how to paint an aluminum boat

How to Paint an Aluminum Boat Yourself: Step by Step Guide

Aluminum has earned the reputation as one of the most ideal materials for boats, and for good reasons. For starters, aluminum boats are affordable, making them accessible to boaters with a limited budget. Other than that, the aluminum boat is particularly durable despite being lightweight, able to withstand some of the harshest conditions. Aluminum fishing boats have an average lifespan of up to 50 years. But bare aluminum isn't all there is to thank.

The layers of paint on aluminum boats contribute significantly to its durability and resilience. But just like any other paint job, there are specific steps to follow if you want to make sure that coat does its work to protect your aluminum boat against the elements. Here's how to paint an aluminum boat to extend its lifespan and keep it looking brand new.

What You'll Need to Paint an Aluminum Boat

Many boat owners end up paying someone else to paint their aluminum boat for them not knowing the task is something any Tom, Dick, or Harry could do. With just a few tools and materials from your local hardware shop, you should be able to finish the paint job in just a couple of hours. Here are all of the things you'll need:

Sander

sander

If you've got the patience and the energy to sand your boat manually, you could cut down the cost with a hand sander. But if you don't want to exert too much effort or if you don't mind shelling out a little extra, you could get a sanding tool. Coarse sanding paper should get rid of major blemishes, while fine grit paper should work to create a smooth, consistent surface.

Check out the Warner Hand Sanding Block or the BLACK+DECKER Orbit Sander.

Primer

primer

Exactly as its name suggests, the primer quite literally primes the boat to prepare the surface to receive the paint. A layer of primer ensures that the paint you apply sticks to the boat and doesn't chip off after it's dried.

We like the Rust-Oleum Aluminum Primer.

Paint

paint for aluminum boats

Not any old wood paint will do. Aluminum boat paints are intended specifically to protect aluminum boat hulls from corrosion. Remember though that you could need a different paint all together if you were planning to paint the inside of the boat your self. You can also get a clear coat that works as a protective barrier for your paint. Clear coat typically comes in a spray can for easy application.

Try using TotalBoat AlumiPaint AF Antifouling Paint.

Painter's Tape

If you're planning to paint both the exterior hull and the interior of the boat, then painter's tape is a necessity. This makes sure that you don't paint beyond the area intended for the paint you're using.

Aluminum Boat Cleaner

aluminum boat cleaner

Caked on dirt and stains can prevent paint from completely adhering to the surface of your boat. Giving your boat a well deserved cleaning with the right kind of product can help get rid of stubborn stains and dirt that could get in the way of the paint job. If you don't have specific cleaner, you can use mild soap. Prepare clean water to rinse everything off.

We recommend the Star Brite Ultimate Aluminum Cleaner & Restorer.

Stiff Bristle Brush and Rags

scrub brush

Since you're going to wash the boat, might as well use a set of cleaning tools for the task. A stiff bristle brush can help get rid of rust, while rags work to wipe away residual dirt and debris that might be sticking to the hull and other boat surfaces.

We like this Amazer Scrub Brush with a comfortable grip handle.

Paint Rollers or Brushes

paint rollers and tray

You're going to need something to apply both the primer and the paint. A paint brush or roller should be a cost-effective way to apply paint. But if you want an even coat and effortless application, you could try a paint sprayer tool.

We highly recommend the Pro Grade Paint Brushes, Bates Paint Roller + Tray or the YATTICH Paint Sprayer for large areas.

Aluminum Polish

aluminum polish

Some boat owners like to apply a layer of aluminum polish before painting their boat just to make sure that the underlying surface is completely clean and smooth. You can always do it by hand with a few rags, or you can get yourself a buffer tool to make it easier.

We like using Star Brite Ultimate Aluminum Polish in conjunction with the DEWALT Buffer/Polisher.

Other than all of the materials and tools necessary to paint an aluminum boat, you need to make sure you have the equipment needed to protect yourself. These include work gloves, work overalls or an apron (if you're wearing clothes you don't want stained with paint), and most importantly, something to cover your nose and mouth to protect yourself against fumes.

We recommend the G&F Latex Gloves, Arctix Essential Overalls, Lightweight Apron with Pockets and the 3M Disposable Respirator Masks  to keep the paint and fumes away.

How to Paint an Aluminum Boat

prepping aluminum boat for painting

With all of the necessities at your disposal, it's time to get started on the painting process. There are quite a few steps involved, and you might take a few days to actually complete the whole task. But following every phase of the procedure should help guarantee a paint job that will last for the next few years.

If you don't want to get any paint on the floors, see to it that you lay down a large sheet of plastic or a tarp to cover up the ground. Here's what you need to do to paint an aluminum boat:

1. Prep the Surface

Of course, you're going to need to make sure that your aluminum boat is ready to receive the paint. Preparing the boat hull means sanding off any rust, dirt, or debris that might have accumulated on the surface after all of your fishing trips. Use your hand sander or a power sanding tool to work away inconsistencies. If your boat was previously painted, you're going to have to remove all of those layers, too.

Remove any metal, wood, or plastic parts that might be attached to your boat. Use 100 or 80 grit sandpaper for removing big bumps, etching, and blemishes on the boat's hull and the inside of the boat. To make everything nice and smooth and even, you can shift to a fine grit sandpaper to sand the hull to a flat surface.

