Repair and Refinishing a boat.
Non-skid procedures

As a rule when we are doing a complete finish on a boat (topsides, decks, cabin and cockpit) we try to use Gelcoat on the topsides and Awlgrip on everything else.


       For enlarged views of the photos, just click on the photo

      For Non-skid info, scroll down the page


This article will center mostly on the use of Awlgrip products with a few notes regarding gelcoat and epoxy.

The first and foremost thing to remember is that the finish will NEVER look any better than the time and effort you put into preparation and repairs. Many folks seem to think that getting good results is just a matter of choosing the correct “miracle paint” , spraying (or rolling) paint on and presto, you have a gorgeous boat.


It doesn’t work that way. To give you an idea of how this works, you should keep in mind that prep work is exactly that, “work”. It’s not unusual for us to put in a couple hundred hours in prep work and be able to spray the final finish in an hour and a half.

Prep work is nasty, dirty, un-rewarding hard labor.

So let’s start with a fiberglass boat that has some cracks or crazing in the gelcoat. Hopefully the boat has never been painted before. If it has, you will be into a whole new realm of hard labor.


Cracks and crazing are generally a result of a couple things and you need to determine immediately whether they are from years of exposure and abuse. Or, is there a structural issue going on.
Many boat manufacturers used to apply very heavy coats of gelcoat in the mold before starting the fiberglass lay-ups. They did this up until about 1984 or so. One of the reasons is that when the boat was popped out of the mold, there would be areas where the gelcoat stuck to the mold or got damaged in the removal. Thus repair was simple. Just apply more gelcoat to these damaged areas, sand it and buff it. Done!


Gelcoat has no structural abilities of any kind. Nor does it do a super job of resisting UV. As years go by, it becomes brittle or oxidized and then starts breaking down and cracking or crazing.
Cracks may develop in areas where the boat may flex a bit. In this case small cracks don’t necessarily indicate a structural problem with the boat.

Minor stress cracks are easy to fix. It just takes a little time.

We begin the repair first by deciding what finish will be applied over the repaired area. If it will be gelcoat, then we are limited to certain polyester based resins. Even automotive filler (bondo) is ok if you are following up with gelcoat.


If we intend to use a paint finish, we do all the repairs in epoxy.

Polyester products are faster and even sometimes easier to use. But you will certainly end your day with that nasty, itchy feeling.

Epoxy fillers, etc.; tend to take longer to cure before you can get back on them. But the nice thing is that unlike polyester products, epoxy stays some what flexible. Which is what we want to eliminate future stress cracks, and it is compatible with all paint products.


We’ll be working with epoxy for this discussion



A ZipSaw is used to dig out the cracks and open them up to be filled with epoxy filler.


This shows more of the cracks filled with the epoxy and the filler. Then sanded with 80 grit to a smooth finish that is now ready for primer.


First we use a Dual Action sander with 80 grit paper and sand the entire area to be painted. Since there is no way for a top-coat product to form a chemical bond with any polyester product, we use the 80 grit to give a good surface for our epoxy primers to bite onto.

Once the entire boat is sanded with 80 grit we move to the damaged areas for repairs. For stress cracks we generally use the ZipSaw to grind out each crack all the way thru the gelcoat and right into the fiberglass.

In areas where the cracks or damage is rather large, we will sand all of the gelcoat off with the sander. Then we can take a look at the fiberglass to see if there is any indication of a failure in the glass itself. If so, we will take a grinder and dig down deeper. Sometimes these larger areas may require fiberglass matte or cloth to correct the problem. Again we use epoxy with these materials too.

Once we have opened up all the cracks we mix West System 105 resin with the appropriate converter for the weather condition we have. Then we mix-in one of the many fillers offered by West Systems. Our first choice here is #407 filler mixed in to a consistency of peanut butter or maybe a little bit stiffer.

Using plastic squeegees, we work the mixture in to completely fill all the cracks.

The next day, after the epoxy has cured, we come back the with the 80 grit on a sander and sand everything down smooth and even. If there are low spots or voids, repeat the process using the #407 filler.



After applying three coats of 545 primer, this is now ready to be sanded to a finer finish with 120 grit sandpaper.

If some imperfections show up, apply more 545 primer and repeat the sanding.


  Now that the repairs have been made, we want to protect the exposed gelcoat/fiberglass from UV damage. At this point we use AwlGrip 545 epoxy primer. Mix the two parts together and reduce about 10% to 15% with T0031 reducer.

Using a 3 inch, foam roller from Home Depot, we roll an even coat over everything. It doesn’t matter that you can see thru this first coat. One coat will still provide adequate protection for the exposed fiberglass.

The next day we start building up the primer of at least two or three coats on the repaired areas.


This is just the beginning of the serious and most important part of preparation.

Now we start sanding the 545 primer by hand with 120 grit paper. We use 3M yellow, sticky back that comes in rolls. You can cut-off as much as you need and stick it to your hand so it doesn’t slip. You may also use any sort of pad that will help you shape the repaired area. For tight curves, I use PVC pipe or wood dowels. On flat surfaces a rubber sanding pad works well. For larger areas and for fairing, I use what body shops use, a 2 3/4 x 17 inch "long Board".

