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Your boat trailer is meant to be a reliable but low profile machine. It shouldn’t really stand out and especially not for all the wrong reasons. A rusty, ugly boat trailer may still work but it won’t look great. And, if it does get rusty, it runs the risk of failing and damaging your boat. And maybe it’s fine already, but you want it to match your fishing boat so it doesn’t stand out at all. No matter the reason, choosing the right paint for boat trailer painting takes a little bit of time and effort. Let’s take a look at the best paint for your boat trailer.
Best Overall Choice
1. Rustoleum Marine Topside Paint
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When it comes to a solid marine grade paint you have to look at Rustoleum. They make some of the best rust-protection paint on the market. And they’re a name everyone knows and trusts. And for good reason as well.
Aside from paint that can cover your house, your car and your fence, they manage marine products as well. Rustoleum’s line of marine paint can be found in most marine supply stores and online. Their marine topside paint is great for boats and for boat trailers as well. It’s not designed for constant use in water, but hopefully neither is your trailer.
The paint comes in a variety of colors. That means you should be able to match or contrast with your boat fairly well. You can go with a nice, understated black or grey. Or, if you want, kick it up with blue or green.
The formula is oil based so it may not be ideal for aluminum. But it should handle steel pretty well. Just make sure you’re prepping and priming no matter what. Drying is fast, only a couple of hours to get it ready. A full cure takes about 3 days. The fresh paint provides a nice, smooth finish. It maintains its gloss really well. It’s also UV resistant so it won’t fade out and look dull over time. Your newly painted boat trailer will look great.
The final coating has a durability to it you can feel. It should be able to withstand minor bumps and scrapes over the long haul. Of course if it gets a serious ding it’s going to get scraped up. But that’s true of pretty much anything, right?
Because it’s a marine formula, it’s designed to resist things like salt and mildew. That means your trailer will stay looking nicer longer. And if it does get dirty, as it will, cleaning it is easy enough. The formula is designed to handle both saltwater and freshwater. The corrosion protection is really top of the line. Combined with a very reasonable price, this is arguably the best boat trailer paint you’ll find.
Best Premium Choice
2. TotalBoat Aluminum Boat Paint
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You’re going to pay a little more for paint from Total Boat. But the product you get for that extra money is definitely worth it. And if you want to paint an aluminum boat trailer, you really want to consider using this. Aluminum is not an easy metal to paint by any means. The composition resists most normal paint. You need to do a lot of prep to get paint to stick to it. So choosing a top of the line aluminum paint is integral to making it work. And when you want the best, we think Total Boat is the way to go.
In addition to aluminum, this formula is good for galvanized metals. Galvanized steel has the same paint issues aluminum does. So this is a solid choice for either kind of metal
Total Boat comes in a small range of neutral colors. You won’t be standing out in a crowd with these and that’s probably the point. The finish is really smooth with this and looks great. It’s a low sheen which works bets on aluminum. You don’t need to sand between coats either, which is nice.
One of the best features that total boat offers is the formulation. This stuff is environmentally friendly. A lot of these paints are good for use on metal but not necessarily designed to be used in the water. This is. Because of that, the formula is one that won’t hurt the waterways and wildlife. That’s a huge bonus for Total Boat in terms of benefits. Clean up can be done easily with just soap and water.
The paint doesn’t have a lot of offensive fumes to deal with. That’s another nice benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked. Some paints can be overwhelming, but this isn’t’ bad at all. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to take precautions. Just that it’s not as bad as some brands.
You can apply Total Boat paint with a sprayer or roller. It even goes on smoothly with a brush. All things being equal, we think this is probably the best aluminum paint out there.
Best Budget Choice
3. Rustoleum Protective Enamel Paint
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Rustoleum has really cornered the market on quality paint at a really great price. If you don’t want to sink a ton of money into painting your boat trailer, then look here. Their protective enamel spray paint goes on smooth. It will prevent your steel from rusting with a reliable, strong finish.
