Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Getting Your Boat Ready for the Season

By Kathy A. Smith

From the engine room to the hull paint, proper maintenance extends the life of the vessel and on-board equipment throughout the season and beyond. No one knows this better than the West Coast repair facilities that see the results of both good and bad vessel maintenance. Here are some tips from repair yards to help owners get their boats in shape for the next season.

Regular Maintenance

One of the best ways to save money is to plan for regular maintenance. Vessel owners should work with shipyards to prepare a work plan to maximize time spent out of the water. A proper plan and long-term maintenance program helps the shipyard get more done with less time in dock. If owners wait too long to book their maintenance time, they could end up having to dock during peak operational times.

Schedule maintenance well in advance and put it on the calendar. If maintenance is not planned appropriately with enough lead time – even a year or two ahead – vessel owners may find there isn't dock space and have to delay maintenance or go further away from their home port, both of which increase costs. Additionally, to help the yard prepare, it is wise to provide drawings and vessel details to the shipyard ahead of time, which helps them prepare for the work. If work is to be done in or around fuel tanks, it's best to come in with low fuel so the yard doesn't have to remove it, adding to the time/cost. Emptying the stores is also advised so that any perishable food does not spoil during haul time. If other work is to take place at the same time, for example, engine work, make sure the shipyard is aware of other contractors who will have to be cleared.

Expect the Unexpected

Weather can always be an issue in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska so finding a yard with indoor facilities and outdoor vessel covers will help protect vessels as they're being worked on. One of the goals of regular inspections and maintenance is to identify and fix problems in drydock so vessel owners don't have to deal with them at sea during the fishing season. In order to ensure boats get to sea on time, leave as much time as possible between scheduled maintenance and the start of the season in order to address any unexpected issues.

Adam Beck, President of Vigor Alaska and Director of Regional Operations, says: "Whether it's accidental damage or unexpected wear and tear discovered during a scheduled inspection, repairs cannot all be planned in advance. That's why "Be Flexible" is a guiding principle of Vigor's company culture. With the most drydocks and locations in the Pacific Northwest and a responsive mobile workforce, we're able to meet the vast majority of customer demands for unexpected, time-sensitive repair work in Oregon, Washington and Alaska."

The company also has a "travel corps" of mobile ship repair experts. The travel corps team can often fix problems on the spot, and if not they can reduce turnaround time by preparing a vessel for drydock on the way to port.

Bryan Nichols, Vigor Industrial's Sales & Marketing Manager adds: "Beyond regular maintenance and repair, we're seeing more major refits and upgrades to fishing vessels," he says. "As the fishing fleet ages, we are seeing more companies upgrade existing vessels to combine existing quota or purchase new quota, catch fish more efficiently and more efficiently process their catch."

For all vessels, regardless of construction, proper application and maintenance of the exterior substrate and coatings is essential. The following are key points, tips and recommendations from Phil Riise, President of Seaview Boatyard, located in Seattle and Bellingham, on how best to maximize the longevity of commercial fishing vessels, whether they're constructed of wood, fiberglass, steel or aluminum.

Wooden Vessels

Above the water line: For wood vessels, one-part alkyd enamel or one-part urethane enamel is recommended. Pettit and Interlux are the most popular manufacturers of these enamel-based systems. To protect the hull, enamel coatings should be renewed annually or every other year at minimum. As these coatings deteriorate, moisture can get into the wood substrate of the hull. Once coatings begin to fail, strip removal of the hull down to bare wood must be considered. This process, known as "wooding" the vessel is typically done on a 10- to 15-year cycle. Once complete, it should be followed by inspection of seams and fasteners, sanding to the proper surface profile, application of two to three coats of primer and two coats of enamel topcoat (proper millage is key). Any time paint starts to fail, there is a good reason. Ensure topside coatings are tight/well-adhered to the surface in order to prevent water intrusion and rot. Awareness of the condition and adhesion of coatings and the caulking at guards and seams will reduce the potential for damage to a vessel's hull.

Below the water line: Most wood vessels should be hauled out annually and have a soft copper-based bottom paint applied. The typical lifespan of these paints is a single year, so annual renewal is key. There are several different anti-fouling paints to choose from and budget is an important factor in selecting the right paint. Regardless of product, adhesion is key and good surface preparation is essential. The recommended cycle for wooding underwater surfaces is the same as that above the waterline. Every 10 to 15 years the hull coatings should be removed and re-applied. Once the hull has been stripped to bare, application of two coats of soft copper anti-foulant – (1) soaker coat and (1) full strength coat will provide sufficient anti-fouling protection for wood vessels.