The idea here is to sand the surface and expose any bad areas that may need to be filled and primed again.

If fairing is required to get the surface free of large dimples, low and high spots, I switch to one of the primers designed for filling and ease of sanding. Fairing is a topic on its own and too much to explain in detail here.

Back to the 545 primer. When you have primed and sanded, primed and sanded until you feel it is smooth enough for your preference, it is time to paint. Remember that any texture or imperfections in this final primer coat, WILL show up in the finished paint.


Click Here for info on fairing a surface to remove larger imperfections........


At first glance this appears to be a finished job. In this case the weather took a turn on us in the middle of the second coat. Click on the image and take a closer look to see specks and some brush marks in the finish. This required us to sand the entire boat with 220 grit before applying two more coats.

This pic shows the final finish after correcting the previous coats.


Since Teri will only apply paint using the roll-and-tip method, I am going to stick to that method here.

Let’s say we are doing the decks and will eventually want to have none-skid. Start with the same 3 inch foam roller. Mix the paint and reduce it as directed. Then start by rolling these strokes over a small area to be painted. For the beginner, work and area about two feet wide. The object here is to put just enough paint on without getting too much. It should appear to have very little paint on the surface. That;s fine. We are not working on the final finish yet.

Teri rolls one coat without ever going back over a previous stroke if possible.

The roller will leave small bubbles in the paint surface. So, using a nylon paint brush (typically sold to be used in Latex paint) she lightly tips the paint in one direction. Just enough to open the bubbles, but not leave brush marks. Very quickly move on and roll the next area. The secret is in keeping a wet edge between the section you just tipped and the new section you are rolling.

The paint will appear very thin and you should be able to see right thru it. Most mistakes come in not taking the time to apply multiple coats spread out over time. Most people want to have the first coat cover all the base. That is not what we want here.


Once this coat has dried over night, you can come back with another coat right over this coat. If you can get the second coat on within 3 days, no sanding is required. Beyond three days you will need to lightly sand with 320 grit.

Repeat this process of one coat per day until you achieve a good “Color hold” which means that you can no longer see thru the paint and a final gloss has been achieved.

The secret is to apply multiple coats over a few days, but they MUST be very thin coats. Thick coats will sag, show brush marks and have a "Heavy" look.

At any point after the second coat, you find and area that got a bug in it, or some dirt fell on it, you can gently sand that blemish out with either 220 or 320 grit paper and then apply the next coat.

The biggest mistake we see people make is in trying to rush the application process by applying too many, coats too thick or all the coats in one day.

Thin, multiple coats are the secret even when spraying the finish too.
The photos of Flying Cloud show what turned out to be a very fine job. What most don’t know is that she was painted outside, right where she sits on dirt and weeds and in the middle of November.

So be patient and choose your weather window days. I always look to have a good forecast of at least 4 days before I do any final coats.



Non-Skid Techniques.......


 I have seen just about every thing you could imagine that has been applied to decks as a non-skid surface.
But before attempting to do a nice job, we need to look at this area from a couple angles before deciding what to use.

You may not realize it, but the non-skid areas on a deck are what makes it or breaks it for the overall curb appeal of the boat. It also needs to have the function fof safety. Yet if done incorrectly it is near impossible to remove and start over and may not even accomplish the purpose it was meant to. NON-slip!

I have seen finishes with abrasives mixed-in the paint. Some have used beach sand.

Many folks roll these products on and think they are done. In most cases it only takes a short time to realize what they have done. Then it’s too late. Because removing non-skid surfaces that were applied over gelcoat or even a good painted deck is more work than you would ever want to address.
Rolling the abrasive when it is mixed in to the paint will most surely leave you with miniature sand dunes here and there. Painting an area and throwing sand on it will result in a very uneven appearance and a surface you don’t want to fall down on.

Most of the time these applications never have the surface prepared correctly or they apply an incompatible paint over the existing paint and then the stuff starts falling off.


This deck was painted with EasyPoxy. Then the non-skid area was masked-off and a roller with some sort of grip mixed in. The adhesion problems are most likely due to the owner Not cleaning off the blush from the deck paint and certainly did no sanding where the non-skid was applied.

 Note the non-skid peeling along the tape edge. This is why you need to sand right down into that edge before painting.


Teri developed a technique that can be used with just about any good paint but really shows its worth in AwlGrip.

The abrasive she uses is also sold by AwlGrip and comes in a couple different grits.

It is made up of very small glass beads that are therefore clear. So after years of use and as the surface paint wears thin, you will never see the beads showing thru as you might if you used sand for instance.

The grit size is tightly controlled so that there are no large pieces in the middle of finer grit.

Only the very coarse grit they offer will ever give you asphalt rash if you slip.

This method of application allows you to control the appearance as well as the abrasive quality that you want in your application.

As a general rule we will use the course on decks and in areas where we are concerned about safety. On some occasions we will mix a little of the fine grit just to soften the feel.

In other areas such as cockpits and seats we use the fine grit.


Another interesting tip about doing non-skid on decks is what we call “waterlines”.

