Projects: Nonskid Restoration

During our first season of sailing, it became apparent that Ariel’s nonskid was far from adequate. Although the deck was “tacky” enough when dry, it was a completely different story when wet. When traveling forward or working on the foredeck, we were reduced to crawling if there was any sea running. After several toe-smashing, shin-cracking slips and near falls, we finally decided that we had to do something right away.

My dad had read an article in Practical Sailor that compared a number of different nonskid paints and remembered that West Marine’s clear nonskid paint—an epoxy paint—was rated as an excellent product, providing more traction than the competition. Reportedly easy to apply, and affordable to boot, we ordered a quart and picked a clear day to prep the deck and apply the paint.

Per the directions, we began by mixing up a bucket of water and TSP (tri-sodium phosphate). We then used our deck brush to give the deck a serious scrubbing to clean out all the grime. We were amazed at how well her deck cleaned up with the TSP, it almost seemed to glow. Once the deck was dry, we used a tackcloth to wipe it down with acetone, a final degreaser and wax solvent.

Since the nonskid paint is clear, we decided to forego taping off the sections to be painted, opting instead to trust our skill—bad idea, clear nonskid dries a sort of snot yellow when it is accidentally applied over white gelcoat. (A few mistakes will have to be taken care of when I redo the whole nonskid)

We rolled the new nonskid with a 3” roller and kept stirring the can to ensure that the contents were thoroughly mixed. For some reason, though, the process didn’t go so smoothly. Whether it was because the nonskid was drying too quickly, or because we over rolled a couple of areas, we ended up with some spots where it was very easy to see the roller marks—those areas making the original nonskid a shade darker.

Although the nonskid made a definite difference in traction—not as much as we were after—it really wasn’t very satisfying aesthetically. Within a few days, the nonskid areas took on a dingy yellowish tint after they had dried and picked up some dirt. No matter how much we scrubbed the deck, there was nothing we could do to restore the deck to the original nonskid color.

With the deck looking shabby and still not as tacky as we were hoping, we’ve decided to redo the entire nonskid this winter, starting from scratch.

Never having done something like this before, I was a bit uncertain about the “right” way to do it. I had heard of AwlGrip, and knew that it was commonly used in nonskid applications, but I also knew that it was quite expensive—and worse, difficult to work with. A two-part polyurethane, AwlGrip was just too complicated and expensive for a paint project that doesn’t even need a smooth, glossy finish. Everyone I talked to, including the harbormaster at a local marina who used to work for Charlie Morgan, advised me to stay away from two-part polyurethanes, saying that there were better alternatives. Additionally, while there may be a flattening agent for a roller application, the only flattening agent I came across was designated as “spray application only.”

Another paint I considered was by Interlux. Some friends of mine had recently purchased a Typhoon, and the previous owner had applied Interlux’s nonskid paint, Interdeck—an all-in-one paint with the nonskid already mixed in. The deck seemed fairly gritty, and it was definitely an easier way to go, but a quick check revealed that the color selection was rather limited: beige, white, blue, cream, and gray. Although color wasn’t going to dictate which product we used, it did play an important role, as we wanted to keep the color close to the existing lavender-gray.

Pettit makes a paint called EasyPoxy, a one-part polyurethane, that I’ve heard good things about, but no one seemed to know much about it used as a nonskid paint. It was about this time that I discovered Interlux’s boat painting guide at a local marine store. After reading their literature—and talking to a few more people—I decided that their one-part polyurethane, Brightside Polyurethane, was the way to go. Furthermore, Brightside Polyurethane comes in an assortment of colors, a couple of them close to our existing nonskid.

After some reading in Practical Sailor, I decided to go with Interlux’s coarse polymeric nonskid compound. Although it didn’t rate as high as Pettit’s nonskid compound for holding power, my thinking was that the polymeric beads would be less likely to trap dirt and grime, and yet still provide sufficient grip. I also hoped that the polymeric beads would adhere better to the deck because they actually absorb the paint, rather than simply being encapsulated by it. While at the store, however, I picked up a can of both—Pettit’s #9900 skidless compound and Interlux’s #2399—figuring I could mix in a bit of the Pettit if the Interlux beads weren’t enough.

