Painting Catalina 30 Cabin Sole with Kiwi Grip
Updated: Apr 15, 2022
Rugs can go a long way in making a sailboat feel more like a home, but they weren't enough to cover the ugly painted floors that my boat had when I got it. I couldn't wait to figure out a better solution for my cabin sole than the layers of peeling, flaking paint I had to look at every day.
Because living on a boat means walking on the floor, it was a project that had to wait until I had some time to move off the boat. In the meantime, had a little time to explore my options.
I can't say for sure what the original flooring material was, but it wasn't teak, like many boats. Catalina 30 Mark I interiors have a fiberglass liner that covers most of the interior, including the cabin sole. I've read that some came with carpet, so that's a possibility. By the time I took ownership, any carpeting or signs of the original flooring were gone and mine was coated with probably three or four layers of paint.
Some sanding and scraping revealed that it was probably a combination of house paints and boat paints, and some stuck better than others. A sticky, blue, hard-to-sand layer made me think that maybe carpet was adhered to it at some point.
As I saw it, I had a few options (carpet wasn't one).
I could lightly sand and install a faux-teak. Because the floor of the Catalina30 is curved, the foam "teak" seemed like an easier-to-install option. But with cats on the boat, I was worried they might use it as a scratching post. That's a more expensive scratching post than I was willing to buy.
I could sand it down fully and paint it with an epoxy paint, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to sand the blue layer smooth enough for that, and I didn't want a slippery floor, either.
I could sand it well and paint it with a non-skid paint. We had experience applying Kiwi Grip on the deck of my boyfriend Jerrad's 48-foot C&C with good results. Because it's softer and more comfortable than traditional non-skid, it seemed like it could work for the interior.
I knew that the last option was a bit of a risk since it's generally used for decks on boats, but I was willing to give it a try. It meant that the surface that would be painted had to be sanded to remove any peeling paint, but it didn't have to be completely smooth, which would make dealing with the blue layer easier.
I had a trip planned around Christmas and needed to move the cats off the boat for that, and so it seemed like a good time to start the project.
Preparing for Paint
As with most boat projects, there was a lot of sanding involved. I started by alternating scraping and sanding until all the loose bits of paint came off. I taped up plastic to section off the areas I wouldn't be sanding, and then used an electric sander with 80-grit sandpaper attached to a shop vac to try to minimize dust. It was still dusty:
Several days of sanding and it looked like this:
The blue substance (likely carpet adhesive) was still a little sticky, and probably would've taken a grinder or a chemical to remove fully. But per the Kiwi Grip instructions, I didn't do that. They say,
"With a belt sander or orbital sander, remove as much of the carpet adhesive as comes easily. Don’t worry about adhesive remaining in the grain or small shards of adhesive that are difficult to remove."
I wasn't quite ready to paint, though. When previous owners removed the engine from the boat, they also altered the interior. Originally, the interior looked something like this:
Photo from Patrick Broderick, @sailingmilehigh
Photo from Lisa Hulen
(Thanks to the Catalina 30 Sailboat Owners Facebook group for helping me out with photos! I highly recommend joining if you have a Catalina 30.)
The part of the settee that covered the engine had been removed, giving my Catalina30 more floor space. A good choice, as it allowed more walking room, especially at the companionway steps. Unfortunately, the work they'd done wasn't finished well and wasn't holding up. I had to fix those issues before I could paint the floor.
I removed the work they'd done (there was a lot of Bondo and sloppy fiberglass) and glassed and faired all those areas so they'd be ready for paint.
I also opted to paint around the edges of the floor first (which meant more sanding). I wanted to have clean lines at the edge of the Kiwi Grip, and I knew that I wouldn't be able to paint right up to the edge of the textured Kiwi Grip later.
This time, I used Sherwin Williams Armorseal 1000HS, which is different from what I used in the V-berth and head. I bought the base white because I wanted a very bright space, but they can tint it to other colors. It's not cheap, but two gallons go a long way. I was able to paint my entire boat interior (in some places twice) with it.
Applying Kiwi Grip
I gave the paint several days to dry, and then taped off the edges in preparation for the Kiwi Grip. It was finally time to paint! In our experience, it's easiest as a two-person project. You need to start with a clean surface, but avoid solvents like acetone on Kiwi Grip.
