5 Different Types of Boat Finishes [With Uses & Tips]

Wooden Boat Finishes and Paints

Boat finishes and paints are an essential part of boat ownership, as they protect the vessel from harsh elements like salt water, sun exposure, and harsh weather conditions.

These finishes and paints also help maintain the boat’s appearance by preventing fading, cracking, and peeling.

As such, there are many different types of wooden boat sealers that can be used, depending on the type of boat, the desired look, and the weather conditions.

In this blog post, we will take a look at some of the most common finishes and paints used on wooden boats.

We will also discuss their pros and cons so you can make an informed decision when choosing a finish or paint for your boat.

So, let’s dive in…

Wood Finishes for Boats

There are different types of finishes for wooden boats, including varnish, paint, and oil. Also, there are synthetic finishes that combine two or more of these products in one.

We will discuss each one of them in detail below.

1- Varnishes

Varnish for wood boats is a clear, protective coating commonly made from either solvents or synthetic resins. Some of these finishes may also come with varied proportions of thinners, dryers, and additives.

Varnish for wood boats may be glossy or matte, and it can be made to resist foot traffic. It might also have a variety of colors.

One of the common types of varnishes includes oil-modified clear polyurethane varnishes, which is an excellent option for interior or exterior use.

It provides a glossy finish with a classic golden look that helps to protect the wood from weathering and UV damage. However, it can be prone to peeling and cracking, mainly if applied over an older coat of varnish.

2- Paints for Boats

Paints are also popular for wooden boats, as they offer a durable and protective finish. They can be made from various materials, including oil-based and water-based products.

The main drawback of paints is that they can be challenging to apply evenly, resulting in an uneven finish.

If you are looking for the best type of paint to apply on wooden boats and yachts, one popular option includes Rust-Oleum Marine Topside Paint.

It’s popular among boat owners because it’s one of the most cost-effective alternatives available.

When using this product, it’s important to note that this coating only works above the waterline and should not be applied to the ship’s hull or any portion below water.

3- Wood Oils for Boats

Oils are also a versatile option for wooden boats, as they can be applied in thin coats that penetrate deep into the wood.

This helps preserve the wood’s natural color and protects it from water damage. However, oils can be difficult to remove if they are not applied correctly.

The best wood oil options for finishing boats include tung oil, linseed oil, and teak oil. And the good thing is you can apply these oils very easily with a brush, cloth, or sponge.

4- Synthetic Finishes for Boat

More recently, synthetic finishes (such as Cetol Marine) have become a popular option for wooden boats due to their durability and ease of application.

These products are typically made from a combination of resin and solvents, and they provide a protective finish that is resistant to peeling and cracking.

Cetol comes in varied options and is known to provide a more natural golden color that resembles the real wood that looks like raw teak.

The general rule is that you should apply one coat of Cetol every 24 hours. For a gleaming exterior finish, use the Gloss to cover the cladding, while the Satin will provide a more natural look.

5- Stockholm Tar for Boats

The most popular material for marine usage is Stockholm tar, produced using the more time-consuming kiln method.

Stockholm Tar primarily works excellent in protecting the wood and rope of ships.

When used on the boat as a finish, the hot tar softens out, which makes applying it to the boat deck relatively easy.

You’ll create anything you paint rather dark unless you use particular light Stockholm tar for tarring the boat surfaces.

wood boat finishes

Choosing the Right Finish for Your Wood Boat

As you can see, many different finishes and paints are available on the market for wooden boats, each with advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the right one for your needs.

In general, varnishes are a good option for wooden boats that will be used in freshwater, while paints are better suited for boats that will be used in saltwater.

Oils are a good choice for those who want to preserve the natural color of the wood, and synthetic finishes offer the most durability for use in marine environments.

Whatever option you choose, read all product labels thoroughly and follow the instructions for the best results.

So, which finish should you choose for your wooden boat? Ultimately, it depends on various factors, including the type of water in which the boat will be used, the desired look, and the level of protection needed.

wooden boat paints

How to Use Wood Boat Finish for Best Protection?

Before starting the paint application job, ensure that the boat is adequately cleaned and prepared for painting or varnishing.

This can involve removing rust, dirt, and debris from the boat’s surface using sandpaper or a power sander.

Once your boat is clean and prepped, begin with the sealer application process for waterproofing.

