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How To Repaint Your Outboard


His pro shop is expert in repairing and reconditioning outboards. Here’s how it’s done if you want to tackle the job yourself.

After years of use and sitting outside in the elements, an outboard’s finish breaks down and degrades, leaving it looking chalky and dull. The decals begin to peel and fade, and no amount of polishing is going to bring back the shine. It could be time to think about a repaint.


If your engine has passed the maintenance point and needs refreshing, you have choices. You can do it yourself; it’s not that difficult, if you don’t mind a little hard work. A weekend or two of time is all it will take, along with some elbow grease, sandpaper, masking tape, solvent, factory touch-up paint, and a new decal kit.

Or you can have a pro do it. Keep in mind that this is not an inexpensive job. It’s not the type of job an automotive or even marine painting specialist normally does, so it will cost more. In addition, the shop puts its name on it and everyone sees it, so they usually won’t be willing to do a “quick and dirty” job for a few hundred bucks. Be prepared to pay upward of $1,000 for a properly prepared, quality paint job with new decals.

If you do it yourself, cost will be much less because you’re doing all the labor. Using factory color spray cans, a do-it-yourself job will cost somewhere between $200 and $500, depending on the size of the engine and the materials cost. At roughly $12/can, you’ll use between four and eight cans of factory spray enamel; another $100 or so in sandpaper, filler, and primer; $75—$100 for a decal set; and another $40—$75 for a new hood seal. The difference in the pro job and the DIY job is threefold:

  • Durability: The pros use automotive enamel with hardener, shot from a professional spray gun, and finished with clearcoat. This makes for a very hard and durable finish. Spray cans just don’t have the same finish hardness.
  • Shine: The result of the pro finish is a brilliant shine. The spray can finish will shine, especially if you clearcoat it with spray-can clear, but it will never match the shine of the pro finish.
  • Cost: At our shop in Virginia Beach, customers see our restored engines and ask if we’ll redo their engine. When we quote the cost ($1,200-plus), they usually opt to do it themselves. So, here’s how to do it.


The cowl is what everyone sees first, so it’s a good place to start. The rest of the engine is a little tougher because, typically, it’s attached to your boat, and that means masking off the transom from potential overspray. Don’t be one of those who carelessly sprays the engine with no protection for the boat. The result is sloppy to look at and will detract from the resale value of the rig.

The cowl is relatively easy to refinish. In this case, we’ll assume it’s in need of a total makeover, with new paint, decals and renewed or replaced bottom seal. Start by removing it from the engine. Protect the bare powerhead with a large plastic garbage bag, carefully fitted and secured with a large bungee cord.

The decals can be removed quickly and relatively painlessly with a heat gun or hair dryer. Warm them up slowly and using a razor paint scraper, remove them completely. You will likely have to remove the decal glue residue with acetone or Goo Gone.

Use of Marine-Tex to fix a dent in this Johnson hood.

The decals can be removed quickly and relatively painlessly with a heat gun or hair dryer. Warm them up slowly and using a razor paint scraper, remove them completely. You will likely have to remove the decal glue residue with acetone or Goo Gone.

With the decals off, focus on refinishing the cowl. If there’s damage (for example, a crushed corner, or cracked edge), repair it before continuing. Marine-Tex, available at marine supply stores and online, is a great repair filler for smaller cracks and blemishes. Be sure the area you’re repairing is roughed up (80-grit sandpaper is a good start) and cleaned thoroughly. Often there are traces of oil and other contaminants that will prohibit the fillers and paint from adhering.

After the fillers dry, sand the repaired areas smooth and blend them in with the rest of the cowl’s surfaces. Progressively work your way to smoother and smoother finishes, ending up with a 600- or 800-grit paper before wiping down the surfaces in preparation for paint. Use an automotive filler primer to check for rough spots and areas that need to be resanded before painting. When it’s ready with no more rough spots or sanding marks, use automotive sealer primer before the factory enamel. Pay close attention to manufacturer instructions with these and all other products you use.

Tips For Spraying

Spray the enamel using full, sweeping movements, keeping the same distance (about 10 inches) between the spray can and the cowl.

Use masking tape to protect the lower seal on the bottom of the cowl if it’s not being replaced.

It’s important to release your finger from the spray button at the end of each sweep, otherwise you’ll be applying much more paint to the surface at the ends of each sweep, potentially causing runs from too much paint. It’s important to avoid runs or you’ll have to wait until the paint dries and sand them off, then start again.

Apply several coats of paint to the cowl to ensure complete coverage and avoid “misty” or “foggy” appearances. After the color coat dries completely (at least a day or so), you can leave it like that or apply gloss clear coat for a more brilliant shine.

If installing a new lower seal, wait at least at least a day or so after spraying to allow the paint to harden. Use a high quality automotive adhesive, such as 3M Black Super Weatherstrip and Gasket Adhesive, to install the seal.

Let the paint and/or clear coat dry for at least a week before installing new decals. For engines older than 5 years or so, you may have difficulty obtaining factory original decal sets; fortunately, reproduction decals are readily available online.

Applying Decals

Use a solution of water with a drop — one drop! — of Dawn dish detergent in a spray bottle to wet the surface before installing the decals. This will allow you to position them and move them without tearing them, and also allow the removal of air bubbles behind the decals.

It helps to carefully cut decals to size and lay them out on the hood before attempting to apply.

Cut the decals out to fit the cowl and lay them out beforehand. Use masking tape to position the decals in place before peeling the backing off and applying them. The result will be a cowl that looks new, and makes you proud of your engine again!

The Rest Of The Engine

While the cowl may take more time, the engine below the cowl may be more frustrating due to the detail work required to get a good result. There are many nooks and crannies to clean, sand, and prep to get a good finish.

Start by taking a long look in and around all areas. You’ll have to clean off all accumulated grease, gook, oil, and dirt. This alone will take an easy roll of paper towels and a lot of acetone. Don’t skimp on this process; we’ve seen many engines with even the hardened, excess grease painted over, and nothing spells “crummy job” more than this.

In a full-on restoration, the engine is disassembled to its separate parts, which are then sanded,

Once it’s cleaned, use whatever tools you have at your disposal to sand the paint off the entire midsection, clamp brackets, trim unit, swivel bracket, steering arm and lower unit. Sand with 150 grit to start, working your way to 220 and then 400 grit, to prep for paint. Wet sanding with water will help keep the sandpaper from clogging up. A wire brush chucked in a drill will help remove loose corrosion and paint.

Remove the prop, and tape the prop shaft to keep it protected during the refinishing process.

When the engine is fully prepped for paint, mask off the transom around the clamp brackets, and mask off exposed power trim rams and steering components. Also mask off or remove all anodes; these won’t do their jobs if they’re painted.

This outboard’s midsection and power trim unit has been disassembled, bead blasted, sanded, and primed with zinc chromate primer. It’s now ready for primer sealer and paint.

Spray zinc phosphate primer on all bare aluminum surfaces to retard corrosion. This is what the factory uses. It works.

Prime any exposed surfaces. Typically, if you have only sanded the factory paint, and not exposed bare metal, you can paint right over it without priming. As you did with the cowl, spray the factory enamel until at least two coats are applied. You can also spray clear coat on the cured enamel for a more durable and shiny finish.

When finished, remove the masking tape, reinstall the prop and anodes, and your sparkling engine will be ready for many more years of use.


John Tiger

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine