Just so we’re clear; I’m not a professional. I’m not even a professional “Do It Yourselfer”. I’ve got enough experience to give you some hints and tips in case you’ve been considering this, and have enough stubbornness to do it. This guide is by no means all encompassing, and it can be improved upon, I’m sure. If you’re not sure about this job, ask questions. Ask as many people as you need to feel confident. Every club or boat yard has the guy who’s done it or seen it all. All you need to do is start something and they’ll say “Oh, you don’t want to do that, use a Nuclear Powered Flamethrower 5000.”, or something like that. They can be good sources of information, even if you have to listen to the yarn about the time they rode out the Great Storm of ’47 in a canoe with nothing but a soup spoon and a roll of baling wire.

I do not recommend this job to anyone who doesn’t have the time or patience to follow it through to the end. Secondly, you need to be comfortable with the removal and application of paint. Safety goggles and respirator are a must. Coveralls, gloves, and something to cover your head and face are optional but highly recommended. Third, you need to make sure you’re in compliance with all statutes and rules, including the rules for the boat yard where your boat may be stored. Last, be considerate of your neighbors. Do everything needed to keep the area clean. That includes keeping your dust and overspray off that yacht downwind from your project that the guy buffs with a cloth diaper every other day. Truth be told, if I had to do this over again, I would make some changes to get things done faster. Notice I did not say “shortcuts”. There is only one short cut I know of doing this job. Hire someone to do it for you. The professionals do it all the time, that’s why they are professionals. Yes, it will cost more, but it will get done while you’re sipping egg nog and wondering when the snow will stop.

Removing the paint will be our first topic. This is the worst job of the three I will cover in this series. If you don’t have any blisters, voids, chipping, or cracking (often called “spider cracking” due to the resemblance to a spider’s web) in your gelcoat or barrier coat, you might be able to just remove the antifouling. That would be best case scenario, fast and simple. Removing only antifouling will be a simple job. If you need to remove everything down to gelcoat, like I did on my first boat, well that is another matter entirely. If it’s old, you could be facing something like VC Tar®. VC Tar® is a great barrier coat, but it’s a nightmare to get off. “Tar” is an appropriate moniker. I’m writing this article figuring that you have to take it all the way down to gelcoat.

If you need to take off the old, you could use sanding, chemical strippers or abrasive blasting. Abrasive blasting is fastest, but has a much greater chance of going through the antifouling, the barrier coat, and then attacking and/or removing gelcoat. And if it cuts through, it will be very quick, then you have severe damage to your gelcoat in a matter of seconds. You can also overspray the abrasive, even if the areas that you do not wish to strip are covered. It’s going to get everywhere. Count on it. I would not recommend trying abrasive blasting for vast majority of people. The professional media blasting firms can have your boat stripped in just a few hours, have everything cleaned up and are on their way.

100_0519Chemical strippers may or may not work, depending on the stripper, the paint it’s used on, and temperature. You’ll have to wear protective gear. It will irritate your skin and/or eyes. They can have vapors that are harmful. If you use a stripper, plan on using a lot of applicators (brushes or the like), and something to take it off with. Then there is disposal. Basically, It’s a crap shoot, and it’s messy. Not a good choice, in my opinion.

That leaves sanding. Sanding with a dust collection system is the most cost effective for

Before and after 40 grit sanding of VC Tar

Before and after 40 grit sanding of VC Tar

those that insist on doing it themselves. I used a random orbit sander, about 300 sanding pads, and a couple of backing pads for the sanding discs. That’s not #300 grit discs, that was 300 #40 grit discs, and two backing pads. It takes time. On my 27-foot sailboat, it took about 3 hours to do each 3’x3’ section. Yes, an hour per square foot. With some of the other barrier coatings, it can take less or more time. I had to cut through a few layers of VC-17®, which is nothing, then who knows how many layers of VC Tar®. The unexpected bonus to working outside in the winter was the fact the VC Tar®, when cold, comes off in flakes and only slowly gums up the pads. It will still gum up the pads, just much slower. It was cold. My hands, toes, and often my mind were numb afterwards. Can’t tell you how many times I emptied the dust collection system. I lost track. I became intimate with the bucket I sat on. In snow, in rain, in wind. Most every day off, in November, December, some of February, March, and some of April. January and the first part of February were too cold and too much snow. I did not go out if it was less than 25° F. Even for me, it was too cold below 25°.

So, now you have your options. Blasting, Strippers, Sanding. Or any of the above, done by a professional.  It takes time and money. How much time and how much money you have to decide. Are you going to do it the right way, or do you hire it out? Good question. I can’t answer it for you.  But how much money you spend is generally inverse of how much time you put into it.

The Keel with bare lead and fiberglass.

The Keel with bare lead and fiberglass.

In part two, we’ll talk about surface prep for the paint.

Written by: Steve Bayless
Yacht Broker
Port Sanilac Marina
(810) 622 -9651