Painting Boat with Awlgrip
Sailing, Sailing Lifestyle, Useful Info

How To Paint Your Boat With Awlgrip (Personal Experience)

A step-by-step guide of painting our boat with Awlgrip using roll&tip technique.

After several months of consistently working on Elysia, trying to return her back to life after the devastating impact of Irma, we were finally in the yard, with not too much left to do. (Read about our Irma experience here!) One of the tasks we were facing was getting rid of “Irma Art”, as I called it. More on port side than starboard, but all over the boat there were nice blue abstract “drawings”, looking somewhat like this:

The boat after Irma

We asked a couple of people for the estimate and got quoted about $9,000 to $10,000. After collecting our jaws from the floor, we started thinking. We went online and watched numerous videos and guides about how to paint the boat. Luckily, two of the professionals working at the yard, told us not to worry, because they were ready to give us any advice we needed and guide us through the process, “You can do it yourself!” they said. And sure enough, we did.

A Little Disclaimer: By any means, we are not claiming to be professionals and give professional consultation about how to paint your boat with Awlgrip. But we are going to tell our story, and hope it helps somebody through the process.

It took us 1.5 months all together, with 80%, or over a month spent preparing the surface. The prep time depends highly on how many scratches and dings you have, because when you cover them, you have to inspect them with a “fine toothed comb”. I thought that paint would hide imperfections, but, in fact, it is the opposite – it augments them, and the more coats you put, the more they show!

Awlgrip has a very detailed application guide (VIEW or DOWNLOAD it here) . It is very informative, and you should use it for mixing ratios and application info, but trust me, you don’t need half of the product that they suggest you buy. Just skipping the unnecessary steps saves a lot of money and time already. Before you start, invest the time into building scaffolding. If at first you can just move a ladder around, when you get to painting, you will need to work so fast, you won’t have time to do it!

Here is a step by step process of how we painted the boat with Awlgrip, with trips and tricks. We also included some links to the products we used, which are purely examples, you don’t have to get those exact brands or buy them in these exact stores, in fact, we bought most of the stuff at a local Home Depot.

1. Tape the waterline and the rub rail, or whatever you have up top. Tape all the pipes and through-hulls.

2. Sand the surface. For that you need an orbital sander, and lots of sanding disks. Do not try to save on sandpaper, because as a disk deteriorates, it becomes harder and harder to achieve any result and you end up spending a lot more time at one spot and get frustrated. And since you have to sand many, many times, after a while it will drive you up the wall! Changing disks frequently speeds up the sanding process immensely.  You will need all kinds of grit.  We got some 80, some 100, 150, 240, 320 and 400. Start with the low grit and with every sanding increase it. 400 is the last one, between finishing coats and that one you do by hand. Anyway, for this step use 80-120. Do not over-sand, stop when you don’t see any more shine. Do not forget to wear protective glasses and protective masks! Without them, in the best case scenario you will have the taste of sanding dust in your mouth and red teary eyes, and in the worst case it may damage your lungs! Clean the surface. You do not have to buy expensive cleaner Awlprep T0008. Denatured alcohol will do just fine – use one rag to wipe and another to dry. Every now and then just wash the boat down with soapy water (we use Dawn) – just make sure there is enough time for it to completely dry.

How To Paint Your Boat With Awlgrip (Personal Experience)

3. Now it is time to take care of the scratches. Thankfully, we didn’t have any penetrating holes, but some of the gouges were rather deep. You can use pretty much any epoxy, but we used Fiberglass Evercoat and Pettit EZ Tex Marine Epoxy Repair Compound. Both are very easy to apply and sand. This is how the boat looked before sanding:

Filling the scratches
How To Paint Your Boat With Awlgrip (Personal Experience)

4. After covering the gauges and letting the epoxy dry (it actually dries very fast, but we left it alone until next morning), you must sand again. We used the term “baby butt”. The surface should be as smooth as a baby butt! If a spot is still rough, you need to apply the epoxy, and sand again, until you can wipe your hand against it and notice nothing, just a smooth…. baby butt! Remember, paint will not cover the imperfections! We had to do the epoxy-sand-repeat cycle three times, and even then we missed a couple of tiny spots. 

5. Guess what you need to do now? Correct – sand. Use a smaller grit (larger number) – 150 or 240.

6. Both of our “mentors” talked us out of using the Awlgrip High Built, suggested by the Application Guide (they said it is extremely hard to apply and unnecessary).

