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5 Different Types of Boat Paint

A photo of two luxury motor yacht beached at a dock for painting and repair.

I am not rich, but I have a few rich friends. Some of them have boats. They like to take them out on sunny weekends, and they sometimes invite me. They own medium-sized luxury liners that are sleek and stylish, with decks and cabins that are well-furnished.

I recently became curious about how they maintain such vessels. They are unable to do all the work on their own, especially the painting. Indeed, I was surprised to learn that boats must be painted regularly. One of my friends hires professionals to do the job, but buys the materials and insists on supervising.

I am a writer by trade, and this whole thing captured my interest. The following is a summary of what I learned about painting boats and the types of boat paint.

What is Boat Paint?

A repairman fixing by painting boat body and painting boat using spray gun.

It is also known as marine paint. It is a type of paint that is made specifically for the marine environment. It is used to protect ships, tankers, and luxury boats from saline water or freshwater. Marine paint has specific properties which allow it to provide superior protection to the surfaces to which it is applied.

It is used to protect the material surfaces of sea-going vessels from corrosion and abrasion. Boat paint is also used to maintain the hydrodynamic properties of sea vessels. Luxury boats such as yachts do not require a great deal of speed.

In fact, they are best enjoyed when plodding along a calm coast. But warships and commercial liners work on a schedule. Speed is vital, as is the need to move through the water with as much efficiency as possible, so as to preserve as much fuel as possible.

Boat paint is specifically formulated to ensure smooth movement through the water. They are perfect for the purposes of anti-fouling, anti-corrosion, and self-cleaning.

Types of Boat Paint

Here are some of the general types of boat paint that are found on the market.

1. Topside boat paint

A luxury yacht beached for annual service and repaint.

This type of paint is applied above the waterline of a boat, which may include the sides of the hull, deck, and the interior. Topside paints consist of one-part polyurethane, two-part polyurethane, and alkyd marine enamel. Intense sun rays make boats vulnerable to UV damage.

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That is why it is necessary to coat the upper hull and deck with a solid topside boat paint. It is the only way to protect the vessel.

2. Aluminium boat paint

Close up of the left side of the boat bows, aluminum blue worn out paint on it, with ropes and chain attached.

This paint can be used for many purposes, including camouflage, decoration, refurbishment, and restoration. One of the advantages of aluminum paint is that it can be applied without a primer and used below or above the waterline.

Related: Is it Okay for an Aluminum Boat to Stay in the Water Year-Around?

3. Fiberglass paint

Close up of modern powerful motor boat bottom with bow thruster steering hole and redans.

This type of coating consists of Gelcoat, Gelcoat putties, resins, and restoration solutions. The gel coats can be used to touch up or repair a boat’s finish; they have a rather short shelf life and can be more difficult to apply. In general, it is best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using this paint.

Related: Aluminum vs. Fiberglass Boat: Why We Chose Aluminum Over Fiberglass

4. Wood boat paint

A photo of old man at his back painting painting his wooden fishing boat.

This paint includes traditional oil-based finishes. Wood boat paint can flex and swell, especially along seams. Expensive finishes will not last any longer than traditional stains or paint. Teak can be used to prevent fading on a boat’s wood finish.

If left untreated, it will often fade which can lead to the need to clean or treat the wood again in order to prevent rotting, mildew, and discoloration.

5. Bottom boat paint

A person painting a boat's bottom with a fresh paint using roller and black paint.

This is the most effective anti-fouling paint. It is designed to diminish weeds, barnacles, and other aquatic organisms that attach themselves below the waterline of a boat and cause damage. Ablative bottom paint, hard boat bottom paint, aluminum safe bottom paint, primers for bottom paint, and boat bottom paint remover are included in this category.

How Boat Paint is Applied

As has been said, boat paint is used to protect marine vessels from corrosion and fouling. The latter refers to the growth of sea life on the bottom side of the hull, which can damage the latter and lead to serious problems. Boats are painted in the places where they are most exposed to the elements.

The external structure of such vessels takes priority. It tends to be divided into the following three regions:

1. Below the water-line

A senior man happy painting on the side of a sailboat.

