Refinishing Your Boat's Non-skid Deck

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:19AM - Comments: (6)

Proper prep work includes masking off hardware. Any spot a foot might land on deck can benefit from a non-skid surface. This photo shows Durabak (seen below after five years) upon application.

While the consequence of letting your varnish and hull paint to fade is usually no worse than a blow to your ego, you don’t want to let your non-skid deck paint lose its grip. More than a few cruises have been cut short because someone lost their footing on a slippery deck.

Refinishing your boat deck’s nonskid coating is a big project, but so are the payoffs. Not only does it escape the stink-eye from any judgie neighbors, it is a whole lot safer. Here some general tips to help you get more mileage out of a nonskid restoration. For additional research, I've posted links to our previous tests of non-skid deck products. 

Proper Application

The secret to durable non-skid 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 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.

After five years in the Chesapeake area, Durabak—a specialty non-skid paint system—had begun to fade, peel, and crack. The company (optimistically, based on our experience) claims up to 10 years of service.

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 (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.

Paint cracking is inevitable if the substrate is failing. Note how cracks in the gelcoat radiate under the Durabak causing it, too, to crack.

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. In our non-skid surface tests, 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.

A properly applied two-part LPU should deliver at least five years before needing recoating—you could get as long as ten. Less viscous polyurethanes like Durabak and KiwiGrip claim to last a decade, but in our experience with Durabak five years is the maximum in the marine environment. 

Practical Sailor Non-skid tests

Over the years, Practical Sailor has conducted dozens of test comparing painted-on non-skid exterior coatings. We’ve also compared the heavy-duty textured mats, including faux teak and cork, that are applied with adhesive. Three long-term tests of these coatings and mat products are still ongoing.

Here is a summary of what we found so far:

For long-term use, a two-part polyurethane (LPU) paint with a textured additive will provide the most durable exterior non-skid surface. Among the two-part LPU paint kits that scored the highest in our past tests were Awlgrip Griptex additive (with Interlux Perfection) and polypropylene beads (with Epifanes LPU). Triflex Treadmaster was our top contender among the adhesive mats. Among the textured paint products, Durabak has since been eclipsed by Kiwigrip and Interlux Interdeck for durability.(See “Do-it-Yourself Nonskid Options,” PS November 2013.)

The faux teak vinyl mats are very similar, and our long-term testing has not yielded any big losers or winners. The budget-priced Plasdeck and Permateek had slightly grippier surfaces in our test. The thicker Dek-King and Flexiteek products were slightly cooler. Testers were also impressed by the cork infused Marinedeck’s grip and durability.(See “Synthetics Go Toe to Toe,” PS December 2015).

Remember that non-skid surface is only one element to onboard safety. Even the grippiest deck is of little use if you have to creep around shrouds, hurdle over cockpit coamings, or move around deck with nothing to grab. As you ponder your non-skid options, consider taking inventory of your boat's ergonomic features, as described in Tech Editor Drew Frye's report, ("Tall-step Syndrome," PS February 2016). 

If you are in the market for a new or used boat, be sure to look at Ralph Naranjo's report on cockpit ergonomics ("A Practical Look at Cockpit Design," PS April 2012). 

Comments (6)

I served many years aboard United States Aircraft Carriers, my last Carrier being the Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69. Aboard Carriers NON-SKID is paramount on The Flight Deck, Hangar Deck, and all Exposed Weather Decks. So The United States Navy not only is the Non-Skid most prominent customer, but also The USN uses the latest and best Non-Skid, however, none stand up forever, and sadly most Yachtsmen expect Just That. Ain't Gonna Happen Shipmate. But the Top Rated Non-Skid on today's market i.e., AWL-GRIP, render excellent lasting qualities. I suppose that Pain is much like our life, It Ain't Gonna Last Forever. I am now Seventy-Five, but I always thought it would take longer to Get Old. Man alive was I mistaken. I'm just glad that I Know Who JESUS is.

Senior Chief, USN, Retired

Posted by: Senior Chief, USN, Retired | October 26, 2019 5:05 AM    Report this comment

Many years ago I used a hard two part paint on my boat which needed repainting in about the time an oiled painted boat would need repainting. It was expensive and very difficult to sand. I've used oil paint since then, though it doesn't hold a shine. Now, in FL, boats are mildewing at a faster rate than in the past, no matter what the finish, though my oil painted boat more quickly than others. Now, I wonder if latex paint might be the paint to use, since it is more resistant to mildew than oil.
For non-skid, I use very fine grit pumice, as it is easier to sand when repainting and it is not expensive. I shake it on.
I use equal parts vinegar/Simple Green/ water, let it sit just a bit on the nonskid and do a light scrubbing to clean the mildew off, as mildew loves a rough surface. Vinegar is second choice to bleach to kill mildew. You don't want to bleach out your paint. (Warning: Vinegar is hard on rubber and ok with plexiglass, but can etch the clear plastic in most ports. Perhaps Concrobium or a similar store bought or home made mildew killer should be used if vinegar is not safe.)

Posted by: Sue | October 25, 2019 9:45 AM    Report this comment

We used Interlux Brightside paint (flattened 3:1) with their non-skid additive about 6 years ago and it is still performing well. We are on the Great Lakes so average about a 5-6-month season.

Posted by: decision | November 19, 2017 10:22 AM    Report this comment

On Silk, a 1987 Shannon Cutter-ketch, the nonskid areas are a raised diamond pattern without grit. It has faded over time. What "paint" should be used?

Posted by: Silk | November 17, 2017 7:06 AM    Report this comment

How do you suggest removing a paint layer on non-skid which has crazed? Sanding it out would completely remove the existing non-skid layer, right?

Posted by: aenlic | November 16, 2017 3:11 PM    Report this comment

Is this piece foreshadowing? Does this mean you will be revisiting your non-skid test of a few years back? Would love to know how the products held up.

Posted by: Mo | November 16, 2017 9:37 AM    Report this comment

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