Painting your boat’s trailer is essential to keeping it rust and corrosion-free. While you can certainly pretty up your trailer and even color-coordinate it with your boat, maintaining a well-kept trailer is more about function than anything else.
This article includes an easy-to-follow process for restoring boat trailers- not only to stay looking good but to keep you and your boat safe when hauling down the road.
Table of Contents
Things You’ll Need for painting a boat trailer
For some boat owners, access to many of the items I’ve listed below will be unmanageable, so that you may be doing a lot of the work by hand. That’s OK. By following the steps I’ve laid out, you can still achieve great results.
Here is a list of recommended supplies and equipment in the best-case scenario:
- covered workspace
- source of ventilation
- eye protection
- foot protection
- air compressor
- power sander
- sandpaper (various grits)
- air blow gun
- alcohol, thinner, mineral spirits
How To Paint Boat Trailers
The particular type and condition of your boat trailer will help you predict the amount and intensity of work it will take to restore it. The good news is that painting a boat trailer does not have to be overly complicated, but I can assure you that it is quite different from painting a wall or a shelf.
So while the following tips and guidelines may not be specific to your particular model, these are the typical steps and procedures involved with painting a boat trailer.
Step 1. Secure A Safe And Clean Workplace
- Whether you have a workshop, rent a small paint booth for the weekend, or use a buddy’s garage, ensure that your environment is clean and safe.
- Get your safety gear together. Expect to use safety gloves and eyewear. I also recommend wearing steel or composite toe boots for foot protection.
- Once in position, place your boat trailer on jack stands or blocks. You’ll want it high enough to be able to comfortably sand, prep, and paint the underneath. The most important thing is safety through this entire evolution, so make sure there are no trip hazards in your working area.
- Remove all hardware and bunk boards– these boards support the bottom of your boat’s hull. Typical hardware includes the rollers, wheels, jack, electrical components, and anything else of the sort.
PRO-TIP: Use an appropriate paint stripper or small bead blaster for small hardware to speed along the job.
Step 2. Sanding
- With everything removed and safety gear on, you are ready to start sanding. If no rust is visible, you can stop sanding once you reach the primer coating. You can use an angle grinder or Dremel tool with a flap disk for rust, corrosion, and other difficult-to-reach spaces.
- Sand your entire boat trailer using a combination of a power sander and your hand, depending on how difficult it is to access. Be sure to wear a safety mask, eye protection, and gloves when sanding.
Step 3. Prepping
- Now that you have sanded the entire boat trailer (top and bottom) give it a thorough look over before moving forward. I suggest using a simple air blow gun first to eliminate all the excess dust and debris (make sure you are still wearing your safety mask and goggles).
- Should the visual inspection reveal any areas needing additional attention (more sanding, welding, etc.), this would be the time to fix those items.
- When everything is up to par, you need to do a couple of things- both the trailer and work area needs to be clean and ready for primer application. With a background in aircraft aviation and corrosion control prevention, I suggest utilizing a freshwater source and hose down your work area and trailer. Once everything is dry, use lint-free cheesecloth to wipe down your boat trailer with alcohol or mineral spirits. You could also use a paint thinner or acetone; however, the smell of those chemicals is much more pungent. Be sure to wear gloves when using any of these solvents.
Step 4. Priming
- Using a roller, brush, sprayer, or combination thereof, apply a coat of primer to all exposed metal on your boat trailer. Be sure to use a product that suits the specific type of metal utilized on your trailer. Though there are several great marine-grade primers on the market, you can’t go wrong with Rust-Oleum’s
PRO-TIP: If you choose to spray your boat trailers primer and paint coats (best option), ensure that your spray gun and air compressor are compatible so that you do not run out of air pressure during spraying. It is also critical to have an in-line moisture filter to eliminate water from the nozzle, creating unsightly marks in your paint job.
