Dark Hull Boats: Fact & Fiction

Since 1998, our boat, sv Winterlude, has had a dark dark green awlgrip hull, courtesy of the prior owner who had the boat painted.  Over 15 years later, it’s still the same dark dark shiny green.

When we were boat shopping, we saw a white Passport 37  in Annapolis.  Both of us proclaimed it the most boring boat we’d seen, and we’d seen a lot of boats at that point.  When our broker tried to convince us to go look at the dark hulled Passport 37, we almost didn’t go.  But the minute we saw it, even from a distance, both of us fell head over heels in love.

San Blas Islands, the Beach Is Just a Quick Swim Away...

San Blas Islands, the Beach Is Just a Quick Swim Away… Year 11 on the Awlgrip

Over the past 15 years and 15,000 miles of cruising, we’ve heard all the naysayers, but here’s our experience:

Fact and Fiction:  Dark color hulls are hot in the tropics.  Our experience is that the insulation in the boat has more to do with the temperature in the tropics.  Yes, our dark green is hot, but the inside the boat is mostly comfortable.  A test between our dark hulled boat and a friend’s white boat on an uncomfortably hot day revealed that their boat was just as uncomfortable if not more so.


Year 13 on the Awlgrip, still shiny in the Exumas.

Fiction:  Dark colors get “chalky” and fade.  Fact:  Any color boat can get “chalky” if not maintained.  In our opinion, a white chalky hull is just as ugly as a dark chalky hull.  The difference is it’s not as drastic a difference when viewed from across an anchorage.   A bit of polish and elbow grease once or twice a year will keep the chalk away.  In many cases, a white hulled boat is gelcoat from the manufacturer and a dark hulled boat is painted, although dark gelcoat is becoming more prevalent these days.  Red seems to be the worst color to fade and become chalky and blues and dark greens less so.  But that could be because the owners didn’t do the required maintenance. So POLISH the hull — awlgrip says no wax, but when we were out of the country and couldn’t get the recommended awlgrip polish, we used wax and have had no ill effects.

Fiction:  Dark hulled boats look dull after the first year.  Not ours.  Since we didn’t have the awlgrip done ourselves, we have no personal experience, just know that our hull has retained it’s shiny for 15 years.  A friend that paints boats told us that the key is including the clear awlgrip topcoat.  He showed us examples of two boats he had painted, one where the owner went to the expense of adding the clear topcoat and one that didn’t despite the recommendation.  Sure enough, one was severely faded and the other bright & shiny several years after the painting.   We saw another boat with a beautiful navy hull – the sides were shiny and bright, but the stern was dull and chalky – strange.  Talking to the owner, apparently the stern was painted years after the sides because he wanted to change the boat’s name.  He didn’t opt for the clear topcoat, thinking the paint was shiny and beautiful.  A few years later, he regretted the decision.

Anchored behind

Anchored behind “No Particular Cut” Southern Belize

We’ve known many boats over the years that opted for other brands of paint and while this is not a commercial for awlgrip, less expensive brands seemed to dull and fade quicker.  The application is also important – awlgrip is difficult to apply correctly, which is why it’s so darn expensive to get it re-painted.  But if not applied correctly, the finish will not last, resulting in less than gorgeous dark hulled boats.  So many variables!   We are watching a new brand called AlexSeal which may be somewhat more cost effective, but we want to see how it holds up over a few years on other boats before considering it for Winterlude.

Fact:  Dark color hulls are more difficult to see after dark.  However all boats can be difficult to see – especially if the anchor light is at the top of the mast where it blends in with the stars.  Fishermen and other boats flying through an anchorage aren’t necessarily looking up and if they do look up, often anchor lights blend in with a starry night.  Our anchor light is at the stern on the arch and we keep a solar light on the bow so both ends of the boat are illuminated.  We also have a dusk to dawn solar light in the cockpit that has enhanced visibility – these days, the bow is lit, the stern has the bright anchor light and the cockpit is lit as well, all night long.  The extra couple bucks for the bow light and $15 bucks for the solar cockpit light is a small price to pay to have the dark hull that makes my heart sing!


