Improve your boat’s efficiency with antifouling paint
Everyone loves a weekend spent on the water. 1 in 10 American households owns a boat, and that number is only growing as the boating industry sees a comeback across the board. Boat ownership is a joy, but that doesn’t mean it is all smooth sailing, and one of the problems boat owners face is biofouling. Biofouling is the growth of microorganisms, plants, algae, or animals that build up on the underwater sections of vessels. This build up decreases a boat’s durability and efficiency. Antifouling paint works to prevent biofouling, protecting your vessel and your pocket.
This article will outline the specific benefits of antifouling paint, describe the variety of antifouling coatings available, and take a look at the ever-changing regulations regarding biocides. We will also look at the companies that provide antifouling paint products, and where to find them in the US.
Antifouling paint protects the environment and benefits your boat
The sheer volume of trade, travel, and recreation conducted on our seas and rivers shows our reliance on these waterways for much of our day to day life. The possibly harmful effects of this traffic on our marine environment cannot be overlooked, and this is driving the demand for effective, low cost, low impact antifouling coatings as part of a vessel’s complete coating system.
- Lowers fuel consumption
- Increases the maximum speed of a vessel
- Increases a ship’s durability
- Decreases the risk of transferring harmful organisms into foreign waters
- Protects against damaging marine growth
Pick the best antifouling paint type for your vessel
Traditionally, antifouling paints work through the action of a biocide – a chemical substance intended to destroy, deter, or render harmless, or exert a controlling effect on any harmful organism by chemical or biological means. The current biocide used in most antifouling paints is copper, with 90% of antifoul paints using copper or its oxide as their active ingredient. However there is a trend away from biocides, and new products are emerging on the market which use different properties to fight biofouling.
Biocidal antifouling paint – the traditional coating
The mechanism by which biocidal antifouling paints leach biocides into the surrounding water varies depending on the coating type. Pairing the right delivery system with the substrate, environment, and use of the vessel is vitally important for the correct functioning of the coating. The two main categories of traditional biocidal antifouling paint are:
- Hard film antifouling coating
The delivery mechanism for these types of antifouling paint is called ‘contact leaching’. The coating is packed with biocide, and contact with water causes these biocides to leach out. As a result, the antifouling protection is not constant – it starts out high, then wanes as the biocides leach away and all that remains is the hard paint film. These coatings also lose their antifouling ability if kept out of the water, so they cannot be hauled and relaunched without repainting.
- Eroding antifouling paint
As the name suggests, this coating uses erosion to deliver biocides. This can be caused by the friction of the water passing over the hull, or by a chemical reaction which is localized at the surface of the coating. The biocides are released in a controlled manner, which provides longer and more consistent biofoul protection. Unlike hard film antifouling, boats painted with eroding antifoul can be hauled and relaunched without repainting, since the biocides are chemically bound to the paint and are only active in water.
Foul release and other alternatives
Recent developments and the global trend towards sustainability and “green” coatings is driving the study of alternative antifouling methods which do not require the use of a biocide. These include experimental surfaces such as Teflon or silicone coated, hydrophobic, and textured hulls which may prevent the biofouling from growing – known as foul release coatings.
Foul release coatings include silicone elastomers, Teflon-based coating and fluoropolymer coatings, ceramic coatings, and wax coatings. They are known as foul release coatings because the mechanism does not prevent biofouling from settling, but instead the slipperiness prevents it from attaching. The action of the vessel moving through the water is enough to detach biofouling from its tenuous hold.
Another type of antifouling measure is biomimetic coatings. The name comes from the Greek for “life imitating”, and these coatings look to the natural world for inspiration. Coatings that imitate the closely scaled skin of a shark, flocked surfaces that resemble plants, or hydrophobic coatings based on the water-repelling surfaces of the lily pad are all biomimetic coatings. Like foul release coatings they are not toxic to marine life.
Choose the best antifouling paint by answering the following questions
Ultimately, the choice of antifouling paint comes down to the best option for the vessel’s substrate, the environment, and the intended use of the vessel. All factors need to be considered to ensure a successful coating. In order to determine which coating is best for your vessel, these are some of the questions you should be asking:
- What are the costs related to the coating?
How much does the paint cost? Does the coating lead to greater fuel efficiency? What surface preparation is required? How often will it require repainting, and what cleaning procedures will be required? Prices per gallon is not an adequate representation of price when it comes to antifouling, there are many cost factors at work.
- What is the lifespan of the coating?
Not all coatings have the same lifespan, especially under differing conditions. Some will protect for 3-5 years, others for the vessel’s lifetime.
- How abrasion resistant is the coating?
