Aluminum fishing boats and pontoon boats provide an affordable, fun way to explore the water. Records show 118,433 aluminum boats were registered in 2017 alone, and sales of aluminum boats have grown steadily since 2015, according to boating-industry publication “Trade Only Today.”[i]
Proper is a key way to make sure you can get ample enjoyment and use from it for years to come. To keep your aluminum boat in top condition, follow these tips for cleaning, polishing and painting.
1. Clean and prepare your boat for paint
Prior to polishing and painting your boat make sure the surface is clean. Wondering how to clean an aluminum boat? Here are the steps to follow:
Dry dock your boat
Pull your boat out of the water and prep a work area in a garage or a place where you have plenty of space. This should be an area that can get wet, whether it’s your driveway or a dry-docking space at your local marina. Elevate the boat off the ground in this workable space. If you need to use a sander or buffer, dry dock your boat in an area where you have access to electricity.
Sand off loose paint and rust
If the boat has any rust, sand it off so you have a smooth surface to work with. Depending on the sizes of the rusty patches, you may need a power sander and varying grit levels of sandpaper.
Wash the boat
You’ll want to clean all of the grime and dust off. If you’ve waxed your boat previously, use a dewaxing solvent to remove traces of old wax.[ii]
Mix mild soap and water in a spray bottle. Spray the boat and wipe it down with a sponge. This removes dirt but not hard stains. To remove tougher stains, mix a solution of 50% distilled vinegar and 50% warm water. Spray that mix on the boat, let it sit for 60 seconds and then wipe it away.
Mild soap and vinegar are simple DIY solutions, but there are special cleaning products available too. Sometimes, a stronger cleaner is necessary to remove oxidation. There are specific cleaners that can handle these dark patches, but they’re abrasive. Follow the instructions on these products carefully to keep yourself safe.
Rinse the boat
Grab a hose and rinse the cleaner from the boat. Be sure to use fresh water; you don’t want to use sea water or lake water. If you have the time, polish your boat once it’s dry.
2. Polish your boat
To get it all shined up, here’s how to polish your aluminum boat:[iii]
Use aluminum boat polish
There are dozens of polishes on the market, but you need an aluminum-grade polish. You can also use an aluminum cleaner that can clean, polish and protect your boat as an all-in-one option.
Applying the polish
To start, rub or paint the polish on the boat. You can choose to do this by hand or with a power buffer. Polishing by hand can be rewarding, but it’s labor-intensive and can be more time-consuming. A power buffer can get the job done efficiently and quickly. However, you still may need to hand-buff nooks and crannies.
Work in small sections
Apply polish to small sections of the boat, working to completely cover each area before moving on to the next. Results should be instant as you work the polishing compound into the boat’s surface.
Check the boat
After applying the polish all over the boat, take a walk around it to make sure you haven’t missed any spots[iv].
Let the polish dry
Let the polish dry completely. Wipe the boat down with a clean, dry cloth.
3. Paint your aluminum boat
After your boat’s surface has been cleaned and polished it is ready to be painted. Plan for this project to take a few days. Here’s how to paint an aluminum boat[v]:
Find a location for painting
Try to start this project when the weather forecast says there will be a few days of rain-free weather. Pick a work area that’s outside and away from cars and buildings. Put a piece of plastic down to catch dripping paint. Elevate the boat so you have access to all areas of the hull.
Prepare the surface for paint
Before painting, remove rust, dirt, chipping paint and old wax or polish. Depending on the amount of rust present, you may need a power sander to create a smooth surface. Once you’ve removed rust, clean the boat by following the cleaning steps above.
Apply a self-etching, oil-based primer that sticks to aluminum surfaces[vi]. Using a brush or a sprayer, apply a thin layer of primer inside the boat. Let it dry and then paint the outside. Let the primer dry overnight, or at least 12 hours, before moving on to the painting process.
Apply aluminum boat paint
Choose a water-resistant marine paint that adheres to aluminum. Using a sprayer or brush, paint the inside of the boat first. Paint in horizontal strokes for an even coat. The inside coat should dry for 12 hours or so before you paint the exterior. That coat needs to dry for the same amount of time. You may decide to add a second layer of paint to the boat for protection. If so, make sure the paint dries completely in between applications.
Apply a clear coat
Once painting is finished, apply a clear protective coat. This layer helps keep the paint intact and prevents scratches. Check the product label to determine how long this coat may need to cure before you put the boat in the water again.
A fresh layer of paint will help protect the exterior of your boat— but this is not the only way to protect it. Another component of caring for your boat is having boat insurance. Find out if you need boat insurance before you put your boat in the water.
[i] “Top Two Export Markets for US Built Boats to Impose Retaliatory Tariffs,” Trade Only Today (June 1, 2018).
“Polishing An Aluminum Boat [Guide],” BoatLIFE.
“Cleaning an Aluminum Boat With Vinegar,” Pontoonopedia (June 11, 2018).
“6 Steps to Painting Aluminum Boats,” Chi Yacht Refinishing (June 20, 2018).