How Do You Paint a Fiberglass Canoe?

How Do You Paint a Fiberglass Canoe?

After several years of use, the paint on a fiberglass canoe can start fading. Depending on where you use the craft, it can also look a bit chalky.

The good news is that you can bring a fiberglass canoe back to life when you know how to paint fiberglass.

Before starting this job, you’ll want to have any gouges or cracks repaired to ensure the canoe continues to float.

Once those fixes are complete, you can follow the repainting steps to have the fiberglass hull look new and ready to go on a new adventure in no time at all!

How Do You Paint a Fiberglass Canoe?

To paint a fiberglass canoe, one must first clean the surface with soapy water. Allow the liquid to dry. Then sand the surface with medium-grit sandpaper to remove lingering slick finishes. After it becomes dull, use mineral spirits to remove residue. Allow it to dry again before painting.

It takes about three days to complete a new paint job for a fiberglass canoe. If you don’t have an indoor environment for this work, it helps to keep an eye on the weather to ensure you aren’t caught in the rain outside.

You can move the canoe inside a shop or garage area overnight to protect it, but you’ll need to let the paint dry for several hours before trying to pick it up to move it.

If you are painting a fiberglass canoe in an indoor environment, please make sure you have appropriate ventilation.

Place the canoe upside down on a pair of sawhorses. I highly recommend using the ToughBuilt Heavy-Duty Construction Sawhorse for this job.

It provides 1,100 pounds of carrying capacity while providing a fast setup and simple storage solution.

Place the sawhorses inside the widest part to ensure it is stable. You don’t want it to get knocked off during the preparation steps.

You’ll be using water to clean the canoe, and the fiberglass hull will make a mess when sanding it. Having a respirator available for indoor work is helpful.

I use the Moaron Full Face Cover Respirator for this work.

Steps to Follow for Cleaning a Fiberglass Canoe

Once you’ve set up the fiberglass canoe so that it can be cleaned, you’ll want to follow these steps to start prepping the surfaces requiring new paint.

  1. Spray the entire canoe with a power washer. Follow the instructions for your model to provide a spray that removes dirt without damaging the surface. It helps to wear eye protection and closed-toe shoes to stay safe. Some people might want hearing protection if using a gas-powered power washer.
  2. Allow the canoe to dry completely before continuing. The water from the pressure washing should evaporate entirely. Manually check the surface to ensure it is dry.
  3. If it is taking extra time to dry, you can wipe the hull with a towel before letting it air dry. The issue with this step is that some fibers can get caught on the surface if it is rough, which means you’ll have extra cleaning to do.

Once you’ve completed this process, you’ll be ready for the repairing and sanding work your canoe might need before getting painted.

Start Repairing Any Holes and Cracks

Your canoe must be clean before trying to repair different holes or cracks in the hull. Skipping the first steps often leads to an inferior result.

The best way to repair deep gouges in a fiberglass canoe is to use a gelcoat repair kit. You can mix the two-part product according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

I like to use the West System Fiberglass Boat Repair Kit. It provides everything needed to create a smooth surface that’s ready for painting once the product cures.

Press the gelcoat into the cracks and gouges using the included mixing stick. You might need to brush on the top layer to ensure you get an even surface.

Most gelcoat products need to cure for at least eight hours before you can sand the fiberglass canoe. Although quicker epoxy products are available, I like to have time to correct mistakes if they occur.

Fiberglass and epoxy repair kits deliver the same results as gelcoat products. You can use whatever item is the most comfortable for this DIY work.

You don’t need to worry about repairing minor scratches on the canoe. The sanding work will take care of that issue.

Remove the Stickers from the Canoe

If you have stickers applied to your canoe, they’ll need to come off before you can do the sanding work. A utility knife does a good job of prying up decals and other adhesive products. It might be necessary to peel them off in sections.

Some stickers leave residue behind. You can eliminate what remains with acetone.

How to Sand a Fiberglass Canoe Safely

Before sanding the canoe’s hull, you’ll want to put on your personal protective equipment. That means you need protective eyewear and a respirator.

Although a dust mask might work, it must be rated to keep fiberglass out. Some products don’t offer that rating.

I highly recommend wearing leather work gloves while sanding. The hull can replace splinters that itch like crazy if they get lodged in your skin, and it helps to have protection against a potential slip.

An orbital sander works best when roughing up the old paint on a fiberglass canoe. I use the DeWalt 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander for this job.

It’s one of the most versatile tools. It’s helped me to refinish my wood garage doors, repair my hardwood floors, and tackle furniture projects.

You’ll want to use a 120-grit sandpaper product to work on your fiberglass canoe. It’ll take between four to seven papers to complete the work.

