Gel Coat vs. Marine Paint for Boats: Which is Better?

Once you purchase a brand new, shiny boat, you will want to keep it undamaged as long as possible. However, chances are not on your side since weather elements will leave traces. Plus, you can’t avoid scratches or water stains that appear over time.

Although most new boats come with gel-coating, you have two options when it comes to repairing your vessel, re-painting or re-applying gel coat. Most boat owners have a dilemma about a better choice, gel-coat vs. marine paint, for their boats since both options have their advantages and downsides. Let’s discuss them.


Gel Coat

Gel Coat

Gel coat is a finishing material based on resin. Its purpose is to cover fiberglass, protect the boat hull, and give your boat its appealing shine and color.

The manufacturer sets the gel coating in a thick layer between 0.01 to 0.04 inches (0.25 – 1 mm). As the gel dries, it hardens in a shell-like protection layer over the fiberglass and takes a permanent hull shape.

The gel coating formula comes with UV protection, which is crucial for avoiding sun damage and eventual discoloration. In addition, the coating won’t react with chemicals typically found on a boat, such as gasoline, kerosene, and denatured alcohol. It also prevents any water leaks on the boat hull.

The prime gel coat advantage is its durability. If you maintain your boat regularly, it can protect the hull for a decade or two. Unfortunately, the polished glassy surface becomes dull and chalky over time. That is when the gel coating repair kits come in handy.

On the other hand, repairing severe damage on a gel-coated boat demands excellent skills. That is why many boat owners decide to give a can of marine paint a shot.

Gel coat types

Nowadays, you can find a wide choice of brands, colors, and formulas for gel coatings. Still, there are two main types of this protective material.

  • All-purpose gel coat – It is a soft and flexible finish material you can apply anywhere on your boat. Unfortunately, it is more prone to scratches, cracking, and movement than other options.
  • Tooling get coat – It is a stronger cover than a general-purpose one. Since its vital attribute is hardness, you should use this option for boat sides and hull areas with less movement. This coating is a perfect choice for achieving your boat’s high-luster elegance.

DIY gel coat repair

No matter how thoroughly you polish, wax, and maintain your boat, its gel coat fades over time and becomes porous and dull.

Some fine cracks will appear similar to those of an old porcelain teacup. However, they tend to become deeper and more noticeable while the seasons pass. Eventually, the time for repairs will come.

Luckily, reacting in time can save you from a complete boat repair. The best option is to use every polishing and waxing opportunity to inspect the hulk surface closely.

For a start, you should fix the initial, shallow scratches and cracks with some car wax. Use a soft, cotton cloth to apply the wax in slow, circular motions over the damaged areas.

However, you can also purchase a gel coating repair kit. In that case, you should find the neutral or the color closest to the existing one.

Never forget to wash the damaged area thoroughly before starting. Then, remove the ruined coating around small cracks you want to repair and fill the space with the gel mix you have. Always cover gel-coat with wax paper or plastic wrap since it can’t cure in the open air.

Once the treated area hardens, you need to sand it with some fine-grade sandpaper and apply some polish for a finishing touch.


Marine Paint

Marine Paint

Many boat owners agree marine paint is an outstanding alternative to any gel coat for boats. First of all, it comes in almost any color and shade imaginable.

That allows you to customize your boat with graphics and details. Further, marine paint dries quickly and doesn’t require any special skills and conditions for repairs.

On the other hand, it is the urethane paint with a specific formula for applying on the boat hull. Unfortunately, it won’t provide UV protection, plus it is thin, and you will probably scratch and damage it quickly.

Luckily, there are different solutions you can add to the paint before applying it to the boat surface that make up for these shortcomings. Remember that the mixture always depends on the area you plan to treat.

Marine paint types

There are two types of marine paint for boats. The fundamental one is the paint itself, the premade mixture you apply straight from a can. However, you can also use so-called one-part paint and add the desired compound for additional benefits.

In that case, you will get a two-part marine paint. Always pay attention to instructions and prepare the mix at the exact ratio you need. Otherwise, you can miss the desired shade or make a permanent stain on your boat, which is even worse.

Nowadays, there are many premade two-part marine paints on the market. The typical choices include:

  • Antifouling coating – Use it for the bottom to prevent the accumulation of algae, seaweed, fungi, and microorganisms deposits.
  • UV protective coating – This option is perfect for slowing discoloration, sun damage, and hazing on your vessel.
  • Anti-slip coatings – You should add this so-called topside boat paint to marine paint for painting the boat’s deck, especially the walking area.
  • Final primers – They will provide an additional protective layer, making your marine paint more durable.

DIY boat re-paint

Hypothetically speaking, re-painting a boat doesn’t require much brainstorming. The vital part to remember is that you can’t apply a two-part paint over a one-part or gel coat.

If you are unsure what the original paint is, stick to a one-part can. The preparation phase is to wash your boat thoroughly and then sand it. Repeat as needed.

Apply the first layer of marine paint and inspect the boat surface closely once it is dry. Most experts recommend painting three or four thin, consistent tiers rather than one thick.

Of course, you need to wash and sand your boat after each layer, which can prove to be time-consuming and tiring. Lastly, cover the paint with a finishing primer to give your vessel an appealing shine.


Gel Coat vs. Marine Paint

As I have already mentioned, both marine paint and gel coat for boats have their pluses and minuses. However, comparing them in different categories can help you decide. There are aspects where the paint is the clear winner and those where the gel coating takes the lead.



Both options have their downsides when it comes to aesthetics. Gel coats come in a limited set of colors, while marine paints provide you with a much wider choice. Plus, you can combine two colors or use paint to customize your boat with a graphic or writing.

On the other hand, gel coats for boats are consistent and won’t fade, peel, and crack over time as much as marine paints will.


A brand new gel coat on a boat can last a decade or two, depending on the maintenance level. Marine paint has much shorter durability, and you need to re-paint your vessel every two to three years.

The difference is that a gel coating expands and contracts with the material it covers. The paint can adapt to fiberglass changes only to a certain degree before it cracks.

However, marine paint wins when it comes to shelf life. Gel coat typically expires after 12 to 15 months, whereas unopened solvent-based marine paint won’t go wrong for over ten years.



Gel coat gives your boat far better protection from chipping, scratches, and stains than marine paint. The crucial reason is the thickness since you apply the paint in a thin layer.

Plus, chemicals on your boat can spill and ruin the paint, while the gel coat comes with resistance to most chemicals, including gasoline.


Both gel coat and marine paint require similar preparation before repair and restoration. However, applying the coating is more challenging than painting with marine paint.

Environmental effect

Environmental effect

Unfortunately, many marine paints contain copper and other chemical elements harmful to the environment, which is not the case with a gel coat.

Moreover, the copper paint is more prone to chipping than gel, and dissolving bottom paint can harm creatures living in the water.


If you decide to hire a professional to re-Gelcoat or re-paint your boat, you will need to set aside a significant amount of money. The final bill depends on the boat size since the services companies always offer quotes by linear foot.

Still, marine paint is slightly more expensive than gel coat since it needs additional primers and protection. In both cases, the price starts between $1,000 and $5,000.



Most new boats have gel coats over fiberglass and not marine paint. A gel is more durable, cheaper, and prevents chemical and elements damage. However, marine paint offers better color selection and less complicated repairs. Finally, the choice is yours since both options have many great attributes.

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