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A Lick of Paint

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Invest in a professional paint job for a big payoff.

When it comes to cost versus benefit, nothing beats a paint job. Investing in a fresh coat on your hull will not only make your boat look new again, but will also add to her resale value. Today, at least in the yachting world, paint means two-part linear polyurethane (LP). If your baby needs a facelift, LP is the way to go.

Where traditional paint is a combination of ingredients that dry once applied, LP doesn’t dry, but catalyzes to form a plastic-like film that’s chemically bonded to the substrate. The film is ultra-high gloss and durable—expect ten years of life, and often more from a properly applied and maintained job. Most paint manufacturers sell two-part polyurethane paint; Pettit offers the Challenger System, made by Boero of Italy. The big three are Awlgrip, DuPont Imron, and Sterling. Interlux, which is owned by the same company as Awlgrip, also makes a two-part polyurethane paint, Perfection Pro, that’s brush-applied (the others are sprayed on).

“Awlgrip is the 800-pound gorilla,” says Kip Wiley, a service manager at Brewer Pilots Point in Westbrook, Connecticut, one of the Northeast’s premier rebuilding and restoration yards. It’s been using Awlgrip for decades with excellent results. “Some of our Awlgrip jobs have been out there for 20 years and still look good,” he adds. Awlgrip and Interlux are EPA-approved.

Linear polyurethane is tricky to apply. Some brands can be brushed or rolled, but doing so demands special techniques. The paint must be “tipped,” or smoothed with a dry brush, to remove marks and create a glossy finish. It’s harder than it sounds, so leave it to the experts—all LP paints look best when sprayed on by a skilled professional.

Applying LP is 90 percent preparation, ten percent application, and the finish coat will be no better than what’s underneath. Even if your gelcoat looks perfect to the naked eye, it’ll need lots of prep. First, the paint crew will scrupulously clean and dewax it with solvents, rags, and maybe abrasive pads. If old wax isn’t removed, sanding will drive it into the gelcoat, where it will prevent subsequent coatings from sticking. Once the gelcoat is clean, it’s sanded thoroughly and cleaned again before the painter applies a series of primers and/or fillers.

You have to prime a gelcoated boat. It fills the pores in the gelcoat and provides a solid base for adhesion. If there are imperfections, the paint crew will use a high-build primer to fill them. “It gives us more to sand off in the fairing,” Wiley says. Once the substrate is perfect, more primer is sprayed on, followed by two coats of topcoat. Pilot’s Point uses either Awlgrip linear polyurethane or Awlcraft 2000, a two-part acrylic urethane that has the added advantage of being repairable; LP paints are infamous for being almost impossible to touch up invisibly.

“[With] Awlcraft it’s easier to blend in repairs, which is important to the end user,” says Wiley. “Color matching is good—you get the same colors all over the world, so you can repair the finish no matter where you are.” Both Awlgrip and Awlcraft can be cleaned and sealed with Awlcare, a synthetic polymer that’s applied by hand, like wax. (Other manufacturers have similar products.) Otherwise, weekly washdowns are the only maintenance required.

This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.