How to remove antifouling without losing your mind

The tips and tricks you need to remove antifouling

There is no getting round it; removing antifouling is hard, dirty work. But when you pull your boat out of the water to find the antifouling looking rough as guts with excessive layer buildup, cratering, peeling, flaking, or blisters appearing across the hull, you can’t put it off any longer. Whether you hire a professional or choose the DIY route, it is important to be aware of the steps involved and the regulations and best practice guidelines of your local waterway. Different antifouling paints require different care, and it also affects how often you need to remove antifouling or even whether you do at all.

In this article we look at the steps you need to take to remove antifouling from your vessel, as well as the various laws and regulations that affect UK waters.

Removing old antifouling: 3 essential steps

Stripping antifouling back will ultimately give your vessel better protection and will let you see the condition of your hull that the old antifouling may have been hiding. Though the job seems huge and nasty, removing antifouling can be broken down into three simple steps: Preparation, Removal, and Clean Up. Removal of antifouling should be conducted at licensed vessel maintenance facilities with washdown facilities that collects residues and run off.

Not all antifouling paints are compatible, and whether the antifouling is hard or eroding will affect how often you need to clean it back. If in doubt, start from scratch.

Step 1: Preparation

Like anything to do with coating, preparation is a key aspect of the job. To adequately set-up for removing old antifouling you must:

  • Wear PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) such as goggles, masks, gloves, and overalls to cover bare skin.
  • Ensure the area in which you are working is properly ventilated.
  • Do not remove antifouling on windy days as the material that is removed from the hull needs to be collected and contained in order to avoid contaminating and polluting the environment. The dust is toxic, so use a dustless vacuum sander.
  • If working on a slipway. lay out drop cloths and tarpaulins or bunds to catch liquid and solid wastes and prevent antifoul scrapings, drips and spills from entering the water or nearby drains.

Step 2: Removal

This part is where the the hard work comes in. There are three main DIY antifouling removal methods, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Dry scraping/Sanding – This method is fairly self-explanatory. Using a coarse sandpaper (80 grit) or a scraper (flat-bladed, triangular, electrical or other), you manually remove the antifouling. When using sandpaper it is advised to wet sand the coating – this keeps the aerial distribution of dust to a minimum. For scrapers, always have spare blades and, to avoid scratching the underlying substrate, round down the corners. This is the cheapest removal option, but also the most labour intensive.
  2. Chemical stripping – Using a chemical stripper on the antifouling takes some of the grunt out of the work, but it also increases the amount of toxic waste material. And not all chemical strippers are suitable for the purpose – always check the instructions and, if still uncertain, consult with a specialist.
  3. Soda blasting – This involves blasting the hull with soda, which explodes when it hits the surface and takes the paint with it. This is the method with the least effort but it is slower, and does create a lot of clean up – you can only use blasting methods if the appropriate screening and containment is available.

Step 3: Clean Up

The marina, boatyard, or club will have outlined specific rules for the collection and disposal of all residues, solid coatings, liquid or any other form of waste (including any biofouling you may have removed). Antifouling coatings should not be incinerated. If you have taken care with the preparation stage, the clean up stage should be much easier. Essentially all contaminants and pollutants need to be contained and kept away from:

  • Any body of water
  • Stormwater
  • Land below the high-water mark
  • Any tidal body of water

There are a number of guidelines and regulations which apply when it comes to polluting matter and controlled waters, and you need to be aware of the laws in your local area.

Some final points about antifouling removal

Though it is definitely the most expensive option, having a trained professional remove antifouling from your vessel is still the best way to go in terms of the quality and assurance of the final job. It is also the best way to ensure that local regulations regarding clean up and disposal are properly adhered to. If you do choose to remove antifouling yourself, check with the local Port Authority or Fisheries Department for guidelines and advice.

Currently there is no specific legislation in place to regulate the use of cleaning agents or paints and varnishes on recreational craft in UK coastal waters. However general provisions under the Water Resources Act 1991 regulate any polluting matter entering controlled waters and this legislation applies to all marine businesses. Organisations like The Green Blue (an environment programme created by the Royal Yachting Association and British Marine) provide information and assistance to boat owners and businesses to reduce their impact on UK waters.


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