By Capt. Dale Wills
Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to wax your boat ever again?! Sounds too good to be true? As the early adopters of ceramic coating technology are finding out, it is kinda too good to be true. If something is kinda too good to be true, that also means that it is kind of true. When it comes to ceramic coatings, the “kinda” aspects relate to a universal truism: no matter what you apply to your boat, you still need to wash and maintain it.
Next, take note of the word, “hydrophobic.” Unless you are some kind of molecular biologist, chances are that you haven’t heard the word hydrophobic used in a sentence lately (it just means something that repels water). This will all change when you speak with someone who is familiar with ceramic coatings—they like to use the word hydrophobic frequently.
Although different formulas of ceramic coating were invented in the late 80s (according to Wikipedia), it’s a relatively new and growing trend among the sportfishing community. Ceramic coatings are now being used on everything from exterior cushions and outriggers to interior counters and fixtures. Almost anything on a boat is a candidate for a ceramic coating–so it seems.
It turns out that the benefits to ceramic coatings run deeper than just maintaining your boat’s Bristol appearance. Ceramic coatings can save a ton of upkeep when maintaining the overall appearance of your vessel. Think of the speed in which a microwave boils water and apply that type of convenience to washing and caring for your boat. According to several professional captains and sportfish owners, a good quality ceramic coat can drastically decrease cleaning and chamois time.
So what exactly is ceramic coating, where should it be applied on your boat and is it right for you?
Ceramic Coatings: An Overview
Capt. Jason Buck on the Done Deal, the reigning Furnuo Gulf Coast Captain of the Year for three years running, first learned of ceramic coating about four years ago while talking to people on the dock in Orange Beach, Alabama. Somewhat of a skeptic, Jason wanted to know if what he was hearing was true. If it was, Buck envisioned the benefits to his crew with more time to focus on tackle and much less wax on- wax off time during the Gulf’s busy tournament season.
To get to the bottom of this new technology, Jason enrolled in a three-day Ceramic Pro class being offered in Gonzalez, Louisiana. “I wanted to learn everything I could about the concept. Does it work? How do you apply it and what products would be best for our boat? I learned a lot in the class, not only about ceramic coatings but also about polishing and interactions with different surfaces. After the class, I was sold on the idea. More specifically to help my crew stay focused on fishing and not feel the need to wax the boat between tournaments.”
The big takeaway from the course was learning that ceramic coatings are extremely effective when applied correctly. Unlike wax which wears off quickly and absorbs different particles, a ceramic coating is a solid that creates a hydrophobic barrier on the surface of whatever it is applied to. Ceramic coatings establish a very thin, fully cured and durable surface.
As with any coating or paint, the biggest challenge of ceramic coating technology is that not all products are equal quality and different applications can be confusing to understand. We suggest asking around your local dock and finding someone happy with the process and their selection of products. The market is full of vendors making different promises. Ultimately, it is the quality of the ceramic coating ingredients and how well you maintain them that dictate the success of the coatings.
Some products claim three year warranties, others two years and so on and so forth. The number of solids and solvents in different formulas of ceramic coating is a big factor in their durability and ease of application. Generally, the higher the warranty, the more labor and elbow grease is needed. Multi-year coatings can be similar to wiping on and off tar, and therefore, you’ll have higher labor output or ultimately a higher expense. It’s all related.
Regardless of the level of warranty, don’t be misled that once ceramic coating is applied, it will repel everything and require little to no maintenance. Capt. Jason provides a good example regarding black streaks. Any boat left sitting will inevitably begin to show blacks streaks. Dirt and dust always collect in areas where water and moisture run off the boat, regardless of what you use to maintain it or what coating is on the surface.
A boat maintained with wax will most likely require a wash and more waxing to completely remove the streaks. However, a boat surface which is ceramic coated will generally only need a wash to remove the streaks. Capt. Jason simply uses dish soap for the task—no Orpine or boat soap. Occasionally, in heavily soiled areas a vinegar wash can do the trick.
Capt. Chase Lake, who runs a 76-foot Viking based out of Destin, Florida, has the luxury of caring for a solid blue color hull (maybe luxury is the wrong word—colored hulls show everything). “We use Spot Zero purified freshwater when cleaning our boat, but I’m constantly fighting water spots. Darker hulls look awesome but they do require a little more focus.”
