Features June 2004 Issue

Non-Skid Compounds and Paints

We continue our experiments in finding combinations of paint and non-skid compounds that provide more traction with less abrasion, and longevity without gnarliness. Competitors combined—Interlux Toplac paint and Pettit Skidless compound—win the overall prize. A wise alternative would be West Marine Sea Gloss with Awlgrip Griptex.

Some of the most frequent questions we receive from readers involve what to do about old decks—how to clean them, repair them, or completely refurbish them. Usually these decks are fiberglass, with molded-in non-skid surfaces that are worn down to the point where they offer minimal traction, or are scrubbed right through to the pink fiberglass below the gelcoat, or crazed with hairline cracks, or just plain stained and dirty. 

Traction tests were done in several kinds of footwear (dinghy boots are shown here) with panels inclined at 45°. An old pair of deck shoes with worn soles was used to consolidate the ratings.

We've looked at this subject often, most recently about a year and a half ago, in the February 1, 2003 issue, when we covered eight paint additives and two mats. For those evaluations, we were careful to match non-skid additives with paints by the same manufacturer. We also said we didn't think it mattered much whose powder was used with whose paint, as long as directions regarding ratios of powder to paint were followed carefully.

Because this deck refurbishment topic is so important, we thought we'd return to it sooner than later, and this time mix and match some of the top players. The evaluation of these systems is full of hard-to-control variables—shoe treads, changes in the posture of tester, differences in how the powders are applied and suspended in the paints, and subtleties in the sensations of slipping, creeping, or standing secure—it's best to just keep doing tests to find reliable data.

It was also time to consider some of the other things, besides the central safety issue, that are important to think about when deciding on a new non-skid surface. How difficult are these compositions to mix and apply? How do they look? How comfortable are they for sitting or kneeling? And perhaps most important, how do various additive/paint mixtures stand up to wear? Having to repaint the deck every couple of years lacks a certain appeal for most boat owners.

What We Tested
To investigate, PS elected to use three price levels of paint. They're all one-part coatings because we think that using a two-part paint on a deck would make the job more difficult and result in considerable waste and, thus, greater expense. (Keeping the paint/additive mixture consistent as the two-part paint works its chemical magic would be very tricky.)

The first paint chosen was West Marine's SeaGloss, a "plain Jane" polyurethane that costs $22 a quart. Next we selected an old reliable—Pettit's Easypoxy, which costs $29 a quart. It's a well-proven urethane, silicone, and alkyd blend, with an ultraviolet filter. The third was Interlux's newest concoction, called Toplac, which is a silicone, copolymeric resin "system" that Interlux hopes will come close to behaving like a two-part paint. (In the results of a two-year topside paint test, announced in the January 15, 2004 issue, Toplac was the top-rated one-part white paint.) Being a premium paint (it also has UV filters), it costs about $40 a quart.

 

Four additives were selected; there are many others, but we deemed them quite similar. Three of the four are marine products. They are Interlux's Intergrip ($23 a quart), which consists of fine polymeric spheres that Interlux claims don't collect dirt as badly as some grits; Pettit 9900, a "skidless compound" medium-grit silicon oxide that costs $17 a pint, and Awlgrip's Griptex, which is about $26 a quart. (It should be noted that Griptex is recommended only for professional application.) The fourth additive we used was a commercial product called SoftSand, which is granulated rubber that comes in several "meshes" and many colors. This product was submitted by a PS reader, Van J. Macomb, of Paxton, MA.

The use of three paints and four additives equals 12 combinations. We added one ready-mixed, non-skid paint from West Marine to the slate, giving us 13 test specimens.

The Test Panel
Working with a carefully selected, 2' x 6' piece of 3/8" plywood, we examined the smooth side for minor surface flaws. Because a very smooth surface was what we desired, we filled the few blemishes with Durham's wood putty. When those patches were dry and hard, we then thoroughly sanded the entire surface with 80-grit paper using a five-inch random orbit sander fitted with a dust collector. After vacuuming the surface dust several times, the plywood was coated on both sides with West Marine's SeaGloss polyurethane primer/sealer (which is quite thick), and allowed to dry overnight.

