How to Paint a Fiberglass Boat & What You Need

Fiberglass is perhaps one of the most durable materials for a boat. Lasting and durable, this lightweight stuff has often been known to outlive its paint. So while that fiberglass frame might still be water-worthy, the paint on its surface might look like a total mess. When that paint starts to chip and peel, it might be time to refresh your vessel with a new coat. Not quite sure how to paint a fiberglass boat? Here’s a quick step by step guide.

What You Need to Paint a Fiberglass Boat

electric pressure washer with hose reel to clean fiberglass

Before anything else -- do you have the right stuff on hand? There are some pretty specific supplies necessary to successfully and safely accomplish the task. So before you get started, head to your local boating supply or hardware store to cop these essentials:

How to Paint a Fiberglass Boat

Now that you’ve got everything you need, it’s time to get right to it. Make sure you follow these steps to achieve the perfect coat and extend the life of your fiberglass boat.

1. Find the Right Place

All of those chemicals can release fumes that cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and lungs. It doesn’t really matter if you’re particularly sensitive to the smell of chemicals - it’s important that you find the right place to start your painting project.

Avoid tight, cramped spaces with poor ventilation. As much as possible, try to paint your boat in the open air where you can breathe properly, and fumes don’t have the chance to build up in the air. It also helps to paint in a well-lit area where you can see all the little imperfections on your boat for more accurate painting.

2. Clean your Boat

clean and wax fiberglass before painting

To get the perfect coat, it’s important that you clean your boat before the job. Use your usual fiberglass boat soap and wash your boat as you usually would. See to it that you get as much of the grime off to reveal the fiberglass underneath. It also helps to remove any hardware.

If you have one at the ready, you can use a pressure washer to blast away stubborn accumulation and stains. Make sure you use a wide spray to avoid damaging the fiberglass and don’t point the pressure washer too close to the surface of your boat.

Check out the Collinite Fiberglass Boat Cleaner & Wax Combo Pack.

3. Sand Down the Imperfections

Now that your boat is clean and dry, you can sand down the imperfections. For boats that don’t have too many, sandpaper should suffice. But if your boat has seen some pretty rough times, you might need to employ the help of an electric sander.

During this time, you could also take the opportunity to fill in cracks, crevices, and other dips in the surface. Using your fairing compound and a trowel, fill in the breaks in the surface to achieve a more even feel. Depending on the compound you use, you might have to wait a few hours to a full day for it to dry. Then you can sand down the area so it’s flush with the rest of the surface.

4. Prime the Boat

Different primer formulations might have different instructions. In general though, you’re going to need to apply two to three coats of the stuff to properly prepare your boat for the paint itself.

Don’t wait for the first primer layer to dry before you add the next one. In most cases, you must apply the next layer when the primer is tacky to touch. And because this stuff dries pretty quickly, you probably shouldn’t step away from your boat during the process.

5. Apply the Paint

topside paint for fiberglass boats

See to it that you read the instruction to find out how many layers you need. Top paint typically requires just one or two layers while bottom paint calls for up to three or four. It’s also important that you apply the first coat of paint while your primer is still tacky to touch.

Finally, make sure you read the instructions to find out how long you should wait to reapply the next coats. Paint also usually calls for a curing time, with some paints needing just 2 hours, others taking up to 16 hours for a full cure, and others still calling for up to three days before you can take it out into the water.

We recommend the Rust-Oleum Topside Paint and the Interlux Antifouling Bottom Paint.

For more great recommendations, see our 6 best paints for fiberglass boats.

Tips for Painting a Fiberglass Boat

Most primers are quick dry. Don’t leave your boat too long to avoid drying down the primer completely before the next layer is applied.

Work from the curved edges of your boat towards the flat surfaces for a more even coat.

Some paints dry faster than you can go back to brush out imperfections. Having someone to help lets you apply paint while they even out the spread behind you.

Apply thin even coats as opposed to think ones. Add water to your paint as long as the manufacturer allows it.

Looking Brand New

Wondering how to paint a fiberglass boat? It’s really not that hard. Instead of paying a couple thousand dollars to have the job done, why not do it yourself? Just make sure you’ve got the right supplies and tools, and you should be able to get your boat looking brand new in just one weekend.