The decision made, I bought a pint of Interlux Brightside polyurethane in a color that seemed close to what we have—Seattle Gray—and an 8 oz. can of Brightside flattening agent, 4317, to “knock down” the polyurethane’s gloss. Stopping by the boat on my way home, I removed the lid from the lazarette, figuring it would make a good test panel.

Not wanting to scuff the gelcoat surrounding the nonskid, I taped off the section and began sanding with 60 grit paper on a palm sander. It didn’t take long to work my way down to the gelcoat. I then switched to a finer grit—120—to take out the worst of the sanding traces. I wasn’t too concerned about smoothing the surface since the nonskid itself is so coarse. Besides that, the rougher the gelcoat, the better the paint should adhere.

The lid sanded and ready for priming, I wiped it down with acetone and double checked the masking tape to ensure that it would still maintain a fine line. I then rolled on a coat of Interlux Pre-Kote primer, let it dry, then rolled on a coat of the Seattle Gray Brightside Polyurethane, minus the nonskid compound, to determine whether or not the color was going to be a close enough match to our existing nonskid. To my dismay, there was no way that the Seattle Gray was even close. Despite the name, the color chip on the side of the can and in the Interlux paint guide, the color was more of an off-white than a gray—we’re talking a REALLY light gray! It was so light, there was little difference between it and the white of the gelcoat. At 28.00 a quart, I was glad I’d decided to buy a pint.

The next day, I went back to the marine store and purchased a quart of Kingston Gray, #4190—they didn’t have it in pints—and tried again. When I got home and popped the lid, it was apparent that this color was nearly a perfect match. Confident that I now had the best color match I was going to get, I went ahead and mixed in the polymeric beads and the flattening agent. Mixing 6 oz. of compound per quart of paint, the upper end of Interlux’s recommendation, and a full 8 oz. of flattening agent for what Interlux calls a “Low Gloss”, I let the mixture sit for the recommended 15-20 minutes to allow the beads to absorb the paint.

Using a 3” foam roller, I applied the first coat of nonskid. The paint went on smoothly, with an even distribution of the nonskid compound. A couple of times, however, I did experience a bit of clumping of the compound due, I think, to over rolling. Inevitably, it is necessary to pass the roller over the same spot a couple of times to get the paint to cover, but I think it will be better to leave those spots for the second coat of paint. With careful handling, I was able to break up the clumps, achieving an even and clean consistency. The next day, I applied the second coat, which gave the lid an even better appearance and far more tooth.

Prior to beginning this project, I spent some time reading through Tim Lackey’s account of redoing the nonskid on Glissando, his Pearson Triton. After experimenting a bit with the ratio of nonskid compound to paint, Tim found that he was most pleased with its “grittiness” when the suggested amount of compound was doubled—12 oz. per quart vs. 6 oz. Although I’m pleased with the way the lid came out, I will probably experiment a bit more before I do the rest of the boat, perhaps using the same ratios Tim did.

One mistake I made was to mix up a whole quart of paint with only the lazarette lid to paint. I discovered that the polymeric beads like to float to the surface of the paint, effectively forming a thick skin that dries out. Without the rest of the deck prepped and ready for paint, there was nothing I could do but waste that batch of paint—major bummer, especially at 28.00 for the paint, 13.00 for the flattening agent, and probably a dollar or two for the compound! Lesson learned. Next step: Sand all nonskid surfaces.

(8.20.04) Although the nonskid project has been finished since about mid-June, I'm just now finding the time to update the site. We ended up using Interlux's Brightside Polyurethane (Kingston Gray), coarse nonskid compound, and a flattening agent to knock down the gloss. After giving the deck a good sanding, washdown with TSP, wipedown with acetone, and then taping it off, we rolled on two coats of paint. The job went smoothly for the most part; however, painting in the hot summer sun on an fully exposed surface presented certain challenges. Not only was it miserably hot, but the heat caused the paint to tack up very quickly. This made it quite a bit more difficult to get a consistent texture with the nonskid because previously coated areas liked to grab extra compound on the overlap, leaving a concentrated area of nonskid. Fortunately, it took only one experience with that to sort it out and work out an application process that resulted in an even distribution of compound. The deck is good and gritty now - and I have the scabs to prove it! The time and effort was well worth it.

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