Here's what you'll need to paint Kiwi Grip:
Enough Kiwi Grip for your project (I chose gray; I also like to have enough extra that I can make touch-ups later)
ExtraKiwi Grip rollers - it comes with some, but as the Kiwi grip saturates the roller and as the product dries, we found it helpful to change the rollers
Quality painters tape
A lined garbage can/bucket with open top to put used tape in
Paper towels or rags
A bucket with soapy water
An extra bucket with lid (optional) to put the Kiwi Grip in
Don't apply Kiwi Grip if it's too hot, and be sure you have adequate lighting during the process. Too dim (or too bright) of light can make it hard to notice any areas that are too thin, especially if you're painting on a similarly colored surface. I recommend reading all of the instructions.
To get started, mix the Kiwi Grip by massaging it in the package. We transferred the Kiwi Grip to a bucket with a lid to make it easier to scoop out and apply. Putting the lid back on keeps it from drying out.
We found it easiest if the first person applies the Kiwi Grip to a small area, using the plastic trowel to spread it evenly. We also prepped the roller by gently rolling it over a bit of Kiwi Grip on a piece of clean cardboard. Then the second person uses the Kiwi Grip roller to create a uniform texture. Keep your spreading and rolling movements similar - I always rolled first in one direction, and then the opposite. Keep it consistent between sections. How it looks will depend upon how thick you apply it and how you roll it. We opted for relatively thin and less textured, since it was an inside application. We've also found that the saturation of the roller makes a difference in the texture, which is why we prep the roller with a bit of paint before we start, and change out the roller when it gets too saturated. You'll find a balance as you work.
The first person can move on to applying the next small area while the second person rolls the first area. Kiwi Grip begins to dry relatively quickly, so I find it important to focus on making the transition from the one area to the next seamless. Going over it with the roller a couple times is usually enough. Work quickly and consistently and you should have good results.
For any areas that the roller won't reach (this wasn't a big problem in the interior, but more on deck around winches and such), I found we got the best results by cutting a roller into smaller pieces - often a small triangle - and mimicking the rolling movements with the small piece.
You can choose to remove the tape as you go, or after it dries with a razor. We like to remove the painters tape as we go, but it has to be done carefully. I recommend taping in well planned sections so that it's easier to remove as you go (or use scissors to cut the tape where needed so you don't pull up too much).
If you get Kiwi Grip on anything you don't want it to be on, dip a paper towel or rag in soapy water and it'll clean off easily. If you accidentally touch the painted part, it can typically be fixed with the roller if needed.
Keep going in this fashion - paint, roll, paint, roll, remove tape - until you're done. Think about entry and exit points and make a plan for how you'll approach it ahead of time. Don't paint yourself into a corner, lest you find yourself in a "floor is lava" situation. This becomes harder on a small boat with two people.
On my boat, we worked on the port side (settee to bilge), working forward to aft, first, then the starboard area near the v-berth, working back towards the companionway. The galley area and just below the companionway were last. There was some climbing on the settees to remove the tape and generally get around. We painted the bilge covers separately atop contractor bags.
And finally, a finished floor:
You should be able to walk on it the next day, but I recommend giving it several days before placing anything on it, and even more time before leaving anything heavy on it. Kiwi Grip takes some time to reach final hardness and the bond continues to improve over time.
A clean, not peeling floor made a huge difference. A bright rug and throw pillows layered in made it finally feel more finished.
Kiwi Grip as an Interior Finish - Pros and Cons
My biggest concerns with putting Kiwi Grip inside were comfort and keeping it clean. I find it to be very comfortable to walk and sit on. It's easy to clean with soap, water and a scrub brush but, because it's not a smooth surface, it holds dirt easily. So, easy to clean, not as easy to keep clean.
It's held up well, and any spots that I've noticed were from putting something heavy on it too soon, I think. You do have to be careful to keep solvents off of it, but it's otherwise a very sturdy finish.
If you need to reapply over any blemishes, doing so is easy, and the plastic bags the product is packaged in are easy to store on the boat for touch-ups. I'd suggest keeping a roller - or even just a piece of a roller - on hand for touch-ups.
I liked it enough that I painted the interior floors with Kiwi Grip again and the decks and cockpit after I finished the restoration work on the boat. I may, at some point, opt for something different inside, but I'm very happy with it now as both a cabin sole finish and deck finish.
I have a few touch-ups to make on deck after some work I've done. If you're interested in a video of the application process, I can make one when I do that work, so let me know in the comments!
This post contains Amazon Affiliate links to some of the materials that I used. I do make a small amount of money if you purchase the items following those links and I appreciate the extra income, but I also appreciate you visiting your local marine store and supporting local businesses, too. They're often a great source of knowledge, and it's where I purchased most of the items I used in my boat restoration.