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As with most anything, the cost difference between a DIY narrowboat paint job and what you’d spend taking your narrowboat to the shop for painting is enough to inspire anyboat owner with a handyman streak to consider painting their narrowboat themselves.  

Not only is the cost difference a big factor for boat owners, there is a long history behind the art form of painting narrowboats. 

Though the traditional designs and color schemes may have evolved over the last 250 years, the colorful and unique persona of narrowboats can be traced back hundreds of years and remains an attractive feature that draws tourists to tow paths and marinas to this day to enjoy the colorful view.  

If you have a vision in mind for your narrowboat and want to enhance your boat’s exterior appearance, the best paint for narrowboat is the first place to start your process.

In this article, we’ll discuss what to look for in a paint you plan to use on your narrowboat, offer some tips to get you started, and we’ll even highlight some paint products designed for the unique conditions marine paints must withstand.

Necessary supplies and gear for painting your narrowboat

If you decide to paint your narrowboat yourself, whether you’re giving it a quick refresh or creating an entirely new design to really make your boat your own, there are some supplies you’ll definitely need to have on hand. 

These include:

  • 6-inch paint brushes
  • Paint rollers
  • Orbital sander
  • Painters tape or masking tape
  • knee pads, dust masks, and old clothes

As you consider the wide variety of paintbrushes, remember that the quality of the brush’s bristles will impact both the consistency of the paint coat and the finished look. 

Natural bristle brushes are often easiest to work with and deliver the best results for painting a canal boat.  For your rollers, invest in synthetic mohair-based rollers. 

Better quality brushes and rollers will deliver a better quality paint job.

Before you ever get to painting, you’ll probably need to spend some time sanding to create a smooth, even surface.  A sanded surface will absorb paint more uniformly for a more consistent even paint coating. 

This tool can be the difference between a narrowboat paint job that looks like a DIY project and one that looks custom-made.

Knee pads may not seem like an important part of a painter’s kit but spend a few hours on this type of project and you’ll quickly see the benefit of this added protection. 

Old clothes will ensure you aren’t losing your most valued wardrobe pieces to stray paint drops and dust. 

Dust masks are key during the sanding and prep work prior to painting especially because paint dust can be thick, nasty stuff.  Especially if you have any history of upper respiratory illnesses or conditions such as asthma, always sand with a dust mask securely in place. 

Painting your boat isn’t an easy undertaking, but knee pads and dust masks can make the process less painful and allow you to work for longer periods of time.  

Prep work steps for the best finished product

Before you start painting, there are two key steps you’ll need to take to ensure your finished product looks amazing on the water and stands up to the elements over time.

First, you’ll want to consider protecting the windows on your narrowboat.  Some boat owners take the windows out completely and mask the openings with scrap wood or cardboard. 

If you aren’t comfortable or able to remove the windows, consider masking tape and covers to protect the windows from stray paint.

Next, look at the fitting on your boat.  Just as you’d remove handles and hinges on cabinets before you repaint your kitchen, you’ll want to remove all of the fittings on your boat that you do not want to cover with paint. 

Deck labels, door catches, and the like will look much better in contrast with your new paint job if they are removed or properly covered.

Sanding is a very important step towards creating a beautiful, professional-looking paint job.  Sanding your boat helps to remove the old paint and ensures a smooth surface that will better reflect light. 

A medium-grade in the 120-grit range is the best to begin with.  There are many kinds of sanders on the market, but you’ll get the smoothest surface if you pair a 120-grit sandpaper with a random orbital sander. 

If possible, avoid using vibrating sanders because these will leave marks along the surface of your boat that will show through even several layers of paint.

Once you’ve removed the old paint and the surface begins to appear smooth, transition to a smaller grit sandpaper, such as a 180-grit, and go over the surface again. 

The additional sanding will remove any blemishes or marks you may have missed the first time around for the smoothest possible surface.

Prior to painting, you’ll need to take some time to remove all of the dust you kicked up while sanding. 

If you have never painted on a project like this before, you’ll quickly realize that any dust left on the surface will prevent the paint from adhering properly and will create a really unpleasant texture that you won’t enjoy looking at – even if other people don’t immediately notice the blemishes.

Where are you painting?

Professional boat painters have the luxury of a shop or garage setting to create a controlled environment that facilitates these large paint projects. 

If you’re painting your boat yourself, though, this may not be an option. 

If you have a garage or shed large enough to comfortably fit your boat and provide proper ventilation, moving your boat off the water and into a dry building can make the painting process both easier and faster. 