The abrasion resistance is relevant for racing vessels, vessels on trade routes that might encounter ice, bumps, or scrapes, as well as ships that require polishing. Highly abrasion resistant paints include the hard film coatings, Teflon (and other foul release coatings), and ceramic coatings.
- Is the coating suitable for the intended lay-up times, time in port, and water conditions?
Hard antifouling paints do not maintain their antifouling properties while hauled, where eroding coatings do. Foul release coatings require the ship to move at a certain pace (about 25-30 knots) for the best results, so long times in port or lay-up periods would prevent it from functioning effectively. Mooring conditions in warm coastal waters where marine organisms are densest poses an additional biofouling threat, however many ports are now banning copper biocide to combat rising contamination levels.
- Where, and how frequently, will the coating and hull need cleaning?
Can the coating be cleaned without damaging it? Will underwater cleaning risk environmental damage? Downtime from dry-docking and regulations in certain ports preventing underwater cleaning may be factors you need to consider.
- Are there any regulation changes which may affect the suitability of the coating?
After the banning of TBT, marine authorities have been wary of biocides in general. Though copper is currently the most common antifouling active ingredient, and it is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon, the antifouling industry is broadening. Biocide-free options are becoming more common and better-performing as companies within the industry move away from biocides.
Antifouling paint regulations in the US – what you need to know
Despite being roughly 1,000 times safer than the tin-based biocides (which were banned twenty years ago), copper is still a concern for the environment. The Clean Water Act standard for copper is 3.1μg/L in marine waters, but in many marinas or poorly flushed basins the copper concentration exceeds this.
Studies have shown that a high concentration of biocides in an environment can have a serious effect on the growth, development, and reproduction of mussels, oysters, scallops, sea urchins, and crustaceans.
The tide appears to be turning against copper. Washington state has enacted a ban for recreational boats on antifouling paints that contain more than 0.5% copper (effective January 1, 2020), and it is illegal to perform underwater cleaning of hulls with eroding antifouling coatings. California and the EPA are both conducting studies into the polluting danger posed by copper, and how to reduce it.
In light of this, coatings manufacturers have been working to create copper-free antifouling coatings to be ready when the legislation changes. New coatings include biocide-free paints such as non-stick surface and ceramic hard coatings.
The best antifouling bottom paint manufacturers and products in the US
There are multiple bottom paint brands available in the USA. The best choice of paint is the one appropriate for your boat material (fiberglass, metal or wood) as well as the environment in which you keep your boat (salt water or fresh). If you take your boat in both salt and fresh waters, use the antifouling paint for the environment in which your boat spends the most time. Brands available include Rust-Oleum, West Marine, Sea Hawk, Interlux (AkzoNobel) and Pettit. Price varies across products, but with the range available it is possible to find exactly what you are looking for. Many products are not available for retail markets, and need to be applied by professionals and shipyards. It is always best to consult with professionals when choosing an antifouling coating. Below is a table outlining some of the products available.
If you would like more information, our experts are here to help. Just get in touch and we will connect you with one of our coating partners to secure a quote for your project. You can do this through our contact form by clicking the “Request a Quote” button at the bottom of this article. We will help you find the right coating solution for your needs.
|Antifouling Bottom Paint||Description||Substrates||Price|
|Interlux Micron 66||Self-polishing copolymer with Biolux. Can be hauled and relaunched. Not for use in fresh water.||Vessels of all sizes. Suitable for fiberglass, wood, and properly primed metal.||$300/gallon|
|Interlux Pacifica Plus||Copper-free ablative antifouling. Dual biocide protection from Econea and Biolux. Suitable in all waters.||Suitable for use on all boats including fiberglass, aluminum, wood, and steel.||$215/gallon|
|Pettit Black Widow||Hard, slick and burnishable racing antifouling. Multi-season protection in all waters.||Suitable for fiberglass, wood, and steel with the appropriate priming. Not suitable for aluminum.||$300/gallon|
|Pettit Vivid||Hybrid antifouling for all the benefits of ablative and hard paints. Multi-season, dual-biocide protection in a range of colours. Can be hauled and relaunched.||Suitable for fiberglass, wood, steel, and aluminium (including outdrives) with the appropriate priming.||$280/gallon|
|Sea Hawk Biocop TF||Self-polishing bottom paint for multi-season use in salt or fresh water. Dual-biocide action including cuprous oxide.||Vessels of all sizes. Suitable for fiberglass, wood, and previously painted surfaces, and suitable for aluminum and steel with the appropriate primer or sealer.||$270/gallon|
|TotalBoat Underdog Bottom Paint||Dependable single season ablative antifouling, most effective for boats that see regular use in low fouling conditions. For fresh and salt water.||Suitable for wood, fiberglass, primed steel, and previously painted surfaces in good condition. Not suitable for aluminum.||$90/gallon|