An aluminum boat is far easier to maintain than a wooden boat. However, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, as you will still need to maintain your aluminum Jon boat to keep it in good condition.
One of the most important things is to keep an eye on, is the paint. As soon as you start to see fading, cracking and peeling, it’s time to re-paint the boat before it looks too terrible. Nobody wants to be seen in a hunk of junk… well I don’t anyway!
I learnt how to paint an aluminum boat over 20 years ago with my late father. I am going now show you my straight forward process to doing so which has served me well multiple times. Just don’t miss any steps as you will end up wasting a lot of time, money and energy if you skip things.
You can paint an aluminum boat yourself by first sanding it down, using a mix of soap and water to then clean it up. You will then need to apply a primer before either painting with a roller, brush, or by spraying. You finish the paint job off with a clear coat of protectant.
That’s the short answer on how to do it yourself, now let’s get into the detail with my Jon boat painting tips!
How to paint an aluminum Jon boat yourself
The steps below will take you through the process of taking your Jon boat from junk status to looking brand new in a very short space of time. I will explain how you can remove the old paint, how to prepare the surface, what primer to use and how many final coats needed for a robust and stunning looking paint job.
You will need:
- Orbital sander (view Amazon prices)
- Aluminum boat primer (view Amazon prices)
- Topside boat paint (view Amazon prices and colors)
- DFT meter – optional (view Amazon prices)
- Marine clear / gel coat (view Amazon prices)
1: Prepare your work area
Repainting your boat is a big task that will take time, so it’s very important to ensure your chosen work area is protected from the elements if it begins to rain.
Ideally you will want to paint your boat outside but close enough to shed or garage so that you can move the boat undercover if the weather takes a turn for the worse.
If you are using a brush and rollers to paint then you need not worry about painting too close to anything, it’s spraying where this can be problematic.
If you are using a spray gun, then you need to paint far away from anything that can get paint on it. Just a small gust of wind can carry a cloud of tiny paint particles that can land on your vehicle or house.
If at all possible, create a small paint booth by taping the walls, floor and roof of a garage with plastic sheeting and tape the corners together, making sure that there is sufficient ventilation to reduce the amount of paint you might breathe in.
Throw up some “wet paint” signs for good measure as you don’t want random fingerprints from curious passers-by on your newly painted aluminum Jon boat.
Make sure you have all the required protective gear like gloves, an all-over disposable body suit, and a respirator with the correct filters if you decide to spray. You will also need brushes, thinners, masking tape, acetone and any other consumables required.
2: Calculate how much paint is needed
Next you will want to determine how much paint you will need.
You can do this by calculating how many square feet the surface is by assuming your boat is a rectangular box. For example, take the widest, highest and longest measurements of your boat and draw a rectangular box. You can then calculate the surface area.
Equation: Area = Width x Length
You will want to add a factor of 20% on top of that to account for any errors you may have made. This may seem a bit wasteful, but it is much better to end up with excess paint that to run out mid-coat.
Keep track of how much you use. This means that next time you can be more efficient with the quantity required when you paint your aluminum Jon boat again in the future.
There will usually be a datasheet with the paint that will tell you roughly how much you will you need. In my experience it will usually a gallon per square foot figure or similar on the can.
These numbers are only for ideal conditions; I always end up using quite a bit more, so woud suggest you buy more you actually calculate needed.
Handy Hint:If you are painting your aluminum Jon boat with a spray gun, you will use less paint than if you were using a paint brush and rollers.
3: Surface preparation and sanding down
Once you have determined how much paint is needed you can begin preparing the surface. For speed I use an orbital sander with an 80-grit sand paper to remove the paint.
An orbital sander and paint scraper combination still won’t be able to reach everywhere so some areas will need to be hand sanded.
Wrap some sand pear around a piece of wood to take some strain off your fingers and to give you a sharp corner to reach into crevices.
Handy Hint: Spend a lot of time doing this part. The more of the old paint you can remove the better as the best result is achieved if the surface is bare aluminum. Areas that are not completely cleaned will result in paint peeling after painting.
Use a rag soaked in acetone and wipe down the hull of the boat to remove any last stubborn paint. This will also clean away any grease or oil on the hull’s surface.
After sanding is complete, wash the boat to wash away any dust. If any oil or grease is left, it will mean the paint won’t stick properly to the aluminum and will create small little spots on your surface called fish eyes. Make sure you wipe the entire hull down in a well-ventilated area and use rubber gloves.
