Features October 2009 Issue

Affordable Marine Antifouling Paint

Long-term bottom paint tests show you don’t have to spend a fortune to get good protection from fouling.

Practical Sailor spends a lot of time studying bottom paint for good reason. Bottom paint prices continue to rise, pushing the $300-per-gallon mark, and the expenses associated with bottom fouling can quickly eat into a maintenance budget.

Another key reason to pay attention is that the technology—as well as the market—is rapidly changing. The formulas of several familiar antifouling paints were adjusted in recent years, and we expect more modifications as manufacturers grapple with the rising cost of raw materials and increased pressure from regulatory agencies to minimize the environmental impact of the paints. The formula changes seem most prevalent in the low-budget paints, as manufacturers try to meet a price point and still deliver a product that boaters can rely on.

Affordable Marine Antifouling Paint
Photo by Doug Logan

Paint test panels were pulled and rated in June. The above panels were immersed in a marina in Stamford, Conn.

While a drop in demand tied to the global recession might prompt special offers this spring, the only long-term price breaks we’re likely to see are through reformulated or new blends that try to make more effective use of less biocide. In recent years, we’ve seen very good results in paints with relatively low percentages of copper, the most expensive raw material.

Paint Types

This article focuses on the results of paint panels that were submerged in June 2008. (See "How We Tested," below.) The results are indicated in two tables (see pages 8 and 9), which are split between hard and ablative paints. The two types of paints work differently, but for our purposes, the most important distinction is the maintenance regimen for each.

Long after they’ve lost their antifouling properties, hard paints leave behind binding resins and pigments. Once a few seasons of paint have built up, a vigorous sanding prep is required to keep the hull smooth and clean. Most hard paints can be burnished smooth for racing, and resist scrubbing well. Because of their chemistry, many hard paints lose their potency when they are stored out of the water for long periods (maximum time varies greatly).

Ablative paints wear away through use, so you can recoat year after year without building up thick layers. Basic workboat ablatives slough away with water friction to expose more biocide. Other, advanced copolymer ablatives, are chemically engineered to release biocides at a more controlled rate. Although some "hard" ablative paints are suitable for trailering, ablatives generally won’t tolerate a vigorous scrubbing as well as some hard paints.

Within these hard and ablative categories are paints that cater to specific needs: Paints for aluminum hulls, paints for racing, water-based paints that are easy for the do-it-yourself to apply and reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) released into the atmosphere, and eco-friendly paints with limited biocides. We’ve flagged the best of each of these subcategories with Recommended check marks in the tables.

Whatever type of paint you buy, check the application guidelines and be sure it is compatible with the paint you have on your boat. If in doubt about prep work, ask the new paint’s manufacturer for guidance.

What We Tested

The class of 2008-2009 attracted seven major paintmakers: Awlgrip, Blue Water, Epaint, Flexdel, Interlux, Pettit, and Sea Hawk. All have participated in previous tests, although this is the first one-year checkup for several paints that were introduced or reformulated in 2008. Most of the introduced paints were modified to better control the delivery of biocide, to reduce environmental impact, or to target a specific region or environment.

Awlgrip

Awlgrip’s Awlstar is an expensive paint with a good reputation, and any paint in this price range should hold off barnacles for at least 18 months at our test sites. So far, Awlstar has repelled barnacles in both locations, although it allowed some slime growth.

Bottom line: Awlstar’s one-year results are good, but the true test will be the 18-month report.

Blue Water

Blue Water has reformulated many of its paints for 2009, and we will get our first look at these as well as several new Blue Water paints in the spring. The amount of biocide in the paints we reported on here are the same as in the new paints. The company carries two paint lines, the Blue Water line, available through its website, some boatyards and chandleries, and the MarPro line, available through boatyards and distributor Donovan Marine.

With one exception, Blue Water’s paints scored very well in testing, repelling hard growth and keeping algae at bay. Performance is fairly reflected in the prices, with the more expensive copper-laden hard paints generally doing better. Like a few other zinc-based aluminum-safe paints, the MarPro Aluma Pro paint succumbed to barnacles at the 12-month mark.

Bottom line: Blue Water’s top-of-the-line ablative paint, Copper Pro SCX 67 Ablative, boosted with the slime-fighting pesticide Irgarol, is a pricey, but consistent performer. Both its Copper Shield 45 ablative and Copper Shield 45 hard paints offer affordable one-year protection.

Epaint

Epaint specializes in low-copper, eco-friendly paints that are also compatible with aluminum hulls, and its blends have done consistently well. In this race, the company has three hard paints that are copper free: ZO-HP, an abrasion-resistant paint introduced in 2007 that can be sanded to a very smooth finish for racing; Sunwave, a photo-active paint introduced in 2008; and EP 2000, a consistently good performer in the aluminum-friendly category. On the ablative side, Epaint ZO was among the cleanest of all the paints in Connecticut after one year. Epaints’ new Ecominder and the budget-priced EP-21 are also keeping barnacles away.

Bottom line: For copper-free protection, Epaint’s offerings rank high. Of the many aluminum-safe products, Epaint ZO has done better than most others in our testing, repelling barnacles for up to two years. Because Epaints are photoactive, they will ablate faster in warm, sunny waters, and at least one extra coat near the waterline is recommended.

Flexdel

Flexdel’s aluminum-friendly Aquaguard has done well among its peers in past testing. In the wake of very good results in our 2008 review, Flexdel launched a new Alumi-Koat II. The new blend—like many aluminum-friendly paints—did not make it one year barnacle-free in Connecticut.

