Which Bottom Paint Works Best For Your Boat?

Updated 2:16 PM ET, Tue August 4, 2015

Article highlights

  • The most common types of bottom paint are ablative and hard epoxy.
  • Ablative paint wears away little by little and, as long as paint is present on the boat, your hull is protected.
  • Hard Epoxy paint wears away to expose pores in the paint and it typically last longer.
One of the greatest mysteries for new boat owners preparing to store their boat in the water is what type of bottom paint to apply to their vessel? Utilizing bottom paint itself is a pretty basic theory. When your boat is in the water, you need something that goes between your boat and the water to protect your hull. So now that you know the theory behind it, I know some of you are asking, "Why do I need to protect my boat from water? Boats are supposed to be in the water!" While this is true, it is not necessarily the water you are protecting it from. It's all the living organisms that live in the water that are the main issue. Things like barnacles, shell fish, types of algae, slime, etc are all floating in the water, looking to for something to attach to. These are the things we don't want making their home on our boat's hull. There are indeed other dynamics for coating the bottom of your boat, such as to prevent blistering. In this write up, we are just touching on some basics. Some more advanced discussion will come in a later article.

Which Bottom Paint Works Best For Your Boat?

How Does Bottom Paint Work?

Let's talk about how bottom paint works. It's all about biology. All bottom paints use some form of a biocide in order to prevent growth. The most common biocide is copper, which is one of the reasons why bottom paint is so expensive! There are some other synthetic biocides on the market but, to keep it simple, lets discuss copper. Copper is a natural element found in the environment and, while small amounts are good for the environment, larger concentrations in one area can actually prevent growth. The way copper works in anti-fouling paint is by dissolving in the water, which in turn provides a barrier around your boat's hull to deter growth.

The two most basic types of bottom paint are Ablative Paint and Hard Epoxy Paint

What Is Ablative Paint?

Ablative paint wears away little by little, which exposes fresh copper elements to the water in order to prevent growth. The advantage to this is, as long as you have paint present on the boat, you know you are protected. However this type of paint is not suitable for fast moving boats, as the paint will wear quicker and not provide the long term protection you're looking for with bottom paint.

What Is Hard Epoxy Paint?

Hard epoxy paint works quite a bit differently. It is the copper paint that wears away, exposing pores in the paint that leads to more biocidal copper. This paint typically lasts longer and works well for faster hulls. The flip side of this means the paint will continue to build up on the hull at each application, requiring a stripping of the hull every so often.

Which Paint Should You Choose?

While both have their advantages, it depends on your boat and how you plan to use it. Is your boat already bottom painted? Ablative paints CAN be installed over hard epoxy, but hard epoxy CANNOT be installed over ablative. The principle behind that is simple, ablative paints are made to wear away, if you put the hard paint on top of a surface that is made to wear away, the new paint will fall off, but you can put ablative over hard epoxy, because you are starting with a hard foundation.

How Do I Know What Type Of Paint My Boat Has On It Now?

An easy way to find out if your current paint is ablative or hard is simple - use a wet rag. Rub the wet rag on the painted surface. If the rag removes the paint easily, it's ablative. If it doesn't, it's hard epoxy.


Hopefully this article helped shed a little light on the two most popular types of paint, how they work and which may be right for your boat. There is quite a bit more to painting the bottom of a boat that we will touch on in later articles, but now you have enough information to make an informed decision on choosing which paint type will be right for your boat!

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