Painting Top Coat

This post is the last in our series of posts about boat painting. We’ll discuss painting top coat for inland waterway vessels, such as narrowboats and other steel canal boats. We’ll take a look at what paints we use at the Floating Boatyard, how we apply them and what to look out for.

For quotes and bookings please ring 07886 388689, use the contact form here, or email us directly at

Painting Top Coats on Boats

Environmental Concerns

We all love our waterways and our countryside. This is why most of us own boats, we like to be near nature. It is our responsibility to take care of the landscape we live in and we must act accordingly. Polluting the waterways and surrounding lands is under no circumstances acceptable and most of us are doing their best to protect the environment we live in.

Always get permission from your local waterways authority before carrying out works while in the water. Paint dust and paint are extremely toxic to aquatic life and proper precautions must be taken. Alternatively you can have the boat lifted out at a local boatyard and follow their environment policy.

Never tip or drop paint dust or fresh paint in the water or on the surrounding land. Use proper and adequate dust extraction, on-tool filters or built-in filters are insufficient. A dust extractor should be attached to the tool and any dust collected must be disposed of correctly through a licensed waste carrier.

The Floating Boatyard are fully licensed, risk assessed and insured to carry out canal boat maintenance and painting on CRT’s inland waterways. We use professional tools and our staff are trained to carry out works with environmental protection in mind.

Preparing Your Boat For Painting Top Coat

Before we begin planning for painting that nice fresh top coat on your boat, we need to make sure the surface is adequately prepared. Have a look through the posts in our painting category. You will find advice on stripping paint, rust treatment, primers and more.

The Right Temperature And Humidity

It is important that the paint is applied in the right weather conditions. If we are painting top coat in too high or too low temperatures, or high humidity, we will get problems down the line. A correctly applied paint job on a narrowboat will last up to a decade or more, so it is worth waiting for the right weather conditions.

Always check the paint manufacturers data sheet for specific instructions. Generally speaking, paint should not be applied if it is too humid. Surfaces should be clean and dry. Never apply paint below the dew point, unless it is specifically designed for it.

Painting top coat in low temperatures is generally no problem as long as we stay above the dew point. It is worth noting that the paint will take a lot longer to dry and harden out in colder weather. Judging this requires some experience and practice.

Hot weather can cause problems too and there are things we need to look out for when painting top coats in high temperatures. The main issue is that the paint will dry very fast. This will leave us with not enough time to brush out the top coat. Owatrol Oil or other paint conditioners can be used to help prolong the edging time. Never paint a hot boat panel in direct sunlight. On hot days in the summer, we start work at 5am. This gives us some 4 to 5 hours before it gets too hot.

Recommended Marine Top Coat Paints

Choosing the right paints can be tricky. There are many different brands, types and systems of top coat paints on the market. We almost exclusively work with single pack paints. These are mostly better for the environment and less hassle to work with. A quality single pack marine gloss or coach enamel will be strong enough for our purposes on canal boats and narrowboats, and should last a long time.

For very strict budgets, we find that Coo-Var, Teamac or Jotun are OK to work with and sufficiently durable. However, we strongly recommend spending a little bit extra to buy Craftmaster Paints. Craftmaster Coach Enamel is easier to work with and is less prone to problems like drips and pigment issues. It covers very well and gives an excellent flat finish. Craftmaster top coats also come in gloss and raddle finishes.

Painting Top Coats

How To Apply Top Coat

We use short pile gloss rollers and quality brushes when we are painting top coats on boats. It is OK to use cheaper brushes and rollers on primer and undercoat, provided these are sanded flat before we paint the top coat. Hamilton Prestige short pile gloss rollers work well and Purdy Monarch Elite brushes can achieve excellent results when brushing out top coat.

We apply an even coat of paint with the roller, to a manageable size section of the boat panel we are painting. We then brush out immediately before moving on. This requires a considerable amount of practice and skill to get perfectly right, but amateur painters can still achieve okay results with Craftmaster Paints. Cheaper paints may be more difficult to work with and get right.

If the undercoat used was matched to the colour of the top coat, it should be sufficient to apply two coats to achieve coverage. However, we do normally recommend that a 3rd top coat is applied. This will ensure that the paint lasts longer and will give a fuller finish to the colour.

Two Or More Colours And Coach Stripes

A few things need to be considered when painting top coat in more than one colour. Make sure that paints and undercoats are fully hardened out before painting the adjacent area. Use ultra low tack masking tape, with a work time rating of several days. We highly recommend Craftmaster masking tape. Masking up paint which is not hardened out enough, or using cheap and tacky masking tape with lead to peeling paint when the tape is removed. In some cases, the masking tape will pull the primer and undercoat off with it, making it extremely difficult to touch up the affected area.

For quotes and bookings please ring 07886 388689, use the contact form here, or email us directly at

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