Properly Protecting Your Boat: Bottom Paint or a Boat Lift?

Properly Protecting Your Boat: Bottom Paint or a Boat Lift?

New boat owners – especially first-time boat owners – are sometimes surprised to discover that the purchase of their vessel may be several thousand dollars short of actual and necessary expenses. That’s why avid boaters sometimes joke that the word “boat” is actually an acronym for “Break Out Another Thousand.”

Joking aside, it is important to properly protect your investment and avoid further problems and more unnecessary expense in the future.

Although the smooth surface of gelcoat on your fiberglass boat may look like it is waterproof, it is actually a little bit porous. In reality, it has microscopic openings through which tiny amounts of water may invade. Those tiny openings also allow the growth of algae which, over time, can expand to increase the size of those miniscule openings and allow water to be absorbed through the gelcoat and into the minute openings between the gelcoat and fiberglass. The result is the development of “blisters” in your gelcoat. If caught early enough, there may only be a few blisters – but, if ignored, your unprotected boat hull may develop hundreds, even thousands of blisters resulting in very expensive repairs.

There are two ways to protect the valuable hull of your boat, aside from pulling it out of the water and keeping it on a trailer. One is a boat lift installed in your slip to lift the boat out of the water when it is not being used. Lift prices are based on the weight of your boat and the width of your lift – so those are two important answers to have when shopping for your lift. For boats less than 30 feet in length, this is the most popular option on Grand Lake. If you boat somewhere besides Grand Lake frequently, this may not be a good option.

Boat lifts are also not a good option for wooden boats. When wooden boats are out of the water, the wood dries and shrinks, creating leakage that can result in the boat sinking. Wooden boats should be left in the water to avoid such shrinkage.

Another option is to coat the hull of your boat with anti-fouling paint, typically referred to as “bottom paint.” This is a specialized type of coating applied as the hull of your boat, to slow the growth and/or facilitate detachment of algae and other organisms that attach to the hull and can affect a vessel’s performance and durability. Bottom paint may affect your vessel’s performance slightly – but nothing like grass growing on the hull.

Most larger boats, especially live-aboard style boats, utilize bottom paint instead of lifts for a couple of reasons: 1) due to the weight of larger boats, new boat lifts can cost $25,000-$35,000 – or more; and 2) onboard water-cooled systems like heating and air conditioning systems cannot operate while the boat is on a lift.

There is a wide variety of options on bottom paint. Some are very inexpensive – but may be both ineffective and short-lived. Interlux is a good choice; and be sure your bottom paint is applied by a reputable, experienced marine dealer. In order to be effective over the long term, the hull needs to be sandblasted to ensure that the paint holds properly to the surface. As you evaluate your options, cost can be a factor, of course. Life of bottom paint varies from climate to climate – and water conditions. In Grand Lake water conditions, bottom paint properly chosen and properly applied generally lasts four-to-five years.