Moving heaven & earth - Just how do you remove antifouling?

March 01, 2017

Nobody enjoys it, but with antifoul coatings it needs to be done right and it needs to be done regularly

After the biocide-laden layers of antifoul coatings have been exhausted and withered away, the boat surface is left as an unsound wasteland with chips of naked boat skin, primed and ready for the lurking fouling species just itching to cosy-up to a new surface of which they can call home.

As such, the antifouling paint, whether its more easily removing self-erodiing paint or thick built-up hard antifouling, must be stripped back vigorously and religiously on usually an annual basis so that the vessel can be sufficiently armed with poisonous chemicals ready to be leached into the oceans. It’s a labour-intensive process, and it doesn’t get any easier year after year. There aren’t many boat owners who can testify to enjoying the task. Here are a few tips when it comes to removing the outdated method of fouling prevention - antifoul coatings.

Signs that it’s time to get rid?

There are some clear indications that it’s time to carry out the stripping process. Flaking which reveals ragged edges where paint is beginning to peel off is an obvious one. Also, water trapped under the surface of the paint creating blisters which can be easily popped shows that the paint is frail and ineffective.  Additionally, layers of old paint creating a moonscape effect on the bottom that appear like craters are also a sure sign it’s time to refurbish. So, if your bottom is in a bad way, it’s also important to realise that it’s a DIY job that needs to be tended to, unless you can afford an expert blasting service.

How do you get the stuff off?

First things first, the removal of antifoul paint needs to be treat with caution. The paint and its derivatives can be harmful when coming into contact with all living organisms – including humans, so it’s best to suit up. The correct PPE entails safety spectacles, visors or goggles, overalls, nitrile rubber gloves and a solvent mask or respirator. So, you might end up looking like your about to enter an area of chemical warfare – but at least you’ll be safe. It’s also good practice to conduct your boat canvas stripping in an area that is well ventilated to keep the fumes flowing out.

Next, a little bit of preparation is required. The loose paint hanging on for dear life needs to be jet washed off making sure to be collected completely and disposed of correctly therefore not contaminating the surrounding environment. After this, masking tape should be applied to the areas that are subject to undressing and then it’s time to clear away the unwanted layers of paint. To do so, there are a few different options you can employ to purify your surface.

Chemical stripping is the technique that seasoned boat antifoulers will most likely be familiar with. This method can be particularly nasty to deal with but relieves some of the labour of other methods, so it’s imperative to tick off every safety box before you lather on the strippers/ thinners and scrape off the waste with any sort of easy-to-use scraper, although it is recommended to use synthetic-bristled brushes for best results. It’s important to make sure that your using a stripper that is safe to use on GRP – don’t want to be charring so deep into the boat surface! In a nut shell, chemical stripping is effective but expensive and sometimes messy.

Blasting is a procedure that is offered by various outside services to do the job effectively and expertly, unfortunately this isn’t always the most economically viable option. Nevertheless, soda blasting can be performed DIY and although slow, this can be an easy method to use which can become cheaper if you team up with a group of boat buddies to share the services of the blasting apparatus you hire.

Manual scraping is the most primitive, cheapest and possibly quickest way to peel away the antifouling. Paint scrapers can essentially be any sort of sharp edged tool, however, there are a number of scraping tools which are known to work well with boat surfaces;  triangular paint scrapers which give multiple surfaces for scraping allowing a longer time before needing to be cleaned or sharpened, bahco scrapers which are the sharpest and therefore can be the most effective at ripping off even the most stubborn and thick anti foul, and finally standard flat blade scrapers which are most suitable for removing flakes of paint but need to be rounded off at the edges or else they are even more likely to dig into the paint and disrupt the gel coat. In combination with the previously mentioned chemical strippers, scraping can be made very simple as the chemical coat weakens the layers of paint over night meaning it can be easily slimed off.

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