Guide to Painting Your Boat Trailer
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  • Post last modified:May 7, 2021

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Although most boaters spend time renovating and maintaining their boats, a boat trailer usually remains overlooked. Whether you’re maintaining your old trailer or looking for a used one to buy, you’ll probably need to invest some time in repainting.

In this article, we’ll tell you how to get ready before painting a boat trailer. We’ll explain the best painting tips that you can apply while refurbishing an old trailer or boat and highlight the features that can help you choose a good trailer.

The Importance of Your Boat Trailer

The first time you bring your boat home, you should pay special attention to the trailer. Most boaters get so overwhelmed by the beauty of their new boats while forgetting about the important piece of equipment that allows them to take their boat wherever they want.

A bad trailer can cost you the price of the boat, in case it gets stuck on the side of the road or breaks under its weight while you’re moving it around. Although today you can find lots of boats that are sold with their trailers as a package, some people choose to buy second-hand trailers that are more affordable.

rusty trailer

How to Paint a Boat Trailer

It’s time to show your boat trailer some care which can be a tiring job. However, it’s totally worth it. We’ll explain how to do it in the following steps.

Step 1: Remove Old Boards

The first step is to remove the old boards. You’ll need a reliable tool that helps you to cut through metal to do this step. This is one of the most challenging steps, especially if your trailer is old because the bolts will be rusty and difficult to remove.

I use the help of a Dewalt angle grinder to get the job done, however, you don’t need to invest in the diamond cutting disks recommended with the grinder, these Dewalt General Purpose Cutting Disks are perfectly suitable for your trailer and much cheaper.

Step 2: Sanding

Sanding all the surfaces on the trailer is what you need to do next. This helps you get rid of the rust because you can’t put fresh paint on old rust.

You should wear a protective mask, protective gloves and goggles while doing this step. Sanding aggravates the dust and rust particles that shouldn’t come in contact with your face.

Make sure that you’ve removed all the old paint on your trailer. This will guarantee that the surface will be smooth for the best result when you use a layer of fresh paint.

In some cases, removing the old paint and rust can be more difficult. If sanding doesn’t work, you can try an angle grinder with a flap disk that removes all layers off the surface of the metal frame. Removing the rust and paint off the wheel well shouldn’t be ignored.

Step 3: Fix or Replace Broken Parts

Now that you’ve stripped the frame off all the other layers that sat on top, it’s time to examine the trailer carefully. Take a look at all the different parts of your rig and use a welder to weld any broken pieces.

Take a look at all the hardware and welded parts on the trailer. Fix all the broken welds, bent or broken axles, and loose bearings. You must fix or replace all the damaged parts before you get started with painting the body of the trailer.

Stripped down trailer ready for painting

Step 4: Clean the Trailer

Next you want to give the trailer a good clean, this is to ensure that you don’t get small particles in the paintwork.

Use an air compressor to remove the dust. You need the strong airflow to remove the accumulated debris from all corners before you move to the next step. After that, you should use a damp cloth to wipe the frame of the trailer to get rid of traces of dust and rust.

For best results, at this point wipe the trailer down with mineral spirits, however you can still achieve a decent paint job without this.

Step 5: Apply Paint

Now it’s time to start painting your rig. Wear a mask and protective goggles before you get started. You should make sure that you’ve taped all the areas that you don’t want to paint or prefer to cover in another color.

See my trailer paint recommendations in the next section. If you don’t use one of my choices, make sure to check if the paint requires any kind of primer beforehand as this will be an extra step here.

Use an enamel spray paint to cover all the metal parts on the trailer. Wait until it dries and apply more coats until you get the desired intensity of color and finish. You shouldn’t apply too many coats, however, because they might be prone to peeling later on.

Take off the nuts to remove the wheels and paint them separately to make sure that they’re covered from all angles. Don’t forget to paint the spare wheel as well.

Step 6: Apply Sealer and Allow It To Dry

You can also use a special sealer that protects the body of the trailer. Some sealers are designed to withstand UV damage or water damage. If you’re always interested in saltwater boating then you need to be careful about the sealer you’ve picked to add on top of your paint.

I can recommend Everbrite Crystal Clear Coating which is very tough against corrosion and available in a variety of sizes so you should find one for your trailer. A few tips when using this; ensure you have a well-ventilated area to work as it’s quite aromatic and make sure you use high-quality brushes because it’s very sticky and will pull the bristles out of cheap brushes.

Allow adequate time for the sealer to dry before doing anything else.

Step 7: Check the Wiring

If you have bought an old trailer, this is a good time to take a look at the wiring to make sure that the lights are working properly.

Boat trailers are particularly prone to corrosion which can cause the lights to stop working over time so it’s wise to replace them every 4 or 5 years.

Step 8: Cut and Attach New Boards

Cut the replacement boards to have them installed. You can refer to the old ones for accurate measurements or try to measure them on your own. Fit the boards in place and attach them. You can use a special varnish on the boards to protect them from getting affected by the elements and exposure to water.

Now that you’ve fixed the rig, it’s time to attach it to the car and take it for a ride. Restoring an old trailer is a smart decision that will help you save a lot of money and protect your investment in your precious boat.


