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Detoxify Your Boat ©

Marine pollution originates from many sources, but in the public view, the most visible source of pollution comes from boats. Pollution from boating can be considered direct and indirect. Direct pollution can be attributed to; combustion exhaust, sewerage discharge, and toxic bottom paint. Indirect pollution can be attributed to; fuel spills, boatyard runoff, and illegal discharge of wastes. This paper addresses ways to eliminate pollution sources from toxic antifouling bottom paint. Fuel spills and engine exhaust are beyond the scope of this paper. Although most boaters are more ecologically aware than the rest of society, more can be done to minimize the impact on the environment from marine activities

Traditional antifouling paint relies upon copper suspended in a paint coating to prevent attachment of marine organisms. This coating is toxic for all living organisms; therefore marine growth will not attach itself to a bottom coated with traditional antifouling paint. Tin has been used in place of copper to provide an alternative toxin, but is much more toxic than copper based paint. The U.S. government has banned the use of tin-based antifouling paint for use by recreational boaters because of the toxicity of the product.

Copper based antifouling paint will loose its toxicity while in the water! Proof of this statement comes every spring when a new coat or two of antifouling paint is applied to every boat before launching for the boating season. Where does this toxicity go? The toxicity is dissolved into the water where marine organisms eat it and die. These organisms, along with particles of poison, eventually settle to the bottom and kill off other marine life in the food chain.

Some antifouling paint is ablative, meaning it wears off in the water. The idea behind this is to provide a fresh coating of toxic copper to the water surface which doesn't give the marine organisms something durable to hold onto. Once again the toxic copper is entering the environment. Divers are often employed to scrub the bottom of boat hulls to remove algae type slime which then releases paint toxins into the water environment.

Every spring is the annual ritual of sanding the old paint to put on new paint. This process releases toxic dust onto the boatyard pavement or gravel, then rainstorms and melting snow wash this dust into the marine environment further damaging the ecosystem. Boatyards in the most fragile marine areas have been forced to shut down operations or pave the entire boatyard with asphalt and collect the runoff for HAZMAT disposal. Soon all boatyards will be required to implement this change. Many will go out of business due to the cost of these upgrades. Many already have.

Step 1: Remove all of the old copper antifouling paint.

When removing the old bottom paint take care not to introduce your existing antifouling paint into the environment. Remove the old antifouling paint using Back To Nature™ brand of paint and varnish removers. These strippers are specifically designed to remove paint and varnish in one application. The stripper is applied in a thick coat and left for hours or overnight. This type of paint stripper technology softens all layers of paint in one application. Back To Nature brand of paint and varnish removers will not damage gel coat. Removal is easy with scraper or putty knife finishing with a Scotch Bright pad. Collect paint scrapings in a bucket or directly onto drop cloths. Afterwards remove drop cloths (or plastic) containing paint droppings from the ground and discard according to local toxic waste regulations. Wash the hull with water while scrubbing with a Scotch Bright pad, let the hull dry thoroughly. Hulls with an epoxy barrier coating need to be spot tested for strip time, since these strippers will remove epoxy barrier coatings. Testing for penetration time will assure the epoxy coat is not damaged.

Step 2: Prepare and seal the hull.

Allow the hull to dry completely for a minimum of two hours. Sand as required removing any sheen to the surface. Since the hull is clean, fix any fiberglass blisters, or if a wooden hull, repair any seams or fasteners. Apply Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer™ (CPES™) over the freshly sanded fiberglass or wood. Painting over semi-cured CPES prevents surface contamination from interfering with the bond and molecularly glues the paint to the hull. Allow solvents in the CPES to completely evaporate before applying coating keeping moisture like rain and dew off the surface during this time. Now is a great time to apply a moisture barrier epoxy coating. Over time moisture penetrates the polyester resin on the hull creating blisters. Epoxy barrier coating stops this moisture from entering the hull. If the hull has an existing epoxy barrier coat it must be sanded before recoating then applying a fresh coat of epoxy paint to make sure the coat is sufficiently (10mil) thick enough is recommended.

Step 3: Apply the antifouling paint.

Star Distributing recommends e paint® brand of antifouling paint, which contains no tin or copper. This paint employs a novel mechanism to control the attachment of fouling organisms. When immersed in oxygenated water, the biocide in the paint photochemically generate minute levels of peroxides, which make the surface inhospitable to the settling larvae of fouling organisms. Hydrogen peroxide is a potent, but short-lived chemical that has traditionally been used as an antiseptic. Peroxides have been demonstrated to be effective antifouling agents and do not persist in the environment because they quickly decompose back into oxygen and water by natural ions dissolved in the water

e paint® product offerings are:

EP2000 is a water-based antifouling paint offering an exceptionally smooth, hard and flexible finish.

EP2000 is perfect for the racer who desires the fastest, cleanest, and whitest bottom, and is available in white and gray.

E Paint ZO (EPA Registration #64684-4) is a high performance antifouling paint providing a hard, smooth finish and is recommended for use on commercial and recreational vessels. Hauling and relaunching should not affect coating performance. It is available in white, blue, green, gray, black, and red.

EP21 is a soft ablative photoactive paint recommended for use on aluminum substrates including aluminum hulls, outboards, out drives, and trim tabs. It may be applied over traditional antifouling paints and will not promote electrolysis. It is easily applied by traditional painting techniques with no maximum dry-to-launch times.


Preparation is of paramount importance. Survey the task in steps to minimize refinishing duration and create a coating schedule. First analyze the scope of the project. Check your temperature of the air and the hull during application. This will allow proper calculation of dry time for the paint. Follow manufacturers instructions for overcoat dry time. Manufacturers go to great expense to assure that their products perform as advertised when applied as directed. Do not apply coats of paint too soon. The main reason for paint flaking is improper drying of paint before the next coat is applied. The secondary reason is surface contamination such as dust, moisture, oil, and incompatibility with the existing paint layer. The following is the general time frame provided there are no blister or seam and fasteners issues:

Friday Day 1: Strip paint. Sand and apply first coat of CPES or barrier coat epoxy.

Saturday Day 2: Apply second and third epoxy coat or first or second coat of e paint.

Sunday Day 3: Finish applying e paint


Many may see this as a lot of work just to go boating. Once this procedure is completed it is reassuring to know that you or people around you will never be exposed to toxic antifouling paint from your boat. The planet will benefit and you can be proud to do your part to help stop poisoning the oceans. Eventually all boats will be required to follow this route.

Coastal Facts

  • The open ocean refreshes coastal waters slowly, which means pollution stays in these delicate bays and estuaries for years.
  • Boaters concentrate in bays and estuaries, so does the pollution they leave behind.
  • Declining fish populations, contaminated shellfish, and unusual algae blooms are all signs that pollution is threatening your bay.
  • Copper antifouling paints have already been banned in Holland and Sweden and the Mediterranean. More locations are considering doing the same.

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The author, Steve Ray, is President of Star Distributing and has over 20 years of experience in classic boat restoration.

This article written by Steve Ray ©2018, All rights reserved.

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