For years very little has changed in the superyacht paint and coatings industry, now change is on the horizon, but it is not from where you think it might be. Words: Frances and Michael Howorth
There was a time, years ago, when every other month saw a new, all singing, all dancing paint product hit the market. The superyacht coatings industry was riding a technology wave, and the roller coaster was moving so quickly no one wanted to fall off. But in fact, that was what did happen, they all fell off! They had almost reached the nirvana of perfection. There simply was no way they could improve on what they had created. So, for years since, it has been a question of sitting back watching the paint dry and waiting for some new product to come along.
Gabriele Micheli now the Technical Manager at MCR Marine in Massarosa Italy, started his career as a superyacht painter, working for more than 10 years in Italian shipyards on the Tyrrhenian coast. There he acquired a deep knowledge of fairing and painting techniques as well as a wide range of coating systems and procedures for superyachts. He says, “In recent years there has been a focus by paint manufacturers on providing a range of products that are useful for the different aesthetic and technical needs of superyacht builders. They tend to be fillers offering different degrees of hardness and elasticity rather than new paint products.”
Micheli founded MCR Marine, along with two other colleagues, in 2016. He is often involved in drafting painting specifications and procedures for yachts in refit and for new construction projects. Over the years he has qualified as Certified Coating Inspector FROSIO Level 3 and Registered Marine Coating Inspector RMCI. He suggests that now rather than concentrating on finding and using new paint products, companies, such as his, are concentrating on cutting down wastage.
Ken Hickling, once the Marketing Manager at Awlgrip and now business advisor specialising in superyachts, knows the paint market well. As an industry commentator and owner of Sherpa 63, he is in the business of helping others improve performance. He says, “Painting a superyacht is not cheap. But it is not only the cost of the final coating that has to be considered when looking at the price. Much of the cost of paining a superyacht lies in the preparation. Masking up areas to be painted, making sure other areas are not over sprayed are in themselves time consuming and heavy users of costly materials. If, when they are removed, the paint job does not pass muster, then not only will the repainting be costly so too will the process of masking up the job again.”
We need to cut down the waste of consumables,” he says. We must reduce the quantity of solvents used. They are many times more toxic and to a degree much more dangerous than other chemicals used while painting a yacht. By painting a yacht correctly, the first time, contractors do not need to rework the job. They save on consumables, cut down on solvent use and keep their customer happy. It’s a win win!” He adds, “There may be nothing new on the paint market, but there is noticeably, a new attitude towards making the job more sustainable. People are making choices when it comes to painting a superyacht. It is no longer a case of what is best, it’s a case of what is better?”
One area where ‘better’ is the answer, is in the application of fillers, products that are used to fair out a hull and make it super smooth. Fillers are the basis of a good superyacht finish but in recent years they have been used in excess. Shipyards have in their bid to produce a superyacht hull more competitively have followed commercial ship building processes of cutting steel and welding hulls together in blocks. While it does not matter if the hull of a container ship or tanker is somewhat rippled, it does worry the superyacht owner who seeks a super shiny surface. There has been a tendency over years gone by to smooth out a hull using vast amounts of filler. The skim and skim of filler are applied adding weight with each layer. It is not uncommon for superyachts to be carrying blocks of filler on their sides that are more than 10 cm thick.
Not only is this wasteful in the short term it can become costly in the long term. As yachts move in a seaway their hulls are subject to stress and strain. Steel flexes but the filler affixed to it does not. Cracks in the filler surface appear and water seeps in. The painted surface deteriorates and very shortly the yacht needs a new paint job.
The same effect is caused by temperature change. Yachts move from summer to winter, from one hemisphere to another, and from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean on a regular basis. Each time they do, the hull and its coatings expand or contract, but at different rates. Steel expands differently to filler, for example. Cracks appear water seeps in and yet again the painted surface deteriorates. Guess what? The yacht needs a new paint job.
So what is the answer? Some would suggest it is better to spend more time during the build and ensuring the hull is so smooth in construction, that very little filler is needed. Yes, the yacht costs more to build, but far less to maintain. But here is the dilemma for the shipyard. Do they win the business with a cheap build, knowing that they are not going to have to bear the cost of maintenance or, do they risk losing the build contract by offering a better job. The cynic of course, points out that by using a cheap hull and more filler, they are then in the market to win a refit contract! Perhaps that is why so many ship building yards have branched out and built successful and profitable refitting yards.
In partnership with SICOMIN, MAP Yachting Paint Systems, based in France, have developed two eco-responsible fillers. Greenfill 80 and Greenfill 100, are the very first bio-sourced fillers ever to hit the market. Ken Marcovich, the company CEO says, “As sanding yields considerable volumes of dust, we wanted to formulate a filler having the lowest impact on health and safety of applicators. We have achieved our target and are now offering a product unrivalled on the market.”
Francisco Linares of Sea-Shield believes there is a darker side when it comes to the perception of waste. He believes that shipyards and paint companies deliberately fuel the conception that yachts need to be painted every five years. “But,” he says, “with the right attitude and good technology old paint jobs can be properly restored and protected.” He explains, “Paint can be put on a maintenance programme in much the same way as a deck or a piece of equipment can.” Warming to his theme, he expands, “That involves retraining the crew on the best practices to make paint jobs last even longer than what the paint industry wants us to believe.” Of course, this is not something that they want to promote as it affects their bottom line. However, it is an environmentally friendly approach that requires no sanding or dangerous chemicals. It saves time and money and can be done in a marina or shipyard.