The bottom of a boat consists of plates that are continuously immersed in seawater. It is necessary to use boat paint that resists alkaline conditions. The paint should also have good electrical resistance so that the flow of corrosion currents between the steel and seawater is limited.

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Bitumen, chlorinated rubber, coal tar, epoxy resin, and vinyl resin are all suitable corrosion-inhibiting paints that are suitable to be used on ships’ bottoms.

2. Water-line or boot topping region

A man with orbital polisher polishing boat.

This part of a boat is only intermittently immersed in water. This part of the boat can be coated with paints that consist of vinyl and alkyd resins or polyurethane resins.

3. Topside and superstructure

A man fixing boat body and painting boat using spray gun.

Although it is not constantly sunk in seawater, the superstructure of a boat is constantly exposed to the elements, including wind, sun, and rain. When at sea, it will be bombarded with sea salt spray. Paints made of red lead or zinc chromate-based primers are commonly used on superstructures.

Some owners also apply white finishing paints to make their boats look better. Oleo-resinous or alkyd paints and linseed oil-based paints are best.

Good surface preparation is a necessary part, and an essential prerequisite, of successful boat painting. It is especially important before painting new steel to remove mill scale.

The latter is a thin layer of iron oxides that form on the steel surface during the hot rolling of plates and sections—a process that occurs during the actual construction of a boat. Not only does mill scale cause the emergency of corrosion cells, it also destroys any paint film applied to it.

You must also give due attention to safety. Boat paint contains many toxic substances, which if brought into contact with your skin can cause irritation or even burns. Some of the solvents in the paint are highly flammable and release explosive vapors.

You should always know what exactly you are dealing with. If you hire a crew to paint your boat, then they will know the hazards and wear the proper PPE gear. You should do the same if you want to do a little touch-up painting on your waterline or superstructure.

You should also ensure that there are no open flames near the boat when it is being painted. This can lead to an explosion, even if the job is being done outdoors.

The bottom line here is that you should know the specific chemicals and solvents that are in the paint that you use, and you should understand the particular dangers they pose. You should also follow the instructions and precautions written on the manufacturer’s label.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is antifouling?

A photo of boat antifouling protective coating on the bottom waterline of the motor boat on the slipway.

It is the process of applying a special protective paint to the bottom of a boat to protect it from marine growth such as algae and barnacles. The paint is applied to the hull and the rudder.

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Do I really need to antifoul my boat?

The short answer is yes. Even if you have a yacht or some other recreational vessel that does not require speed, it is still important to make anti-fouling a central part of your painting and maintenance program.

Failure to do so can increase fuel consumption by as much as 30% because the marine life that grows on your hull will make it harder for your vessel to push through the water. Certain marine life can also eat through the hull, which will leave you with all kinds of structural problems.

How often should I anti-foul my boat?

A yacht on dry dock stand being repaired with antifoul.

This depends on factors such as location and usage. Your boat will, as a matter of necessity, be left in the water for a very long time. You should regularly check to see whether protective coating needs to be reapplied. As a rule of thumb, you can probably get away with anti-fouling your boat every two years.

If you are like most people, you are very active with your boat in the spring, summer, and autumn. Winter is probably the best time to lift your boat out of the water, clean it with jet wash, and put on anti-fouling paint.

What are the different types of anti-fouling paint?

1. Hard anti-fouling paints

This type of paint releases biocides through its film. As a result, the paint sticks for longer. High-speed boats, warships, and other vessels in which performance is key use this paint. It can also be used on pleasure boats. Using it will reduce the frequency with which you must paint.

2. Eroding antifouling paints

A small yacht on dry dock stand being repaired.

This is a softer type of anti-fouling paint that is designed to erode quickly to ensure that an active layer of biocide is constantly present on the vessel’s surface. The erosion will guarantee a consistent performance across the season. It will also prevent a long-term build-up of anti-fouling paint on the boat itself.

3. Copper-based antifoul paints

These paints tend to be more expensive. However, they do last longer—some up to 10 years. They contain copper particles that are suspended in epoxy coating. Owing to their longevity, copper-based anti-fouling paints are the most environmentally friendly of the lot.

In most instances, it is not possible to go 10 years without putting on a fresh coat of paint. After a few years, the copper will become dull, and you will have to scrub the coating off and put on a fresh layer.