You can apply the coats using a paintbrush, roller, or sprayer as per your preference.

Most boat paints and varnishes require multiple coats to provide adequate protection.

However, the number of paint or varnish coats you need will depend on the specific product you’re using and the environment in which the boat will be used.

How often should you paint your boat bottom?

Typically, you should apply the paint to the boat bottom at least once a year, although some paints may endure for two years or even longer.

If your boat is kept in the water or used regularly, you should inspect it once a year to see whether it needs a newer bottom paint coating.

Spar Varnish vs. Regular Varnish – What’s the Difference?

The term “spar varnish” derives from the boating world, where long wooden poles supporting the sails are known as spars.

So, in simple terms, Spar varnish is a finish made to withstand the rigors of life on the high seas.

Plus, it’s also designed to handle anything your backyard throws its way, like UV rays, humidity, and temperature changes.

On the other hand, the regular varnish is different because it’s made for furniture that lives indoors, like chairs and tables.

Spar varnish is more durable than regular varnish because it contains UV inhibitors that protect the wood from the sun’s rays.

It also has a higher oil and resin content, which makes it more flexible and less likely to crack in extreme temperature changes.

If you want to buy, here are some of the best spar varnishes on the market you can choose from for your boat finish…

  1. Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane
  2. Benjamin Moore 440 Spar Varnish
  3. Epifanes Clear Marine Spar Varnish

Benjamin Moore 440 Spar Varnish is what I particularly like most because of its durability and ability to provide a high-gloss, long-lasting finish.

It offers better flexibility to the wood surface and the required UV protection to last for years.

Can You Put Wraps On Boats – Is it Better than Paint or Varnish?

Some boat owners prefer to use wraps because they are easy to apply and offer a more customized look.

In contrast, others like to paint or varnish because they provide better protection in harsh marine environments.

There are several pros and cons of boat wraps that you should consider before deciding whether or not to use them on your vessel.

The Pros:

  • Boat wraps are easy to apply and can be removed without damaging the underlying paint or gel coat.
  • They offer a customizable look that can help you express your style.
  • They are usually less expensive than other boat finishes, like paint or varnish.

The Cons:

  • Boat wraps may not provide as much protection against the elements as traditional boat finishes and may need to be replaced more frequently.
  • These can be difficult to remove and may damage the underlying paint or gel coat when removed.
  • They may not last as long as traditional boat finishes and may need to be replaced more frequently.

Ultimately, the best way to protect your boat with suitable materials comes down to the environment in which it will be used and the desired look you want to achieve.


How much does it cost to varnish a boat?

The cost of varnishing a boat can vary depending on the size of the boat and the type of paint or varnish used.

A professional varnish job can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000. The price will depend on the size of the boat and the number of coats of varnish required.

If you have experience with painting and varnishing, you may be able to do the job yourself for a lower cost.

However, it is important to note that this is a time-consuming process, and the results may not be as professional looking as if you were to hire a professional.

If you are considering hiring a professional for help, check the skill level of the person performing the work.

What finish to use to restore aluminum boat surfaces?

There is no one “best” finish for restoring aluminum boat surfaces, as different products can offer different benefits depending on your needs.

For example, if you are looking for a finish that is durable and will offer good protection against the elements, then a marine-grade polyurethane or epoxy paint would be a good choice.

If you are more concerned with aesthetics and want a finish that will give your boat a shiny, like-new look, then an automotive-grade wax or polish would be a better option.

Ultimately, the best finish for restoring your aluminum boat surface will depend on your preferences and priorities.

Can gel coats be used to touch up or repair a boat’s finish?

While gel coats are commonly used to produce the initial surface coat of boats, they are not typically recommended for use in touch-ups or repairs.

This is because gel coats are typically thinner than paint finishes and may not provide the same level of protection or durability.

If you need to touch up or repair your boat’s finish, it is generally recommended that you work with a professional or use specialized antifouling marine paint and refinishing products like Fiberglass coatings to achieve the best results.

Final Thoughts

As a boat owner, it is important to know about the different types of finishes and paints available for your wooden boat.

You will generally need a finish that can protect your boat from weeds, barnacles, and other aquatic organisms that can attach below the waterline of a boat and can cause damage.

By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each type, you can make an informed decision about which is best for your boat.

If you’re still not sure which finish is right for your boat, consult with a professional to get the best advice for your specific situation.

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