4: Masking off the areas you won’t be painting
Whether you are using a spray gun or a paintbrush, you will need to mask off the areas you don’t want to get paint on.
These can include fixtures on the side of the boat. If you are only painting the outer surface of the boat, you will need to protect the inside of the boat from getting unwanted paint on it.
This can be done by cutting a large piece of plastic and draping it over your boat and taping the edges down with masking tape.
5: Stripe coat unusual edges with primer
Before painting the entire hull with primer, you will want to do an initial stripe coat of primer to edges, joints, welds, rivets, bolts or any other unusual areas on the boat.
It is therefore a good idea to add a stripe coat to all these areas.
You will need to use a paint brush to add this stripe coat so that you can force paint into any small crevices.
The coat needs to be a least 1 inch wide and run along every joint. The benefits of a stripe coat include added protection, filling in small voids on the hull and generally protecting the edges from wearing too quickly.
6: Painting primer across the whole boat
Once the stripe coat has dried you can begin painting the hull with your chosen primer. If using a brush or roller, make sure you are painting in long strokes along the length of the boat and not up and down the side of the hull.
Handy Hint: Long continuous strokes will result in a much more uniform surface.
Make sure to coat the hull as evenly as possible. Avoid applying too much primer as this can result in dripping and an orange peel effect. If you will be using a spray gun, make sure you do not overspray.
Let the primer dry in a well-ventilated area for the curing time recommended by the primer manufacturer.
Ideally you should let the boat dry, so it doesn’t get exposed to rain water.
7: Apply the first and second coat of topside paint
Once the primer has dried you can apply the first coat of topside paint.
Keep an eye the film thickness as excessive paint will create orange peel and paint runs.
Allow enough time between coats as per your chosen paint specification.
Paint datasheets will indicate a recommended DFT (Dry film thickness), this is just a measure of the paint thickness and is usually listed as a minimum value.
The film thickness can be measured with a relatively cheap DFT meter. This tool gives you a great way to check the quality of your paint job. If it finds areas that are thinner than recommended you can add more paint to these areas.
I own this meter shown in the picture. I justify the cost as I know it’s going to make sure the paint is according to specification and will last as long as possible on my own aluminum Jon boat.
8: Add a layer of clear coat protection
As an added precaution you should always add a final clear coat layer over your previous two coats of topside.
More Jon boat painting tips
Since publishing this guide on how to paint an aluminum boat yourself, I received a few questions via social media. Here are those questions with my responses.
What type of primer must be used on aluminum?
I was asked the question; do you need special primer for aluminum?
For Jon boats and any aluminum boat, you should select a primer that is designed to be used over aluminum oxide.
These are typically either a zinc phosphate primer or a zinc chromate primer. They work by etching into the surface of the aluminum creating a solid bond.
How many coats of paint are required?
Ideally two coats are required for the main coat. This allow for a thick paint film which will result in a good surface finish.
You will then need to add a gel or clear coat over the top of your colored paint choice as this will help protect your paint from UV damage and small scratches.
How to paint an aluminum boat camo
I have never painted a aluminum boat in camo colors. But I did find a really great video online which goes into short and sweet steps outlining the process.
Watch the video below, using the guide in conjunction with my steps above.
How to paint an aluminum Jon boat
You’ve probably guessed by now, but the guide I wrote above on how to paint an aluminum boat yourself was developed from painting my own Jon boat down the years.
Just follows steps 1 through to 8 and you’re done!
What kind of paint do you use on an aluminum boat?
As you saw in the steps above, I first use a primer, and then add two coats of a special topside paint. You can choose whichever colors you want.
One last tip here though; you can get non-slip paints so for decks, look for this variation on the paints I recommend – you can see non-skid paint versions on Amazon.
The last word…
If you take regular care of your aluminum boat, it’s going to hold its value for much longer. Not to mention you won’t feel embarrassed going out in a complete wreck.
Regular painting is key to this, and some of the paints available claim to give you 10 years of coverage.
I honestly haven’t found this to be the case and paint my aluminum Jon boat every few years. I hope you’ve enjoyed my Jon boat painting tips and make a success of it yourself!
Handy Hint: Did you know I have listed the best accessories you can buy for a Jon boat?