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Removing old and applying new boat lettering and graphics

There comes a time in every boat’s life where the lettering displaying your boat’s name needs upgrading. What is the best way to remove old lettering and graphics from your boat? You might decide to use a new font for your boat’s name, or even add some graphics to the boat for best effect.Another reason for adding new lettering and graphic accents to your boat might be that you have decided to sell it and want to create the best aesthetically pleasing look to your boat that you can.

First determine what kind of surface you are dealing with. A plastic scraper and soapy water will usually do the trick to remove most decals without doing damage to the boat’s topcoat. For the soapy water mixture you can simply add dishwashing liquid to water. The dishwashing liquid acts as a lubricant and stops unsightly scratching of the surface and it prevents any residual adhesive from reattaching itself after it has been lifted by the scraper. Use a plastic scraper with quite a fine edge, sourced from your local paint shop, for the best results.

Boat decal graphic

Spray the decal or graphics that you want to remove with the mixture of soapy water. Hold the scraper at an acute angle in relation to the surface you are working on and then slice along the edge of the decal where it meets the surface. Essentially what you are trying to do is get the scraper blade underneath the decal and begin raising it up off the surface. Use short pulling down movements and lift the decal little by little. Once the decal is sufficiently lifted, see if you can carefully pull it off the side of the boat. In many instances the decal will have become brittle over time and when you apply force to it, it will tear and break. If this happens, simply start the process again with the plastic scraper using short sharp downward cutting movements to lift the balance of the decal. Remember to spray liberal amounts of soapy water on the area you are working on.

When you have successfully removed the decal, you will need to remove the adhesive still left on the boat. For this you will need a solvent to dissolve the trace adhesive. When the decal and residual adhesive has been removed, it is a good idea to buff the area lightly. This will blend in the area that was previously covered by the lettering and other decals with the surrounding area, before the application of the new graphics to the side of the boat takes place.

Ensure the surface is clean before starting. The best time to clean the boat and apply the decal is during a windless, warm day. Clean the application surface thoroughly with soapy water to remove salt deposits and dirt and then rinse with water. Use a diluted Isopropyl alcohol spray over the designated area and wipe off any residual moisture with a microfibre cloth.

Using a tape measure, find the vertical centre of the area where the decal is to be applied and mark it off lightly. Now take the vinyl graphic and fold it in half lightly pressing the fold into the backing paper. Now align the faint crease on the backing paper with your vertical centre mark on the boat.

Align the decal and (not the backing paper) to your horizontal reference line, which could be a rub rail or beading. Use masking tape to secure the graphic or lettering in place and then stand back and look for any alignment issues. Small alignment issues will not be noticed when standing right in front of the graphic. Make your final adjustments, tape off the entire top section of the graphic with masking tape and then remove any small bits of masking tape that were initially keeping the decal in place. Stand back once more and carefully check for any alignment issues.

Peel away the backing paper slowly and allow the decal to begin to stick to the surface using a squeegee to smooth out any bubbles. If you go past an area and then notice a bubble, simply pull up the decal until you reach the bubble, then reapply the decal using pressure from the squeegee to remove the bubble. Working with the squeegee at all times as you lay the decal onto the surface is best.

Once the decal has been completely smoothed out on the surface of the boat, you can peel off the transfer paper beginning at one of the top corners and pulling down at a 45 degree angle. Keep an eye on the decal underneath to ensure it does not begin to lift (particularly the corners of the lettering and decal corners), as you remove the transfer paper.

Getting rid of unsightly graphics and old boat names and replacing them with sparkling new ones has never been easier and is well within the capabilities of every boater. With a little preparation and choosing the best possible graphics, your boat can become a good looker.


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