polyurethane (LPU) finishes can be revived, but this requires special care. Our article on extending LPU life makes sure you avoid any mis-steps that can lead to premature LPU death.

Weve recently made open to the public our introduction article to the ongoing test of topside finishes. Presently, only subscribers can review our latest test report on topside paint.

For even more detailed advice on sailboat refinishing, check out Don Casey’s illustrated guide Sailboat Refinishing, which covers everything from choosing the right tools to getting a professional finish at half the cost. The book is available in our online bookstore. And if youre not interested in painting your hull but simply want to bring back its shine, our e-book on gelcoat restoration and maintenance tells you everything you need to know about reviving a worn fiberglass hull.

We’d like to hear about your hands-on experiences during do-it-yourself paint projects. If you have already undertaken a paint project, you can help fellow sailors through this process by posting your comment below or emailing our editorial offices at

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