At present, the most widely regarded techniques for foul prevention are preventing growth by keeping the boat clear of water (as well as regular scrubbing), the application of some sort of ablative antifoul, coating with a semi-permanent copper treatment, and in more modern developments, foul release coatings.
Of these options, keeping your boat out of the water without any form of paint applied is the best way to increase speed, reduce fuel efficiency (a 34-knot boat can lose 2 knots from a generous layer of paint alone) and prevent fouling. Together with being the most environmentally sound option, having a polished gelcoat with no paint will seamlessly cut through the water with reduced drag compared to copper-oxide based antifoul coating. But unfortunately, unless you can afford to keep your boat out of the water and suspended on a lift or dry stacking system, this method is highly inconvenient. A newly polished hull will need scrubbing down every few weeks and a scratched or pitted one will attract growth in a few days.
Antifouling paints and semi-permanent treatments work by dissuading and, more often than not, killing off organic matter by use of a biocide, usually a copper compound. Copper oxide and copper thiocyanate are common biocides incorporated by antifouls that can work in conjunction with co-biocides that target specific types of algae and slime.
Cuprotect and copper coat are examples of longer term treatments which rely on copper alone. They are usually in the form of tiny copper granules sprayed onto or suspended on a non-eroding resin coating.
A more contemporary solution to fouling is the use of foul release coatings such as AquaMarine FRC. These coatings use silicone and fluropolymer technologies to create a super-smooth hydrophobic layer which segregates an apparent repulsion between water and nonpolar substances. So, it repels and attracts at the same time. This surface means that marine life finds it difficult to attach to. Therefore, this means any biofoul can literally be wiped or jet washed off.
It is widely regarded that a conventional eroding antifoul paint is harmful but effective initially, becoming much less so over time. The longer-term treatments should maintain a similar, yet arguably less effective performance year after year.
Over time, all antifouls become less effective and this relates to the fact that all ablative paints work in the same way. The active biocides, like cuprous oxide and other algaecides, are held in an inert resin paint matrix (pigments, solvents, binders and small amounts of other additives). The active biocides progressively leach out of the paint matrix after being submerged in water in order to hinder any fouling growth. Consequently, this eventually leaves behind a honeycomb of ‘dead’ paint.
As the boat moves through the water or if left to the effects of a tidal birth, this ‘dead’ paint will be worn away revealing a fresh biocide-laden layer. When boats are left unused for extended periods of time or in non-tidal births, problems start to develop. Slime and barnacles are able to settle on a thicker layer of ‘dead’ paint that accumulates.
In an effort to tackle this issue, some antifouling paints have been tinkered with by fine-tuning the leach rate of the biocides and the eroding properties of the paint matrix. This has allowed manufacturers to extend the life of antifoul paints by two or more seasons. However, this does not nullify the issue that boats are left unused for long periods of time.
Tributyl tin (TBT) paints of the 1980’s are true self polishing copolymers that were thought to maintain the same high level of performance regardless of whether the boat was static or moving. The active biocide, tributyl tin oxide, is a colourless soluble product that is chemically part of the paint matrix itself. As the TBT is exposed to the water, a chemical reaction can take place in which a soluble compound is formed that can dissolve in the water.
This antifoul does not rely on the physical action of the water passing over the hull, instead allowing for the chemical reaction to expose the fresh new layer of biocide-laden paint. As a result, this means that it prevents the annual build-up of paint, can be brightly coloured or left clear, may make older boats faster by smoothing out imperfections on the hull surface and most importantly provide consistent performance even when the boat is left in the marina.
Unfortunately, TBT left in high enough concentrations around estuaries was found to cause severe, long lasting damage to marine life. This lead to a ban on the use of TBT’s for leisure vessels under 25m in the UK and Holland in the 1980’s.
Although many boat owners stocked up on TBT’s during this time or even attempted to purchase it at present from unscrupulous sources, the culmination of a worldwide ban in 2002 means that its use is prohibited and heavily frowned upon.
Conversely, foul release coatings are eco-friendly as compared to toxic antifouls and possess the same consistent long term effect of TBT based foul repellents. The silicone based coatings can act as a non-harmful reverse adhesive layer that biofoul find very difficult to adhere to and lasting around 5 years!
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