These are basically small areas that do not get any grip. If you look at most boats the non-skid is laid out in sections or patches. The stripe areas between these patches are “waterlines”.

Not that any of this was really thought out on most production boats, custom vessels will have a lot of thought placed in this area.

Waterlines are actually like treads in a tire. Believe it or not, non-skid will actually hold a certain amount of water or prevent it from draining off quickly. This sort of defeats the whole purpose in doing non-skid. But does justify using a tougher grit on decks.


Masking off the area for non-skid. This cockpit floor was painted all white. The non-skid area was masked and then we applied one coat of Whisper Gray Awlgrip. The abrasive was applied immediately and the whole thing cured overnight.

Click on this pic to see the non-skid texture


So now that the deck is completely painted and cured for a few days, you begin by laying out these waterlines all over the decks with masking tape. By making non-skid patches smaller, you gain more waterlines which routes the excess water off deck faster from each patch.

If you take your time and lay them out in a nice pattern or with rounded corners, they add tremendously to the appearance of the decks.

The lines should not be very wide or you end up with an area of slippery deck. We generally limit them to about one to one and a half inches.

After all the areas are designed and taped you need to start the preparation by taking a regular house hold metal spoon and by placing it in your hand so that the ball or round part is facing down, simply start rubbing down the edges of the tape on all the lines.

This is very important if you intend to use a different color on the non-skid. It helps prevent this color from bleeding under the tape and/or leaving a rough edge.

Now using 220 sandpaper, lightly sand the entire surface where non-skid will be applied. Using care and the edge of the sandpaper, sand right up to the tape edges.

Mix your paint as you would normally for any other application.

Using the 3 inch foam roller, roll on a fairly thick first coat of paint to the area you are working. We sometimes do a couple of areas at a time and save the others for when easier access is available. You can paint yourself into a corner if not careful.


Now that we have a completely wetted surface, use a commercial kitchen size salt shaker filled with the GripTex and by holding it about 18 to 24 inches above the wet paint, start to shake and spread an even coat over all the wet paint.

If you get little mounds, don’t worry.

Once the GripTex has been applied, look for any remaining shinny spots and cover them with more grit. When finished you should have a fairly dull surface.

Wait until the next day so the paint has had a good amount of time to cure (Enamels and epoxies may take longer to cure). Using whatever method you have available (a small air compressor works best) blow off all the loose grit without ever touching the surface. NEVER try to brush it off. That will ruin the whole project. The excess particles need to be blown off.

Now mix enough paint to cover all the areas you are working with. Once again, using a three inch foam roller, gently apply a coat of paint right over the particles that remained stuck to the first coat.

One coat is enough and it too needs to cure now.


This next step is to apply more coats to build up added protection to the non-skid.

There are a couple tips here to consider.

If you want the non-skid area to have a flat or satin finish rather than gloss, add some small amounts of Johnson Baby Powder to the paint and mix vigorously .

The feel of the non-skid can also be changed a little bit here.

As I said previously we use the coarse on decks as a general rule. But this is a vary aggressive texture and sometimes needs to me softened some.

To take away that bite, just add more coats of thicker paint on top of the non-skid until you achieve the results you want’

Once all of this has cured, remove the masking tape and now you have a beautiful and functional deck area.




Left... the deck on this boat was always very slick and dangerous. Here we painted the white deck with the first two coats. Then masked off the non-skid areas and let it cure overnight. Next morning a coat of paint (without the baby powder) as applied to the non-skid as normal.

On the third day we removed the masking and painted two more coats of gloss white over the entire deck. Including the non-skid. Sometimes a gloss non-skid is preferred.


I have seen sand used by mixing it in paint and applying. The drawback is that the sand may be too coarse and may also affect the adhesion of the paint it is mixed with.
Some swear by using beach sand. I don’t think it takes much to realize that salt and paint don’t mix.

In some instances people have put down wet paint and simply toss sand or some abrasive over the entire area. Not very nice. But maybe effective.

There are a lot of commercially available products that some people use. I doubt any of them were designed to be used on boat decks.

Once one of these products or above procedure is used, it is nearly impossible to remove and correct the problem.

Product compatibility:


Non-skid application follows the same guidelines as refinishing in paint.

The key is to use products that are compatible and will form a good bond for longer life.

Polyester resins can only be applied to other polyester resins or surfaces.

Most paints when combined with the proper primer and prep work can be applied over polyester and gelcoat.

Epoxy can be applied very effectively over polyester surfaces for a repair, primer or final finish.

Paint over paint is where most of the issues arise. If you are going over an enamel surface, you must stick with enamel paint.

Nothing does well when applied over enamel.

If you want to use polyurethane (AwlGrip, Imron, etc.) it should never be applied over a different paint. Only over fiberglass, gelcoat and other polyurethane paints of the two part type.

I have seen these mistakes made many times. Generally in other countries and the ultimate result is usually fading and/or peeling within a few years.


This sailing/cruising world we live in is all about trade-offs. But nothing can compare with good old fashion hard work and high quality products. If it needs to be done, it should be done right the first time.

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