You’re less likely to contend with insects or the dust and debris that wind will happily knock onto the surface of your new, wet paint.

If you are not blessed with a spare, extra-large garage, consider renting a space with a covered dock.  A covered slip provides protection from wind, rain, and sun. 

These elements can make you very uncomfortable as you are working and they can make smoothly layering paint on your narrowboat a challenging job. 

You’ll want to paint in the morning if you’re working outside to keep you comfortably cool and allow plenty of time to evenly coat the section of boat you’re working on and allow it to dry.

Tips for laying paint on your narrowboat

When it is time to start painting, the project may seem like a huge undertaking but it will be much more manageable if you take it one section at a time. 

Sections measuring 30-40 inches in length are manageable for dividing your project up.  

Using a 7-inch synthetic mohair roller, begin applying paint  in thin, even coats.  Thick coats may run and will take much longer to dry. 

Apply thin coats with the roller, working left to right first then a second time up and down to ensure an even coating on each section. 

Use your natural bristle paint brush to smooth out any bubbles, following the left-to-right then up-and-down pattern you used with the roller.  

Allow the first section to dry and move on the second.  Don’t be tempted to over-scrutinize your work.  You can go back and add more paint, but it is a much more difficult process to remove thick layers of excess paint. 

If, once it dries, you see paint runs or imperfections, pairing your orbital sander with a 400-grit sandpaper will allow you to remove blemishes and start over.

Layering thin layers of paint will help you create a smooth surface and will allow you to decide how dark and intense you want the color to be. 

You can expect to lay two or three layers for most paint jobs on a narrowboat.

Choosing the right canal boat paint

The paint used on canal boats and narrowboats is usually a coach enamel-based paint.  This kind of paint is highly durable and stands up to the elements best over time.  

Narrowboat paints come in all different colors and hues.  Some colors, though, remain vivid and attractive longer than others. 

The longevity of your paint comes back to the way different colors in the color spectrum absorb light.  Blue and green hues tend to be more stable while reds and yellows will face more quickly. 

You’ll want to keep this in mind because painting your narrowboat will not be something you want to do every other year.

Best Paint for Narrowboat

Duralux M724-1 Marine Paint, Biloxi Blue Boat Paint, 1 Gallon

Duralux Marine Paint  comes in 20 ready-mix high gloss color options as well as 3 camo color options.  This is an alkyd enamel product that is engineered for use on commercial or pleasure boats. 

You can purchase this paint in quart or gallon containers, allowing you to create intricate, multi-colored designs on your canal boat by purchasing small containers of accent colors so you don’t end your project with a lot of half-empty paint buckets to store.

Duralux M724 is meant to last and withstand the corrosive environment of a saltwater climate. 

This formula has been designed to fight rust corrosion and will withstand salt water, fuel oil spills, and even holds up under harsh cleaning solutions. 

It is durable and long-lasting, which is why the manufacturer recommends Duralux Marine Paint can even be used for on or off shore oil rigs, tanks, and waterside structures.

Pros:

  • Alkyd-based enamel ideal for both commercial and pleasure boats
  • Fights rust corrosion and withstands salt water damage
  • Available in both gallon and quart containers in 20 ready-mix high gloss colors and 3 camo color options

Cons:

  • Duralux will stand up to moderate saltwater exposure, but you may want to add a top coat engineered to extend the life of your paint in saltwater conditions if your boat is used primarily on saltwater waterways.

TotalBoat Underdog Boat Bottom Paint

TotalBoat Underdog is a bottom paint designed to provide your boat with essential protections in addition to enhancing the appearance of your boat. 

This paint affords narrowboats with single-season protection below the waterline, preventing both hard and soft growths.  Its barnacle-repelling properties will keep these growths at bay.

Underdog boat paint is a great option for DIY boat owners because Totalboat incorporates ablative technology. 

This technology continuously releases fresh biocode that reduces paint build-up and makes it easier to refresh this important paint barrier every season. 

Application of a single coat that you allow to dry overnight is enough to get your boat in the water. 

Continuous buocode release is also an important preventative measure for combating marine fouling, especially in low fouling conditions.

Pros:

  • Ablative technology continuously release biocode for better anti-fouling protection
  • Minimizes paint build-up for easier season refreshing
  • Easy to apply and dries overnight

Cons:

  • As with most paints designed for narrow boat bottoms, Totalboat Underdog provides only seasonal antifouling protection and needs refreshing to keep barnacles at bay every year.

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