Painting the Deck

This page was last updated on 23 September 2000.

Deck Preparation  |  Masking  |  Priming  |  Topcoats

Nonskid  |  Safety Considerations

Masking off the Nonskid Areas

The first step when preparing to paint the decks was to lay out and mask off the outline of the nonskid areas.  It is better to paint the smooth areas first, as it is harder to get tape to stick well to a rough nonskid surface,  so the taping was done on the inside of my layout lines.

taping2.jpg (43532 bytes)I elected to forgo any complex patterns and the like, since the original deck mold did not include breaks in the nonskid other than the center of the coachroof and foredeck.  I prefer a clean, unbroken area of nonskid when it is painted on, so I eliminated these divisions as well.  My layout lines included 1 1/2" borders along the toerail and cabin trunk, which I drew using a standard compass, and doghouseroof1.jpg (37664 bytes)slightly wider borders at the edges of the coachroof, exactly where the original line was.  I also decided to paint the top of the raised doghouse with nonskid, rather than the smooth surface that was originally there, and laid out borders similar to those on the forward coachroof.

maststeptape.jpg (44956 bytes)poopdecktape.jpg (47540 bytes)
I laid out the other areas with borders as seemed appropriate at the time, including the forward hatch, hawsepipe to the chainlocker, and the area around my new hatch on the poop deck.  I laid out all these lines with a pencil and straightedge, and then moved on to taping.

cabincornertape.jpg (35100 bytes)
The tape I chose was 3M # 225 silver long mask, which is designed for outdoor use up to 30 days.  I had used this expensive but high quality tape in the past with good results.  The 30-day ability of the tape was useful since it meant that I could put the tape on once and do all my priming and painting without worrying about tape removal later. 

roundedcorner1.jpg (29140 bytes)Following my layout lines, I carefully applied the tape, checking all the curved by eye to make sure they are fair.  Any slight irregularities that I notice when I remove the tape after the Awlgrip goes on can be corrected by rearranging the tape lines slightly when I tape off for the nonskid later.  At the corners, I used a quarter as a radius template to create a smoother, more professional look to the finished product; the quarter has just the right radius to my eye.  I just placed the quarter at the corners--both inside and outside corners--and cut around it with my utility knife.  When all the taping was done, I went over everything again and pressed the tape firmly down.

Update:  2008
The excellent #225 tape skyrocketed in price since I originally wrote this article.  While it is an outstanding product, its cost has become so high that I'd only recommend it if the longevity of the tape was critical.  For any work undercover, in a permanent or temporary building, I'd suggest 3M #233 green painter's tape, which is a good all-around masking tape.

scuppertape.jpg (45708 bytes)
I also created borders around the deck scuppers.  To lay these out, I first taped straight by the scuppers, then added another piece right outside the first.  Then, I laid one short piece of tape over the middle of the scupper to give me an area to place the point of the compass so I could draw an arc on the built out tape; I then cut out the arc by eye and cockpittape.jpg (30948 bytes)rounded the corners using the quarter.  I used a similar technique around the cockpit scuppers.

I taped the inside of the mahogany toerail to protect it, and was ready to apply primer. 


Before beginning priming, I cleaned all the surfaces with Awl Prep Plus (# T-0115) degreaser/dewaxer solvent, using a wet cloth followed immediately by a dry one to wipe up the dirt and excess.  This also gave me a last opportunity to check over the tape and other preparations.

The primer I used was US Paint Awl-Quik, # D-8003. (Converter # D-8001)  I had used this before when painting my Ensign a couple years ago, and was prepared for all the difficulty associated in using it.  Unfortunately, this is the only Awlgrip primer designed for use with a brushing thinner; all the other primers state that they are intended for spray only.

Update:  2008
Further experience and anecdotal research indicates that you can also apply Awlgrip 545 finish primer by roll and tip.  See further comments on Awl-Quik and other high-build primers on the hull page, where I wrote a more detailed discussion of these products and lessons learned.

The Awl-Quik is a 50/50 mix of base and converter, to which reducer (T-0031) is added as needed, up to 40% by volume.  The converter is extremely  thick, so much so that it barely pours (and this is August, so it's warm).  The base is a little thinner, but still thick.  This makes the product difficult to deal with, especially when opening a new can.  It was very hard to stir (using a drill attachment) when the cans were new and full.

