Painting Your Boat Like a Pro

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:24PM - Comments: (2)

Ralph Naranjo
Ralph Naranjo

Practical Sailor tested a wide range of single-part and two-part topside paints.

In a few months, we’ll be publishing what will likely be our final update on our ongoing test of marine topside finishes—a project now in its fifth year. It will be interesting to see which hull paints have stood the test of time. If you can’t wait until this spring to get that paint project rolling (and tipping), here is a rundown of previous articles that will offer expert guidance on getting a good do-it-yourself finish for your sailboat or powerboat.

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 our primer on prepwork and our do-it-yourself notebook, you can save time and avoid the most common pitfalls. If you are set on a do-it-yourself spray paint finish, technical editor Ralph Naranjo walks you through the process. These articles offer a good foundation for getting a high-quality finish without shelling out thousands of dollars for a professional paint job.

As we saw in our 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.

We’ve 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 you’re 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.

With our topside paint test update on the horizon, 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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