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Re: Why paint instead of gelcoat?
Sorry to bump an old post but I don't know why so many people get fooled by the paint vs gelcoat debate and choose paint. There are basically two ways, the cheap patch or the permanant fix. If your base gelcoat isn't cracking badly or flaking off of the hull and you don't want to change the color then you are in luck sir. Watch a video on gelcoat repair and a few hours later your hull can look as good as new.
Otherwise if you simply want to change the color, painting may be the way to go.
However, If your OEM gelcoat is cracking, flaking, or otherwise separating from the layer below it it will have to be sanded off before you do anything. Otherwise, no matter what finish you use, how liberally or perfectly you apply it, or what the finish looks like or how soon, you'll have many repairs in the future due to the original gelcoat flaking off of the hull and maiming your final finish. People who paint don't see evidence of this (or admit it as quickly) because they'll repaint many times before enough flaking has happened to cause heartache. IE they're constantly painting over the problem.
In terms of long term maintenance there is no better solution than gelcoat. A good gelcoat can be sanded and buffed to a brand new finish many, MANY times before any significant maintenance needs to be done. Where is anyone getting that chips and cracks are hard to repair? It's a four step process, clean the crack or chip with sanding, color match the gelcoat, catalyze and apply, then sand and buff to the hull. Guess what it is with paint... The same process unless you want to risk your paint flaking due to an improperly prepared surface.
Many modern boat manufacturers that use paint and gelcoat do this because colored gelcoat is porous and is essentially the cause of the infamous osmosis bubbles on your hull bottom. So they gelcoat clear and paint over that on bottoms because it makes a better hull. This has nothing to do with topsides or finish.
Basically, this translates to, if you have a 30+ year old boat with lots of OEM gelcoat cracking and so on, you're in for a big job. It doesn't matter if you paint or gelcoat at that point because you'll be sanding pretty much the entire hull before you put a drop of new finish on that boat. For big projects like this I highly recommend you rent a pressure washer, buy a blasting attachment (@$70), and soda blast the hull. You'll thank yourself when you're done with the initial sanding and cleaning in an hour rather than it taking days. That said, I HIGHLY recommend removing the fittings in your way. The end job will look 100 times better guaranteed. Doesn't matter if you paint or gelcoat, spray or roll. Taking the fittings off will absolutely make the entire process sooooooo much easier once you start to paint. The only time I'd ever skip that time consuming step is if my work was just to patch. If I'm doing a color change or having to do extensive work on the original finish just take the time to remove all the fittings and really anything in your way. Don't do a thing until that's done. You will almost certainly run across other damage you'll need to fix along the way and you'll save yourself years of work later.
All kinds of issues like de-lamination and soft hulls, rotting core, stripped out or poorly bedded fittings will rear their head while you're out of the water and ready to work on them and not a year later when you want to be sailing and not hauling out for yet another "quick" fix.
If I haven't made a good case yet... ANY TIME YOU DO MAJOR FINISH WORK TAKE THE TIME TO REMOVE ANY FITTING IN YOUR WAY. If you do this then I promise, though it may result in more work now, you will get a good 10 years out of your boat before you will have to do ANY major repair because you will have addressed all of the most common minor issues that lead to major issues. Done right the finish, the hull integrity, and the boat will easily outlive you.
Said one more time in another way, if you paint an older boat with gelcoat problems without stripping and pulling fittings you're begging for a seasonal repairjob. If you paint period you'll be painting again in 5-10 years.. (everything) If you take the time to do a good gelcoat and remove all the fittings and once finished you buff and wax once or twice a season, you can will the boat to your grandchildren and never have to do another major repair or refinish for the rest of your life.
I honestly can't think of a single reason I'd paint other than if I just hated the color of the boat and the gelcoat was still in good condition.