Linares claims to have been doing this successfully since 2008. He says, “We’ve retrained many yacht captains and owners who have seen the benefits first hand. Paint jobs are prematurely fading within the first two years. Paint companies have focused on environmental compliance, so all the heavy metals and chemicals that made marine paint strong are now gone, leaving a weak paint that loses its shine quickly. It is sad to see, but it is more common than ever. It is something that yacht crew and owners should take into consideration, rather than just relying on the PR of paint manufacturers and shipyards.”
Traditionally superyacht coatings, are typically concocted from polymer resins. Ceramic coatings are silicon dioxide or silica (SiO2) based. They are commonly derived from quartz crystals and sand, to create an invisible, resilient coating. Often referred to as ‘nanotechnology coatings’ its chemically intrinsic properties do not break down in normal atmospheric conditions like seawater and intense solar radiation. CeraShield is the only certified ceramic coating company in the superyacht industry. Based in Palma de Mallorca, it specialises in providing removable long lasting ceramic coatings for yachts.
The company’s 10 micron ceramic coating protects non-absorbent surfaces, based on patented technology. The coating forms a permanent barrier layer that bonds chemically with the substrate and cures at atmospheric temperature. The finished surface can be cleaned with normal boat soap in the pH range 3 – 12 range repeatedly without reapplying the product. The company warns that strong (mineral) acids or alkalis should be avoided pointing out that they are unnecessary because neutral boat soaps are sufficient to clean coated surfaces. Should it become necessary these coatings can easily be removed using a specially formulated removal gel that does not affect paint and gel coats. The process is quick and easy and allows the gel to gently break down the ceramic resin in the clear coat leaving the underlying surface ready to be sanded normally prior to a repainting programme.
Navigating the process of yacht care and maintenance did get a little easier following the launch of Awlgrip HDT (High Definition Technology), in 2019. This new single-stage repairable topcoat from parent company, AkzoNobel, introduced a high performance, mirror-like single-stage coating which offers a long-lasting finish without sacrificing convenience.
“We’re always looking to deliver for our customers and Awlgrip HDT will give yacht owners a longer lasting and easier to maintain finish,” explains Jean Michel Gauthier, AkzoNobel’s Global Business Director for Marine, Protective and Yacht Coatings for Yacht. “It’s another tool in the ‘box of paint tools’ which has been specifically tailored for consistent application, reparability and exceptional colour retention.”
The new product passed the toughest of tests when it was put through its paces during the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race (now called The Ocean Race). It combines the functionality of a hard, durable finish and a slightly softer, repairable finish and contains lower VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than traditional topcoats. It can also be supplied in any colour through AkzoNobel’s Awlmix centres.
“Our products are all about making a difference,” adds Bilal Salahuddin, Commercial Director, Yacht Coatings. “We’re committed to creating fit-for-purpose colours and innovative supporting colour tools and solutions that meet whatever technical challenges or performance demands our yacht customers may face.”
If more recent change is to be found anywhere in the field of superyacht coatings, it is in 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 from Hempel is a high solids, advanced fouling defence coating based on ActiGuard® technology. It can be used for all vessels with no limitation on service speeds. It is suitable for those superyachts whose operations necessitate long service intervals, of up to 90 months. Equally, it is good for those with very long idle periods and is ideal for those superyachts, with long idle times (max 120 days), allowing an extended service interval of up to 60 months. It makes use of an advanced hydrogel silicone and an efficient fouling preventing biocide,” says Zeljka Bassanese of Hempel Coatings Croatia.
She adds, “This boosts the antifouling barrier and prolongs the fouling free period. We also recommended it for propellers, she adds helpfully. Recommended for slow steaming and tropical waters, Hempaguard X7 has good operational flexibility with its high and low activity levels. It is a smooth coating surface with low frictional attributes which maximises fuel saving potential.
It easily overcoats other products and can be applied in both warm and cold environment as low as freezing point.
Atlas Paint Consultants B.V. have developed a Paint Maintenance Manual. Its purpose is to create and maintain a data bank of the paint condition on a yacht and enables yacht managers and or captains to professionally plan and budget their future paint refit work. Speaking for Atlas, Nico Röper said, “Every other system on board the yacht has a planned maintenance schedule except paint. We at Atlas thought it was time to have one and so we have created it.”
Dark coloured hulls have always been more difficult to maintain than white hulled yachts. CCS Coating Consultants for superyachts have noted developments in the coatings market that are giving longevity and easier maintenance on board dark coloured yacht hulls. They say it improved base and clear coats that are making the difference but that better training is important when it comes to maintaining these strong colours. So convinced are they that this is true, Paul Bournas, the company’s Managing Director has set up a training and certification programme for those wanting to know more.
While development of new paint products may have stalled the same cannot be said for wrapping. The Founder of LuxWrap has seen an upswing in vessels understanding the various uses of different kinds of wrap films. He says, “In the 40-90m range there is clearly a movement towards wrapping both hulls and superstructures to postpone painting a few seasons, or to facelift with minimal downtime. On vessels 100+ metres we’ve seen a big upswing on the use of clear protection films on all manner of surfaces, interior and exterior, woodwork and galley stainless.”
LuxWrap have wrapped several hulls and superstructures in the 40-90 metre range, but the project which they would consider a showpiece, involved wrapping several large and highly complex stainless steel galleys, on a large new build. LuxWrap confirm, “This project was the first of its kind in that almost every piece of protection film was CNC cut on site by our team, using templates we made in real-time. The end-result was as close to a ‘factory finish’ as is possible. This is a real game changer.”
LuxWrap predicts that in years to come there will be a steady move towards builders incorporating protective films on new projects, particularly as the work we do in this area not only preserves factory finishes, but also dramatically eases maintenance and improves hygiene.
Having the right product for the job is only half the battle. Correct application is essential if any coatings product is to do its job correctly. Most experts agree that when applying topcoat, temperature should be kept between 18 – 22 degrees centigrade. 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.