Unlike some paints, Rustoleum comes in a variety of colors that can get pretty bold. If you’re looking to make your trailer stand out from the crowd, then this is where you want to go. While most brands stay neutral with subdued grey, khaki and black, this brand goes all out. Is a Carnival red trailer for everyone? No. But it’s a possibility if you want to give it a try.
Drying time can take up to 4 hours. The end product has a great finish that comes in gloss or flat. It will provide a good barrier against scuffs and scrapes. And, of course, it’s going to protect against rust.
Keep in mind this is best suited for a steel trailer. You won’t want to use this on a galvanized or aluminum trailer. Also, pay attention to the color. They make a color of this called aluminum But that’s just the color. It’s actually a little confusing if you’re shopping online and don’t pay close attention. So it says aluminum but it’s not meant for aluminum. It can handle a lot of surfaces but when painting trailers, stick to steel.
If you want to use a sprayer, make sure you check the instructions. You’ll need to thin it before running it through a sprayer. That aside, it goes very smoothly. A roller or even a brush will provide good, even coverage. This paint does seem a little watery compared to most, however. For that reason you just need to pay close attention when painting it on. It can run and leave some streaks if you’re not careful.
As with any paint, you need ventilation when using this. The fumes can be very strong so be cautious and be safe.
4. SeaHawk Aluminum Boat Paint
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Sea Hawk’s Aluma Hawk is another solid choice for aluminum boat trailers. This is designed for things like aluminum jon boats and fishing boats. That means it’s intended to be used right in the water. The formulation is eco-friendly. That means you don’t need to worry about the effects of this paint when you back it into the water to load your boat. Likewise, it’s not harmful to the environment when properly disposed of. That’s a nice touch that offers some peace of mind.
There are several colors you can choose when you go with SeaHawk. Things like Jon Boat Green, Jon Boat Blue or simpler shades like black and aluminum grey. The paint doesn’t require the use of primers, either. That makes the process of painting your boat trailer a little easier.
The paint itself is safe for use in either freshwater or saltwater. The finish is flat which we think is the best choice for aluminum boats. Glossy finishes tend to accentuate flaws in aluminum. You’ll want to avoid that.
There’s one concern we had with SeaHawk and that’s with the application. This stuff is crazy thick. At one point we thought maybe we had a bad can of it or something. But if you check other reviews it seems to be the standard across the board. When you try to paint this on it can be a bit of a chore just because it spreads like cake frosting. The end result looks great though, so be aware of that. You probably didn;’t get a weird batch. Just know that you need to put in a little elbow grease. Using this in a sprayer would require some very precise thinning. It might not be worth tinkering with unless you know what you’re doing.
Once you have it on, the result is a smooth, durable paint layer. The color looks really bold and rich, which is great. The cost for a can of this is pretty steep compared to some others on the market. But if you want a solid, durable coat at the end of the day, this may be a great fit.
5. Por-15 Rust Preventative Paint
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Por-15 is definitely a brand you want to consider. We’d rank them up there with Rustoleum and TotalBoat for quality. Their rust prevention formulation is ideal for something like a boat trailer. And you can even paint it safely right over old rust. We still recommend giving any old rust a thorough cleaning before painting. Once you do, though, this is a great paint to follow it up with.
To get the most out of Por-15 you need to follow their directions closely. They have a very specific method for painting this stuff on. They call it the 3-Step Stop Rust Program. If you do as they say, the results really can’t be denied. This stuff basically makes your boat trailer impervious to rust.
Before painting this on you need to use their Cleaner Degreaser formula. It can be followed up with POR-15 Metal Prep. That will prepare the surface, including rust, for this. You’ll need at least two coats to get the effect you want, and three might be best.
Be aware that Por-15 is very clear about prepping this paint for use. Don’t shake it. We don’t know why you don’t shake it but you shouldn’t shake it. They’re very clear about that. It should be stirred only and then applied. No need to risk things not working, right?
