AquaMarine: Fouling In general - Part 1

November 29, 2016

AquaMarine: Fouling In general - Part 1


Fouling, what is it? What are the issues associated with it? Let’s talk about fouling in general and antifouling paints in this four part series. As well as looking at differing types of boat fouling, we’ll also take a peek at some history discussing the age-old pest that boat owners are only too familiar with.

What are the main types of fouling?

More accurately ‘biofouling’ is the accumulation of plant and animal life that can be found on a variety of submerged marine surfaces such as boat owner’s precious hulls and propellers to rocks and oil-rigs.

Among the fouling family, two closely related yet distinctly different subdivisions exist: macro-fouling and micro-fouling.

The bulkier, eye-sore of these two-family members is macro-fouling. This is the barnacles, mussels, tubeworm, sea squirts and seaweed that graffiti your beautiful boat surface.

Microscopic bio-organisms like slime, bacteria among other small algal life forms are the minuscule ingredients which collect forming a less obvious, yet considerable fouling layer known as micro-fouling.

Why should it worry me?

Though a prominent problem for some boat owners who are more image conscious regarding their prize possession is the unsightly appearance of fouling, a more practical issue which should be a major cause for your concern is the effect of fouling on your boat’s performance.

Left untreated a significant build-up of fouling can have an immediate detrimental effect on your boat’s speed and fuel efficiency. Alarmingly, light build-up of fouling can knock five knots off your top speed leading to a shocking 30% increase in fuel consumption on planing powerboats.

Heavier growth could possibly prevent a boat from planing altogether! Worried about what your boat is looking like under those murky waters yet?

Where can fouling occur?

Fouling can vary from place to place and year to year due to contributing factors such as: water temperature/ salinity, level of sunlight, quantity of nutrients among other fluctuating conditions. 

The most common area of fouling on boats is the hulls and propellers which spend the most time submerged in the water, susceptible to adhesion. In addition, hulls and tubes of rib boats beneath the waterline are also an attractive surface for fouling to attach.

As a fouling rule of thumb, a higher water temperature correlates to greater growth. This trend has been accounted for across the UK, but this is the reason boat owners in the Mediterranean suffer the wrath of fouling the worst.

Is fouling a new problem?

No. Fouling has always been an issue. Legendary voyagers like Christopher Columbus and Sir Walter Raleigh had their own classical methods of dealing with the nuisance of fouling by using pitch, tar and whale grease.

The most prevalent method employed by the lumbering sailing ships of yesteryear was careening. In an extremely labored effort, careening meant that the ship would have to be tipped on its side followed by lighting small fires under the hull, then scraping off the softened pitch by hand. Eurgh!

Progressively, the introduction of metal sheathing using first lead and then later copper and zinc emerged in the 1700’s. So, have we moved on?

Ground glass, red lead, sulfur and even guano have been experimented with as boat antifouling over the years. The effectiveness of these dubious antifouling paints and potions, has been unpredictable. But more recently, more potent and ecological foul battling weapons have been produced, like foul release coatings. Yet it seems that for the moment, traditional antifoul is still a preferred method. However, with the introduction of bans on these kinds of protection, perhaps the time is now to start looking at foul release as an alternative to antifoul.

Who knows where Christopher Columbus might have explored with a trusty kit of AquaMarine handy on deck?

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