Yacht Painting 101

Mar 24, 2022 by Scott Luxor
Credit: Photo by Capt. Grant Maughan

Painting your yacht seems like it should be a pretty easy event. But the paint itself is not the problem — it’s everything surrounding it that makes the process either bumpy or seamless.

Triton asked two experts for tips on how to approach your next appointment with a painter. James Brewer, managing director at Roscioli Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale, has been running boatyards for more than 40 years in South Florida. His team does general maintenance on yachts, which includes a lot of paintwork. Phil Burgess is a general manager with Pinmar, USA, which paints about 50-60 percent of the new yacht builds coming out of Northern Europe. Their advice was much the same.

Ways of getting paintwork done

Paintwork can be done one of three ways, according to Brewer:

  • Full service shipyards that perform paint work.
  • Shipyards that simply provide space for subcontractors who work with yacht owners.
  • Shipyards that paint a boat for a client using subcontractors.
Phil Burgess
James Brewer

Creating a contract

Both Brewer and Burgess agree that the original contract between yacht owner and painting contractor is the foundation for a good result.

“A successful paint job starts with a contract, which defines what the customer’s expectations are so that there is no misunderstanding between the customer and the contractor,” Brewer said. “The contract should be clear and unambiguous, and include a schedule, warranty considerations and typical protocols for dispute resolution.”

Burgess said that an agreement at the outset makes a huge difference. “Without managing expectations at the outset, you’re going to find a lot of major issues at the end of a paint job, where the client obviously is the person that needs to be satisfied and happy.”

Finding a contractor

Locating a reliable contractor who can take on a project as important as a full boat paint job is critical.

“Some contractors are good, some are really good, and some are not as good,” Brewer said. “The boat owner should check that the painter has a good track record, that he’s performed what he said he would do.”

Brewer cautioned that it’s important to find a contractor that has some depth, since any given “shoot,” or painted section of the ship, may have to be redone if it is bad for any reason. Paintwork is split up into smaller shoots, because any job is too big to do in one fell swoop.

Quality of the paint job

The issue of a quality paint job is not just about the color choice, or the even application of the paint. The critical part is the base that the paint is being applied to, since the end result will only be as good as what has been done before.

“We try to minimize a thing called ‘orange peel,’ which occurs when the surface is not completely smooth,” Brewer said. “We also focus on trying to minimize inclusions, which are dust particles and contaminants that can fall into wet paint.”

Brewer said that sometimes contamination can be eliminated by buffing and polishing. However, buffing does degrade the surface, so it’s best not to do business with the paint contractor who relies on it.

Burgess agrees that the quality of the job can all depend on the surface of the boat. “Things behind the surface are called substrates. Whatever you put on the surface is going to accentuate what’s beneath it. A good gloss coat on top will only magnify what’s beneath.”

Burgess warns against impromptu cleaning methods on the painted surface. “You can ruin the paintwork by using the wrong cleaning products or the wrong methods. I’ve seen people use a ‘magic eraser’ to clean the paint finish, and that’s a mistake.”