Because boats are designed to be used on the water (and are therefore exposed to the harshest of elements), there is a lot more to boat painting than your typical paint job. The bottom of the boat and the topside may need different types of paint, and while you can do the work yourself to save money, a professional can likely do higher quality work, and they can do it much faster. Below, we provide an in-depth breakdown of how much it costs to paint a boat, including information about both bottom and topside painting.
What to Know About Bottom Painting
Bottom painting, also known as antifouling painting, is as protective as it is decorative. The purpose of antifouling paint, which is applied to the bottom of a boat, up to the waterline, is to protect the hull from damage that can occur when weeds, barnacles, or other aquatic organisms attach themselves to the boat. This is done through the inclusion of a biocide (usually copper), which is released into the water to discourage organisms from attaching.
Is Bottom Painting Necessary?
Not all boats are bottom painted, and in some cases, it’s not necessary. The issue with bottom paint for boat owners is that once you’ve done it, the bottom painting must be maintained with periodic cleaning, removal, and repainting. If your boat is only left in the water for short periods of time and is generally stored on a trailer, lift, or in a dry storage facility, it may be better to maintain your hull with regular cleaning and a good, strong coat of wax.
However, if your boat is docked or in the water for most of the boating season (or even year-round), you’ll definitely need antifouling paint in order to maintain the condition and integrity of your hull.
Types of Bottom Paint
While there is a wide range of brand, style, and color choices for antifouling paint, this type of boat paint generally comes in three types: ablative, hard, and hybrid.
- Ablative bottom paint: Best for slow-moving boats. It is designed to wear paint away gradually to release more biocides as the boat moves through the water, and it is also referred to as ‘self-polishing’ paint. It prevents build up of old paint, which makes re-painting easier.
- Hard bottom paint: Best for fast boats and powerboats. Biocide gradually wears away instead of the paint, which allows the water to penetrate deeper until the biocide is depleted. This paint is tough with a hard coating that is durable and long-lasting, but must be removed for repainting.
- Hybrid paint: Suitable for nearly all types of boats. This paint type combines the best qualities of hard and ablative paint (it is also known as semi-hard ablative paint), and it provides a hard, smooth surface that is resistant to buildup.
What to Know About Topside Painting
Topside painting is important not only for keeping your boat looking new, but also for protecting the boat from the elements and ensuring good visibility to other boaters. Painting the top of your boat requires different types of paint than bottom painting, and it also requires different procedures. Generally, there is more work involved in topside painting, from thoroughly repairing boat body damage and preparing the surface to applying primer or undercoating, and then finally applying the paint itself.
There are three main types of topside paint: one-part polyurethane, two-part polyurethane, and alkyd enamel.
- One-part polyurethane: The most popular choice for topside painting, especially DIY painting. It is cheaper and less durable than two-part polyurethane, but easier to apply, with good hardness and high gloss
- Two-part polyurethane: The hardest, most durable high-gloss topside paint type — also the most expensive. This is the most difficult type of paint to apply, and it is usually applied only by professionals.
- Alkyd enamel: Oil-based topside paint that is least expensive and the easiest to apply. It has low gloss and color retention, and it must be reapplied more frequently than other topside paint types.
How Much Does It Cost to Paint a Boat?
When it comes to painting your boat, you can either do it yourself or hire a professional. Like any DIY project, the trade-off is time for money — you will save money by doing it yourself, but it will likely take you a lot more time. Extensive preparation is the key to getting the job done well, so it’s important to study the best procedures for both bottom painting and topside painting.
West Marine’s complete guide to do-it-yourself bottom painting and complete guide for topside painting provide extensive instruction and tips on choosing paints and includes the lists of the tools you’ll need for an antifouling paint job. There are also numerous helpful instructional videos that you can find on YouTube.
