WARNING: Warning this article contains
material that may be offensive if you think painting is more fun
When I bought my first yacht (27’ auxiliary sloop)
for $300 in 1951 I quickly learned that if its for a boat, the same material
costs several times as much as if it is for your house. Oakum was
$1/lb. at the marine supply store; five pounds for a dollar at the plumbing
supply store. Marine paint cost several times as much as house paint
of similar composition. I worked for a major chemical company that
also made paint and knew that their paint that made the most money and
on which they spent the most on research was house paint. Houses
are out in the weather all year-no winter cover or inside storage.
Their owners expect to repaint them infrequently, such as every ten years
or so. They also expect a good paint job will require little preparation
before repainting. Back then the only house paints were oil
paints, so my yacht was painted with top quality oil-based house paint.
All paints consist of binders or resins, pigments,
solvents, and additives. The binder forms the film that sticks to
the boat and holds the pigment there. The pigments color the paint,
make it opaque and have a good deal to do with UV resistance. Solvents
keep the binder dispersed or dissolved and the pigments dispersed in an
easy to apply state. They allow the paint to be applied in the correct
thickness and then evaporate from the paint film as it
dries. Mineral spirits, a petroleum distillate
fraction, is the most common solvent in oil-based paints. In latex
paints, water is the major fluid. It does not dissolve the latex
particles, but disperses them in suspension. Small amounts of special
solvents are present to control the coalescence of the latex particles
into a tough, tenacious film and to slow down the drying of the latex paint.
Through the years latex paints have developed to
the point where 100% acrylic latex paints are better than oil paints on
all counts. They are more durable and tougher. They resist
chalking and fading, retaining their color especially well when exposed
to bright sun. They are easier to apply, going on more smoothly and
with less brush drag. They have less tendency to grow mildew.
They have almost no odor and no fire hazard. Cleanup is with water.
They can be recoated in as little as one hour.
The 100% acrylic latex is the key to the outstanding
latex primers and paints now available. The weather resistance of
these polymers parallels that of the acrylic molding powders that make
red automobile taillight and stoplight lenses that last forever without
fading. I checked out all the top quality exterior primers, paints,
and porch and deck paints at both Lowe’s and Home Depot-they are all 100%
acrylic latex products (the Glidden latex exterior primer at Home Depot
used an organic nomenclature I hadn’t worked with for 50 years, but my
Handbook of Chemistry and Physics translated it to 100% acrylic copolymer
latex). All of the products are available as custom colors mixed
to your desire.
Your new boat went together pretty fast-instant
boat or tack and tape construction. What kind of a paint schedule
can you use to get it in the water next weekend. Let’s say the inside
will be all one color and the outside all one color, not necessarily the
same as the inside. You can do the outside in one day, the inside
the next, and give it a couple of days before you launch it.
Here is the schedule. Sand it all over with
60 grit and clean up the dust. Put on a coat of latex primer.
That will raise some hairy fuzz, so after drying a couple of hours give
it a once over with 60 grit to defuzz it. Put on a coat of your exterior
latex paint. Gloss is the toughest and most durable, but also shows
surface imperfections best. Semigloss is almost as tough, durable,
and easy to clean as gloss while not showing surface imperfections.
For me, it is the usual pick. I have stayed away from flat paint.
You won’t have to sand after the first coat of
finish paint and you can easily recoat in the afternoon. That finishes
half of the boat. The next morning turn it over and repeat the schedule
for the other half of the boat.
If you use two colors on the outside of the boat,
you will add another day to the painting. If you use different colors
for the bottom and the side on the inside and have a steady enough hand
to cut it in at the chine you can do it in one day.
While it is best to wait a week for the paint to
dry hard, don’t let it keep you from getting in the water before next weekend.
A posting on the rec.boats.building newsgroup on
the Internet asked if latex paint was good below the waterline, as if it
was going to wash off. Look around your neighborhood. All those
houses painted with latex paint sit out in the weather all the time.
My boats live in the water with their latex paint jobs. Platt Monfort
recommends for waterproofing the Dacron® skins of his Geodesic Airolite
boats “...the simplest method being a good quality
exterior latex house paint.”
How long is the latex paint job going to last?
My sailing skiff that lives in the water was three years old this spring.
The inside, especially the bottom, was scroungy from bilge water and having
been through two hurricanes, so I gave it a one coat repaint job this spring.
It looked great until Hurricane Bonnie messed it up this year.
The 16-year old Uncle Gabe’s Flattie Skiff (Sam
Rabl) built of ¼” fir plywood was painted when new and then about
9 years ago. It looks pretty scroungy, but the interesting thing
is that while the paint on the wood has been scoured off by hurricane winds
and general wear the paint on the epoxy-fiberglass joints in the sides
is perfectly intact and looks great.
A fellow who was donating a boat to our local museum
told me he had the real secret to boat painting. He had painted a
production plywood boat with latex primer and latex paint. He was
sanding the paint off and found it was almost impossible to remove the
last traces of the latex primer because it had penetrated the wood to some
degree. Well, nothing soaks into wood like water and some of the
pigment particles are bound to be carried along with the water vehicle
of the latex paint.
When I rebuilt my 1964 Simmons Sea-Skiff 20 I used
a heat gun and a wide chisel to remove about a dozen layers of old oil
paint. To repaint I used latex primer and then two coats of Lowe’s
“Severe Weather” 15-year guarantee semigloss latex exterior paint custom
colored to match the “Simmons blue” that was next to the wood. It
has been three years and three hurricanes ridden
out on the mooring since the boat was launched. Except where the
boat has rubbed fenders or the edge of the float and on the cockpit floorboards
the paint is in first class shape. I do need to repaint the floorboards.
In my survey I found that Lowe’s has an exterior 100% acrylic latex skid
resistant paint (Skid-Not®) that can be custom colored. I believe
I will try it.
I am not alone in appreciating the outstanding
performance of 100% acrylic latex paints for boats. Thomas Firth
Jones, boat designer, boatbuilder, and author of Boats To Go wrote
in Boatbuilder several years ago that he preferred latex paint over oil
paint for boats for all of the reasons cited above. He did comment
that he paints his tiller with oil-based paint because the latex paint
I was talking with “Dynamite” Payson one May weekend
a couple of years ago and he told me he was going to repaint his skiff
with latex paint that weekend.
Jim Michalak, boat designer and builder, uses latex
paint on his boats.
Phil Bolger reported in Messing About in BOATS
that his personal outboard boat is painted with semigloss latex house paint.
Boatbuilders are traditionalists and it has been
a hard sell to get them to accept plywood, stitch-and-glue construction,
epoxy adhesives, and other similar innovations. Don’t let tradition
keep you from benefitting from the ease of application and outstanding
performance of 100% acrylic latex paints.