Por-15 works so well because of how it cures. This is some sciencey stuff that deals with chemicals and chemical reactions. But essentially, Por-15 uses moistures to cure. Most paints need to keep moisture away from them. It will suck up all that moisture which is how it’s able to offer such amazing rust protection. Then when it has cured, it creates an incredibly strong shell. In terms of durability, this really stands out. They call it hammer tough. We weren’t willing to grab a hammer and slam the side of the trailer with it to test that boast. But it is clear that this does provide a very tough finish when dried.
You can hit this stuff with saltwater, oil and even gas after it’s been painted on. It resists everything. You’ll want to use a topcoat when you’re finished as well. Since your trailer is out there in the sun all the time, a topcoat protects against UV rays.
It can’t be stressed enough that the instructions must be followed to the letter for this to work. The end result is a smooth, even coat that looks great and protects like a dream. But you need to do it the right way. No cutting corners with Por-15.
6. Por-15 Top Coat Paint
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Another entry for Por-15 is their direct to metal top coat chassis black paint. This is designed for vehicle chassis’ so count on it to provide a durable and tough finish. And if you want a serious amount of protection you can combine it with the Por-15 rust protection. That’s the one we already recommended. Use this as a top coat and you’ll have a seriously strong and protected trailer.
Why use this in addition to the other? Like we said, this is a top coat. It’s going to add that UV protection you want. But it also comes in a veritable rainbow of colors. You can really customize your trailer well when you use this. You have reds, greens, blues and yellows here. Plus the regular understated colors you’d expect.
Keep in mind you don’t need to use this with Por-15’s rust protection at all. This can be used by itself on your trailer as well. But the two products compliment each other well. This paint doesn’t require a primer or an undercoat before application. So if you’re looking to get the job done quickly, this is still a great choice.
If you know your boat trailer is spending a lot of time in the sun, this is a solid choice. The UV protection is key for use in sunny areas. It will hold up well even in the brightest conditions. No cracking or fading as a result of the weather. You can expect this to hold up for years.
Because it’s a top coat you can use it with other bases and primers if you want. It doesn’t have to be the Por-15 brand. Still, we recommend combining them together. The result is probably the best paint job your trailer can get. It’s more of an investment to be sure. But once they’re together there is not a superior product on the market.
When you use this, patience is going to be your friend. This is not a one and done in the afternoon. They list dry to the touch time as about an hour. Do not count on that being valid. This stuff takes a heck of a long time to dry. You’re looking at five hours or more. It has a really weird flow to it and that keeps it wet for far longer than seems normal. Maybe it has something to do with the ambient temperature and humidity. It’s a common experience though. And getting to a full hardness is going to take several days of waiting. But like we have said, the end result really is worth it.
7. Rust Bullet Industrial Paint
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Rust Bullet’s industrial paint is another premium option that will set you back a few dollars. The upside is this stuff is really well made. It’s also a one step process so no primer is necessary. You won’t need a top coat either. That doesn’t mean you can’t use one, of course. If the color doesn’t suit your needs, then a top coat can spice up your trailer’s look.
The formula is designed to protect your trailer against anything life throws at it. It’s chip, scratch, rust and UV resistant. You really can’t ask for a better all in one paint. Like other industrial paints, you can apply this one over existing rust. Prep is pretty basic but you’ll want to get the rough surface stuff cleaned up before you paint. That’s standard for any paint job, though.
Application is simple and can be done with a sprayer, a roller or even a brush. It paints on easily and shouldn’t give you any hassle. Some rust paints are oddly thick or thin. This has a good consistency and doesn’t run more than you’d expect it to. Maybe a bit thicker than others but not as bad as some. You want to apply two coats and keep them thin. If you do paint it over rusty spots, you may need a few coats. By the time you hit three, any visible gaps should be well covered over. At that point the finish should look smooth and even.
One of the ways Rust Bullet stands out is with their guarantee. They offer a 10 year warranty, which is pretty impressive. And if you’re worried about using this off label, don’t be. They list marine use as one of the intended purposes. So painting your boat trailer with this is well within parameters.