After stirring as needed, I measured out 20 oz. of converter, 20 oz. of base and about 16 oz. of T-0031 reducer.  I mixed these according to the manufacturer's instructions and went to work.  The primer and the solvents are very strong and a good respirator is absolutely  required when working with the stuff, whenever a can is open.  The stuff will make your head ache after a few seconds without the breathing protection.  With the respirator, I don't even notice it.

Update:  2008
Additional information suggests that a standard organic respirator cartridge might not properly filter out the most dangerous components of the fumes found when using Awlgrip and similar solvent-based LPU products and their primer.  Refer to the manufacturers' MSDS for the products you intend to use and make your own decisions on proper respiratory protection.  For spraying, only approved supplied air systems should be considered acceptable.

The primer can be rolled and tipped or just brushed on, which I found worked easier on the smaller surfaces of the deck and cabin trunk.  Despite the maximum amount of thinner allowed--and even a little more--the primer does not level well, so brush marks are guaranteed.  They can be sanded out later.  I started in the cockpit and worked my way around, trying to come up with the best way to keep a wet edge.  With the primer, so much sanding will be necessary that this is not essential, but I was trying to use the priming as a dry run for the  topcoat painting later on.  I brushed on as smooth a coat as possible, adding a little reducer to the pot every now and then as the brush began to pull.  When I finished the cockpit and coachroof, I moved to the staging to paint the cabin trunk and borders along the toerail.  When the deck priming was done, I moved on to the hull, since I was trying to get all the priming done in one fell swoop.    It took about two hours to prime the deck areas and the hull; cleaning the deck and hull, and preparing the primer initially, took another 1 1/2 hours earlier.

Because I began my priming very early in the day--I began cleaning and preparation just after 6 AM, shortly after it was light enough to actually work--I was finished early enough to allow sufficient drying time for a second coat later in the day.  I followed the same steps as before, trying again to make the second coat as smooth as possible.  I allowed the primer to dry overnight before continuing.


The primer required a lot of sanding before I was able to continue the painting process.  I did most of the deck sanding entirely by hand, except for a few of the largest flat surfaces, such as the inside of the cockpit well, since the machine was too prone to sanding through the primer--something I wanted to avoid.  I used 220 grit.  The primer sands fairly easily, leaving a very smooth surface, but in some areas it was still tough to get rid of the brush strokes.  The primer did a good job filling the small crazing that covered all of the gelcoated surfaces on the deck, as I hoped it would.  The resulting surface, after sanding, should make a very good base for the topcoats.  There are a few areas where I couldn't help sanding through the primer, but I'd rather do an extra coat of white Awlgrip than deal with the primer any more.

The final step before painting was to clean all surfaces again with Awl-Prep plus, # T-0115, ridding them of residual dust, dirt and contaminants, and then to wash down the inside of the plastic shed and the floor with water to settle any dust that had collected there.  With this done, the boat was left alone for the rest of the day before continuing.

Just prior to mixing the paint prior to application, I again went over the primed deck surfaces with Awl-Prep solvent  (# T-0008) followed with a dry rag to wipe up the excess, then went over everything with a tack cloth to ensure that it was dust free.  It really does pay to be so compulsive at this step, since any dust, dirt or other contaminants can ruin the whole paint job--something I wished to avoid.

With everything perfectly clean, I began to mix the various parts of the Awlgrip system.  This includes # 8044 Snow White color component, # 3002 Awl-Cat catalyst, and T-0031 brushing reducer.  I followed the directions on the package and mixed the color and catalyst in a 2:1 ratio, then began adding the reducer to get the mixture to the proper flowing consistency.  I made some test applications on a panel to see if the brush marks would properly self-level as desired before beginning on the deck.

Because of the relatively small surfaces of the deck, I did not use a roller for spreading the paint first, preferring to simply brush it on with a super high quality 2 1/2" badger brush (West Marine Flagship).  When the paint is properly reduced, it flows on very nicely and levels almost immediately, leaving an unbelievably high gloss behind.  As I worked, I found it necessary to add a little more reducer here and there as it seems to evaporate somewhat from the pot.  

