“A ship is always referred to as she because it costs so much to keep
one in paint and powder”
Chester W. Nimitz
I’ll never forget the first time my dad took me sailing. I was very young at the time; obsessed with garbage trucks, trains and of course, sailboats. As we walked down on the dock in Alameda, one boat at the end slip caught my eye so completely I couldn’t help but stare. It was a Santa Cruz 52, a deep navy blue with gold accents and bootstripe, and everything about it was more brilliant than I had ever imagined. After I pulled on my Pop’s pant leg to ask him about it, he put me (when I weighed about 50 lbs) on his shoulders so I could get a better look. The boat looked better to me than a freshly waxed new Ferarri before it has been taken off the lot, each contour of the deck reflecting light into my awestruck eyes.
Unfortunately, somebody else owned that dream yacht, but it was not the last time I was that taken aback by a boat. I was too young at the time to realize this, but there is only one thing that made the boat stand out over the others: its top side paint. It may have been about ninety-seven percent similar to the other boats in all other regards: rigging, sails, hardware and instrumentation, but the paint is what has made me remember that boat so vividly for so long.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but today we are going to look at the best coat for your boat’s top sides. Paint is the first thing anyone sees when they approach your boat, and it can make or break that important first impression.
Top side paint is considered to be any paint that doesn’t normally rest below the water line. This includes enamel and polyurethane paints for your boat’s hull, interior, bilge and deck. The best top side paint should be relatively easy to apply and maintain, it should be highly wear resistant, and of course, the paint has to look great, and give your boat that “WOW” factor.
Based on these criteria, Awlcraft 2000 acrylic top side paint is the best stuff to show off the true beauty of your boat’s hull.
Awlcraft 2000 is made by AwlGrip, a marine paint company which was first started when two pilots decided to take their Alumigrip airplane paint and try it on their boat. It worked so well that the two decided to market a similar paint, but Alumigrip sounded too much like paint meant only for aluminum planes. After not being able to think of an acceptable name change, the two pilots retired to their favorite watering hole to end their day. Then it hit them: (From AwlGrip.com) “It was intended to be Allgrip—implying that it was suitable for all substrates – but as the story goes, the handwriting on the bar-room napkin was so bad that when the secretary typed it out the next day, the ‘L’ got converted to a ‘W.’”
Awlcraft 2000 is a two-part acrylic urethane paint. It comes in one quart and gallon sizes, and unlike polyurethane paints, it can be wet-sanded, buffed and polished if the sheen is getting dull. The incredibly polished “Go-fast” boats at boat shows are usually painted with Awlcraft 2000 because of the ease of upkeep and the superior shine. It is meant to be sprayed on only but, although not recommended by the manufacturer, it can be applied with a rolled and tipped with a brush & roller if you have the patience required to do so . It dries within 24 hours under normal conditions, and the finish is easy to apply and maintain. Though it should be sprayed on to primer, Awlcraft 2000 can be sprayed onto some existing finishes.
Admittedly, Awlcraft 2000 is a little bit more difficult to mix and apply than the other paints we tried. You need to mix a paint converter and a paint reducer before loading it into a gun and spraying, which is more parts to mix than some paints. And spraying the paint is not a DIY option because, when sprayed, the vapors can be toxic. Our aim here though, was not to get the easiest DIY paint for the casual yachtsman, it was to choose the paint that allows you to get the most durability and shine. Especially keeping maintenance in mind, Awlcraft 2000 is the clear choice for top side paint because of its repairability. No other paint on the market looks as good after wet sanding, buffing or repainting.
As the quote from Admiral Nimitz says at the beginning of this article, the cost of keeping your boat looking good is painfully high. Awlcraft 2000 reduces maintenance costs because instead of having to sand and repaint your entire hull for repairs, small sections can be repaired at a low cost compared to complete repainting.
Now, let’s look at the closest competition in the top side paint market.
Awlgrip is the original polyurethane paint made by the company of the same name. They continue its production because of its proven ability to resist wear for longer than any other paint. Awlgrip is more shiny than Alwcraft and Awlgrip is slightly more durable than Awlcraft, but because it is a polyurethane paint, that finish can never be restored to like-new condition. The reason for that is as clear membrane that is formed over the top of the paint. This layer is extremely resistant to normal wear, but once it is marred, the membrane cannot be regenerated without sanding repainting the entire hull. Awlcraft requires that a wet-edge be maintained at all times meaning the entire surface needs to be painted all at once and any screw-ups will be immediately noticeable…. this makes it difficult to roll-and-tip any boat lager than a small dingy.
