So Your Boat's Out of the Water
As a shipwright, shipyard worker, yard rat, whatever you want to call it, I have seen a thousand boat bottoms. Many of them were yearly repeats of the local fishing fleet, but a lot of them were passing through. They were all a little different, and yet all the same. For me there is no real mystery or drama about hauling a boat out of the water to check things out, change the zincs, or add more bottom paint. For some people though, it is scary, mysterious, or disconcerting to see their baby out of it’s natural element. Here are the basics, the things that apply in my little corner of the world.
So, your boat is out of the water. Travel lift, marine railway, tidal grid, drydock, whatever. If the bottom is dirty, wash it. I like to use a turbo tip on a power washer. It will blast away mussels and barnacles better than just a fan tip. You need to be careful, you can carve your name with one on a wood boat, or lift paint you don’t want lifted.
Okay, the boat has been washed. As she dries, do your walk-around. On a wood boat, look for seams that are still wet when the wood around them is dry. They will need to be reefed and recorked. On steel and aluminum boats look for bare metal, pitting, and obvious paint failure. On fiberglass boats you check for osmotic blistering, where the saltwater has soaked into the hull and reacted with the polyester resin the boat was built with.
Get a count of the zincs to be replaced. My rule of thumb is replace it if it’s 50% gone. If they look like they’re brand new, but it’s been in the water for a while, check the grounding. Make sure they are attached to the metal parts of the boat.
Check your cutlass bearing(s). This is a grooved rubber sleeve inside a bronze or fiberglass shell that is mounted close to the propeller. Sometimes it’s in a strut, and sometimes a removable housing.
There are lots of options. Basically it’s a support for the shaft as it turns. There should be some space between the top of the shaft and the rubber, but if you can move the shaft up and down to the point of hearing “clunk, clunk”, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
If your rudder is seated in a shoe extended from the keel, there is a bearing of some kind there. Wiggle the rudder. If it “clunks”, inspect closer. It could be the bearing or it could be the steering linkage up inside the boat. If your rudder just dangles in the air, as it does on a lot of yachts, give it a twist and check the steering linkage.
If the prop(s) are discolored or were exceptionally dirty, tap each fluke gently with a piece of metal. It should make a “ping” sound like a tuning fork. If it makes a thunk then electrolysis is taking the various metals out of the bronze, and metal failure is right around the corner.
Check all your through hulls, make sure they are clear of barnacles and mussels.
Make sure the holes in the covering screens are not plugged with years of paint build up. If your cutlass bearings are not mounted in struts, check the vents on both side of the stern post or bronze housing. This allows water to flow through the bearing, lubricating and cooling.
Now it’s time to paint the boat.
And here’s the thing: If you washed the boat, paint the boat. All of it. No matter the paint type, if you’ve power washed it, you’ve removed the good poison from the surface, and the next year the growth will be five times as bad.
There are basically two types of anti-fouling paints. Ablative (soft, sloughing paint) and non-ablative (hard polishing paint). Ablative is designed to “shed” as the boat moves through the water. Most wood boats use this. It is best not to mix and match paint types. Ablative can technically go over non-ablative, but not the other way around. If you paint non-ablative over ablative, it will eventually start peeling off in big flakes.
Aluminum hulls need to have an anti-fouling paint that has NO copper in it. Copper and aluminum are not compatible. There are special anti-fouling paints for aluminum, and they are usually more expensive than the regular copper paint.
As for all the other paints available around here, this is my opinion, based on twenty plus years of experience, and thousands of boat bottoms; soft paint in the $100 to $120 per gallon range work great. Hard paints in the $150 to $200 a gallon range work great. If the can tells you it will make your boat go faster, or that is has some fancy slime fighter, for only $350 to $450 dollars a gallon, I am skeptical. You probably don’t have an ocean racer. You’re not going to go noticeably faster, no matter what paint you use. Save some money and enjoy the scenery.
So that’s the basics of what to do and what to look for when you haul your boat out. They are all slightly different, so if you still have questions, look around for somebody with a filthy ball cap, paint splatters of all colors on their boots and pants, and smears of bedding compound on the front of their hoodie. They’ve probably seen a lot of boat bottoms.
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