The trick on the deck, working alone, was to maintain a wet edge at all times in all areas.  If a wet edge is not maintained, there will be unsightly lap marks that will always show.  It is pretty much impossible for one person to paint the whole deck without lapping somewhere, so the idea is to find an inconspicuous area to have a lap if necessary.    This is another argument for avoiding the multiple smaller patterns of nonskid, since every boundary between these admittedly attractive patches means another place where a wet edge must be maintained.  Yikes!  Having worked with Awlgrip before, I knew that it will remain wet enough to brush over for nearly 15 minutes, provided it is in the shade and not too hot, so I worked out a plan for painting with this in mind.

I began painting on the coachroof at the mast step and work forward around the hatch, then aft along both sides of the cabin trunk, painting about two linear feet on each side, then switching to the other side and so forth.  When I reached the bump up to the raised doghouse, I started working towards the centerline, painting the forward portion of the doghouse till I reached the other side where I was able to meet up again with the still wet paint there.  Then, I worked aft again on the doghouse sides to the cockpit, doing first one side then the other.  Then, from the cockpit I painted the aft face of the doghouse and the companionway surround, before continuing with the cockpit well and aft end of the cockpit.

With all the areas inside the cockpit well painted, I moved outside the boat to the staging and continued, painting the poop deck areas, aft cockpit coaming, and the vertical insides of the cockpit seats where the wooden coaming will eventually go.  I planned on my overlaps being at the forward end of the cockpit, which will be pretty much covered with the wooden coamings, so any marks should be more or less invisible unless you are really looking.  Then, I painted the outer perimeter of the sidedecks and foredeck.  It took about two hours to complete the deck painting (remember, this is the edges and cabin trunk only, not the nonskid). 

The first coat covered pretty well and made a huge difference in the appearance of the boat, finally covering over the tired, dingy original gelcoat and epoxy patches everywhere.  The paint was incredibly high gloss and bright white, which looks terrific.  I did get a few runs in the paint here and there, and a collection of bugs, but I had at least one more coat to go and possibly two, depending how the next came out. 

The bugs were a significant problem, as were loose bristles in the brush--despite the high quality.  I had to pick a number of bristles out of the fresh paint during the process, then rebrush the area.  The bugs were tougher to deal with, since they (of course) seem to be drawn to the fresh paint.  Even with the full enclosure, they managed to find their way in.  I hoped that if I left things closed up during the whole painting process, most of them would die off by the time I get to my final, final deck coat.  In the first coat, however, it really wasn't too big a problem, since I would have to sand anyway. 

Later, I determined that the best way to deal with the bugs was to not worry about them:  it was best to pick out the carcasses once the paint was dry.  In most cases, the marks they made in the paint were insignificant in the scheme of things, and would either be sanded out prior to the next coat, or were minimal enough to be unnoticeable when the job was done.

Please click on the thumbnails below to see the results of the first coat.  (Remember, the nonskid will be painted later with another product...Awlgrip is only being used on the edges and cabin trunk.)

awlgripdeck1.jpg (38352 bytes)     awlgripdeck3.jpg (35208 bytes)    awlgripdeck5.jpg (34752 bytes)    awlgripdeck6.jpg (34192 bytes)    

The next day, I hand sanded all the painted areas with 320 grit paper.  I concentrated on a general smoothing of the surface, and spent extra time sanding out any drips, runs or bugs that were in the paint.  This took a couple hours.  The paint was thin in areas and, where the primer had been thin over the raw fiberglass or epoxy putty, the darker colors beneath were visible.  However, the coverage was generally good, and I didn't sand all the way through the first coat anywhere but on some of the corners in the cockpit.  With the sanding done, I brushed everything off and washed the entire deck with Awl Prep solvent.

The following morning, I prepared to apply the second coat.  Part of me was hoping that this would be the last, so I could avoid sanding again, but I wasn't too optimistic--or maybe I should say I was just being realistic; I knew deep down that three coats was the way to go anyway.    I began painting the same way as the first coat, but soon ran into a problem--moisture!

