Preserving Your Nonskid Deck

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 09:47AM - Comments: (7)

As we found in our do-it-yourself nonskid test (Practical Sailor, "Do it Yourself Nonskid Test," November, 2013), revamping a nonskid deck is a time consuming project, one that you'd rather not have to repeat every few years. Here are a few tips to help you get more mileage out of your nonskid deck. 

Proper Application

The secret to durable nonskid starts with proper application.

Surface prep: We all know proper surface prep can make or break coatings applications, but it also directly affects the coating’s service life. Always follow maker’s recommendations.

To extend the life of a nonskid coating, clean it regularly with a mild boat soap and a soft- to medium-bristle brush

To prime or not to prime? That depends on the deck substrate being painted and the type of paint being used. If the surface is bare wood or bare metal, plan to apply a coat of primer (and a sealer for wood). A one-part primer is often sufficient, but a two-part epoxy primer will offer more durability and hardness. Bare fiberglass requires a dewaxer, scuff sanding, and a coat of primer when applying most paints; however, some paints like Durabak and KiwiGrip recommend primers only for bare metal and wood.

Application: The surface must be clean and totally dry. After sanding, wipe it down with xylene, dewaxer, or acetone. Some paint makers warn against using solvents, so be sure whatever you wipe down with is compatible with the paint.

When it comes to using a paint and a nonskid additive, we recommend combining the mix-in and broadcast methods to get the most uniform grit pattern. Mix the nonskid additive with the paint, roll it on with a high-nap roller, and sift more aggregate on the paint while it’s tacky; once the paint dries, you can brush off the excess and apply a second coat in the same manner. You can make an aggregate “shaker” by poking a dozen or so holes in the lid of the can with an ice pick, then up-ending it to sprinkle the additive across the deck. Pre-mixed nonskid paint users can also broadcast nonskid additive atop coats of the pre-mixed paint for a more aggressive grip. For increased durability, we suggest mixing nonskid additives with two-part linear polyurethane paints (LPU).

Be sure to keep the coats thin—multiple thin coats are preferred over one heavy coat—and plan to apply the paint when there is minimal humidity.

Curing: Follow the maker’s recommendation for dry time, and be sure to allow the paint to fully cure before subjecting it to foot traffic. This allows the paint to achieve maximum hardness, making it more abrasion resistant and longer lasting.

Mat Installation: If you’re installing a self-adhesive mat, application is a no-brainer. Just be sure it’s where you want it before you stick it to the deck; contact adhesives don’t allow the small “wiggle” adjustments that epoxies do in application.

Testers also learned a few application lessons the hard way when installing nonskid mats with two-part epoxy. The epoxy usually has about an hour of pot life before it becomes permanently stuck to whatever it’s touching, so clean up any errant epoxy with a solvent as soon as possible. It’s also best to decide on the mat’s exact location before mixing the epoxy; you can use paper templates to help in this process. Be sure to leave a lip around the mat edge that is free of glue; the epoxy will squeeze into the bare area when the mat is put in place.

Regular Maintenance

Boat bath: Nonskid paints and mats should be cleaned regularly to remove abrasive salt spray and dirt. Wash with standard, mild boat soaps (see "Best Soaps for Regular Washdowns," PS January 2013) or household cleaners and a soft- to medium-bristled brush. Steer clear of bleach and other chlorinated or acid-based cleaners as they can affect the paint’s color pigments and UV inhibitors. Be sure to rinse the decks well with fresh water, when possible.

Mold and Mildew: To prevent mold and mildew, you can lightly scrub the surface with an ammonia/detergent solution. To spot clean areas that are heavily soiled or show mildew, you’ll likely need to step up to more aggressive cleaner. Pettit recommends its Bio-Blue 92; the blend of cleaning agents and silica grit also can be used to de-wax or etch during surface prep. Durabak recommends fighting mildew and stains with a disinfectant like Lysol, and KiwiGrip advises using bleach or a mild acid solution to remove mold and mildew stains.

Wax Not: While waxing can breathe new life into topside paint, the paint makers we talked to do not recommend waxing painted nonskid. Most nonskid paints and bead/powder additives have UV protection built in, and the paint formulas include UV absorbers, making waxing unnecessary.

Touch-ups: Address any peeling or worn nonskid paint as soon as possible. Most of the nonskid paints we tested are easily repairable: A bit of scuff sanding, cleaning, and touch-up painting will keep the coating from meeting an early demise.