2. Wash the Boat

With all of the blemishes and bumps sanded down, you can clean boat. Use distilled water and your aluminum boat cleaner to remove debris and dirt from the sanding. When everything is clean, rinse the residual soap. Some boaters use a power washer to spray away dirt and residue, and then wipe what's left with a rag.

Microfiber has been known to be exceptional at clinging to dirt, dust, and other small particles, making it a great choice for picking up any debris on your hull. After it's clean, make sure to leave your boat out to dry before you move on to the next step.

3. Use Your Aluminum Polish

This is an optional step, but it works well to improve the cling of your primer and paint. Use your aluminum polish as directed on the package label. But since you're not going to use the polish for its shine, a single light coat should be enough. The purpose of the polish is to prepare the surface and make sure that your hull is smooth enough to receive the primer and paint combo.

4. Apply Primer

Before you start applying your primer on that bare aluminum, make sure that you're working in the right weather conditions. It's ideal to paint your boat in warm sunny weather so you can be sure that the coats will completely dry down. To avoid filling the air up with harmful fumes, see to it that you're working in a well-ventilated area.

Crack open your primer, take your brush, and apply a coat to one side of the boat. Let it dry completely for an hour or two before applying primer to the other side. It's okay if you don't get all of the nooks and crannies on the first application since you will apply two coats after the first.

Even then, it helps to make sure that you're getting the stuff directly into nooks and crannies. If there are parts of your boat that are harder to get to, don't hesitate to use a paint spray tool in place of a brush or roller. Just make sure you're not applying the primer too thickly that it takes too long to dry. See to it that both sides of your boat get three coats of primer.

5. Paint the Boat

Take a fresh paint brush or roller and break open the paint. Remember that paint for the hull and for the interior are different. That said, you'll have to apply painter's tape on the borders of the boat so you won't have to worry about your brush painting over the other side of the metal.

To get the best coverage, you're going to need to apply two coats of paint. Let each layer dry completely before applying the next. Once you're done with the hull, you can move on to the interior (or vice versa), remembering to use a different set of brushes. Don't forget to remove the tape and reapply so that it covers the edge of the painted side of the metal.

After you're done with painting and all of the coats are completely dry, you have the option to apply a clear coat. This usually comes in a spray can for easy application. Lay down a new plastic sheet to make sure you don't get the coat on other surfaces. The purpose of the clear coat is to protect the paint and help it last longer against the elements, wear, and tear.

Tips for Painting an Aluminum Boat

spray painting aluminum boat

It's normal to feel a little apprehensive when tackling a major maintenance task like painting an aluminum boat. But with the right tools and enough time, you should be able to get the job done like a pro.

To help make sure you're doing it right, here are a few extra tips to guide you through the process:

Don't Rush the Process

Primer and paint take hours to completely dry. This can be a test of patience for most boaters, but resist the urge to apply a layer prematurely. The dryness of each coat will play a role in the longevity of the paint. Just make sure you're applying layers that are thin enough to dry quickly.

Wait It Out

There's honestly a lot of waiting involved. Aside from waiting for each coat to dry, you have to wait for the entire boat to cure after you're done painting it. That means waiting between 3 to 5 days after the final clear coat application before you go back fishing or hunting.

Protection is Important

It's worth reiterating that personal protective gear is a must when painting a boat. Paints and primer will release fumes that can irritate your nose and eyes. Some have even experienced respiratory distress as a result of inhaling too much fumes. Wear proper protection for your face and body and don't work in a confined space.

Really Get In There

Just a single crack or etching in the layers of paint will prove detrimental for the whole exercise. All of those paint coats will just as easily crumble off if there's a nook or cranny you missed. That's also why it's important to sand your boat thoroughly. See to it that you cover even the tightest spots with paint and primer so damage doesn't have anywhere to start. Always choose to spray when possible to make sure every inch is properly painted.

Use the Right Products

It can be hard to choose the right paint or primer since there are so many on the market. Just read the labels and maybe even ask the manufacturer to make sure the paint you're getting is the right stuff for your boat. You can even ask your question in boating forums to find out what other boat experts have to say.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you paint over old paint on an aluminum boat?

The whole sanding and preparation process can be taxing especially for larger boats, but unfortunately, you can't just skip over it. Painting over painted aluminum means sacrificing the integrity of your work. That old stuff will crack and crumble soon, and when it does, the new layers will come off with it.

Other than that, all of the dirt, dust, and debris on the existing layer will compromise the quality of the new layer, leaving you with a bumpy coat that might not last very long. If you're not keen on the prep part of the project, use a sander power tool to remove old layers.

What kind of paint do you use on aluminum boats?

You're going to want to use something that's formulated specifically for aluminum material. On top of that, you have to consider whether you're painting the exterior or the interior of the boat since both areas will require different paints.

The exterior paint should be formulated to defend against marine degradation. The layer inside the boat should protect against UV exposure.

Should I paint the bottom of my aluminum boat?

Absolutely. In fact, you might even want to consider taking it up a notch. Boat owners usually stop at the aluminum boat barrier coat that protects against corrosion.

But you do have the option to add a layer or two of anti-fouling paint that essentially prevents marine wildlife like barnacles from clinging to the underside of your boat. This goes on top of the aluminum boat paint layers.

Time to Get to Work

Wondering how to paint an aluminum boat? It's actually pretty simple. So before you pay someone else to do the painting project for you, why not try it your self? Just see to it that you have the right tools and materials for the process so you can produce professional-level outcomes that can keep your boat fully protected for the years to come.

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