In terms of preparation, you need to wear gloves with this stuff 100%. This paint can be a real chore to get off if it splashes around too much. You’ll want to clean it up right away with something like mineral spirits. With that in mind, you want to make sure you have on some old work clothes as well.
8. SlipDoctors DuraGrip Paint
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This is a bit of a quirky entry but we’re including it anyway. This is a textured paint. Often this is used for things like your boat deck so you can have a non-slip surface. But this works really well on a trailer as well. If you like a textured surface this is a good choice. Especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to climb all over their trailer to get things done.
DuraGrip works on steel as well as aluminum. It’s one of the few paints that does so. It comes in a nice range of colors. There are 10 in total. They all produce a semi-gloss coating as well. The grip surface isn’t abrasive. It’s good for shoes or even bare feet, so you can safely use it even with kids or pets to worry about.
SlipDoctors offers a two year warranty so long as the paint was applied and used properly. That’s pretty decent overall. The company is American and they have some great customer service if you need to get a hold of them. Little things like that can make a difference if problems arise.
Application is easy with this paint. A roller is the best way to get this done. Because of the texture you don’t want to try a sprayer this time around.
The price is a big point against this paint and why we don’t recommend it more highly. It’s a niche product, most people don’t need a non-slip trailer. But it is a cool feature to have. So if you do want that texture, then you may find this worth your time and money.
9. Rustoleum Truck Bed Liner
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This is another Rustoleum product because they really do produce great quality stuff. This one is a little unusual though, but it’s great. Truck bed liner is a decent choice for painting boat trailers. That’s because of how much overlap there is between the two of them. They both need to put up with a lot of rough treatment. They both have to endure time out in the wet and cold. And they both need to stand up to harsh UV rays.
A lot of people won’t consider truck bed liner paint as a first choice for painting trailers. But we find that it stands up really well. And it does the one really important job you need from any boat trailer paint – it stops rust.
The paint creates a non-skid finish when it’s dry. If you ever find yourself climbing on your boat trailing, that can be handy. It’s very durable and can stand up to abuse. It’s literally designed to do just that. For a trailer, that makes it extra helpful.
The big downside to using this is that you’re limited in color options. That is to say there are no color options. Textured black is all you get. Fortunately no one would ever look twice at a trailer painted this color and think it’s weird. It gets the job done the way you want it to and it looks good. Best of all, it’s very cost-effective. Rustoleum comes through again with a product that won’t break the bank.
How to Pick the Best Boat Trailer Paint
If you’ve ever painted anything before you know a lot goes into paint. The paint industry is much larger than most people realize. They have nearly endless offerings. You need to make sure the paint you choose is the best option for your trailer. Figuring this out will be based on several factors. Let’s take a look.
One of the most important things to determine right off the bat is where your paint can be used. If you boat in saltwater, your boat trailer paint has to be able to handle that. Saltwater causes metal to corrode very quickly. Your paint needs to protect the trailer that much more if you boat in saltwater. Some paints will not be able to handle this well. Other paints are equally effective regardless or where you go boating.
Not all paint is created equally. You want to use a marine trailer paint designed for marine purposes. But even a paint designed to be waterproof isn’t necessarily what you need on its own. The type of trailer you have will really determine the best paint for it. Most boat trailers are aluminum or steel. So a marine paint meant for fiberglass or wood isn’t really the best choice here. Just because it’s waterproof doesn’t mean it will adhere to an aluminum boat trailer.
Check out our guide for painting boat trailers if you need a good walk through. There is some definite prep you need to undertake to make sure you’re doing it the right way. Choosing the wrong kind of paint can end up in disaster. You may find it never dries right. Or it comes off with the slightest touch. Picking paint meant to adhere to the type of metal surfaces you’re painting is one of the first steps you need to take.
Some people love to paint. Most of us, however, hate it. It can take a long time. And depending on the kind of paint you buy, that time can really go on and on. There are fast drying paints available. But others require quite a long time to cure. You also need to factor in how many coats you might need. Painting a boat trailer could quite easily take several days to do properly.