I had kept the shed doors closed since applying the first coat of paint, and the bug problem was definitely reduced and nearly eliminated--well worthwhile in that respect, and with the cooler weather it was not unpleasant working inside the enclosure.  However, we had some very cold nights with low dew points, and this created something of a monster inside the shed and on the boat.  Early in the morning, the boat appeared dry, and was dry when I went over it with a tack cloth just prior to painting.  However, as the sun rose beyond the trees across the street and our house and began heating parts of the shed, tiny moisture droplets appeared on the deck--after I had begun painting.  This was not good.  I dried things off and continued painting, but failed to tack off again.  This left more lint than you would expect behind, which of course ended up in the paint.  Obviously, a third coat was going to be necessary.  I kept painting, worrying more about good coverage and avoiding runs than trying to make it perfect.  When the paint dried, it didn't look too bad after all, but was definitely not good enough to use as a final coat.  I had to get rid of the lint, and a couple spots still were showing dark patches through.

I decided to take a new approach to the final coat.  Obviously, painting in the morning was not going to work; however, things dried out nicely inside the shed by early afternoon, so I figured the afternoon would be OK.  The trees around and behind the shed begin to block the direct sun by 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon, throwing everything in to shade--this is good, since the direct sun is too hot to work in and would cause the paint to tack up more quickly than desired for easy brushing.  

Note that it was September in Maine when I originally painted the boat.  This meant warm but short days and cool nights, in general--leading at least in part to the condensation problem.  The environmental conditions one might encounter during a similar project would of course vary greatly and be dealt with accordingly.

The morning after the second coat, I went out and sanded the decks again--hopefully for the last time.  The moisture on the surfaces actually helped me here, since I was using wet-dry sandpaper.  There were only a couple drips from the day before, which I sanded out, and the rest of the surfaces just required a light sanding to knock down and remove any lint or other debris.  Sanding took about an hour, after which I brushed everything off and went to do other things while the boat dried off.

A little later, I carefully washed everything down with Awl-Prep (which is designed, among other things, to remove latent moisture from the surface--I had been using it all along...) and tacked the whole deck off one last time.  When the shed became mostly shady, I went ahead with the  paint.  Painting went well, and the paint was laying down very smoothly.  A slight problem I had had on the first two coats with fisheyes was not present this time--must have been slight moisture rather than surface contamination as I had thought--and I was very pleased with how things were going. 

However, I had a little more trouble keeping the wet edge using my painting technique (described above) since it was a warmer day than the past couple--probably by 10 or 15 degrees, plus I was painting in the afternoon rather than the cool of the morning.  I prefer the morning--it makes the paint much easier to work with.  I ran into minor trouble when trying to paint the front of the doghouse and keep all the edges wet--the paint had begun to set up by the time I returned to the other side of the boat, making integrating the next section a little harder.  As I moved past, however, the two sections seemed to amalgamate fairly well, and the lap is not particularly noticeable.  Painting the cockpit, once I had finished with the difficult cabin trunk, went very well, and I was very pleased with the results.

I did end up with one run that might be visible to others--on the port side of the cabin trunk right between the two large ports.  (This was one of the areas I had had trouble with the wet edge earlier--brushing over the partially tacky paint had built up too much thickness, causing the run.) 

While this was devastating to me at the time, and originally I had thought I might need to  repaint the entire deck with a 4th coat, or otherwise repair this area, I ended up leaving the run alone, and frankly soon became entirely unaware of its existence.  No one else ever noticed it except after I pointed it out. 

The Awlgrip application on the deck was not perfect--few jobs ever are, despite what some people would like you to believe.  But it was outstanding despite that, and impossible to tell that the paint had been applied by brush.  Done correctly, this would always be true, but it's critical to properly mix/reduce and properly apply the paint in order to achieve a brush mark-free finish.  It's not hard to accomplish with a little care; this was only the second time I'd used Awlgrip (at the time, which was back in 2000).

Awlgrip and other LPU paints can be a challenge to work with, and are expensive.  But professional results require professional-quality products.  The more commonly available 2-part polyurethane paints marketed to boatowners are not the same thing, and, while they may produce excellent results when applied properly, will not likely produce the same results as Awlgrip, and will not last as long nor as effectively.

I waited a week or so--during which period I painted the hull--before taping over the Awlgrip so I could paint the nonskid.  I had to do just a little prep work first--mainly sanding down any Awlgrip that got spilled or brushed beyond the tape lines into the field.


After about a two week break from working on the decks to paint the hull and boottop, it was time to return and begin preparations for the final step--painting the nonskid.  This is a low-stress operation, as there is no finesse required to get the smoothest finish, the highest gloss, etc., since the idea is to end up with a gritty nonskid surface.

