When I bought my sailboat, my immediate goal was to make it comfortable and livable. After doing the things that had to be done, like pumping out the water, replacing the bilge pump and battery, I focused my energy on more aesthetic endeavors so we could move aboard a clean, fresh space quickly.
Some serious hours cleaning and clearing out made a difference, but there's nothing like a fresh coat of white paint to make a space feel better. I chose to focus on the v-berth and head, as it seemed like something I could finish in a couple days.
At that time, I didn't know how long I'd keep the boat, or if I'd eventually take on bigger projects on it. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a possibly temporary project, so I used Rustoleum Marine Topside Paint in white and Rustoleum Marine Primer for Fiberglass and Wood for painting. It's a one-part paint that's more budget friendly than some of the other options - faster and easier to use than a two-part paint, so a good fit for quick projects.
To prep the area, I sanded it lightly and wiped it down with acetone. The fiberglass interior liner had been previously painted, and I chose not to sand down to the fiberglass gelcoat at that point. If I was doing a more permanent project, I'd recommend sanding off any paint that you're unsure about, as mold can get between layers of paint, especially on a boat. It's also not uncommon for people to use house paint inside boats (I don't recommend it), and your marine paint may not adhere well, so again, when in doubt, it's better to sand it off.
Be sure to stir the paint and primer very thoroughly, as sometimes sitting on the shelves causes the solids to really stick to the bottom of the can. My cans had been sitting on the shelf for a very long time and, honestly, I couldn't get all the clumps to mix in. It turned out fine, but obviously you'll have smoother and better results if you can. I'm sure newer paint would help, but sometimes on an island, you take what you can get.
Use a quality brush and rollers. Cheaper brushes often leave bristles in the paint. And don't forget to properly ventilate the boat and wear the correct type of mask - paint fumes in a small area, like a boat, are no joke. I taped off the teak to keep paint off the wood.
I painted a coat of primer and two coats of paint on all the fiberglass surfaces, and where I was painting wood, I applied an additional coat of primer. I allowed it to dry for 24 hours before moving anything into the space.
The white paint immediately brightened the spaces, and fresh sheets, pillows and blankets made it feel finished. I replaced the v-berth cushions with an 8-inch memory foam mattress that I cut to fit the space - much more comfortable - and later added a latex mattress topper from Ikea, too.
In the head, I removed the marine head and built a small composting toilet, which I'll talk about in another post.
I knew some of my work might later be undone if I decided to make the boat a bigger project, and it's one of the things I struggled most with over the course of working on my boat. I hated the idea of spending time on a project, only to have to undo the work I'd done with another project later. But it's often the nature of boat projects, and too much fear of that can prevent you from getting anywhere. Indeed, I did end up sanding off all the paint that I applied and disassembling the composting toilet, but I don't regret doing those projects so early on, as it really helped to make it feel like home.
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.