Boat Paint Stripping

How To Guide: Boat Paint Stripping – The Floating Boatyard

There are many ways to strip old and tired paint off your boat. This post will give some advice on how to best go about boat paint stripping. We will show the methods we use on a daily basis in our boat repair business, and talk about how not to do it. We will show what tools are commonly used and which are the best in what circumstance. Be sure to get permission from the Canal and River Trust, or your local waterway authority before starting to strip the paint off your boat or doing any other kind of boat painting works on the waterways. Boat paint waste is environmentally harmful and you could incur a large fine if you don’t have permission or don’t take the necessary precautions.

To book our boat painting or boat repair services please use the contact form here or ring 07886388689.

Boat paint stripping can be hard work and take a lot of time, if you want to do it right. The best way to prepare a boat is by stripping the paint completely. Keying the old paint and painting over it is not a good solution. The new paint coat won’t last and you will likely have to start again in 2 or 3 years. See the post on our narrowboat painting project Navayana for an example of this. A well prepared paint job should last for at least 8 years, or even longer with the right kind of care.

Boat Paint Stripping – The Random Orbital Sander

Removing boat paint with a random orbital sander is our preferred method. This works well on steel, but is also suitable for wooden boats. Sanding won’t damage to wood while we work on it. We use professional Festool sanders with a dust extractor. These are safest for the environment as any waste material is collected in a waste bag inside the dust extractor. This waste bag can then be disposed of through a licensed waste carrier. Paint dust is a hazardous waste substance and cannot be disposed of through normal household or public waste collection. We use licensed waste carriers, such as Envirogreen, who will supply us with a waste consignment note.

Festool random orbital sanders also have a built in setting for eccentric motion. This further randomises the movement of the sander when stripping boat paint. The clean surface will not have nasty sander marks in which could show through the fresh paint coat later on. These random orbital sander have a large round sanding pad and these are very use when boat paint stripping large areas. Corner sanders are also available for tricky to reach areas. very small corners will have to be hand sanded. We normally work with Festool Granat sandpaper, which has excellent boat paint removal qualities.

Boat Paint Stripping With Random Orbital Sander


Boat Paint Stripping – The Angle Grinder

Boat Paint Stripping with angle grinders requires some skill. We attach a wire brush disc to the grinder to remove the paint. Grinders are heavy and powerful machines. It takes stamina, practice and skill to operate a grinder safely. You must wear full protective safety gear when using a grinder to remove paint from a boat. Pieces of the wire brush cup become loose through normal operation. These sharp pieces of metal get thrown about by the grinder and have the potential to cause serious injury .

Stripping boat paint this way is best suited for closed environments. We can clean paint dust up and safely dispose of in boat sheds, boatyards and some dry docks. Dust extractor extensions are available for angle grinders. These are bulky though and will get in the way when trying to reach corners. A wood chisel or other sharp tool can be used to reach areas the grinder can’t get to. This method is only suitable for boat paint stripping on steel vessels.

Boat Paint Stripping With Angle Grinder


Boat Paint Stripping – The Rotating Blaster

Removing boat paint with a rotating blaster is light work, but not always suited for the job. Care must be taken not to damage or mark the steel. It works well on steel hulls and cabins, but is unsuited for wooden boats. A rotation blaster is a wheel attachment for a drill or grinder. Tungsten Carbide tips sit on a flexible rubber wheel. The tips ‘whip’ the paint and chip it off the steel. When using this method, we take several precautions. Most importantly, full safety gear must be worn. This includes long sleeve overalls, goggels, dust masks and safety hoods. We also spread out dust sheets and attach them to the hull. These catch and of the paint chips falling from the rotating blaster.

Boat Paint Stripping With Rotating Blaster

Boat Paint Stripping – The Use Of Scabblers

Some boatyards are using scabblers to strip paint off boats. We don’t recommend doing this. Scabblers are known to cause a condition called white finger and have been banned in most work environments. This is a health and safety risk we are not willing to take. They also create a lot of hazardous waste in a very uncontrollable way. This is unsuitable for painting outdoors as it contaminates the environment. Inexpert use of scabblers will scratch a pattern into the steel which can be seen trough the paint later on.

For quotes and bookings use the contact form, or call us on 07886388689


  1. This is really useful, thank you!
    I have a belt sander as well as an angle grinder and am wondering which you think is best suited to removing the paint from or front deck?
    The sander option that you talk about sounds the best but my sander isn’t random. Would it still do the job with the correct sandpaper on?


    1. The belt sander would still strip the paint off the boat, but you might not get a 100% smooth surface. Whatever tool you decide to use, make sure it has dust extraction. Don’t let any of the paint dust get into the water. Always get permission from CRT before carrying out any work on your boat. I hope this helps.

      Floating Boatyard

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