What’s the Best Paint for Boat Trailers?

So now that you know how to paint your boat trailer, you’re probably wondering which paint is best?

Here are my recommended paints for your boat trailer:

Top Pick: TotalBoat Aluminum Boat Paint

Your boat trailer is very prone to corrosion so what better paint to use on it than Marine paint which is designed to withstand water.

TotalBoat’s Aluminum Boat Paint is the best I have come across, it’s very durable and will keep your trailer well protected.

It doesn’t require any priming to the trailer surface beforehand so you can follow my step-by-step instructions to the letter. I would recommend applying multiple coats, but it will be well worthwhile as it will last for many years.

The only downside is that there are fewer colors to choose from compared to the below alternatives.

Fast Drying: Rust-Oleum Marine Topside Paint

Rust-Oleum is a highly trusted brand and their topside paint is no different. It’s also an oil-based paint that’s suitable for fiberglass, wood or metal surfaces. The standout feature is that it’s super fast to dry within about 2 hours.

For a trailer, one coat of this will be fine, however I’d recommend a light sanding followed by a second coat. If you have done all the prep work correctly, you’ll start to get a really nice glossy shine and excellent protection.

Affordable Pick: Diamond Brite All Purpose Enamel Paint

If your budget conscious, this oil-based enamel paint from Diamond Brite is a suitable choice. It’s suitable for use on wood, concrete, plaster, masonry, hardboard and metal so you can store it for use on other projects in future.

With the broadest range available, you can have almost any trailer color you like. However, this paint does take much longer to dry than the two previous choices.


Tips for Painting a Boat

Maintaining your boat regularly is what you need to keep it in great shape. Boats are always kept in the sun and rain when they’re not in the water. When you use them, they’re subject to strong currents that can damage the paint.

Moreover, leaving the boat chafing at the dock for months will take its toll on the finish. The paint on the boat protects the frame from all the hard objects, animals, and plants that can damage its body. Here are a few tips that you can follow while painting the boat.

  • Set the boat up in a well-ventilated area where you can work comfortably.
  • Wear a protective mask and gloves.
  • Repair any dents on the body.
  • Sand the body to remove rust and dust.
  • Apply primer to protect the body and re-sand.
  • Use a roller and brush to apply the paint.
  • Let the paint layer dry before applying a new one. Sand it and apply another coat.
  • Make sure that you’ve applied at least two coats.

How to Improve Your Paint Job

You may want to use an electric power paint sprayer to improve the quality of your paint job. A power sprayer will also make the painting portion of the job go much faster. You’ll have to spend time masking your tires and lights, but a power sprayer can do the heavy lifting on a project like this.

Any standard paint sprayer will be fine, you do not need a specific type for enamel paint. This REXBETI electric paint sprayer is very affordable and I like that it has a longer power cable to make life easier.

Just remember to clean your paint gun straight away after use!


How to Buy the Best Boat Trailer

Buying a well-matched trailer guarantees that it will be durable enough to withstand the weight of your boat as you go on high speed. Here are a few things to think about.

Axles

The number of axles refers to how it supports the boat. Multiple axles decrease the risk of boat destruction in case of an accident because the weight is evenly distributed.

Drop axles allow you to mount and dismount the boat easily. However, they’re not the best to use on a rough road. If you tend to travel on bumpy roads to reach the marina, then you need to have some clearance under the axles.

Trailer in garage

Safety

Just like your boat, you need to make sure that the trailer is National Marine Manufacturers Association certified. Having brakes is another important to consider before you hit the road. Disc or drum brakes are available on different rigs.

Disc brakes are more suitable for trailers that carry larger boats because they have more friction area. Drum brakes work better when you have a smaller boat that weighs less than 3500 pounds. They don’t require as much hydraulic pressure as disc brakes and can provide more stopping power.

Hydraulic surge brakes have an actuator at the front of the trailer that stops it when you slow down. As you press the brakes, the weight of the trailer and the boat create the needed response to make the trailer stop.

Electric brakes are easily activated when you press on the brakes as they’re powered by an electric output. They’ve become quite popular in recent years.

The hydraulic surge brakes don’t operate in real-time and there’s always a lag between the time you press the brakes and the time the trailer will actually stop. However, electric brakes usually malfunction when they get wet when you’re unloading the boat by the boat ramp. If you decide to go for electric brakes, you need to make sure that they’re designed to withstand submersion.

Frame

The last but most important factor to think about is the material of the frame. The trailer is either made of galvanized steel or aluminum.

Aluminum is the best choice if you always use your boat in freshwater. It’s lightweight and less prone to corrosion. Galvanized steel is the most durable option that you should use in saltwater because it lasts for long.


Wrap Up

Making your old trailer beautiful is lots of work but is worth all the effort. You need a good rig that matches the beauty of your boat to keep it safe as you transport it from one location to another.

Doing this task with a fellow enthusiastic boating partner is much fun. When you take care of your boat trailer, it will take care of you for years to come.

John Allen

With more than a decade of experience cruising the lakes in my Crestliner Grand Cayman pontoon boat and my Boston Whaler, I now want to share everything I've learned with my community here at Boating Hub.

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