Boat Painting 101

It doesn’t take a lot of strength to hang on. It takes a lot of strength to let go.  J.C. Watts


I have a whole new respect for people in the boat repair business. The estimate to repaint the hull of our 43’ Taswell was around $14,000. Having now experienced the process, I would say that is cheap. “Let’s do it ourselves,” he said. Had I known then what I know now…

There are lots of Youtube videos showing the boat painting process. Dan watched a myriad of them and decided we had the ability to take on this task. To give Dan some credit, I didn’t see any of the people on the video sweating, swearing, passing out, unable to move the next day because their arms felt like they were going to fall off from sanding. No one included those parts. They were all smiling and showing the steps as if it was all a piece of cake. Liars. All of them.

Here is a brief synopsis of the boat painting process.

#1) Wipe the boat down with alcohol to remove any wax. Wax left on the surface will prevent paint from adhering.

Since the paint alone cost around $2,000, I knew this was an important job. Of course, the sun was shining and it was hot when we got our giant bag of rags and alcohol. Perched on ladders, we wiped every inch of the boat vigorously. You could only take one swipe with the rag on each section. Once the wax was on the rag, you couldn’t reuse that section because it would simply put the wax back on the boat. It seemed no matter how many times I wiped, wax still appeared on the rag. After a long day of this, about a hundred rags, and my arms wanting to fall off, we finally finished the task. I was so excited to be done until Dan informed me… “We need to do this at least 3 more times.” Three weekends of wax removal was just the beginning. At least my arms were beginning to strengthen.

#2) Grind out all the dents and dings on the hull then fill them with compound. Sand every spot where compound was applied.

Dan spent an entire day grinding out the areas that needed to be filled. The next day was the filler compound application. The compound lasts about 10 minutes before it dries and is unusable. It was like a relay race applying the compound. Dan would mix and apply, then come running to me to scrape off the old compound before it stuck permanently to the pallet while he mixed up a new batch. A tediously long day was spent finding and repairing every imperfection on our boat’s hull. The boat looked like it had chicken pocks from all the yellow marks on her white belly. I looked proudly at what we had accomplished and asked Dan what came next. Of course, he replied, “We have to sand them all down now.”

An entire day was spent, with hand sanders, hot sun blazing down on us while we perched on our ladders, once again, and sanded until our arms and shoulders screamed at us. End of the day came and Dan was rather silent. “What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I don’t think this is smooth enough. I’m going to have to go over this again with the power sander. My arms and elbows were shrieking at me at this point and I just glared at Dan. However, what really made the hair on the back of my neck stand up was when he said, “By the way, we have to do this two or three more times.”

 #3) Sand the entire boat.

There is something wrong with the concept of power tools. They are supposed to make work easier. However, if a husband and wife are working together, who do you think gets to use the power tool, and who do you think has to sand manually? Dan didn’t quite trust me to use the power sander in case I went down too far and damaged the gel coat. It was back to the hand sander for me. We had to rough up the entire surface of the boat in preparation for the base coat. Another long weekend of sanding. I decided I really hated sanding. Since the paint we were sanding was treated with toxic chemicals , we had to wear respirators and gloves. Layers of dust coated every inch of our clothing and bodies. By the end of the day, we were hot, dust covered and pretty much miserable.

#4)  Apply the base coat.

I was so excited when the boat was sanded to Dan’s satisfaction and we were ready to apply the primer base coat. We decided to go with 2-part  Awlgrip paint Before we could paint, there were several hours of taping the fixtures and water line. Dan would mix the paint in a small pail and wait 15 minutes for the catalyst to work. Then, it was almost fun covering up all the imperfections and seeing the boat begin to gleam with white. It wasn’t shiny, but I could envision the finished product. End of the day and Dan looked at me grinning. “You realize we have to sand this coat down and apply another coat, then, sand that one too?” My grin was immediately exchanged for a grimace. Had I only watched those damned Youtube videos with Dan, I might have had a clue.

At one point, I was so exhausted that I laid down on the swim platform in a little ball and wanted to die. We had been working on the hull for two months due to the numerous steps and many, many rain delays.  There were lots of other workers sanding and preparing boats, but one conspicuous item that was missing from the boat yard was the presence of any other women. I understood at that moment, this was not woman’s work. This hell should be reserved for men alone. They don’t give birth, they should do all the sanding.

I was feeling sorry for myself and had only finished half of my side of the boat. I felt I couldn’t go on. Then, I heard a voice ask me if I was okay? I looked down and there was a woman standing there. I told her, “I’m not really okay. I’ve been sanding and I have decided there is no amount of money anyone could pay me to do this for a living.”

“Oh,” she replied. “I work at this boatyard and I do sanding.”

Needless to say, I felt a bit stupid. We introduced ourselves and I was intrigued with this woman who worked in a man’s world. She was like a ray of sunshine and even gave me tips about sanding the interior of the boat… a project WAY down the line. However, she cheered me up immensely. She was a breath of fresh air and the angel I needed to inspire me and lift my spirits. I forced myself to shed the pity party and got back to work and finish my job of sanding.

#5) Apply the top coat.

With two coats of sanded primer, the boat is now ready for the final top coat. This whole process has taken us almost two months to get to this point and a LOT of sanding.  We can’t seem to find a window of opportunity to apply the final two coats. Of course, I just found out we have to do the first layer, then sand it, before the final layer of top coat. Did I mention I hate sanding?

I have learned a lot about strength these past two months. Not only has it been difficult selling our home and getting rid of 30 years of accumulated possessions, but the boat fixing up process has been physically and mentally demanding, to say the least. I have a whole new respect for what it takes to maintain a boat. Every time I dive under my boat I will smile as I look up at her from under the crystal clear waters of whatever continent I am on knowing that I helped put that shiny protective coat on her. That, and I NEVER want to do it again.

There is a very long list of other tasks, which I hope are not nearly as tedious as painting. The deck needs to be painted at some point but that is not going to happen for at least a year.  I need that long to recover.  We have scrubbed the bottom and will be putting a new coat of paint on that as well. Dan promises only minimal sanding on that job


Dan and I have lived in our home for 28 years. It is the only home we have ever lived in. We built it from scratch and raised our children here.  For over a year, our focus has been on fixing up the house and getting it sold. Praying that all goes well with the closing, August 1st is our date to leave this home and move aboard our boat. It is bittersweet, of course, saying goodbye to all our possessions and picturing another family living in the home we built. We will have a final moving sale the weekend before we depart and get rid of the last of our furniture and things that won’t fit on Equus.

In the meantime, it is full steam ahead for the day we have been waiting for, basically since the night we met. We both had a dream of sailing around the world, and now it’s finally coming true. This first step, the moment we step aboard as liveaboards, will be our biggest leap of faith. We will spend a couple of months living aboard, adjusting to the boat and finishing up projects. Then, November 1st will be our first crossing to the Caribbean. The next blog post will hopefully be from my laptop aboard Equus and we will have the details of our first voyage battened down. Until then, I will be perfecting the art of letting go and see just how strong I really am!


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