Chip and flake

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Should you paint a fibreglass boat?

Is it worthwhile painting a fibreglass boat? Well, the answer, according to marine surveyors, is a resounding yes. Many boats use gelcoat for their exterior finish. Gelcoat has two main functions: it allows the hull to be easily removed from the mould when it is going through its initial construction; and it gives the finished hull a great look for the end product as the polished gelcoat gleems – or it shows off any subtle imperfections.

Some gelcoats are better quality than others and offer a much longer lasting solution, but other gelcoats are prone to fading and chalking after only a few years. Higher quality gelcoats will enjoy a much longer lifespan than their cheaper counterparts. Hulls than show signs of early chalking and oxidation will need to be painted. Painting a hull can be expensive, but it is often the only practical solution, and, if it is done properly, the new finish should last for a decade or more.

Using a proper boat repair and maintenance shop to do the hull paint and using good quality hull paint is key. Going for a backyard paint job done with cheap materials will simply put you back where you started.

Proper preparation of the hull is important for a good result. Much of the cost associated with painting the hull is put down to the preparation and the completed job is only as good as the preparation that comes first. Old hulls that have spent many years being waxed pose a problem when applying the new layer of paint and a thorough dewaxing and sanding needs to take place. New paint simply plastered over existing defects and old layers of paint will magnify these defects. Be sure to go over the hull with the painter and review clearly what needs to be done.

There is no getting around removing the hardware before the painting job starts. Not removing the hardware will leave the boat with a bad paint job. Instruct the painter to remove every possible piece of hardware before beginning painting. Taping off and painting around hardware looks tacky! Removing hardware can be costly and take time, but the completed look will be much more professional. Paint tends to crack and chip more readily at the taped off or masked areas and this in turn allows water to penetrate under the paint and cause flaking.

Where possible, all wood trim should be completely removed before painting begins. This is for two reasons, the first being the same as the hardware removal on the boat and the second is that wood absorbs and holds a lot of moisture which can then get under the paint and cause cracking. The area under wooden features should be primed and prepared before painting.

The best time to paint is during warm, dry periods. In South Africa we have a moderate climate with good summers and this offers painters a large window of opportunity to paint during those months. For the best results, use a painter that offers indoor painting facilities as the finish on the boat will be a lot better.

Small, confined or recessed areas are difficult to spray and if not treated carefully can result in what is called orange peel and overspray, which can be very unsightly. It is often better to find a skilled brush painter for these areas.

Any anodised aluminium window and door frames should not be painted because paint has difficulty adhering to the surface. Most often the window frames and door frames have stainless steel screws and the dissimilarities between the metals cause galvanic corrosion and the consequent blistering of the paint.

Plastic mouldings should also be removed before painting as the stainless screws that hold the mouldings in place expand at a different rate to the plastic and this causes cracking of the paint and subsequent flaking.

• Specify the nature of the task that is required and the exact preparation you require.
• Specify the primers required and the finish coats that you want used. (Fact find before making your decision).
• Specify the defects that you will not accept after the job is done, such as dust in the finish, over-spray, paint runs and orange peel effect. It might not be possible to avoid all of these issues, but they need to be minimised.
• Don’t pay the full price up front. Rather put half the money down in advance and pay the balance on completion if the job is done to your satisfaction.

• Do not use abrasive cleaners and harsh detergents to clean the hull.
• Use a soft mop or cloth when cleaning.
• Hard bristle brushes will scratch the paint.
• Industrial fallout can build up quickly if the boat is not regularly cleaned and the acid in it can damage the paint.
• Wash the boat down thoroughly to remove all salt deposits.
• Wax the boat at least once per year. Painting your fibreglass boat requires some investigation prior to the work starting. Find a good, reputable painter and ensure that you follow the steps set out above to get your boat looking its absolute best.

Don’t make the mistake of taking the cheapest paint option as you might end up having to rename your boat “Chip”.


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