Can You Spray Paint a Canoe ?

Activities like canoeing delight outdoors enthusiasts of every breed. There are just as many kinds of canoes as there are people who use them. This variety allows us to prioritize what we desire most in our canoes, whether it be lightness, sturdiness, or style. But even the most expertly crafted canoes degrade over time in response to the elements.


You can spray paint most canoes using a sprayer. However, you should not use spray paint cans, as the rattle cans don’t have the kind of paint your canoe requires. Additionally, the preparation process for painting differs based on what your canoe is made out of.


This article will outline the similarities and differences in how to paint canoes of materials that vary from porous, absorbent wood to silky, reflective aluminum. By the end, you should better understand how to approach your own canoe spray painting project. So let’s get started.

Tips for Painting All Types of Canoes

Every canoe will have a few steps in common when you’re painting it:


  • Clean the canoe: Before you do any sanding, painting, or sealing, make sure that you clean away any dirt or debris that could interfere with the texture and appearance of the paint.
  • Get ready to sand: Roughening up the surface allows the paint to adhere better, regardless of whether it’s wood, metal, or anything in between.
  • Apply the paint smoothly: Whether you spray it, brush it, or roll it, ensure that the paint goes on without clumping or sticking unevenly. This will make the final product look nicer and make the paint job itself stronger.
  • Ventilation: Paint in a ventilated area, as some cleaners and paints contain nasty fumes. At a minimum, you’ll want some fresh air to clean out the chemical smell.
  • Don’t use rattle cans: If you spray paint your canoe, only use a professional sprayer that you can fill with your own paint first.


No matter which material your canoe is made from, you will have to perform some steps such as cleaning. You will still need to consider your canoe material’s unique painting needs, though.


Let’s take a look at the different materials canoes are made with, and how to paint them properly.

Wooden Canoes Are Easiest To Paint

Classic wooden canoes, like any other wooden item, are porous. This absorbent quality and versatility make wooden canoes easy to paint, stain, and seal without a lot of sanding or priming work.


Here’s the process you need to take:


  1. Clean the canoe: Use water mixed in with trisodium phosphate cleaner to get rid of any oil and debris.
  2. Dry it thoroughly: Wood, even when sealed, swells, blisters, and even molds or rots if you don’t let it dry out. Ensure that the wood is thoroughly dried before proceeding, which may take some time.
  3. Sand it: Remove the previous coat of paint using coarse, medium, and fine grits in that order. Specifically, try 80-grit first, then 120-grit, then 240-grit.
  4. Add primer: Add one to two coats of primer.
  5. Sand the primer: Sand again using medium grain sandpaper, 120- to 150-grit.
  6. Paint: Wood can take most kinds of paint, so find one that you like and get it on there!

Fiberglass and Kevlar: Use the Right Kind of Paint

Fiberglass and Kevlar are also relatively easy. Though they’re not as absorbent as wood, they’re still textured enough to take on paint quite nicely.


Here’s how to paint a fiberglass or kevlar canoe:


  1. Clean the canoe: Use dish soap and water to get rid of any grime. When cleaning up after sanding, use a tack or other cloth designed to pick up debris.
  2. Sand it: Use a fine grain 400-grit sandpaper. You’ll probably want to do this by hand to avoid over sanding since fine grain can make things even smoother if you use it too much.
  3. Prime it: Only apply your primer super lightly in brief coats of mist to avoid any runoff.
  4. Painting: Use one layer of acrylic paint to add your desired color.

Polyurethane (Plastic) Canoe Colors Can Be Revamped

Because manufacturers infuse colors into the plastics they produce, it’s not possible to sand or otherwise remove the color from a polyurethane canoe and replace it.


However, you can freshen up the appearance of your old canoe with a bit of effort.


You’ll have to follow a slightly different process, though, such as cleaning with another type of cloth and sanding with two grits.


Here’s what you need to do:


  1. Clean away the debris: Wipe away debris using a rough rag and then rinse using wet rags.
  2. Sand the plastic: Sand for the first time using 150- or 180-grit sandpaper.
  3. Use mineral spirits next: Dampen your cloth with mineral spirits, a type of paint thinner.
  4. Add primer: Unlike wood, polyurethane needs a primer coat. Use a latex-based primer.
  5. Sand the primer: Sand for a second time. But now, sand against the primer rather than the plastic using finer sandpaper of 320 grit.


Your canoe should then be ready for a coat of paint. The extra sanding will roughen up the plastic surface and make it easier for the paint and primer to stick to, no matter how you apply it.

Aluminum Canoes: A Little Extra Work To Paint

Metals such as aluminum are probably the most challenging to paint. But similar to polyurethane and fiberglass, a little extra sanding goes a super long way.


Here’s the process of spray painting aluminum canoes:


  1. Clean it thoroughly: Scrub with soapy water and power wash the debris away. Make sure to wear proper eye and bodily protection.
  2. Sand it: Sand the aluminum to roughen it up enough for paint. You’ll need to use coarse 40-grit sandpaper since metals are pretty smooth.
  3. Add primer: Apply a primer coat of your choice.
  4. Paint it: Try applying one coat of paint, letting that dry, and then applying a second coat to really get a vivid color profile.


For canoe enthusiasts, witnessing our boat’s vibrant colors slowly fade over time from exposure to the sun and other elements can be discouraging. Fortunately for us, there are ways to bring those colors back no matter what our canoes are made of.


Using sandpaper, primer, a spray painter, and acrylic paint made specifically for water sports equipment, we can get our canoe back to the way it was when we first bought it: clean, lively, and ready for any adventure.


Just be sure not to use rattle cans.

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