7. Get your primer ingredients. You can purchase them in West Marine or online. During the time of the job, West Marine matched the cheapest price you could find. I don’t know if they are doing it now, but don’t hesitate to check into it! Please do remember to read the detailed directions in the application guide, but in short, you will need: Awlgrip 545 Primer (D8001), Primer Converter (D3001) and Reducer (T0006). Do not buy too much reducer – it is the same for both primer and finish coats and you do not use too much at a time. We bought 1 gallon and it was more than enough.

TIP: 1 day before applying primer, turn and leave the can upside down! Otherwise you will have to sit there and stir it for half an hour before you can even proceed. Primer and converter are mixed 1:1.  Wait 20 minutes and add 15%-20% of reducer. Don’t worry if it is a bit more or less – it won’t affect the result.  It helps to use measuring buckets that you can buy at any construction store.

8. Mix enough primer to do at least one side of the boat without stopping. If you stop in the middle, and the border dries, you will see a nasty line that will be difficult to remove later. The roll and tip technique requires at least two people!  In all the guides one person rolls and the other one follows him with a brush, doing all kinds of strokes to make the surface smooth.  We found that it was easier for us to use two rollers – both for applying the paint and for tipping. We used 4” high density white foam rollers and matching handles.

TIP: buy several roller handles as well and while you are using one, keep one fully assembled in your pocket – it will help you continue without interruption if something happens to your roller. Don’t wait till your roller falls apart – it is better to replace it before it starts leaving foam pieces on your surface!  Apply at least two coats and sand the boat with 240 grit sandpaper in between coats and 320 at the end before applying the top coat.

How To Paint Your Boat With Awlgrip (Personal Experience)

9. After priming, you should be pretty trained to use roll and tip method, so applying the top coats will not seem too scary anymore! Top coats mix 2:1 (two part base to one part converter). Don’t worry, they already sell it this way in stores. Guides call for 25%-33% reducer, but 20%-25% is ok, too. We just eye-balled it. Apply minimum two top coats, sometimes three is better. We were satisfied with two.  Sand with 400 grit paper between coats. It is better to hand sand, as your electrical sander might be too rough at this point.

10. If you have any stripes, now it’s the time to tape them. Apply two top coats for your stripes.

TIP: Don’t try to tape little by little, there is no way you can make a straight line this way – it will be wavy as the sea! The trick is to stretch the tape as far as possible and then attach it all in one quick move. It might take a bit of training, but it’s worth it. 

painting the stripes

11. Throw the sander in the river! Haha! It is a joke of course, but trust me, after all of the above, you will want to do so!   Inspecting your surface closely, you will probably see orange peel here and there and some marks where you didn’t tip well enough, after all, it is not the same as spraying! But believe me, when you put your boat in the water, you will not notice those anymore. Your boat will look brand new and you will be very proud.  Also, even though you can do anything with the boat after a day or two, it takes up to 28 days for Awlgrip to fully tighten, so every time you check, it will look better and better.

All in all, instead of $10k, we spent $1200.  What we learned is

  • not to skimp on gloves, masks, sanding disks and rollers.  We learned that
  • scaffolding is super important.  At first we didn’t build it all the way around the boat, leaving a couple of spots out and using a ladder, but by the top coat we just went ahead and covered all the rest.  We learned that preparation is the key. We learned that
  • it can be extremely boring to sand for days, but it had to be done. And most importantly, we learned that no matter how hard it seemed at first, we could do it.  And so can you.

Here is how the worst spot on the side of the boat looked before and after (and in the process):

The Before and After

Special thanks to Bobby from Keys Boat Works and especially to Don Gunnoe for bearing with us constantly asking questions and nosing around your progress!   Without you, it would be so much harder!

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8 thoughts on “How To Paint Your Boat With Awlgrip (Personal Experience)”

  1. It’s great you explained how to be able to sand out the bottom of a boat especially after you’ve run into previous damage that might have marred the sides and bottom portion. At the same time, making sure that the bottom side of the boat has been sandpapered so that the paint would stick. If I had the chance to work a boat then I would want to make sure that the bottom of the boat is functional before doing anything else.


  2. Hello Jenia,

    My husband and I are in the process of rolling awlgrip on our trawler. We both enjoyed your article as we were trying to learn anything we could about the process. Thanks for the step by step info.

    TD Dream


  3. Really nice description, thanks! I’d be very interested to hear how much time each major step took if you still remember.


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