After that the entire test panel was sanded with 180-grit paper and thoroughly vacuumed. At that point the smooth side of the test panel was finally ready for layout. Before applying the various mixtures, we segmented the panel into 14 different sections using 3M Long-Mask tape.

Then, mixing the "batches" one at a time, exactly as specified by the manufacturer, the four non-skid compounds were each in turn melded with the three varieties of paint and applied to 12 numbered sections of the board, each time using a new three-inch foam roller. (In a precursory experiment, PS discovered that using a roller was not only easier, it provided a more even distribution of the additives than using a brush.) We left one section uncoated.

There are other ways to apply non-skid compound. For instance, some professionals prefer the method of sprinkling the powder onto a wet paint by means of a salt-shaker or fine sieve. This method can work, but it's not recommended by paint manufacturers because so much depends on the skill of the applicator. The generally recommended method is to mix the compound carefully into suspension in the paint, and stir often throughout the application. We'll be glad to hear from readers about other methods that work for them, but please be specific about which paint, which compound, and which application tools you use.

Mostly because it was deemed a Best Buy in our 2003 test, we painted our final section with the above-mentioned West Marine ready-mixed Non-Skid Paint ($24 a quart). A cautionary note here: This is a one-part, water-based epoxy paint, but the instructions on the can state, "do not use in areas where there is standing water."

When we finished applying the various mixtures, the masking tape was removed and the long panel permitted to dry indoors for a full week (at 68° and 40% humidity). After that we re-taped it for photographic purposes.

The Testing
The difference in texture of the samples was surprising. The textures varied from very comfortable to kneel on, to so abrasive that any significant contact with uncalloused skin would draw blood. A word here about subjective preferences: Selecting a non-skid surface is a cake-or-eat-it dilemma. A rough surface is generally safer, but often painful. A smoother surface is more comfortable, but more slippery. Only you, the individual boat owner, can decide how effective you want your non-skid surface to be. An offshore singlehander might rarely sit or kneel on deck and thus want maximum non-skid. A cruiser-racer might prefer a smoother surface for his crew to sit on while hiking. And those with youngsters on board would likely choose an even smoother deck.

However, to provide initial assistance in this choice, PS undertook a simple assessment of which might be more or less comfortable for sitting and kneeling, and which might destroy strategic areas of your foul weather gear and get quickly into your embryonic epiblast.

 

The 13 test sections (12 paint with additive samples along with the West Marine ready-mix non-skid) were judged on a scale from the roughest to the smoothest. That scale is shown in the chart on page 28. For what it’s worth, our opinion about comfort is included in the table. But don't take what's shown in the table as gospel. If you want a surface that's less abrasive, the manufacturers all suggest using a brush rather than a roller. The roller method produces a more aggressive non-skid; but, as mentioned above, it's more difficult to get an evenly-coated surface using a brush.

There is little doubt that which additive you select is important. Most of these additives come in several choices of grit. Further, if the surface you end up with is too rough for your liking, you can apply additional coats of paint (which would be a good idea anyway) to tone down the final result.

We also took notes about the ease or difficulty of mixing and applying each of the batches, but those differences were not pronounced. Some mixtures went on very smoothly and evenly. The best in this regard were the three mixtures containing Pettit 9900, which rolled on easily and spread very evenly, with not much more effort than applying West Marine's Non-Skid paint.

Almost as easy were the batches containing Interlux's Intergrip. Only one of those, the Pettit Easypoxy/Interlux Intergrip combination, required a bit of practice to spread it evenly.

The three batches containing SoftSand were somewhat lumpy and took considerable rolling to even out the grit, and all three batches using the Awlgrip Griptex required a bit of practice to get a smooth distribution.