Longevity expectations

Nonskid’s life expectancy can vary based on type (paint vs. mats, and paint type), boat location (UV-saturated South Florida vs. overcast Seattle), and how it is cared for. The soft-foam mats we tested did not weather as well as more rugged mats like Treadmaster—nor did some one-part paints, but they can be freshened up with a little sanding and a recoat. For example, Pettit reports that EZ-Decks should perform well in Florida for about three years before needing a recoat. However, less viscous polyurethanes like Durabak and KiwiGrip can be expected to last a decade or more before needing a re-coat. According to Durabak’s maker, it’s not unusual for the coating, which is pre-mixed with rubber granules, to last 10 to 15 years with proper maintenance. The key words here are “proper maintenance.”

Comments (7)

I once sprayed on a hard paint and a few years later when the boat needed repainting, I cussed myself because it was so darn hard to sand. That was Imron. Maybe other 2 part paints aren't as hard. Since then, I've rolled and brushed on oil paint. To do the nonskid, I shake on fine pumice. I get about ten years out of a paint job, though the last time the nonskid didn't hold up as well with my dog aboard.
My oil painted deck doesn't keep its shine and if you look closely, you can see brush marks, but its very cost effective. I paint my hull from a raft and save thousands. It's only a bit more difficult than painting a wall.
Since oil paint attracts mildew more than latex, and mildew is a huge problem here in FL, perhaps a gloss latex would work well. Has anyone used latex?

Posted by: Subey | May 9, 2019 6:29 PM    Report this comment

Over my plywood deck first coated with enough coats of epoxy to give sheen, sanding between coats, I approximated the smooth patterns, painted them, then taped them off with curves traced with a cat food tin. Next I rolled on paint to the nonskid areas, sprinkled 80 grit commercial sand bought at the hardware store. Using a large coffee can, both ends removed, one end screened off, I sprinkled the grit over the wet paint. Dried, I used the blower end of a shop vac to remove the non-stuck sand particles, leaving an even thin surface of nonskid. A thinned layer of paint covered the area without pulling off the sand. A second thicker coat finished the job. Tape pulled the effect was professional. Walking on the deck wore off the paint over the tips of sand giving just enough grip but not so much as to tear skin or clothes. When the inter sand areas wore too much, a coat of thinned paint redid the job well. If one is far away the world has plenty of sand to repair damaged areas. Price: nil!

Posted by: SailorJim | May 9, 2019 10:42 AM    Report this comment

Rustoleum Restore Advanced 10X. Three years now. Dirty but like new.

Posted by: dsiddens | May 9, 2019 10:27 AM    Report this comment

I have recently done the whole top deck of my 50' Marine Trader and am utterly delighted with the Tuff Coat that I used. The granules they use are ground rubber (they call it "crumb") and the main thing that I was looking for was the ability of the coating to flex. My first test prior to using it was to paint a piece of plasticized paper that I had, and then when it was dry fold the paper in half as see what happened at the fold. The good news was -- nothing -- the paint just stretched and did not crack. This allowed the paint to hide the many micro-cracks that I had and the deck looks great. First used their primer (two part) and then the tuff coat. Did lots of masking for the shiny, non-granule perimeter areas.

Posted by: TNTrawlerman | September 29, 2017 3:16 PM    Report this comment

RichC - the "bite" is from the peaks of the non-skid - the sand or walnut "high-points." I'd guess that just adding paint would likely fill in the valleys but not affect the "points." Perhaps a light sanding of the points with 200 grit sand paper (backed by a hard wood) could take the sharpest points down a bit. Then a re-paint might be recommended.

Posted by: tdg | September 28, 2017 11:12 AM    Report this comment

Prior to our owning our boat, the deck was updated with a paint and non-skid aggregate. On the positives, it is extremely durable and holds up well, except for a few rust marked pocks from fasteners under the coating. It is extremely non skid and safe - wet or dry. The downside is that it is tough on knees, inflatables, sails, etc. Is there a treatment or coating that reduces the aggressiveness of the non-skid? I am thinking about touching up the "pocks" and wondering about thin coat of fresh two-part linear polyurethane over the non-skid areas would take some bite out of the grit ... or if it is a bad idea?

Posted by: RichC | September 28, 2017 10:57 AM    Report this comment

In another article on deck cleaners and waxes you promoted Woody's products. How does that opinion co-exist with your recommendation here to Not Wax the non-skid?

Posted by: tdg | September 28, 2017 10:17 AM    Report this comment

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