Mola ladies daily visits were a way of life for two years in the San Blas Islands, Kuna Yala, Panama

Fiction:  Dark hulled boats scratch more easily.  Wrong.  All boats get scratched.  Some dark hulled boats show scratches more than others. Alot depends on the paint – our experience is that properly applied awlgrip is a hard surface, resistant to scratches.  That being said, we have lots of scratches – but each contains a special memory.  From wooden cayucos full of mola ladies in the San Blas, fishermen in pangas everywhere, every scratch on our hull has an associated memory – most of them pleasant.  I will say, I’m glad the awlgrip was already in place when we bought the boat because the first few scratches after spending the money necessary to paint the boat would have broken my heart, temporarily.

Anyone with other experiences with dark hulled boats … or AlexSeal paints?  🙂  Please leave a comment and share!  Cheers!  Jan



  1. Hi Jan,

    What a timely post! We are preparing to repaint our new(to us) Krogen 38, which originally had a white hull and stern and a bright blue sheer and boot stripe, now faded to a battleship gray and a chalky white. We’re thinking of a either a dark mahogany red sheer and boot or a high gloss super black sheer and boot, or the reverse and leaving the sheer and boot white and a dark color on the hull and stern. Your comment about red leads me away from the dark red and my husband is partial to black. We too have heard that dark boats are hotter in the tropics and having had a black glossy powerboat my husband is loathe to spend one single more hour polishing a black boat, so I might have to settle for just a sheer stripe of color. I agree that colored boats are infinitely years more attractive than plain white ones.

  2. There is a scientific reason green and blue colors last longer than red. The color red is closer to the end of the spectrum of light where the damaging rays like gamma and xrays are located. Blue and green is on the end of the spectrum that is further-est from that part of the spectrum where damage is caused. And, I agree about the maintenance. I have my Hunter 37 spray painted with PPG truck paint over 10 years ago and it looks great!. The guys painting the boat showed me where there were ‘rose’ cracks in the hull where it had laid on it’s side and bounced (during a hurricane probably), and he said that with the hull being fiberglass, it will flex in the future and that the cracks may show back up. Well, with my using the PPG truck paint, they haven’t. The PPG truck paint has been on fiberglass semi trailers for the last 30 years now and they flex and bend, and they’re holding up well. Also, the price was way less than awlgrip or the other exotic paints. I paid to have it put on ‘properly’, and I’ve waxed it 8 times since then, and it’s held up really great. Wanna see it? www sailh37 com
    s/v Renasci

  3. Robert Beal says:

    On the anchor light you mentioned here “Davis Mega-Light” I just received a citation here in Savannah, GA…. the light was purchased in Connecticut. The local marine police here claim it is not a proper anchor light. I wrote the company (as well) and will be looking forward to their reply. Meanwhile… I hoisted a white all around light, with the light mounted on a pole and jib halyard attached about one foot below the light, hence when the line reaches the pulley and stops, the pole still has the light above the top of the mast. Course you stated it’s going to look like a star and yes our hull is dark blue, nice paint Interlux Toplac (but now how to fine) rated for a 10 year life span. Happy sails and all enjoy your boat.

  4. John Court says:

    I have a Sparkman & Stephens 45ft LOA yawl, built in 2010 to a 1945 design.
    I agree that white hulls look particularly boring so I specified Flag Blue on my wooden hull. I was advised that a dark colour will exhibit “print-through”, showing planking lines or the fibreglass matting used to seal the hull from worm.
    My experience has been mixed with the blue showing up scratches more readily and a small area of print-through showing under a certain light but I have never regretted the choice of colour. Most people passing by seem to agree with me.
    Inside, the boat is not overly hot as the 32mm wood hull thickness acts as a great insulator. Ventilation is the key.
    If I was to recommend a build material to someone planning a new boat, I would advocate triple planked screwed and glued every time, with a colour to match the style of boat and a clear protective top coat for sure.

  5. I’ve been trying to come up with what color I should have my boat painted. It’s interesting that dark colors can look so nice for a boat! I’ll have to see if I can have mine painted black like that.

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