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How to Paint an Aluminum Boat Yourself for the Best Results

Fact checked by William Hart

how to paint an aluminum boat yourself

I’ve been attempting to paint my own boat since I first got a 10-foot Jon boat four years ago. Nothing can be as exciting as riding your unique yet stunning vessel on a weekend fishing trip. After going through a lot of trials and errors in painting my boat, I finally came up with the best way to paint an aluminum boat.

In this article, besides a step-by-step guide on how to paint an aluminum boat yourself, we will provide some product recommendations for the most ravishing paint job. Let’s explore further!

Table of Contents

What You Will Need


1. A sander, paint scraper, and sandpaper

An electric sander will help you sand out the old paint, glue, and dirt on the aluminum surface before painting. For people who never worked with sanders before, avoid heavy-duty ones. Instead, purchase a lightweight sander with precision and grip. These features will ensure your hands won’t get too tired.

Also, make sure your sander comes with 80-grit sanding discs. For small and hard-to-reach areas, you will need a paint scraper and sandpaper.

2. Boat soap, a deck brush, and a water hose

After sanding down the boat, you will need to give it a thorough wash. Paint won’t stick long to dirty and mucky surfaces. Prepare boat soap, a deck brush, and a water hose. A long deck brush can get the cleaning job done quickly. But if you don’t have one, a large soft brush will do.

3. Marine metal primer

Applying a primer will ensure the adhesion and durability of the topcoats. Without a thin layer of primer, your paint will be uneven and crack soon. Most marine metal primers on the market are used above the waterline, such as the Rust-Oleum 207016 Marine Metal Primer. It is because priming the boat bottom is not necessary.

Once you’ve decided which brand you like, you will want to calculate the amount of primer you need. In general, a quart of primer can cover 100 square feet. Check the product description to know the exact amount. Then, measure the area you’re about to work with and purchase accordingly.

4. Topside marine paint

Antifouling paints that contain cuprous oxide are not for aluminum hull or outdrive. Avoid those as they can result in corrosion when contacting aluminum. Instead, choose antifouling paints that are marked as aluminum-safe. You can find ingredients like zinc, a non-metallic agent, or cuprous thiocyanate in topside aluminum boat paint. We recommend the PETTIT PAINT–Hydrocoat® ECO Ablative Antifouling Paints or INTERLUX–Trilux 33 Antifouling Paint. If you like a bright & vivid color, opt for PETTIT PAINT–ViViD Bright Colored Hybrid Antifouling Paint.

Read the product specification thoroughly to know how much paint you need to cover the boat hull and the bottom. On average, one gallon of topcoat marine paint can cover over 400 square feet. But in my experience, you should buy 15 to 20 percent more paint on top of the amount you calculated. During the painting process, you might make mistakes or paint a slightly thicker layer than expected. Having more paint available will be such a relief. If you plan on painting the inside of your aluminum boat as well, don’t forget to measure and calculate all areas.

5. Clear the coating paint

A clear coat or marine varnish paint is to shield the previous layers, protecting them against weathering and aging. This final coating also adds a glossy and shiny look to the vessel. Similar to the marine primer and topside paint, you will want to think about the amount of clear gel paint you need before purchasing.

6. DFT meter

DFT stands for dry film thickness. Basically, it’s a device that tells the paint thickness. With this incredible tool, you can assure even painting layers. If you haven’t worked with paint before, a DFT meter will be a big help.

7. A paint bucket, stirring stick, paint tray, and rollers

The tools you need to put the paint on includes: a paint bucket, a stirring stick or a powder-driven paint mixing tool, a paint tray, and a couple of rollers or brushes. You can buy an electric paint sprayer if you prefer spraying. However, spraying paint can cause a huge mess if you are not used to it. Rollers and brushes are safer options.

8. Safety gear

Last but not least, when working closely with harsh chemicals, safety gear is imperative. Grab a painter’s suit with a hood, gloves, foot covers, goggles, and a vapor dust mask to avoid inhaling tiny particles when sanding and painting. You can buy disposable gear to save money. Besides, the suit, gloves, and goggles might come in different sizes. Select the right size for you.

Steps to Paint an Aluminum Boat Yourself


Start by preparing the working area. Cover the ground with paper or plastic and remove items that can be damaged by the paint. Pick a nice weather day to execute the tasks. Ideally, the temperatures should be in the 50°–85°F range and humidity should be under 65 percent.

Step 1: Sand down the boat’s surface

Once everything is settled, remove the old paint using the orbital sander. 80-grit sanding discs are preferred as they can sand large surfaces more quickly. Remember to put on your safety gear. For edges and grooves, firstly use a scraper to get rid of the paint. Then, hand sand the areas with some sandpaper.

This step is highly important since it sets the foundation for the paint. So, take as long as you need. If the surface is not cleaned, the paint won’t stick properly, and eventually start peeling itself.

Step 2: Wash the vessel thoroughly

For optimal results, we recommend giving your boat a thorough wash before applying primer. Use boat soap, a long deck brush, and a water hose to clean the whole surface quickly. After that, wipe it off with a clean cloth. Finally, let it air dry. On a humid day, the drying process can take up to five hours. Give it all the time it needs.

Step 3: Mask off the area you don’t want to paint

Make sure you have a clean and dry vessel and start masking off the area you don’t want to get paint on. This can be done with masking tape or some paper.

Step 4: Coat the whole surface with primer

With a brush or roller, paint the primer in long strokes along the boat length. Long continuous strokes will result in more uniform surfaces. Don’t apply too much product; you don’t want to see any dripping while painting. Then, let the primer dry in a cool and ventilated place. Each primer has a different drying time, usually about one hour. When you press your fingers against the primer and it feels dry to the touch, the layer is done.

At sharp corners or geometric shapes, the paint tends to become thinner after drying. Use the DFT meter to check these areas. Apply more primer if needed.

Step 5: Apply two coats of topside boat paint

Here comes the fun part when you can customize the unique color of your own vessel. Whatever designs or styles you go for, keep in mind the general rules:

  • Paint in long strokes following the boat length.
  • Work in thin layers to assure the paint is as even as possible and avoid dripping.
  • Using an air gun is more difficult but it can quicken the process.
  • Be patient. If you have a large vessel, it might take the whole afternoon to just finish one layer.

Once you’ve done the first layer, give it one to two hours to dry completely. You can do a touch test, similar to the case of the primer. Then, proceed to the second coating.

Step 6: Shield the deal with a layer of clear coat

Finally, shield all the hard work with a clear coating. Let it completely dry and you are done. With proper gel coating, the paint can last up to ten years.


That’s how you paint a whole vessel yourself! Though painting an aluminum boat consumes a lot of time and effort, the result is always worth it. You can slowly get used to the painting job by working in small areas first and getting to the entire boat later. The thing is to enjoy the process, not get stressed over it. At the end of the day, it’s your own playground.

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