Painting advice?


New Member
I recently bought a wooden Sunfish that the previous owner had stripped. It's all sanded down and waiting to be finished. Does anyone have any tips about painting? Types of paint? Pros and cons of the gel coat? How do I know the boat is seaworthy before I actually put it in the lake?

I'm really pretty new at all this so I'm grateful for any advice and ideas.
~ Sara

Paint looks nice until you rub the boat on sand on the beach or your launching dolly. Then it chips, flakes and generally comes off. Gel coat is much more durable. If you have gel coat left on the boat, I recommend trying to work on it. Sand it with increasingly fine paper up to 600 grit then power buff with rubbing compound. I would even go so far as to recommend spraying gel coat rather than painting. Although you have to have experience or someone else to spray gel coat. It is not too expensive. A fellow sunfisher that I know, who works on boats for a living, just sprayed someone's Laser with gel coat and I am waiting to hear how it turned out. He said the materials were very inexpensive. Paint is too thin to be a durable bottom. But if you don't mind repainting frequently, go for it.

Good luck,

I have built many small sailboats with plywood and I always use High Gloss porch paint which is a latex paint.Its very easy to work with and comes out great on plywood boats.The porch paint also holds up very well and can be touched up without a problem.

OOPS :( . Sorry, I did not realize that you said you had a wooden sunfish. That makes a big difference.

Generally, gel coat and wood are not compatible. You would have to coat the boat in fiberglass or perhaps just epoxy resin first to use gel coat. Sorry for the bogus info above. I guess, given the circumstances, I'd look to use an epoxy paint. Doesn't have to be a marine paint as the boat does not stay in the water all the time.

What about if you want to see the wood? And don't want to coat it in plastic. How do you treat the wood to protect it from the water while still allowing the wood grain to show? Is there an oil you can use? Thanks
Thanks Guys!

My dad used to work with VWs and has a plan to use a two stage epoxy (?) that he used waaaay back when on the cars but being the doubter that I am, I wasn't sure that was the best way to go. LOL! You all did mess up my tennis game last night though since I was too busy talking about painting the boat to actually keep my mind on hitting the ball ;)

Thanks again for the help!
If you want to keep the clear look of the wood, you can use a clear urethane. It can be brushed or sprayed and is not difficult to apply. It should be applied over a clear epoxy(as your primer). It will be very durable and provide the UV protection you need for your Sunfish.
You have saiad the boat has been stripped. How far? Down to bare wood or has the boat already been fiberglassed? If it is bare wood, you need to cover the hull with 6 oz. fiberglass cloth (probably 2 or 3 layers on the bottom) and West Systems Epoxy (the epoxy of choice for Sunfisher's). It will take about 3 coats of epoxy, sanding between coats, 1 to lay the cloth, and 2 (or more) to fill the weave. Cedar Strip kayakers use the same method and the finish is clear and shows off the cedar beautifully. Many put a coat of varnish over the fiberglass for UV protection and to get a high gloss. Once you have a good fiberglass base, (do not varnish if you decide to paint or gel-coat) it is time to paint or get the gel-coat sprayed on. Some people use the Inter-Lux brands of paint, they have top and bottom paints. For gel-coat, check your automotive body shops or marine repair shops to see who can do it and the best price. Most DIYer's do not have the proper equipment to spray a gel-coat. Good Luck.
If you go the epoxy route use Raka epoxy its 43.00 a gallon compared to over 100.00 for West Sytems.If you just plan on playing around with the boat just slap a couple coats of porch paint on and sail it to see if you even like the boat.

Well, I'm not planning to ever race it (I'm one of those weekend pond sailors. ;) ) but I would like it to hold up over time. I haven't sailed in a sunfish since I was a pre-teen but I'm pretty sure I'm still going to enjoy it.

So after it's painted/epoxied, how do I test it? How will I know if it's going to sink to the bottom of the lake?
To test for water tightness, get some soapy water, a paint brush, some tape and a small hand pump. Tape up all openings (drain holes and any port holes). Inflate the hull with pump, not more than 3-4 lbs pressure. If you hear anything popping, way to much pressure. Paint one side with soapy water, checking any joints, edges, fittings, the Mast Step and daggerboard well and cockpit seams. If you see bubbles, that spot needs fixing. Flip the boat over and repeat. With a proper fiberglass job, you should not have any (many) problems. Wind Line Sails ( How To section, Find that leak has more tips.
Hi Sara,

Wood boats have been around centuries longer than fiberglass and epoxy and you are in that venu. There are many good books on the subject of wood boat construction methods and materials. I suggest you get a couple and read up. If you charge ahead and do it wrong you will turn your classic Fish into a rotting piece of junk.

Here are just a few resources:

There's much to be learned from these folks:

Leak testing your hull would be prudent before applying any finish. If the joints leak now they will leak later.
Thanks alot. I just got my first sailboat about two months ago. It's a fiber glass Phantom (Sunfish copy). I've decided I'd like my next boat to be made out of wood (an old snipe,thistle or something). It will probably require a refinishing. Thanks again.

I feel you are on your way to having a boat to be proud of.

I'd love to see photos of the project as it progresses from the present stage to finished product.

Private Message me please and I'll give you an email address.