Superyacht coatings technology

With the science and technology of paint and surface coatings used on superyachts ever evolving, we look at product innovations, their sustainability and environmental impact

The past decade has seen a true leap forward in terms of yacht coating technology. The improvements and variety in products available means yachts can, for example, extend the life of their paint work or renovate it using ceramic based coatings whilst nano technology is revolutionising the entire industry.

New biocide-free nanotech coatings can now provide a surface so slippery (on a molecular level) that molluscs and weeds simply can’t get a grip on the hull. There are strict controls for application and the initial outlay is more costly than traditional antifouling. However once applied they deliver huge benefits not only to the environment, but very importantly in reduced downtime for the yacht, as not only can these coatings last up to 5 times longer than traditional antifouling, they help reduce fuel consumption and improve performance due to reduced drag.

Surface protection products such as ceramic coatings can be applied to a wide range of areas including glass, stainless steel, leather, and marble/stone, giving interior crew a much reduced clean/turn-around time between charters. They allow for easier cleaning around exhaust ports and heavy traffic areas.

Currently in the world of superyacht coatings the biggest debate involves antifouling. The industry has already removed the real nasties that were found to be harmful to the planet. TBT was banned back in 2003 whilst, more recently, copper-based products and anything else which releases biocides into the environment, have been banned in many countries. The discussion about antifouling paints now centres on what products do the least amount of harm and yet still keep the hull free from fouling.

Hempaguard X7 is a high solids, advanced fouling defence coating based on technology that uses advanced hydrogel silicone and efficient fouling preventing biocides, to boost the antifouling barrier and prolong the fouling free period. It is one of a series of new products that are keeping the hulls of superyachts clean and fouling free. Chris Toole, a Product Manager in charge of the full product range for the Superyacht market at Hempel says, “This means that superyachts waste less time, energy, and raw material consumption through the less frequent need to dry dock and re-coat.”

He adds, “In terms of the in-service performance, the main purpose of underwater products is to reduce/eliminate fouling, which these products do very successfully, reducing transmission of invasive species, reduction in drag, and conversely preventing excessive use of fuel to maintain speed and this of course reduces emissions of CO2, SO2 and NOx dramatically as well as saving fuel, itself a finite material. In most cases drag is decreased beyond even what a non-fouled hull would be. Hempaguard X7 has been shown to give up to 19.5% fuel savings over the course of its 5-year in-service which amounts to a significant reduction in emissions, regardless of the size of the yacht it is applied to.”

Having the right product for the job is only half the battle. Correct application is essential if the product is to do its job correctly. Most experts agree that when applying topcoat, the temperature should always be kept between 18 – 22 degrees centigrade for good application. These specialists agree that this is vital to the curing processes and flow of the various paints and fillers. The temperatures should be checked twice daily, both internally and externally, and on all parts of the vessel. Macro and microclimates play a large role and again should be checked twice daily to ensure the applicator may proceed to apply the given product. The technical data sheet should be checked together with a member of the manufacturer’s inspection team to make sure everyone is adhering to the technical requirements. The humidity is also a large factor and vitally important for acrylic and polyurethane products to flow properly. The norm is usually between 40 and 60 per cent humidity when applying topcoats.

Atmospheric conditions / clean air
Atmospheric conditions are always vital to take into consideration as they can have devastating results on the now more delicate coatings being produced to meet current Volatile organic compounds (VOC) emission legislation. Alonso T Urresti is a Project Manager at Benymar Yacht Paint in Mallorca – Spain. His firm offers all manner of superyacht finishing and refinishing including Antifouling, Topcoating, and Varnishing. It is Alonso’s job to oversee the planning, development, and execution of each job as well as to monitor it afterwards should any warranty issues arise.

 Having a closed environment in which to undertake hull and superstructure coating is, he says, “Necessary and fundamental for the optimal development of the projects, especially if we are to satisfy the objective we set out to achieve. These days it is not viable to conceive of a project without a closed environment.” He adds, “A well-managed environment will pay back in dividends and reduce costly time extensions at the end of a refit, and let’s not forget, it is the painters who are often the last to get off the project, so the better the set up the better the results.”

When is a coating not a coating
“Traditionally the paint industry refers to paint as a coating which is somewhat confusing,” says Rob Earle, the Managing Director of Gtechniq Ltd. “Our wipe-on chemically bonding ceramic product is applied to a finished paint job as a coating and that is what we consider to be the correct use of the word.  In the last decade, there has been a massive drive to reduce the level of VOCs in paint coatings to make them both more friendly to the environment and less dangerous for the paint technician.  This has come at the expense of durability.  We produce a wipe-on ceramic coating that is applied on top of paint coatings and or gel coat that both prolongs the lifespan of a paint and or GRP finish and makes surfaces significantly more stain resistant but unlike some other brands, our product does not cause any repaint issues. Our ceramic coating does not require a closed environment for its application.  It can even be applied whilst the vessel is in the water and does not need skilled paint technicians for application.”

Using the correct products and applying them properly are essential when it comes to warranty claims. But are warranties on work involving coatings important?  Are they effective?  Do they guarantee a better job? We asked our experts. “Yes!” says Alonso T Urresti, the Project Manager at Benymar Yacht Paint. “They are very important, yes they are very effective, and of course yes the post project is very necessary because we must close each job with a touch of gold.”

Rob Earle, the Managing Director at Gtechniq, says, “We provide a three-year guarantee on new craft or on new paint finishes.  We also provide an 18 month guarantee on older finishes that needed buffing prior to our ceramic coating application.  Our guarantee covers gloss levels and discolouration.  Our guarantee provides the customer with a much better peace of mind.”

Chris Toole from Hempel also believes that warranties can be important to give customers peace of mind. He adds, “However nothing beats a product that does what it is meant to do. A good warranty is one that is never needed to be used! There are many ways to look at warranties; if you supply one, does it show that you are so confident in your products that you are happy knowing they won’t be claimed against? If you supply a warranty, does it mean there is a risk of failure you know about and are just making sure you aren’t liable for a bigger sum? If you don’t supply a warranty does that mean you are confident about your product but too arrogant to provide one for people who may be nervous, especially if it’s a new product to them? If you don’t supply a warranty does that mean you are expecting your product to fail so don’t want to take any more risk from being exposed to having to resolve any likely issues? As with many things, warranties can mean different things to different people.”

“When it comes to Hempel and the yacht products, we stand behind our products as being fit for purpose and likely to exceed expectations, but understand that some customers want a warranty and why wouldn’t we give the customer what they want? For us, this is about being a partner with the customer and making sure that they are happy, not an admission of any likely failure or issue. As your last part of the question asks, do they guarantee a better job? For me, no. Our products are fit for purpose, tested extensively, and are proven to perform and we can warrant that, however they could still be abused and used incorrectly leading to a failure. It doesn’t make it a bad product, just one that wasn’t used as it was intended and indeed wasn’t a “better job”. Paint for yacht is more than just the liquid in the can. It is about surface preparation, application (including equipment quality and type), it’s about the environment they were applied in and cured/dried in, it’s about how they are used in-service. All these factors mean that for all the best will in the world and a warranted product, the warranty on the paint doesn’t guarantee a better job as this is one piece of the overall picture. However, we supply support (both literal and documentary) to reduce the chances of some of the other factors to prevent failures and claims and for me this is more important than a warranty. When used correctly and for the purpose it is intended, as noted before, then the warranty isn’t even necessary but there if the customer wants it.”