FRP Vessels

Above the water line: The care and maintenance of gelcoat is vital to the longevity of these coatings. Gelcoated surfaces should be waxed on an annual basis to maintain both condition and appearance. Use a liquid wax from 3M, but there are many good products on the market to choose from. Depending upon the oxidation level of the gelcoat, the use of a rubbing compound like 3M Imperial Compound may be required prior to application of a liquid wax in order to fully restore the appearance of the gelcoat. At some point, gelcoat will reach the end of its lifespan and begin to fail. Instead of re-applying gelcoat, use a two-part linear polyurethane paint such as Awlgrip or Alexseal. Alexseal is the superior product given its longevity – up to 10 years with proper care. It is also easier to repair than most other products on the market. The key to a successful LP urethane application is, again, surface preparation and millage. Ensure that all wax residue has been neutralized prior to application of primer and topcoat (two to three coats each). LP urethane coatings are versatile and can be applied to both the hull and the house. An additional benefit of these products is that they require no maintenance other than washing with a non-abrasive cleaner. Check with the paint manufacture for care recommendations, but these products are typically very easy to maintain in like-new condition.

Below the water line: Regardless of whether a vessel is new or old, barrier coat systems are strongly recommended as a proven preventative measure and the best means of protection against the possibility of osmotic blisters. Barrier coat may be applied prior to the first application of bottom paint or following the removal of anti-foulant build-up, typically done every 10 years. For FRP boats, anti-foulant choices include copolymers for displacement boats and hard base paints for semi and planing hulls. As new anti-fouling technologies emerge, many paint manufacturers have introduced copper-free and metal-free paints to their product lines – Sea Hawk Smart Solutions, Pettit Hydrocoat and Interlux Pacifica, for instance. While not required on commercial vessels, these new paints align with environmental concerns and wild fisheries, an ideal combination of performance and eco-consciousness.

Aluminum and Steel Vessels

Above the water line: Unlike steel vessels, aluminum vessels do not require a coating system above the water line. However, if painting is opted for, the process is essentially the same as that for steel hull vessels. Ameron, International and Alexseal are the product lines of choice for these types of vessels. In both cases, proper surface preparation – blasting or sanding – is essential. The hull surface must be clean and dry prior to application of Hi Build epoxy primer and subsequent application of topcoat. Follow cure times and recoat schedules provided by the manufacturer, along with millage recommendations for primer and topcoat to ensure proper application and adhesion. Applied correctly and with periodic maintenance, the lifespan of the above mentioned products can be in excess of 8 to 10 years. Ameron's Prep 88 water-based degreaser is recommended as a surface preparation for maintenance re-application of steel and aluminum hull coatings. This one-step product reduces repainting costs by eliminating sanding, solvent wiping and blasting from the recoat process and extends coating lifespan by ensuring good adhesion of paint to the hull surface.

Below the water line: For both aluminum and steel vessels, the same coating system process applies through the primer phase. Copper-free and metal-free coatings are a good alternative for both steel and aluminum hulls as they eliminate potential issues that arise with dissimilar metals. Anti-foulant coatings can typically require a minimum of two coats in the initial application and a single renewal coat if your vessel is hauled and painted annually. As with the above the waterline coating systems, lifespan of these systems is approximately eight to 10 years.

Follow Directions

Many of the coating systems today have moisture-cure primers. If work is being done outdoors, weather will be a critical factor. Choose the best times of the year; either spring or fall to ensure optimal conditions for specific applications. Each manufacturer has specific instructions on re-coat times so follow their guidelines to the letter. If the application of coatings is rushed, it will lead to future unexpected costs because solvents will become entrapped in between the coats. In some cases, the solvents can attack prior coats, forming blisters that will release the coatings from the surface and cause them to detach from the hull. If this occurs, it may require a complete redo of the coating system.

The most important factor is to know your product. Weather and temperature constraints, recoat schedules and millage requirements are all central elements of a successful application. Proper care and maintenance as dictated by the manufacturer are critical to ensuring the longevity of that application.


The marine industry continues to move from zinc to aluminum anodes. These cadmium-free aluminum anodes are more cost-effective, provide better cathodic protection and are better for the environment. All vessels should be hauled annually as part of a regular maintenance routine that includes inspection and replacement of sacrificial anodes. This small preventative measure can significantly reduce the need for costly repairs or replacement of underwater metals including props, shafts and struts.

Aside from the critical operating systems, the single most significant factor in promoting longevity and cost savings is proper care and maintenance of a vessel's hull and substrate coatings. Choosing the right products, ensuring proper application and a commitment to routine maintenance have a significant impact on how a vessel performs and how much time and money is invested in repairs.

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