The first step was to tape off the nonskid areas, which is pretty self explanatory.  With careful taping, I was able to straighten or change any small areas where I didn't quite like the line of the Awlgrip.  Next, I sanded off any Awlgrip that had gotten on the inside of the nonskid areas, to remove the ridges and provide a better tooth for the paint.  Finally, I cleaned everything off.

There will be three to four coats of paint on the nonskid areas:  a coat of primer, and at least two coats of the final color with the nonskid added.  Two coats should cover just fine, but I may do an additional coat next spring in case I damage the new paint in any way during construction for the remainder of the project.  (I will be careful, though...)

The paint I used is Interlux Brightside one part polyurethane.  I experimented with this paint for the nonskid on my Ensign a couple years ago and it has worked out very well, with minimal wear and only a slight deterioration of the original, freshly painted appearance.  It may not be as tough ultimately as Awlgrip in this application, but it is easy to repaint if necessary, and it seems silly to waste such expensive, glossy paint on an area where it is designed to be filled with grit and dull in appearance.

First, I rolled on a coat of Brightside white primer, using one of the mohair rollers I used on the hull.  I didn't worry about tipping off, I only needed to strive for even coverage and no obvious ridges from the roller.  The roller stipple will only add to the nonskid texture of the deck.  All areas of the deck were able to be rolled with a 4" roller; no brushing needed. 

After letting the primer dry overnight, I prepared for the first color coat.  To a quart of Interlux Bristol Beige, I added a 1/2 pint of Interlux Brightside flattening agent.  This ensures that the decks will not be glossy, which would be slipperier than desired.  I also added a good quantity of Interlux polymeric nonskid particles.  I mixed this all together thoroughly.  The directions say to let the mixture sit for 15 minutes to allow the particles time to absorb paint, so I did so.  Then, I checked the texture by doing a test on a piece of scrap, to see how gritty the surface is when rolled out.  My experience is that you should add significantly more particles than the directions call for, but it all depends on what sort of surface you want.  I ended up with about double the recommended--about 12 oz. by volume for a quart of paint.  Less would be OK; I wouldn't use more.

When the texture was what I wanted, I rolled the paint on the decks smoothly and evenly, making sure there were no unsightly lap marks or ridges.  I began on the coachroof and cabin trunk, then painted the poop deck, cockpit sole and seats, and then painted my way around the sidedecks clockwise, starting from the port aft corner.  (My ladder was on the starboard side.)  This would also be easy from staging, but I had taken mine down for the time being.  The nonskid texture using these particles is excellent--they end up very evenly distributed through the paint, and because they are incorporated into and absorb the paint, there's no unsightly gritty stuff on the surface.  I highly recommend this method.  (First coat, left)

The next day, I rolled on a second coat the same way as the first.  The coverage was excellent, and the color became more even,  Both coats contained the grit particles; this does not make the surface too gritty at all.  Later that day, when the paint had dried to the touch, I removed the masking tape from the staging, which I had set up again.  I did not walk or lean on the new paint--that will wait a couple days at least.

cockpit-92300.jpg (32388 bytes)
The decks looked great and were finally finished.  I was very pleased with the color and the contrast between the nonskid and the white Awlgrip.  It is just the classic look I was hoping for.

roundcorner.jpg (21656 bytes)The details at the corners look good, and it was worth the effort to carefully round each corner when taping.

nonskid3-92300.jpg (26484 bytes)I like the even coverage and lack of interruptions in the nonskid; I think it provides a nice, clean look.  That said, I have nothing against the interrupted patches of nonskid found on many boats--done properly, it looks very nice.  

coachroof-92300.jpg (32360 bytes)The coachroof is now covered with nonskid, which will be useful and also looks better, I think.


closeup.jpg (20604 bytes)This photo attempts to show the finished texture of the deck paint using the methods above.  The camera fails to completely capture the look, but hopefully these help.

UPDATE:  December 2003
I repainted the nonskid after three seasons' use, and to hide several repairs I made during the fall of 2003.  I used the same products and techniques to repaint as I did originally, as seen below.  To read about the repainting, please click here.  

To continue reading about the painting of the deck following the original restoration project, please scroll down and read this page.

Glissando, Pearson  Triton #381

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