Boat after

Preparing and Painting a Boat Deck

Preparing and painting a boat is an important skill to have. Not only when restoring but also for basic maintenance. Tackling it right away was something that was an easy decision with this dinghy. In this case it was not only a part of bringing back the beauty of the boat, but helped us to assess the boat and get some practice on the skills needed.

Some aspects of the preparation and painting process can affect the length of time a paint job lasts, therefore knowing how to tackle the job is an important part of keeping a well maintained boat. In this post I’ll look at some of the things that lead us to paint our new dinghy, what went well, and what I could improve on before I tackle Bernadette (our 26’ Chrysler).

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Photo of the boat after the deck is painted.

Why Painting Was Necessary

One of the first things I noticed when I checked out the dinghy was that she had what looked like crazing all over. While I realized this could indicate larger problems, this wasn’t a concern for us. Normally I would have looked into things a lot more closely before making the purchase, but quite frankly the sails and trailer were worth more than we paid for the boat.

Perhaps more importantly, I considered it a learning opportunity. A chance to explore what exactly, if anything, was wrong with the boat and how to repair anything that might arise. Not only could I use some practice on fiberglass repair before tackling the small spots of damage on Bernadette, but I figure it’s almost an inevitability that at some point a larger fiberglass repair will be necessary if this adventure lasts as long as I intend it to.

Preparing the Boat

The first step was to clean and sand the deck. There didn’t appear to be any wax, so I didn’t bother with a dewaxer for this particular project (although it is needed for the larger boat and it’s recommended if you’re tackling a paint job on something that might have wax on it). TotalBoat Dewaxer and Surface Prep was my choice for the larger boat and it seems to work really well.

Partially sanded area on the deck of the boat.
Once we got through the red, it was clear the cracks were only in the paint.

Within minutes it was apparent that the cracks were purely a surface issue on the deck. Since we intended to paint it blue and I wanted to verify the overall condition of the boat I went ahead and sanded the entire deck.

The same was true of the hull, although this showed more damage. There were what appear to be a few pox and sections of damaged fiberglass although they had been repaired.

At first I was concerned about cracks that seemed to be damage to the gelcoat (and/or fiberglass), but after sanding they seem to have been stains. It’s pretty clear the paint was left cracked for some time.

While I’m talking about sanding, it’s important to note that bottom coat can be some nasty stuff, so if the boat you’re sanding has an ablative on it you might want to consider full gear. As it was, I wore a disposable suit, goggles, and a mask (not the cloth kind that was used for covid, but a plastic one that fits around your head and has changeable filters to go into it like this one by 3M).

Also, as an environmental caution, I set up a dust free sander. I was able to use our Dewalt sander, which has a dust collection bag. I replaced the bag with this universal adapter, although after using it I opted for this setup, which also includes a longer vacuum hose, to use on the larger boat as the first adapter seemed to stick out further than was comfortable for some of the odd angles involved. The last step was to hook it to a wet dry vacuum and I was set to go.

All told the process of adapting the sander to dust free took about 5 minutes. The process of sanding took a bit more time. In fact, between typical Michigan spring weather and a limited number of hours which someone can manage to squat with an orbital sander, it took me about 10 days. Granted, that’s probably longer than it would take the average person without a whole brood to care for.

Once the dinghy was completely sanded and cleaned off (to ensure no dust happened to escape the collection setup and land on the boat), it was time to paint her.

Materials and Painting

There are a few options for paint, and a few methods which you can use paint. For topside paint there are both one part and two part polyurethanes and alkyd marine enamels (bottom paint options are typically more complicated, but those will be covered in the post on painting her hull).

I opted for a topside enamel for both the deck and the hull. While you would typically use a bottom coat with some form of antifouling in it, the fact that the dinghy will only be sailed in fresh water and will be taken out and stored at the end of each day means I feel comfortable just going which the marine grade enamel. In this case we used a product called Duralux.

I also took the easy route in regards to the method. I’ll be purchasing a compressor and paint sprayer for the larger boat, which is the ideal method in my opinion, but for the dinghy the simpler method seemed adequate.

This simpler method is called rolling and tipping. It involves using a standard low ply roller. Most recommendations fall between 3/16” and 1/8” roller covers or foam rollers. I opted for foam. It’s also good, if you have the option, to get covers with solvent resistant cores. Otherwise you can end up with the center tube falling apart (I’ve heard horror stories of the nap breaking up all over someone’s new paint job).

You also need paint brushes to lightly brush over the paint after it’s rolled on. The cheapest and easiest option seems to be natural “chip” brushes with the wooden handles and boar bristles. You need to make sure that none of the bristles are loose though, or you could end up with stray bristles in the paint. and then brushing the ends of a bristle brush over the paint job.

Being the impatient person that I am, I attempted to skip the tipping step on the first coat. What this dead was leave far more “drips” (thick spots where the edge of the roller laid the paint on a little too heavy). This meant that before the final coat I had to take some wet/dry sandpaper to those spots and reduce the ridge before I could finish.

Close up of a section of the painted boat to show drips
This shows the overall quality of the rolled paint after the first coat as well as one of the “drips” I mentioned.

While this was still slightly quicker than rolling and tipping would have been (particularly with one person), the amount of time saved wasn’t worth it and I’ll be sure to get someone behind me with the brush next time.

The other place where I ended up with thicker paint streaks was where the gunwale meets the coaming. Overall I was pleased with the quality. Some light scratches were still visible after the first coat, as is seen in the photo above, but after the second coat those were no longer apparent.

While the wet dry sandpaper resolved this issue too, I think it’s worth paying extra attention to that area when working your way around the boat. All in all, the actual painting took about an hour, half hour the first day and then half an hour 24 hours later (the stated recoat time).

Lessons Learned

Fortunately this process taught me a lot about how to make the prep and painting of the larger boat go more smoothly (as I hoped it would). We’ll definitely be spraying that boat and we’ll be adding in the prep work of dewaxing. We’ll also be using proper bottom paint, because while she too will be in fresh water for quite a while, I won’t be taking her out of the water at the end of every day.

Aside from the obvious issues with painting method and the coaming, I think the biggest thing I’d do differently has to do with painting outside. While this was the only option, I think next time I’ll use some form of makeshift “car port” to place around the boat while painting.

At first I didn’t think it would be a problem to have the boat exposed to the elements (and even the rain a few hours later didn’t affect the paint), but the number of bugs that ended up in the paint thanks to a Northern Michigan spring meant that removal and subsequent sanding of the small ridges that remained added more time than was necessary.

The last thing that might be a concern will be the choice to use a standard topside marine enamel on the hull, and it’s probably the one that will receive the most critique. Time will tell if it was acceptable under the circumstances and I’ll review the issue.

Before and After

Boat before

Before painting

After painting

Boat after

What’s Next

The actual painting of the hull was a much more complex process for us, so that’ll be covered in a separate post.

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