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Choosing Paint & Primer

Choosing the right paint and primer for painting a boat can seem a bit complicated.  So we have grouped products into categories and to make it easier to understand..  We will explain these categories and give our recommendations on selection.  FYI – we provide links to products for your convenience and we DO NOT receive incentives from any of these companies.

Products for use above the waterline:

The budget friendly paint is a 1 part polyurethane based paint, such as Interlux Brightsides, Pettit EZ-Poxy, and Total Boat WetEdge. These 1 part paints require no mixing and are ready to use right out of the can.  At $20-$40 a quart then can be a very cost effective way to paint a small boat.  However the downside of these budget paints is they don’t cure as hard as 2 part paints (mentioned later) and are more prone to scratching.   We used Interlux Brightsides on the deck and Pettit E-Z-Poxy on hull sides for our FRS-12 demo.  We have found over time that the Brightsides seems to be a little more durable and scratch resistant than the E-Z-Poxy.  Both paints were super easy to apply and covered well with 2 coats.  We apply these paints with white foam cabinet rollers (do not use nap rollers) and a high quality brush for hard to reach places. We recommend these for our budget priced builds, such as the FRS-12 & FRS-14.

The mid grade is a 2 part polyurethane, such as Interlux Perfection.  2 part paints give you a more durable finish but require you to mix 2 parts and possibly add a thinner for rolling or spraying.   You can roll or spray 2 part paints with a paint gun.  We do not have any firsthand experience with these products but know many have used them with success.  We recommend these paints for our mid range boats, such as the FRS-18.  The mains reason is the increased durability of the paint when compared to the budget friendly 1 part paints.

The top of the line paints are Alexseal and Awlgrip.  While they are also 2 part polyurethane paints they are NOT on the same level as the mid graded paints (as the price will reflect).  These top of the line products are categorized as “paint systems” meaning that all parts are designed to work together as part of a whole paint system within the brand, starting with their primers, putties, and paints.  We recommend that you use all of the same brand products to ensure everything will work together correctly and without issue (this is a good idea for all paint products).  We painted our CS-21 with all Alexseal products and have been very happy with the results.  These paints and primers require mixing 2 parts plus a reducer for spraying or brushing.  In the hands of a professional, a spray gun can produce AMAZING results.  This is what most every custom boat builder uses.  But if you are a paint amateur, a Harbor Freight spray gun for primer and the trusty white foam cabinet rollers will give you a finish that rivals most gel coats.  We rolled our CS-21 and only a professional would notice it’s not spray.  We recommend these paints for our cold molded boats, the Carolina and Core Sound series. 

Most every paint has a matching primer offered by the same company, when possible we recommend you use their product.  And since they match up with the paints not much more can be said.

A very important note about primers and paints.  If you use 1 part primer, you should only use 1 part paint BUT if you use a  2 part primer you can apply a 1 part or 2 part paint over it.  I have seen 2 part paint soften 1 part primer when applied and it creates quite a mess.  If you use 1 part paint now and wish to repaint with 2 part later, you’ll need to remove all 1 part products before applying any 2 part products.

Products for use below the waterline:

Every primer I’m aware of, suitable for below the waterline use is a 2 part and cures by chemical reaction.  1 part primers (and paints) cure by allowing a solvent to evaporate and most often can significantly compromised by submersion.  So on all boats we recommend a 2 part primer designed specifically to be used below the waterline.  Three good options are Interlux Interprotect 2000e, Sea Hawk Tuff Stuff and Total Boat TotalProtect.  These can be applied directly to bare glass or over another 2 part primer.  We used the gray Sea Hawk Tuff Stuff on the bottom of our FRS-12 demo. It creates a very hard and durable finish with a slight texture.  We decided not to coat our FRS-12 with anything else and allow the primer to act as the paint too. It resists damage from trailer bunks and even if you leave the boat in water for a few days, you may have to scrub off some buildup but the primer would not be damaged. We recommend you roll primer with a 3//16″ nap roller, 3/8″ nap will put on too much primer and foam rollers not enough.

If you step up to the “top of the line” paint system we recommend you use their primer(s) that pair with their other products, many of the same general statements made in the previous paragraph still apply.  If you wish to apply a bottom paint for a boat that is trailered most of the time we recommend a non-ablative or “hard” bottom paint such as Interlux VC Offshore.  Non-ablative simply means it does not wear off over time like traditional (ablative ) bottom paints.  If you leave the boat in the water for an extended duration and need to really combat growth a traditional ablative or “soft” bottom paint is recommended. We used Pettit Vivid (for it’s bold red color) on our CS-21 and it performs great, even with the boat staying on the trailer more than in the water it holds up great.  Some bottom paints require chemicals or special cleaning/removal before re-coating.  We have found that a light sanding of our Petit Vivid and a solvent wipe is all that is needed for us to apply a fresh coat yearly, which makes maintenance hassle free for DIYers like us.

The FRS-12 with “Budget Friendly” Paints.
Bottom – Sea Hawk Tuff Stuff – Gray applied with 3/16″ nap roller.
Hull – Pettit EZ-Poxy – Seafoam Green applied with white foam cabinet rollers.
Interior – Interlux Brightsides – Matterhorn White applied with white foam cabinet rollers.

CS-21 with “Top of the Line” Paints applied with white foam cabinet rollers.
Bottom – Pettit Vivid – Red applied with 3/16″ nap roller.
Hull & Interior – Alexseal – Cloud White applied with white foam cabinet rollers.

Hopefully this article and examples of boat paint in finished application helps you understand the different products available and make an informed decision on which paints and primers to use on your boat.

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