Painting your own boat – some tips from Phil Speight

Phil Speight trained in both graphic design and coach painting. Phil had Masters Accreditation in the Waterways Craft Guild covering coachpainting, signwriting, graining and decorative painting.

So, you’ve bought a boat and you want it painting. Whether its new or secondhand, you know what your requirements are. Most people’s first priority is that IT MUST LOOK GOOD!

That means it must have a deep shining finish. Fair enough, but that’s the easy bit, but remember, paint like beauty, is only skin-deep. So how deep is that skin going to be? We’ve got the cart in front of the horse, so lets start at the beginning.

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New steel, if it hasn’t been de-scaled is best grit blasted. If that’s not on the cards then it should be thoroughly linished off. (if the steel is allowed to rust first, which is sometimes possible, then that rust will help to loosen the mill scale on the steel). canalboat before paintingWhatever, make sure it is suitably prepared. It should be properly primed. A high build zinc phosphate is excellent, and there are modern two-pack materials that are better still. (we use zinc phosphate – a good one is more than up to the job). Two coats! The inside of the shell needs priming too. Then remember none of the materials are weather proof, so if the boats going to be outside in the rain at this early stage be sure it is painted with a holding primer or a gloss finish over the zinc phosphate however rough! It can always be flattened down later.

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Next be sure of the quality and quantity of the paints to be used. Avoid cheap paint. Once the boat is primed you will need a MINIMUM of two coats of undercoat and two coats of gloss. Make sure that there are at least two undercoats and one (dry) gloss coat on any areas that may be sanded BEFORE sand is sprinkled onto wet gloss. It will then need at least one more coat over the top once its dry and been cleaned.

So what else? Well it would help if boats were painted under window frames, portholes, vents etc. All you’ll usually find under there is primer. And rust. Edges, lines borders etc should be clean and sharp and sign-writing should be thoughtful and intelligent. Fill the panel. Oh Yes! The INSIDE of the shell needs a finish on it as well!

If your boat is in serious need of a re-paint and you are paying to have it done make sure the preparation is up to the mark. Windows, vents, portholes, navigation lights etc etc MUST be removed. Rust should be GOT RID OF, (as should rotten wood – but wooden boats and cabins are another matter entirely) any sanded areas should be stripped to bare metal, and if you really want to be confident of the work the WHOLE BOAT above the middle of the hull should be taken to bare-metal as well.

Remember, a couple of coats of paint can look like four times that much if you can’t read the signs. Never mistake cheap for good.

  • Good preparation is absolutely essential. It cannot be done quickly.
  • Primer should be of good quality. Don’t leave a primed shell exposed to the weather.
  • Make sure there’s paint UNDER things as well as around them.
  • Minimum of 2 undercoats and 2 gloss coats over the primer.
  • It takes at least a further two coats of gloss to properly cover sanded gunwhales, decks, etc.
  • Expensive paint is good, cheap paint is just cheap. You could say the same about painters!
  • Make absolutely sure you get what you pay for, it’s easy to get ripped off!

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. No unauthorised reproduction. Page last updated: 14/01/2023.

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