How to Paint Over a Gelcoat on a Boat

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It's time to add a stripe or other custom design to your boat and you don't want it to look like you were attacked by amateur graffiti artists. Like any painting project, preparation is the key and, in this case you will be painting over the slick, shiny surface of gelcoat. Not only do you want the paint job to look good, you want to preserve that shiny gelcoat-like surface. With a bit of work and a fair amount of care, you can achieve your goal.

Items you will need

  • 400-grit sandpaper Masking tape Bundle of old newspaper Paint sprayer 2-part epoxy paint (Imron, or similar) Boat wax

Wet sand the area to be painted with the 400-grit sandpaper. This roughs up the surface of the gelcoat and gives the paint a surface for adherence.

Mask off the areas you will not be painting. Use the masking tape and the bundle of newspaper. The masking tape should be placed so that half of it is on the newspaper, and the other half on the surface of the boat. Since the paint will stop at the masking tape, apply it so that the edge is at the point where you want the paint to stop.

Mix up the 2-part epoxy paint as you go; it will take a little more time, but the resulting paint job will be more even. Another benefit is that your spray gun is less likely to be clogged by paint that is starting to "set" before it is applied. Hold the sprayer 6 to 10 inches from the surface while you paint.

If an area of paint starts to bubble or wrinkles up, stop. Wait for this area to dry, then dry sand the bubble down and apply wax to the surface. You will need to mask this area off with tape and newspaper to keep the paint from being applied unevenly, and the wax will help the masking tape come off without damaging the paint.

When you finish painting the boat, remove the newspaper and masking tape by pulling downward on the tape at a 45-degree angle. Like wiggling your bow free from a mud bank, the angle is different from the angle at which the tape was applied, and the angle breaks the adhesion without damaging the paint beneath.

If the finish is duller than you think it should be, use a light coat of wax on it after it dries. The wax acts like a polishing compound and, as you wipe it off, you will be removing a microscopic layer of the paint. It will shine well.


  • This project should be undertaken in a well-ventilated space and, preferably, on a clear, warm day.


  • Your local newspaper will likely have bundles of yesterday's issue that they want to dispose of. They may ask for a small fee, but it'll be for the bundle rather than for each paper. A 2-part epoxy paint is more expensive and more trouble to work with; however, it provides a finish second to none.
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