How To Paint An Aluminum Boat

Folks who want to enjoy the local lake or coastline or just like to fish on a budget can easily do so with an aluminum boat. Even though aluminum boats are quick to register and relatively simple to maintain, you might want to paint your aluminum boat so it’s a little more unique in color than silver-gray.

Fortunately, it is not difficult to paint an aluminum boat if you know the correct process. Let's break it down in detail.

Prep The Boat For Painting

Any good painting job will only be successful if you prepare beforehand. Unfortunately, prepping your aluminum boat for painting takes some time and elbow grease.

Where To Dock?

First, figure out a place to dry-dock your boat. You won’t be able to paint your aluminum boat while it is still in the water. Ideal spots include garages, sheds, or even outdoors in front of your home.

If you don’t have any suitable space at your property, contact your local marina and see if there’s any dry dock you can rent or borrow. Either way, you need to elevate your boat off the ground so you can paint the bottom.

Furthermore, if you plan to use a sanding tool rather than manually sanding your boat, which will save you a lot of time and energy, you will need a spot with an electrical outlet to power the tool. 

Sand The Surface

As indicated above, you will need to sand the surface of your aluminum boat before you can start painting. Sanding eliminates loose paint, rust, and embedded dirt and debris, forming a smooth surface. If your aluminum boat has rusty patches, use high-grit sandpaper and a power sander to wear down the rust over time.

Sanding the surface of your boat can easily take several hours by itself. Don’t rush this part of the process, as it will significantly affect the end result of your paint job.

Wash Thoroughly And Rinse

After thoroughly sanding your boat’s surface, give it a good wash. Use mild soap and water, mixing the two compounds in a spray bottle. Then, spray your boat down and wipe it with a sponge or rag to get rid of any remaining dirt.

If you have embedded stains in the boat, create a solution using 50% warm water and 50% distilled vinegar. Spray the mixture on your boat’s surface, and let it sit for about a minute before scrubbing away.

Alternatively, you can visit an automotive or boating shop and pick up special cleaning products specifically for these issues. For example, stronger cleaners may be necessary if you need to remove lots of rust stains from your aluminum boat.

After washing your boat thoroughly, rinse it completely, so there is no soap and grime left trapped underneath the paint layer.

Polishing Your Boat

After preparing and washing your boat, you will need to polish it before adding a paint layer. Polishing your boat will result in it looking shiny and brand-new, even if it is several years old.

What To Use?

Never use a generic polishing product. Instead, look for an aluminum boat-specific polish, which can be found on online markets like Amazon or automotive and boating stores. Alternatively, you can also pick an aluminum cleaner, so long as it cleans and polishes simultaneously. Check the information on the back of the product for further details. 

Apply The Polish

After selecting a reputable aluminum boat polish, use a paintbrush or a rag to rub the polish into the boat's aluminum surface. Power buffers can cut down on the time you spend polishing your boat, but you may want to do this by hand to make sure you don't miss any areas. It will be labor-intensive, so choose wisely. You will likely hand polish the nooks and crannies of your boat regardless.

For the best results, work in small sections and polish your boat progressively over time. Don’t try to rush the project, and expect it to take only a couple of days while working in reasonable time sessions to entirely wash and polish your boat.

Check For Missed Spots

After initially polishing your aluminum boat, look over it carefully and ensure you haven't missed any spots. Missed spots will be highly visible after you paint your boat, which can ruin the overall effort and lead to an uneven aesthetic.

Let The Polish Dry

As you check for missed spots, allow your polish to dry thoroughly. Depending on the product you choose, this may take as little as 10 minutes or as long as 20 minutes. The back of your polishing product will specify the approximate drying period.

After letting the polish dry, take a clean microfiber cloth and wipe the boat down to finally get rid of any remaining dust or dirt particles or moisture.

Painting Your Aluminum Boat

You are now ready to move on to the painting part of the process. Painting, like washing and polishing your boat, will take several days out of the necessity to let the primer and paint dry sufficiently.

Consider Another Location

You might not be able to paint your boat in the same area where you washed and polished it. Check the weather forecast and verify that there is no imminent rain or that it is not supposed to be excessively windy while you plan to paint. Water and dirt can mix with the paint as you apply it and lead to a messy final look.

If possible, you should pick an indoor area, preferably one away from cars, buildings, or anything else that can’t afford to have paint on it.

As you prepare your new surface, such as the interior of a garage, prepare a piece of paper or plastic on the floor to catch any dripping paint. Make sure that you can elevate the boat so you can access the bottom and all other areas. 

Prepping The Surface

Before you start applying paint, get rid of any peeling paint, old wax and polish, rust, and so on. You have probably already gotten rid of the most visible debris because of your earlier efforts, but do another pass just to be sure.

Primer First, Then Paint

Now, it is time to apply the oil-based, self-etching primer. This primer type can easily stick to aluminum surfaces, making it great for painting an aluminum boat.

Use either a sprayer or brush to apply a thin layer of primer on the boat’s interior. Let the interior primer layer dry enough that you can safely start painting the outside with the primer as well. Both layers will take about 12 hours to dry, so expect to let the boat sit overnight before actually painting the vessel.

When it comes to aluminum boat paint, choose a water-resistant marine paint that can stick to aluminum. Aluminum-sticking paint is available in a wide range of colors, so you ought to be able to design your boat's final look according to your preference.

As with the primer, paint the inside of your aluminum boat first using a brush or sprayer. Again, use horizontal strokes to make sure you apply the paint in an even pattern. Let the inside coat dry for 12 hours, then paint the exterior to prevent fingerprints or other debris from mixing with the interior drying paint. The outside layer also needs to dry for 12 hours.

After this point, you can decide whether you want to apply a second or third layer of paint to both the interior and exterior. Keep in mind that each layer has to dry for 12 hours before you can safely touch the boat.

Clear Coat Protection

Ensure to apply a clear protective coat to shield your boat’s paint from scratches. Also, keep in mind that the clear coat will also take several hours to dry. Note, the exact time frame is dependent on the clear coat product you purchase. However, it is well worth it in the end. Apply a clear coat, and your top-tier paint job will last much longer.