This is a place where some boaters try to cut corners. We believe this is a bad idea. If your paint needs to cure for 48 hours, follow the recommendations and wait those two days. In the end, your boat trailer is going to look that much better for it. Plus you won’t have to fix anything because you rushed the job. Patience is often the key to a good boat trailer paint job.
Ease of Use
This sounds silly at first but trust us, this is integral. You might think all painting is easy to do, but sometimes manufacturers don’t make it that way. There are times when you need to use special brushes or sprayers. Maybe the paint is best applied in a certain temperature range. You may also need to use a certain primer or prepare the metal surface with specific solvents. All of this can be required to ensure a smooth, permanent coating.
You’re not going to find any paint that you can just apply with no preparation whatsoever. But the final task doesn’t have to seem like an engineering test either. We’ve tried to recommend some very user-friendly paints. If you go your own way, check other peoples’ reviews. Make sure it’s not something that is beyond your skill set just to save yourself a headache.
Sometimes it can be hard to calculate how much paint you need. A can will tell you it can cover so many square feet. But how many square feet of surface does your boat trailer have? Most of us don’t have a random number like that handy. And calculating it isn’t always easy given the size and shape of trailers. If you need to do a second or third coat, you’ll want to make sure you have enough paint on hand.
Disposal and Safety
Thirty years ago not a lot of people cared what their paint was made of. You’d paint a boat trailer and stash the leftover can in the garage. If it got old and gross, you’d toss it out. These days people are more concerned with what the materials they use are made from. So you may want to check and see if your paint is eco-friendly. Can it be recycled? If it gets into the water and flakes off, is it dangerous for the environment?
Now more than ever we need to be stewards of the environment. The rivers, lakes and oceans we love have to deal with a lot. Anything we can do as boaters to keep them clean and safe is worth the effort.
Your own safety is a part of this as well. Anyone who does a lot of painting knows that you need to take precautions. Determine ahead of time where and how you plan to paint your boat trailer. Do you need gloves and a mask? Are the fumes a potential health risk? If so you need to know how to accommodate that. It could mean a garage with lots of ventilation. Or it could mean painting outdoors. Along with this goes how to prepare the area. Laying down tarps and such to collect any drips and spills.
As with most things in life, the most expensive is not necessarily the best. But by the same token, the cheapest is often cheap for a reason. It’s a strange game we play when we buy almost anything because everything claims to be the best. We have tried to recommend a range of paints to meet any budget. Every paint on our list should do a good job when used correctly. But obviously there’s a range here. The difference between our premium and budget choice is noticeable.
A cheaper paint is going to just offer the basics. This is basically just to protect the metal of your trailer and nothing more. But premium offerings can give you a great range of colors and finishes. These more expensive paints are for people who want something a little fancier. If matching your boat and trailer is important to you, then you may have to spend a little more.
How to Prepare a Boat Trailer for Painting
We have a full guide that explains how to paint your boat trailer. But the basics you need to know can help you determine the kind of paint you get. There are a few steps that will be required to ensure the best paint job possible
- Clean: No one ever successfully painted a dirty boat trailer. You should really give the whole trailer a thorough cleaning ahead of time. A power washer can get off most of the grease and dirt. You may need to use a wire brush as well to remove rust and paint from the metal frame.
- Prime: Galvanized metal and aluminum must have a primer. It’s what’s going to allow the paint to adhere to the metal. If a steel frame doesn’t get a primer layer, it will come back to haunt you. It’s only a matter of time before it starts to rust. May as well save yourself the trouble and do it the right way from the start.
- Paint: For boat trailers we recommend a sprayer for painting. In a pinch you can get away with a roller. Technically you can get away with anything, but we think this works best. Can you use a brush? Sure. But it may not be pretty at the end of the day. It really depends on how much you like to paint and how well you can do it. And it’s going to take a while. Save the aggravation and get a paint gun for a fast, even, professional looking job.
- Wait: Do a full coat and then wait as per the manufacturer’s instructions. This is a good time to paint the wheels. Don’t forget to remove the nuts before you paint them. You wouldn’t be the first person to paint the wheels and regret it. You paint it and then realize at the last minute that the nuts are now attached with a layer of paint.