DIY Painting Costs
The costs of DIY boat painting will vary widely depending on the type of paint being used and the size of your boat. You’ll first need to determine how much paint you will need. This bottom paint calculator will help you estimate the amount of bottom paint you’ll need for your project, and you can determine the amount of topside paint you’ll need with this chart from Interlux. Keep in mind that, depending on how much time you have to dedicate to the project, it can take between one and three weeks, or even longer if you do more extensive prep work.
Most bottom paint and topside paint comes in a one-gallon container. One gallon of bottom paint may cost anywhere from $15 to $200, depending on the type and brand. One gallon of topside paint costs anywhere from around $16 to over $200.
For topside painting, you’ll need to purchase primer in addition to the boat paint. Typically, you’ll need at least one coat. Topside boat primer can cost anywhere from around $12 to around $90 per gallon.
Aside from the paint itself, your DIY boat painting costs will include supplies such as sandpaper, paint brushes, and rollers, paint trays, drop cloths, masking tape, goggles, gloves, and a respirator or breathing mask. You may already have some or all of these items, and if not, you can find them at your local hardware store.
Including paint, tools, and supplies, you can expect to pay somewhere within the following ranges:
- Bottom: $50 to $500 or more, with an average of $100
- Topside: $150 to $1,000 or more, with an average of $200 to $400
- Total: $200 to $1,500 or more, with an average of around $300 to $500
Professional Painting Costs
We obtained the following price ranges by contacting marine painting contractors and viewing their prices online. Most professionals can complete a full boat painting in just two to four days, depending on the number of coats needed.
The cost of professional bottom painting can range anywhere from $15 to $100 per linear foot. However, the average price is usually $15 to $20 per linear foot, with higher prices reflecting premium bottom paint and boats that need a lot of work before paint can be applied. For a 20-foot boat, this results in bottom painting costs of around $300 to $2,000, with most typically ranging between $300 and $400. Costs vary depending on factors such as:
- Boat size (more linear feet equals lower cost per foot)
- Whether the boat is in the water, on a trailer, or blocked at a yard (typically the fees will be higher if the boat must be hauled or blocked before painting)
- Condition of the boat (boats that require additional preparation or repairs prior to painting will cost more)
Also note that bottom painting costs less for boats that have never been bottom painted before, as there is no need to remove old paint.
Costs for professional topside painting range from $100 to $400 or more per linear foot. The average price is usually $200 to $250 per linear foot, with lower prices for undamaged boats or lower quality paint, and higher prices for premium topside paint and heavily damaged boats. These prices are higher because of the additional prep work and materials required for topside painting. For a 20-foot boat, this results in topside painting costs of around $2,000 to $8,000, with most ranging between $4,000 and $5,000. Costs vary depending on factors like:
- Boat size (more linear feet equals lower per-foot cost)
- Boat condition (the cost per foot is more for boats that are damaged and require more filling, sanding, and prep work)
- Paint type (two-part polyurethane costs the most)
Boat Painting vs. Vinyl Boat Wraps
An alternative to painting your boat is vinyl wrapping, which can be either full or partial. With vinyl boat wraps, it’s usually best to have a professional install them. They can be very challenging to install, and doing it yourself voids the warranty on the wrap. For more on boat wraps, see our article on vinyl boat wrap price information.
Compared to boat painting costs, professional vinyl boat wraps are more expensive than do-it-yourself painting jobs but less expensive per linear foot than professional boat painting. Professional vinyl wraps average around $120 per linear foot, whereas professional topside boat painting averages between $200 and $250 per linear foot. But, if you’d rather DIY, painting is both cheaper and easier.
Boat painting — both bottom painting and topside — is important for protecting your investment and giving your boat a sleek look. If your boat needs to be painted, you can do it yourself for as little as around $200 to $1,500 or more, but this will likely take a very long time, during which you will not be able to use your boat. For quality painting and quick turnaround time, you can hire a professional to paint your boat. This will likely cost between $2,300 and $7,000, depending on the type of paint you choose and the size of your boat. If you have the time to learn how to paint your boat yourself, you will be able to save a significant amount on your regular boat maintenance.