After turning on the orbital sander, pass it along the entire hull. It’s easier to work lengthwise than vertically to complete this step. The goal is to rough up the older paint. You don’t need to remove it entirely.

Without roughing it up, the new paint is less likely to stick to the surface.

You’ll notice a lot of dust gets generated by this work. Don’t rub it against your bare skin! It helps to use a tack cloth to remove the lingering materials.

Before you start to do the painting work, you’ll want to ensure each surface is immaculate.

I’m Ready to Start Painting My Fiberglass Canoe!

Once you’ve reached this stage, your canoe is ready to be painted. Before you get started, you’ll want to use masking or painter’s tape to cover up any non-fiberglass parts.

Some fiberglass canoes have wood or metal end caps and gunwales. Unless you intend to paint them the same color as the vessel, these items should be protected.

The gunwales are the canoe’s rims along the top of the hull. Your end caps are the places at the front and the back where they meet.

Although you can purchase paint for fiberglass surfaces, I like to use a 90/10 combination of marine paint and paint thinner for this step.

The thinner helps the paint spread across the fiberglass better.

Use a mixing stick to stir the paint and thinner together thoroughly. You can put it in a tray, but I pour a bit of the paint out of the can to add the thinner there instead.

Why use marine paint over other options? It’s an oil-based product made for boats. You receive a durable surface that’s easier to clean and endures prolonged contact with moisture well.

Use Rollers and Brushes for the First Coat

Although you could use a paintbrush to cover the entire canoe, I’ve found it helps to have rollers available for the larger sections. I’ll use a brush around the end caps and gunwales to make sure the lines are tight and straight.

If you notice any bubbles in the marine paint, brush them out right away. Although it takes time to dry, you can easily miss spots if you try to come pack to fix them.

You could use a sprayer to apply the paint, but I don’t have the space to manage a backdrop to contain the mess. My home is also in the neighborhood wind funnel, so those droplets can go almost anywhere.

It takes about 24 hours for the first coat of paint to dry entirely. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it can be dry to the touch in an hour or two.

Please wait at least six hours before trying to move the canoe to a different location to complete the drying process. It’s better to leave it for at least eight hours.

After the drying process is complete for the first coat, you’ll need to lightly sand the surfaces with 120-grit sandpaper again with your orbital sander. The next layer won’t set correctly if you don’t rough up the paint.

You can still get fiberglass particles from the canoe during this work, so put on that respirator or a rated dust mask again. Use a tack cloth to wipe away the dust.

Apply the Second Coat of Paint

Use the same method to apply the second coat of paint as you did with the first. It helps to work in spaces of about two feet in diameter for this part of the job, using the roller to apply the product wherever possible.

Once you’re finished with the second coat, you’ll need to wait another 24 hours for it to dry before evaluating if a third coat is necessary.

When preparing the second coat for a third, follow the same steps, including the sanding portion.

If you’re satisfied with the look of your fiberglass canoe, you’ll want to wait at least 48 hours before taking it out on the water. The extra time ensures that the marine paint has enough time to cure.

Some products have specific instructions to follow regarding drying or curing time. Please follow those guidelines instead of what is found here if the information is different.

What If I Want to Create a Camouflage Pattern?

If you want to use a camouflage pattern for your fiberglass canoe, it works better to do this design work on the second or third coat of paint.

You’ll need a different color available. Apply the new paint with a sponge you’ve dipped into the product.

It works better to use a tray, but you could dip it straight into the can. You’ll want to review the surface to avoid contamination.

Place the sponge on top of the second or third coat, creating as solid a color as you prefer.

If you want a complex pattern, you can use multiple colors to complete this step.

You’ll need to give the camouflage patterning at least 24 hours to dry and 48 hours before putting the canoe in the water.

Why Can’t I Use Spray Paint for a Fiberglass Canoe?

Spray paint and other types aren’t appropriate for fiberglass canoes and other boats because of the contact with the water’s surface. Products that aren’t designed to be in streams, lakes, or open water will not hold up as time passes, potentially allowing moisture to damage the hull.

When I was a kid, my best friend’s dad was a DIY specialist. He used to paint everything he owned to protect it: his car, his canoe, and even his baseball bats.

The idea of using a roller was foreign to him. In third grade, I asked him why he painted everything with a brush. He shrugged. “I think it looks good that way,” he said.

You could see the brush lines in the paint when he was done with the work. That might have worked for him, but I always thought it looked terrible to the point of embarrassing.

When you use rollers to manage most of your fiberglass surface painting needs, you’ll eliminate those brush strokes to create a smooth, clean surface.

To get the best results, I recommend doing the brushing work first, then using the roller for those extensive sections.

In return, you’ll breathe new life into your fiberglass canoe!


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