Find the right paint for your boat with our boat paint guide

Getting the perfect finish for your boat needs the best boat paint

Australia is a nation of water lovers, with some 3 million of us living in a household with some kind of boat. Whether you have a dinghy, canoe, row boat, motorboat, speedboat or yacht, you need to look after your vessel to make sure you get as many good years as possible on the water. A vital part of boat care is the choice and application of boat paint.

In this guide we will take you through the best boat paint systems for GRP/FRP, aluminium, steel, and wood, and provide you with the tips and tricks to ensure a job well done.


Why you need to paint your boat – protection and decoration

Painting a boat is not just about appearance. A properly applied boat paint system will also protect your boat from the elements, make it easier to clean, and safer to sail. More specifically a paint system will protect steel and aluminium boats against corrosion, fibreglass boats against osmosis, wooden boats against rot and weathering, the underwater hull against fouling, and protect your decks from abrasion.

Boat paint protection will only be effective if the coating system is right for your specific vessel and substrate, and it is applied according to the manufacturers instructions. The right boat paint will make even your old dinghy the pride of the marina.

The essentials of a boat paint system and what they do

Like any coating system, painting a boat requires a number of elements and layers to provide the best finish and protection. The essential components of a boat paint system are:

  1. Filler – Filling and fairing is an important part of boat paint application. They are intended for the repair of any hull imperfections like cracks, scrapes, holes, or bumps, and to level out and smooth the hull surface and improve hull performance through the water. They are usually applied between two layers of primer.
  2. Primer – Seals and protects bare substrates above and below the waterline, provides adhesion for the next layers, and enhances the final finish. Provides a perfect foundation coat and protects against corrosion.
  3. Undercoat – The linking layer between the primer and the final coat. Some systems also have a primer and undercoat in one option.
  4. Topcoat – Both decorative and protective, the topcoat will make your boat shine and defend it against the onslaught of wind, rain, sun, and salt.
  5. Fouling Protection – Also known as antifouling, this protects the underwater hull from the buildup of sea life and slime thereby improving top speed, decreasing fuel consumption and protecting local underwater life.
  6. Deck coating – For protecting decks from traffic abrasion, chemicals and UV radiation while making them safe to walk on – most deck coatings increase the surface’s slip resistance.

Though the quality of the products is of course important, the vast majority of coating failures are due to poor surface preparation. It is vitally important that application guidelines are followed and steps are not missed or ignored.


Boat paint systems for fibreglass, aluminium, and steel boats

Each boat material presents its own threats and challenges, and so paint systems are designed with these in mind. For most applications, coating companies provide a one component and a two component option. Which one you choose depends on your own level of confidence with coating, whether your boat is already coated, and what you hope for from the coating. Below is a chart comparing some of the properties of one and two component boat paint systems.

Coating PropertyOne Component Boat PaintTwo Component Boat Paint
ProtectionGoodGood/High
Experience levelEasy to useRequires some experience
DurabilityGood High performance – generally twice as durable as one component systems
Overcoating compatibilityOne component primers can only be overcoated with one component systemsTwo component primers can be overcoated with one or two component systems

Boat paint systems for fibreglass boats (FRP/GRP)

A fibreglass boat is strong and low maintenance, but once that gelcoat weathers you will need to act to protect the look and durability of your vessel. Over time, fibreglass boats fall victim to osmosis (or fibreglass boat pox) – a process where the gelcoat allows water to be absorbed into the fibreglass and break it down, eventually forming blisters that dissolve the plastic. A coating system will work to protect the boat from osmosis. Below are some of the boat paint systems for fibreglass boats from top brands.

International Single Component System
PRIMER – Yacht PrimerA fast-drying, single pack, general purpose primer for use above the waterline.
UNDERCOAT – Pre-Kote An undercoat specially formulated for marine conditions and all substrates.
TOPCOAT – ToplacA premium, long life gloss marine enamel for above the waterline.
Hempel Two Component System
PRIMER – Light PrimerHigh performance epoxy primer and undercoat for use above and below the waterline.
TOPCOAT – PolyGlossHigh gloss polyurethane enamel especially suited for application with a brush.

Boat paint systems for steel and aluminium boats

Steel and aluminium are popular boat materials because they are strong, watertight, easy to form, and look good. Unfortunately, in the water they can both fall prey to corrosion. A boat paint for aluminium and steel boats protects against corrosion while also providing a perfect finish. The systems below are for above the waterline.

Jotun Single Component System
PRIMER – EasyPrimerA fast drying and easy to use alkyd primer.
TOPCOAT – EasyGlossA high gloss alkyd topcoat for application with a brush or roller.
International Two Component System
PRIMER – InterprotectAn epoxy polyamide primer with good abrasion resistance.
UNDERCOAT – Perfection UndercoatEasy to apply and fast drying, a superb base for a lasting gloss finish.
TOPCOAT – PerfectionUltra high gloss finish with superb chemical and abrasion resistance.

Boat varnish and paint for wooden boats

Wood is beautiful material for a boat and trim material. Of course, it comes with a price. Wood is particularly vulnerable to damage from weathering, sun exposure, water absorption, and attack from marine organisms and mould. However, if you prepare the surface properly, a coating will not just protect the wooden substrate but will actually enhance its natural beauty. The systems in the table below are for above the waterline.

International Single Component System
PRIMER – EverdureAn ultra-low viscosity timber primer, used to help seal and harden soft timber surfaces.
VARNISH – Goldspar OriginalA tough, durable interior and exterior marine varnish, with superb UV and abrasion resistance.
Hempel Two Component System
PRIMER – Multicoat 51120A semi gloss alkyd-based enamel coating designed to be used as a primer or a topcoat.
TOPCOAT – Brilliant Gloss 53200A modified alkyd enamel with high gloss and excellent colour retention. For interior and exterior.

How a below the waterline boat paint system works

The hull below the waterline is one of the hardest working parts of your boat. It needs to be abrasion resistant to deal with scrapes and knocks and the friction of travelling through water, and it also needs to deal with the threat of fouling. If left unchecked, fouling will build up and cause drag, slowing your boat and increasing your fuel consumption. It will also penetrate and weaken the hull.

The choice of fouling protection coating depends on your boat and how you use it. Your sailing pattern and speed, whether you haul your boat between trips, the environmental and legislative concerns of your region, whether you boat in fresh or saltwater, and what type of coating already exists on your hull. For a full look at fouling protection, check out our dedicated guide.


Products and boat paint specialists across Australia

As applying boat paint is not always an easy job, there are many specialists in Australia who can do the job for you. These professional boat painters apply bottom, topside and deck paints from brands such as Jotun, AwlGrip, International, Altex, Prospeed, Nano-Clear and more. Head to your local marina for the nearest boat painting expert in Australia.

If it is time for your yacht’s maintenance and you are looking for a product or service, do not hesitate to contact us. Our experts are happy to help you find the boat paint of your needs. Also, if you are looking for marine paints for larger vessels, our specialists’ expertise is at your disposal!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.