- Apply a Second Coat: Once everything is dried and cured according to directions, do your second coat of paint. This should really smooth out everything. The color should pop a lot more now as well. You can do a third coat but that depends on you. Maybe you need a third. Maybe you just want a bolder look. We recommend no more than three coats, however. If you put on the paint too thick, it can start to peel under its own weight.
- Seal: Once it’s fully painted, cured and dried according to directions, apply a sealer. This will depend on your needs. Saltwater sealers are not the same as freshwater. But a sealer will protect your paint from water and also UV rays. Be careful with this step. Paint sealers produce intense fumes. Use a mask and proper ventilation always.
These are the basics for painting any boat trailer. As we said, we have a more thorough guide with all the steps you’ll want to take. But this can let you know what you’re in for to help you better prepare as you choose the specific paint you want to use.
If you are repainting a boat trailer, that’s fine. If it has been painted in the past, make sure the entire trailer is inspected. You’ll want to sand or brush any and all rough patches. You don’t want that old paint flaking up and ruining your new paint. We think stripping it down to the metal is always the best idea.
Can I Paint a Rusty Boat Trailer?
A rusty boat trailer doesn’t mean a garbage boat trailer. Rust happens, you can deal with it. Just don’t paint over the rust before cleaning it up. You don’t need to scour it off completely but you do want a smooth surface.
Rust forms when iron in your steel oxidizes. The technical name is iron oxide. Saltwater in particular can cause steel to rust. This is because saltwater is an electrolyte. It causes the movement of ions in the steel. Basically it pulls electrons away from the metal and the structure breaks down as rust.
Aluminum doesn’t rust but it does still corrode. It just does it differently than steel. Aluminum stands up to corrosion a lot better than steel, so that’s a point in aluminum’s favor. For that reason people often leave aluminum trailers unpainted. But both metals are protected even better when they are painted. It’s your choice.
Paint essentially just makes a shield against oxygen and water. That prevents rust from being able to form and spread. It’s very simple. A raincoat stops you from getting wet. Paint prevents your trailer from getting wet.
Once rust has already formed, paint can prevent it from spreading. But you should still prepare corroded metal as well as you can for paint. That will inhibit any further spread. If you tried to paint over chunky, rusty metal it would likely flake right off. A clean surface is always the best starting point. Get the loose paint and rust out of the way first.
Should I Paint Aluminum?
You can paint an aluminum boat trailer if you choose. We don’t think it’s always necessary. In fact, our recommendation is to not paint aluminum. Plain aluminum has a clean and neat look already. It’s unassuming and doesn’t look ugly. But we understand sometimes you want the trailer to match the boat. Just know that the prep for aluminum takes some work. Paint and aluminum don’t like each other.
You will need to thoroughly prepare the aluminum surface by cleaning and sanding it before painting. You need to keep in mind that aluminum looks different when painted than steel does. Paint has a way of highlighting flaws in aluminum. That can require several coats to hide.
Acrylic or latex paints work best on aluminum. Matte finishes are usually best on aluminum as well. Glossy paint can highly dents and scrapes more than you’d like. Make sure it’s well sealed when you’re done as well. Even when well-prepared, paint can resist aluminum. It will scrape or flake off more easily than it will on steel.
Whatever you choose, make sure it says it’s designed for aluminum. A paint that doesn’t specify aluminum on the label will probably not adhere well at all. You will have wasted time and money trying to make it work.
The Bottom Line
Painting a boat trailer is one of those tasks no one is ever very excited by. It’s a necessary task to preserve your trailer and keep it looking and functioning well. Picking a suitable boat trailer paint and doing a good job the first time is key. You want to get the job out of the way so you can focus more on enjoying your boat. Make sure you buy the right paint for the type of trailer you have. Always use good ventilation and safety gear. Follow the instructions exactly and you’ll be out on the water again in no time.
As always, stay safe and have fun.