Bottom line: Flexdel’s Aquaguard is easy to apply and competes closely with others in its category, although distribution is limited.

Interlux

Interlux, which also sells paints under the Nautical label, offers a paint for every pocketbook or need, but the range of choices can be confusing. For the baffled, Interlux’s website offers a helpful selection tool. Interlux is rolling some of its Nautical paints into the Interlux line, so some of these paints may not be available by the end of next year, or they will have different names.

Interlux’s Micron 66 has consistently ranked among the best long-term performers during the past few years. Like the other Micron series paints, it can be hauled and relaunched for a second season. Micron 66 is not recommended for freshwater, although Interlux is testing a freshwater version.

Among Interlux’s low-cost hard paints, Fiberglass Bottomkote and water-based Bottomkote Aqua have consistently provided one-year protection. Its copper-laden Ultra has also shown longevity. Its thin-film VC-series Teflon paints do poorly in our long-term tests, but freshwater racers like the smooth finish.

Two new eco-paints show promise: Low VOC, low-copper California Bottomkote survived its first year intact; the new copper-free Pacifica is also doing well. We have not yet tested Pacifica Plus, a no-copper paint using the new biocide Econea.

For offshore racers, VC Offshore has been a steady performer. Baltoplate does well combating hard growth, and has a slick finish that is favored by racers.

Bottom line: If you can stomach the price, Micron 66 is a good choice for long-term cruisers. Budget-minded sailors should hunt for Nautical Coatings Epoxycop Ablative blend. The paint, which is getting dropped from the Interlux lineup, was not in the 12-month test, but it did well in our two-year test. Fiberglass Bottomkote is a bargain hard paint.

Pettit

A division of paintmaker Kop-Coat, Pettit has had good success with its Vivid line, a hard paint marketed heavily for its bright colors. The paint has consistently done well at the one-year mark, and has reached the 24-month mark in Florida. The Trinidad line, popular in sub-tropical and tropical waters, has a good reputation among South Florida yard owners. Pettit’s budget-priced Unepoxy uncharacteristically sprouted barnacles at six months in our tests, but a new formula Unepoxy LD is doing much better. Ultima SR 60, an expensive paint with high copper content, is doing very well in both locations.

Pettit was among the first to launch a paint featuring the antifouling agent Econea. Hopes are running high for this biocide, but so far, the metal-free Hydrocoat Econea is doing no better than the much cheaper plain Hydrocoat in our test. Pettit’s new Fusion ablative (not yet released) will be reported on in our spring update.

Bottom line: On the ablative side, Pettit’s water-based Hydrocoat, Ultima Pro, Ultima SR 40 (West Marine PCA Gold), are winners, matching the best of their peers at the 12-month mark. If you want a hard paint, consider Vivid or Unepoxy Plus, a budget-priced paint with slime-fighting pesticides that shows endurance. If you want to stretch protection past 12 months, look at Trinidad SR.

Sea hawk

Sea Hawk Paints has been fairly active in launching new eco-friendly blends. Past winners of Practical Sailor tests include its low-VOC, water-based Monterey paint, which provided 18 months of barnacle-free protection for one of our Florida-based test boats. Sea Hawk’s budget-priced Sharkskin makes it into the top of the ranks in the 12-month tables, while a few of the more expensive Sea Hawk blends stood out in the two-year comparison.

Bottom line: Loaded with copper, Sea Hawk’s Cukote is a contender in the high-copper, expensive ablative category. AF-33 (ablative) and Sharkskin (hard) compete in the Budget Buy category.

West Marine

West Marine offers three re-branded Pettit paints to serve the needs of most boaters. Its ablative paints, PCA Gold (Ultima SR 40), and West Marine CPP (Ultima SSA) are still in the race, with the more expensive PCA Gold garnering Good in Florida. The reformulated West Marine Bottomshield (Unepoxy LD) is faring much better than the older formula Unepoxy at 12 months.

Bottom line: Though not top performers, all three paints are keeping barnacles away. Keep an eye out for discounts and/or coupons on these paints as spring approaches.

Conclusion

A healthy field of paints from the Class of 2008 earned the Recommended or Budget Buy designations, but several cost more than $200 per gallon, too much for just 12 months of protection in our book. If you want 24-month protection, read page 10 before opening your wallet.

What we are looking for among these results are the best 12-month paints in each category at the best price. First, the ablatives: For basic protection, Blue Water Copper Shield 45 and Petit Horizons come in as favorites, both under $120-per-gallon. If fouling isn’t serious and you don’t mind routine cleaning, Epaint’s EP-21 looks promising. If it’s a water-based paint you want, Pettit’s Hydrocoat provided a year of good service in both locations.

We’ve yet to find a reliable inexpensive aluminum-safe paint. Epaint’s ZO has good record, but it’s pricey. For the budget-minded, Blue Water Kolor has the edge at 12 months, but it was riddled with barnacles at 24 months. Trilux 33, has done well in the past, as has Pettit’s Alumacoat SR, though neither survived 12 months in Connecticut this time.

In the hard paint category, Blue Water Copper Shield 45 Hard, Interlux Epoxycop, Interlux Fiberglass Bottomkote, Pettit Unepoxy Plus, and Sea Hawk Sharkskin are all very close in terms of price versus performance. Pettit Vivid reigns in the bright color hard-paint category. The other highly-rated racing paints—Interlux’s Offshore VC, Regatta Baltoplate, and Epaint’s ZO-HP—carry higher price tags.

If you get more than 12 months of protection from any of these low- to mid-priced paints, you are doing well. Look for an update on these paints and the newly released paints in the March 2010 issue.

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