The Art of Applying
Boat Varnish

Working with boat varnish is truly an art!

When you apply it skillfully and maintain it properly, the results are amazing. The woodwork shines brightly and your boat will attract the views of other sailors around you!

Now, to get that mirror-like coat of varnish, you need to follow some rules, have lots of patience, use quality products and lots of practice, of course.


One thing that is so important with varnish, is a good preparation! Without that, you can't get a decent result.


What do you need?

Before you actually start, get all the necessary tools on board or in your garage / shed.

You will need:

  • A few quality brushes
  • Thinner
  • Boat varnish
  • Rags
  • Mixing containers
  • Masking tape
  • Floor protection
  • Sandpaper
  • Sander
  • Heatgun




boat varnishing tools


Apart from all these things, you need to protect yourself. There will be dust flying around, you will work with harmfull chemicals and so on.


protection when applying boat varnish


You only have 2 eyes, 2 ears,... and protective material is not expensive, so really a no-brainer!

Safety goggles, a protecting jumpsuit, ear protectors, dust mask, fume mask and gloves are all available at your local hardware shop!


Determine the State of the Wood

Before we start applying boat varnish, we need to decide where we have to start in the whole process.

If you start from bare wood, then it is obvious. You will have to go through all the steps.

If there is already varnish on, we have to look at the state of it.

cracked boat varnish
worn boat varnish


In case the varnish is in a bad condition, which means cracked, worn out, is peeling off and so on, then there's only one way to go and that's stripping all the old layers.


Everything needs to come off and needs to be sanded to prepare the wood for the new varnish.


When the boat varnish is still in good condition, then you only have to sand it lightly to apply some new fresh coats again.


When you know this, you also know that it's far more easy to keep your varnish in a good state.


This you do by putting on a few coats regularly.


Far more better than to let it fall apart which brings you much more work!

good boat varnish

Start Sanding!

Now we know the state of the wood, we know where to start sanding.

Why sanding?

Because it removes the roughness and blemishes of the surface and it makes sure that the boat varnish has something to grip on. Without that, the varnish has no tooth to grip on and will flake off easily.

Remember that you always have to sand in the direction of the grain! Otherwise, you will make scratches that you will see through the transparant varnish!

Okay then,...

If you start from bare wood, you have to prepare the surface for the first layer. Start by using a 80 grit sandpaper. Or a 40 grit if the wood surface is really rough. 

sander for boat varnish

You can use a hand sander when the surface is big and flat.


If it's a small area with lots of bends and corners, you will have to do it by hand.


After the 80 grit, you go finer to 120 grit. After that, 180 grit.


The surface should feel really smooth!

sandpaper wood

If that's the case, take the vacuum cleaner with brush on the nozzle and pass over the surface.

After that, you take a clean rag and you put some thinner on it. This cleans the surface, so that every dust particle is gone!

Now, you're ready to apply the first coat of boat varnish!


When you're woodwork is still in good condition, start sanding with a 180 grit.



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