Hints and tips for choos­ing a colour scheme, how many pan­els to di­vide the cabin sides into, how much dec­o­ra­tion - and what makes the cabin look shorter or longer?

Canal Boat - - CONTENTS -

One thing’s for sure, it’s up to you. A fresh coat of paint in the same colour or a dar­ing makeover. And only you and your reg­u­lar pas­sen­gers need to like it. And once you’ve com­pleted the job there’s no boat to beat it. Stick to some sim­ple guide­lines and you’ll be turn­ing heads on the tow­path.

The choice of red and green doesn’t have to be avoided just be­cause there’s a lot of it about. It’s seen up and down the net­work be­cause it works. They were com­mon colours for work­ing boats but a mod­ern take is turn­ing to­wards a fairly dark green and mid­dle to bright red. How­ever, a less fash­ion­able mid-green paired with a red that is head­ing for or­ange looks fresher and sharper.

With mod­ern boats, strong colours in the most dom­i­nant ar­eas of­ten look more ele­gant than light ones. Navy blue gives a feel­ing of depth and strength for in­stance that a light blue wouldn’t. The same is true of most colours. Even a mid-chrome yel­low has more punch than le­mon chrome.

Just as im­por­tant is the level of con­trast and colour bal­ance be­tween ma­jor colours and the se­condary ones. It’s safe and ef­fec­tive to have two shades of the same colour – per­haps deep Brunswick green paired with light Brunswick green set off with a red handrail and an off-white line – or a deep crim­son off­set by a re­lated but brighter red – with a gold line.

Gold lines cer­tainly work well if the ma­jor colours are rich and dark and then even the sign­work could be in gold as well, pro­vided

there was some light/bright con­trast to stop things look­ing muddy. Some­times, though, colours can­not be sep­a­rated from the over­all de­sign of a liv­ery; you need to con­sider colour and lay­out at the same time, and that can get com­pli­cated.


Now for the ba­sic but im­por­tant rules of graph­ics when choos­ing a colour scheme: If you paint the gun­wale and the gun­wale sides the same colour as the cabin side, the boat will look shorter. If you di­vide the cabin side up into lots of sep­a­rate pan­els, again the boat will look shorter. If your boat has a typ­i­cally mod­ern for’end with a rel­a­tively short deck, if you cram loads of di­a­monds, cir­cles and half moons and so on onto the top bends (the bits ei­ther side that sweep up to the stem bar) once again, the boat will look shorter. When the job is done and ready for sign­writ­ing, try to avoid stick­ing scrolls or roses, or any­thing else for that mat­ter, be­tween the win­dows or port­holes.

Now, with ref­er­ence to the above, boats are, it of­ten seems to me, rather like the

bon­nets of cer­tain sports cars in that, gen­er­ally, shorter is not good. Re­mem­ber that, when think­ing up a range of trad de­signs for the front, that the fore­deck of a car­ry­ing boat, and there­fore the bend below it, is well over six feet long.

If your boat has a cruiser stern and lots of win­dows I think that one panel, go­ing the full length of the cabin is enough. It’s al­most in­evitable that di­vid­ing it up will look con­trived since the pan­els will be en­tirely dic­tated by the po­si­tion and size of the win­dows rather the ac­tual shape of the boat. Some­thing sim­ple that is well pre­sented works won­der­fully well.

If a boat is what is known as a ‘trad’ there should hope­fully be port­holes, at least at the back end of the cabin. This al­lows more free­dom in the plac­ing of pan­els, al­though aes­thet­ics dic­tate that one big panel, with a smaller one in front of it, lead­ing then to one long one go­ing along to the front, is the most taste­ful way – if you want the whole cabin side pan­elled that is.

Bet­ter to my eye, es­pe­cially if the boat is a good replica of work­ing boat, is what I’ve come to call an ‘all or noth­ing’ scheme. In such a lay­out, the back end of the cabin is pan­elled like an old car­ry­ing boat: a large panel at the back, a smaller en­gine room panel in­clud­ing the doors, and a very slim panel in front of that.

Equally well, the doors could form a panel of their own. From there for­ward, you sim­ply set­tle for a con­tin­u­a­tion of the handrail with the re­main­der plain, and per­haps a dif­fer­ent but com­pli­men­tary main colour, or car­ry­ing a thin line – prefer­ably the same colour as the handrail, not nec­es­sar­ily the same colour as the ‘coach’ or ‘stress’ lines around the pan­els at the back. That re­ally looks the busi­ness as long as the plain bits are well fin­ished. Then you can go to town on the for’end and ‘cratch’ board.

So you have a glo­ri­ously let­tered and dec­o­rated chunk at the back (one third of the over­all cabin length is plenty) pre­ceded by a lovely ele­gant sa­loon, or what­ever, all an­nounced by a beau­ti­fully dec­o­ra­tive for’end.

Of course, there’s al­ways an al­ter­na­tive! A boat of ele­gant pro­por­tions and style can be painted with al­most se­vere sim­plic­ity. Colours don’t have to sing, they can also whis­per. Just re­mem­ber that the plainer the lay­out, the fewer places has the painter to hide.

If you are go­ing to paint a big boat in a plain but highly taste­ful way, and it can pro­duce a truly stun­ning re­sult, you will have to paint it well. Very well.

One last thing, make sure the shapes you cre­ate suit the shape of the boat. Don’t im­pose a lay­out just be­cause you fancy it – square pegs, round holes etc.

Keep the sur­face clean dur­ing the project

Each to their own when it comes to a colour scheme

A smooth fin­ish pro­vides the per­fect key

Flak­ing paint must be re­moved

CAre­ful mask­ing for panel paint­ing

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