Six of the mixtures took what seemed like too long a time to dry. After 24 hours, the following combinations remained sticky: Toplac/SoftSand; Pettit Easypoxy/Pettit 9900; Pettit Easypoxy/SoftSand; West SeaGloss/Pettit 9900; Pettit Easypoxy/Awlgrip Griptex, and Toplac/Interlux Intergrip. There's no obvious rhyme, reason, or pattern to why this happened.

Skid Test Methodology
Unlike some of PS's prior testing, which utilized coated boards placed at increasingly acute angles, these tests involved only one angle—45°, which is the critical angle that has emerged from PS's testing of non-skid shoe soles and surfaces. (On a boat, if the surface angle is greater than 45°, you will most certainly be holding onto something.) This first test was done on dry surfaces only. Prior tests have established to our satisfaction that "wet" is always more slippery than "dry," but the results stay proportional. In this instance, a simple comparison of surfaces was sought to deal with the question: which non-skid is initially most effective. We will subject the panels to wet skid tests after a few months of walking on them and getting them dirty.

Evaluations involved testers of different sizes and weights, wearing different forms of shoes and boots. One pair of deck shoes had worn soles, and, oddly enough, this pair seemed to hold better than new shoes and boots. We used these shoes, and the same tester, to make the final evaluations shown in the chart on page 28 in the column called "Non-Skid."

We've also paid attention in that chart to the appearance of the painted non-skid surface, which ranged from glossy to flat to dull, and in the density and evenness of the non-skid compound.

In our view, the five coarsest combinations would be difficult to live with. In fact, only one of the five roughest ranked as "excellent" for non-skid. Those adjudged to be "moderate" or "smoother" would be pleasant for most boatowners whether kneeling or sitting.

Interestingly, two of the other "excellent" non-skid surfaces were in the middle group. (We did a backtrack mini-test and found those two better than Treadmaster.)

Conclusions
The best non-skid surface was the Toplac/Pettit 9900 combination. It was excellent in terms of traction, and also in terms of smoothness and comfort. If you prefer a glossy look, this would also be the top choice. Toplac with Awlgrip Griptex also provided excellent traction, but was noticeably courser. The combination of West Marine SeaGloss and Awlgrip Griptex provided the second- best non-skid surface (by a very slight margin), is still comfortable on bare skin, and has a flat, non-glare appearance that is very pleasing to the eye—at least our eye. We acknowledge that this combination might be a bit more difficult to keep clean than the Toplac/Pettit 9900, but it was almost 20 percent less expensive to procure.

As mentioned, there's a final, ongoing phase to our testing. The panel has been placed in a high-traffic area and is being subjected to a lot of footwork. We'll report in a future issue on how the various mixtures fare.

Meanwhile, anyone undertaking the very considerable job of overhauling a deck should consider spending some extra money to experiment with different approaches on test surfaces, to account for preferences mentioned earlier—rougher, perhaps, for offshore work, and smoother for a rail-sitting crew on a racing boat, or for kids.

The easiest compromise, of course, would be to use West Marine's Non-Skid paint—right out of the can.

Treadmaster mat, our top-rated product of that ilk, is another option. It gives a rather industrial, hard-core look to the deck, but that is to some people's taste, and in fact it's right in character aboard some purposeful boats, usually offshore craft. It provides generally good traction, both dry and wet, and the channels between the diamonds make it easy to sluice dirt off the deck, and thus keep it from coming below.

In an upcoming issue we'll discuss yet another deck refurbishment option—synthetic teak. Stand by.

 

Contacts
• Interlux, 800/468-7589 www.yachtpaint.com
• Pettit, 800/221-4466, www.kop-coat.com
• SoftSand (Softpoint Industries), 508/754-5810, www.softsandrubber.com
• U.S. Paint (Awlgrip), 314/621-0525, www.uspaint.com
• West Marine, 800/262-8464, www.westmarine.com

 

Also With This Article
"Non-Skid Combinations: Performance Guide"

 

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