Bottom Paint for Freshwater Boats


Painting the bottom of your boat is a spring ritual many would rather avoid

Many people have asked me if it is really necessary to paint the bottom of boats used exclusively in freshwater. The answer is simple; if you leave it in the water for the season, yes, paint it. Your boat may not accumulate barnacles, but boats left in freshwater can grow a healthy beard of plant and algae slime. On the other hand, if you haul it after every use, hose it off and don’t worry about it. If you do leave your boat moored in freshwater all season, the question of what bottom paint to use is a little more complex.

There are five basic types of bottom paint:

  • Soft sloughing paints
  • Vinyl
  • Modified epoxies
  • Ablative
  • Thin film Teflon

Regardless of type, bottom paints today have two primary ingredients to keep plant and animal life from fouling your boat’s bottom—biocides, such as copper oxide, and what are now termed slimeocides, which act as sunscreen to keep plant and algae growth from forming. While copper oxide is the dominant ingredient in most anti-fouling paints with content as high as 80%, it’s the slimeocide that keeps the fuzz off the boat that then attracts the hard shelled animals. Think of the type of bottom paint as the delivery system for the biocides and slimeocides. In freshwater, you want strong slimeocides and harder surfaces which is why only the last two types of paint, hard ablative or thin film, are typically used.


Interlux’s VC17M is a thin film paint popular with freshwater boaters

If I had a freshwater-only boat that got left in all seasons my primary recommendation for bottom paint would be Interlux VC17M, the most popular thin-film paint with performance sailors and go fast powerboats–it has a very hard slick surface, great for performance. This paint contains both 20% cuprous oxide for a biocide and a strong slimeocide called Biolux. While it can be sprayed on for best effect, it is also easy to apply with a solvent-free roller. It dries very quickly (10-15 minutes), making it great for quick launching. The downside to this paint is that it is not compatible with aluminum boats due to its copper oxide content. Also, due to the relatively low copper content, it is not as effective in saltwater—which might not matter if you boat only in freshwater.

My secondary preferences for freshwater boats are a little bit more flexible. So called “hybrid” hard ablative paints such as Interlux Trilux 33 or Petit Vivid contain copper thiocyanate rather than cuprous oxide as the biocide. These have several advantages:

Petit-vivid-white1)    Their controlled release of biocides means they can tolerate being hauled then re-launched without loss of effectiveness;

2)    They’re compatible with all hull materials including aluminum hulls;

3)    They come in a variety of bright colors–including white;

4)    They can be used in saltwater;

5)    They’re still hard enough that you can trailer your boat without worrying that the paint will end up all over the trailer bungs.

6)    While not as hard and smooth as thin film paints, they can be burnished for performance.

Following the time-honored spring ritual of applying bottom paint to your freshwater boat will not only protect it and keep it clean, but result in improved fuel efficiency, performance and handling.Trilux 33

For outdrives and props used in freshwater I recommend either Petit Alumaspray (black only) or Interlux Trilux Prop & Drive Spray (clear or 3 colors).

Regardless of paint choice, check the manufacturer’s compatibility charts, prep and application requirements, and always protect your skin, eyes and lungs.

For an overview of painting projects on all exterior surfaces — topsides, deck, and bottom — read How to Paint a Boat.



  1. Capt Bill says:

    Very interesting. My boat has been a fresh water seasonal inhabitant for 40 years with no bottom painting. I am now thinking of painting, but also I am planning to trailer to Florida next year and use intermittently in salt water.

    Is there particular problems with long distance trailering on the paints?

    What about preping before paint, should I check and correct Fiberglas blistering, if any?

  2. Jonathan Perry says:

    Ok so I have a 14′ fiberglass Jon boat that I want to paint. I have been reading up on topside paints and bottom side paints. I will be in fresh water only. The boat will not be in the water for more than a days fishing trip at a time. So in prep work for painting I know I need to do some sanding. What is the best paint for me to use. Can I use a paint that’s good for the bottom and sides of the boat or two separate paints? Thanks

  3. Jonathan Perry says:

    Also when I paint the bottom of the boat do I have to prime or seal it first before adding a layer or two of paint?

    • Boat Trader says:

      Hi Jonathan. For an overview of what’s involved in your project, read Quick answers: If you’re going to keep your boat on a trailer and only put it in the water for a day at a time for fishing in fresh water, you should not need an antifouling paint on the bottom. Just hose and sponge off any slime that might accumulate, especially around the waterline, when you pull the boat out. Depending on the condition of the boat’s bottom, however, you may want to use a hard freshwater antifouling paint just to give it another color from your topsides. For topsides you will want to use a high-quality marine paint. For a 14-foot jon boat, a single-part polyurethane like Pettit Easypoxy or Interlux Brightside should work fine. They are available in plenty of colors. Again, read the article above, and remember that surface preparation is the most important part of the job. Good painting.

  4. Dave DeVore says:

    I have 37 foot Gibson Sport that sits on a fresh water lake. I bought it 2 years ago and it is due for a new bottom paint. I am told it needs fresh paint every 5 to 7 years. What type of bottom paint do you recommend?

    • Boat Trader says:

      Hi Dave. Boats that live in fresh water have an easier time than saltwater boats in terms of hard growth like barnacles, but they’re still susceptible to fouling by slime and algae. Pick a paint that contains copper and/or a biocide (depending on local regulations) that will fight that slime. Good candidates include Interlux VC17, Pettit SR-21,and copper-free Pettit Ultima ECO. But first try to determine what paint is on your boat now. If it’s ablative, don’t cover it with a hard paint.

      Read Bottom Paint Basics for more pointers. If and when you have to strip the bottom and start over, read Bottom Stripping Basics:

      Good luck.