Awlcraft has more than 90% shine and durability of Awlcraft (far exceeding any one-part paint) with simpler application and the added benefit of repairability.
A lower cost alternative is two-part Acrylic Urethane automotive paint from suppliers like TSP Global, performed equally well in our tests. DIY boaters on a limited budget should strongly consider this paint which is, essentially, a generic version of Awcraft 2000. We, however, did not choose this paint as “the best” for a few reasons. First, the support is limited. Companies that supply this paint offer limited support and will not be able to answer your marine related questions. Resale value is another concern. A carefully applies Awlgrip finish will add thousands of dollars to the resale value of your boat but, although it might provide a similar look and durability as Awlcraft… few buyers will be interested in purchasing a boat with a unknown generic finish. Finally, there are myriad of resources online and at your library with tips on applying and maintaining a Awlcraft finish. Some of these tips include using specialize reducers and brush converters (e.g. Awlgrip T0005Q HOT WEATHER REDUCER/RETARDER REDUCER) to elongate the dry time when working under a hot Florida sun or to deal with moister problems in cold and humid climates. These resources mention specific Awlgrip additives. Generic versions of these additive are usually available but they are sold under their chemical name (e.g. 10% Nitroethane) which can be confusing. That said, if you want to save money, have the time to perfect various mixers on scrap then generics are an option worth exploring.
There are also a few premium paints that you may want to consider. If you have deep pockets then we highly reccomend Imron paint which has chemical properties similar to Awlcraft but with shiny and durability closer to Awlgrip yet comes at a higher cots. Imron is fabulous paint but if the key to real estate is Location, Location, Loction then the key to a great paint job is Preparation, Preparation, Product. So we suggest, even if you have deep pockets, that you use Alwcraft and spend the extra money ensuring the area is perfectly sanded, tapped and prepped.
The next paint that we compared is the Interlux One-part Polyurethane paint with Teflon. This is a great beginner’s option if you have never tried painting boats before. The paint is the easiest to mix and apply out of the ones that we tested, but ease of application was rather unimportant because of its inconsistent finish. Once it is on, it is on, and can’t be buffed, just like Polyurethane Awlgrip. More than a few forum posters and internet reviewers noted that the paint doesn’t last more than a few years before cracking and blistering and can loose it’s shine in half that time. Once more, we didn’t care so much about the application of the paint, but the long-term implications of having it coat your hull for over ten years. We also fond that nearly all blemishes (even ones that looked like deep scratches) could be removed from an Awlgrip surface with some acetone and elbow grease but frequent application of harsh chemicals on single-part paint dulled the paint. Most importantly, while most coverings (e.g. one-part paint and even gelcoat) can be painted atop Awlgrip, it is never a good idea to paint Awlgrip over a one-part paint… this means that painting your hull with one-part is a one way street.
The amount of time needed to paint a boat is relatively the same no matter which paint you use, as a majority of the time is spent sanding and spraying, rather than mixing the paint. What we really considered when choosing the best paint is: would you rather paint your boat once in 15 years, or paint it three times over those same 15 years?
Note for DIY’ers. The number one Awlcraft related question asked in sailing forums is “Can I really apply this myself?” If you want your boat to look like a new Ferrari then the answer is no. For a top-notch “Bristol Finish” there is only one option…. spraying Awlgrip. You will not get the same shine rolling and tipping (the only option for DIY application without a serious investment in respiratory gear and training) as you will with spraying but 90% of the shine is in ensuring the work surface is perfectly flat and sanded to a high grit…. which any DIY’s can do with patience. We rolled an tipped our test vessel S/V gCaptain with Awlcraft and found that, compared side-by-side in the yard yachts sprayed with Awlcraft did look noticeably more shiny and “pristine” in the yard but nearly identical after spending a week or more at the mooring.
Another option, not available at all boatyards, is a hybrid owner prepped, yard applied finish. With this option you do all the sanding, hardware removal, taping off, etc… and the yard sprays the paint. This is an excellent way to get a bristol finish at a significant discount.
Getting a good coat of top side paint is like shrouding a knight in new armor. The paint will protect as well as it looks, and leave your boat shining for years to come. Awlcraft 2000 is the most durable and best looking of any top side paint on the market. If applied as directed, this paint literally outshines its competition in all regards.