“For example, following a washdown, we chamois the entire hull, then wait 45 minutes and chamois it again. We do this to dry any areas that continue to drip. If not, the hull will show water streaks. Keeping the hull waxed helps, but it’s a very time-consuming process,” says Capt. Lake.
This spring, the hull received a new paint job. After a little research, Capt. Lake decided to go ahead with the ceramic coating process on the new paint. “I don’t have any experience with it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well it performs, especially on our dark blue hull. Hopefully any water streaks on the hull can simply be wiped off. We also put a ceramic coat on our outriggers while we had them off during the paint process. I am impressed; they look much better.”
“I want to also mention an additional benefit of the ceramic coating on an area we needed to buff out after the hull painting. The ceramic coating filled in all the small swirl marks and made them disappear, regardless of what angle you look from. If everything works according to plan, the ceramic coating should save hundreds of man hours. We still need to chamois and keep it clean, but the Hydrophobic surface will allow us to eliminate waxing the hull. If we do see water spots, we can remove them with a simple vinegar wash. I’m hopeful; I plan to ceramic coat the topside and anything else I can. Time will tell.”
When it comes to the many areas on a sportfisher, the list of items which can be ceramic coated is limited to your imagination. Do your research. Capt. Buck warns of two areas that don’t hold up as well as others, and they include the front brow and toe rails. They are in the harshest of elements and receive the most abuse.
Capt. Buck is also finding additional ceramic coating applications on his shafts and rudders. A ceramic coating doesn’t prevent growth or anti-fouling, but whatever grows on it wipes right off. Capt. Buck also ceramic coats his cockpit shade and mezzanine cushions using a textile formula. “It works incredibly, the water just beads off. With everything being ceramic coated, the blood does not stick—it’s impressive.”
Myths of Ceramic Coatings
- You don’t need to wash your boat regularly. We wish, but you have a better chance of seeing a unicorn.
- Ceramic coatings are permanent. False, but if done right, you can get up to one to three years of use.
- Ceramic coatings will peel off. The coating is an incredibly thin and strong bond to the surface, but it’s not a clear coat that can separate from a base coat.
- Ceramic coatings don’t scratch or chip. Not true, but it does create a sacrificial surface to decrease base coat or gelcoat damage.
- I don’t need to chamois if I have ceramic coating. Keep the chamois handy, the more you take care and chamois, the longer it will last.
- You should only use boat soap. Buck says it’s better to use a dish soap without wax. You don’t want anything to build up on the coating.
DIY Ceramic Coating
Tyler Maxwell is the deckhand on the 72-foot Viking Born To Run. In August of 2019, Tyler began experimenting with ceramic coatings. “I kept hearing more about it and started watching several how-to YouTube videos.”
“I consulted with Starke Yacht Care and ordered a test product. The first area I experimented with was underneath the gunnel and inside the fish boxes. After a few fishing trips, everyone onboard was super pleased with the performance. Today, I have continued to ceramic coat the entire topside of our boat including the windows.”
Tyler uses a micro suede applicator pad with a 1-part product called Repel Pro ordered through Starke Yacht Care. His best advice, “Take your time and apply it evenly in small sections. Don’t be in a hurry and glob on more than you need, you’ll develop streaks if you are not careful. Also make sure the surface is super clean. I use denatured alcohol, so I don’t seal any dust or dirt into the coating.”
“We are convinced with the value of ceramic coating; next up will be the hull sides once we hall out and paint.” As far as expectations, Tyler is realistic “We expect to get a full year out of the product, anything longer is a bonus.” In the near future, the Born To Run will be completely ceramic coated, or should we say, hydrophobic.
Early this year, Rupp Riggers started offering ceramic coating as an option when ordering new outriggers.
Ceramic Coating Purveyors
- Starke Yacht Care: 800-203-5315
- TruConch Yacht Management (St. Petersburg, FL): 814-233-0109
- Guardian Coatings
- The Ceramic Company
Ceramic coating your boat is definitely something to consider. Keeping the ceramic coated surface clean is also important. More and more crews are learning how to apply it themselves. Regardless of the costs, Capt. Buck and Capt. Lake both agree the time savings will allow their crew to focus on more important issues resulting in a high ROI. Time saved not waxing is huge. So will you add “hydrophobic” to your boating vocabulary? It’s a term that is here to stay!