The Essentials of Bottom Paint Removal

Lucky are the few who own a boat and live on the beautiful Gulf Coast where the boating season is long and thunderstorms are short. Those fortunate captains are keenly aware of all the tasks necessary to keep their vessels in premier shape. One of those tasks is the dreaded bottom paint removal. For non-dry launched vessels, this is a necessary evil. Bottom paint removal is comparable to a colonoscopy in some ways … thinking about it is awful, the prep work is even worse, but you know it’s something that has to be done, and you are beyond grateful when it’s complete. If you decide to take on this chore yourself or hire a professional, having some knowledge and guidance up front will help ensure better results.

Steps of Bottom Paint Removal

Once you know that it’s time to begin the bottom paint removal, you may naively think to yourself, that the job is not that big, just some sanding and scraping. That mindset is all wrong. The task is not impossible, but prep work and research are important precursors to starting this project. In any scenario, a mess is guaranteed so place a tarp or plastic under the vessel, have large trash bags on hand for disposal and as a large supply of gloves. The best route to take for removing bottom paint is somewhat debatable.

Using Gel Remover

One option is using a reputable gel remover. Some paint strippers may eat through the gelcoat. It is important to take careful note of the products you use. Not all gel removers/paint strippers are applied in the same way so pay close attention to the directions and the type of brush recommended for that product. Apply a thick coat and allow it ample time to do its job (some suggest covering with plastic during this part. Again, follow your product’s specific instructions). Once this step is complete, scraping can begin. Whether you are using a putty knife or scraper, take extra caution as it is easy to damage the gelcoat while scraping. This option will take a toll on your body as you will spend much of the time lying on your back. Muscles that seldom get used will be taxed and if your physical health is subpar already, be prepared to feel the pain.

Soda/Shell Blasting

Another option is soda/shell blasting. Most often done professionally, the paint will be blasted off down the vessel’s gelcoat. This needs to be done in a boatyard that has the appropriate space and facilities to do the job correctly. Soda or shell blasting should also be done by an experienced professional. A steady hand is crucial. If not done properly, the gelcoat can be harmed.


Sanding the hull yourself or manual scraping are options that are maligned nearly universally. The back and muscle pains felt by those who use gelcoat/paint strippers will pale in comparison to the agony awaiting self-sanders/scrapers. Not only will you spend hours in uncomfortable positions, you will inadvertently breathe in dust and fumes and spread them to others nearby. If you are able to see this task to completion, it is usually much more time consuming. This option is a poor one for you, your neighbors and the environment.

DIY or Hire a Pro: Cautiously Weigh Your Options

If you are still unsure about whether you should attempt the project of bottom paint removal yourself or hire a professional, there are some things to consider.

  • Do you have the time required to devote to such a labor-intensive project?
  • Do you have a work-space that can accommodate the job?
  • Are you physically capable of performing the task?
  • If you do end up with severe aches and pains or injuries, can you afford to miss work or other obligations while you recover?
  • Could you end up damaging the hull in the process?

Pensacola Shipyard Has Solutions

Whether you decide to go the DIY route or hire a professional, Pensacola Shipyard is here to offer solutions. If you are attempting the project on your own, we have the area’s best facilities and workspace for you to perform a variety of maintenance and repairs.  Prefer to leave the job to a professional? We have many independent contractors on-site to expertly handle your bottom paint needs and more. Our unique abilities to do both sets us apart from other boatyards.

Contact Pensacola Shipyard today and let us help you with all your boating needs so you can spend less time working on your boat and more time enjoying it.