Step 5. Painting
Always with proper ventilation in place, you are now ready to lay your first coat of paint. Again, the type of paint should suit the metal type of your boat trailer for proper adhesion.
- Following the instructions of the trailer paint that you choose, lay at least two full coats of topcoat on your boat trailer- leave adequate time between each for curing.
- Once you have adequately covered your boat trailer, move on to a marine-grade sealer to help protect all the hard work that you have put into restoring your boat trailer.
Step 6. Attach Hardware
- Once everything is completely dry, you can reattach all hardware, electrical harnesses, rollers, wheels, etc., to your boat trailer. Again, replace anything necessary and at the end of this step, double-check everything is working correctly.
Other Boat Trailer Painting Tips
- Do all work in a well-lit and ventilated space (the next best place will be outside).
- Be thorough throughout the prep and sanding stages- your attention to detail will become evident in your final product.
- Only use compatible solvents, primers, paints, and solvents. Contact local dealers or manufacturers for recommended products.
- Be patient and wait for the recommended dry time between coats, especially before putting your boat back in the water.
Maintaining Your Newly Restored Boat Trailer
- Keeping your boat and trailer clean is equally important. It would be best to give your boat and boat trailer a thorough rinse after each use.
- In addition to routine cleaning, you should consistently be looking for signs of wear or damage, rust, or anything that could jeopardize the roadworthiness of your trailer.
- In keeping with this last point, develop a pre-and post-inspection for your boat trailer to include tires, signs of corrosion, and more.
- Properly store your boat trailer when not in use.
- Follow all safety rules and follow all limits connected to trailering a boat.
- You need to do an annual check of your wheel bearings. Please make sure they’re in good order and replace them as you need to.
Alternative Protection For Your Boat Trailer
I would be doing you an injustice if I did not take a moment to make you aware of some alternative coating options for your boat’s trailer:
- Powder-Coating: More expensive in almost all cases, the powder-coating process will leave your trailer significantly better protected than conventional spray painting.
- Truck-Bed Liner: Rhino liner, as it’s also known, is highly resistant to almost all kinds of damage, including otherwise penetrable scratches. The other great thing is that you will likely find it in color to match your boat if you are color-coordinated like that.
You can always find someone to pay to paint your boat trailer. You may even have a friend in the business that will do you ‘a good one’ for a home-cooked meal.
But then again, you may not. Therefore, before undertaking any project, it would be wise to consider the following:
- Cost-Effectiveness: Some of you may still not feel entirely comfortable taking on this DIY project. I suggest that you consider the total cost of restoring your boat trailer (financial, emotional, psychological, etc.). Also, always compare brands and dealers to ensure you pay the best price on whatever materials you need.
- Time: Think about the total time you will need to complete this project. Do not make any boating commitments that would entice you to speed up or look past recommended curing times (it will just end up costing you more down the road).
- Durability: Although cost is an essential factor, do not be so ready to save a penny at the cost of quality. The structure and soundness of your boat trailer are critical to its function.
- Safety: Always be sure to use all recommended personal protection equipment to keep yourself safe during the process.
Considering the multiple variables of painting a boat trailer, I hope I have helped you become more comfortable with such an undertaking. Remember to enjoy the process along the way.
As boat owners, it is incumbent upon us to learn new skills- and painting a boat trailer definitely makes the list of things we should know. Although it is time-consuming and entails plenty of attention to detail, I am confident that you can paint your boat trailer now.
If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to leave them in the comment section below.
Joseph Fabiano is a writer, nature enthusiast, and stay-at-home father of two wild and free boys. He enjoys starting his day with a good run, hot mug of coffee, and a jump in the Ionian Sea, no matter the weather. Currently based in the Apuglia region of southern Italy, he enjoys discovering the world with his best traveling buddies (his little monkey’s and beautiful wife) at every given opportunity. Every trip, long or far, should be made an adventure according to Joseph as he believes inspiration and creation is right in front of you.