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The secret behind our narrowboats' glossy paintwork

Most people think they can paint. You just open a tin of paint, in goes the brush and onto the door frame it goes. But have you considered how you’d do it if you were given a large quantity of marine paint, had a very large area to cover, needed to avoid getting paint on the windows and rails, and, of course, had to produce an immaculate finish. It’s a very different story. This is how we do it.

We have our very own paint expert - Sarah. Co-owner (with Alasdair) of Beacon Park Boats, Sarah makes sure that Alasdair is never allowed anywhere near a paint brush. Instead, he handles the dirty jobs. Sarah has been painting boats for sixteen years and, up until recently, has always painted our boats in a single pack coach enamel paint, which requires the standard pre-treatments of priming and undercoating.

Painting is a big part of life at Beacon Park Boats; it falls into two distinct jobs. Firstly, there is the annual maintenance; every boat has to be repainted each year because the fleet’s paintwork inevitably gets scratched by canalside vegetation and the odd bridge (more about this in another blog). Secondly, we build at least one new boat each year which has to be painted. The new boat arrives in an un-primed state i.e. a metal tube with surface rust. To achieve excellent paint bonding the boat is ideally grit blasted to ensure complete rust removal and removal of mill scale. Following this, we clean the boat and wash it down.

Up until last year, Sarah spent several weeks adding two primers, three undercoats and two top coats to each new boat, in order to ensure a weather resistant finish. All applied with a brush, by hand. Last year, to reduce this workload, we experimented with a two pack paint which has the huge advantage of being harder, as the paint is chemically cured, rather than air cured. The disadvantage using the two pack was that it was hard to brush out as the “wet edge”  which was not maintained very long and, therefore, brush marks could be visible in places. The only practical means of overcoming this problem, and to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation, is to spray the paint on.

Spraying has many pros and cons! Its pros are obvious: it goes on quickly and can be oversprayed several times in a single day. Its cons are that you have to control the environment, mask up all the areas you do not want to paint and purchase the expensive equipment. Nevertheless, we made the bold decision to enter the world of spraying.


Sarah contacted our paint supplier Marine and Industrial who recommended a spraying course which they help to run with 3M (manufacturers of spraying equipment and consumables). After successfully completing this course Sarah was ready to spray this year’s new canal boat, Merlin. The very helpful boys from Marine and Industrial initially brought down their equipment and gave Sarah expert guidance in putting into practice what she had learned on the course. The undercoat primer was applied using an airless sprayer, i.e. pumped from the tin under very high pressure through the gun, and one application resulted in a fairly thick coat. Once dry, the surface was lightly abraded ready for the topcoat.

The topcoat was a much trickier task. To obtain the trademark Beacon Park Boats high gloss finish that we all expect from Sarah, this top coat had to be air sprayed. Potentially this would go everywhere, with overspray turning our new workshop and the inside of Merlin a delightful shade of green! So we put in place some preventive measures, totally encasing an area of our new boathouse. Then, of course, there is Sarah’s health. To undertake this job she had to wear an air-fed mask and goggles, which occasionally misted up!


We are pleased to announce that the result is superb. Under the expert guidance of Marine and Industrial, Merlin has been successfully painted in a two pack paint by Sarah. All she has to do to complete her training is to spray the other new boat we’re building, Grouse. That’s next month’s job!