While much of the country seems to be mired in a lot of gloom and doom about the economy, one thing's for certain: The fish don't care one bit. Blue marlin will still snap off St. Thomas this summer; schools of yellowfin will still make their pilgrimage up the Atlantic Coast; and the stripeys won't miss their California vacation come September. So there's no excuse not to shine up the old girl and take her out fishing.
As a bonus, the slower-than-average boat market has many builders focusing on yard work to tide them over, so not only can you get a deal on a new boat right now, you should be able to find a bargain or two when you get ready to freshen up your old ride. Below are several areas that start showing their age long before most boats are ready to retire. With a little time and investment, you can get your old girl back in the game, or at least get the most out of her come trade-in time.
Few things give away a boat's true age faster than a worn and weathered paint job. No matter how careful you are with your boat, you will undoubtedly incur dings, scratches, fading or other blemishes over time, especially in high-traffic areas such as the cockpit, gunwales and covering boards. And though you might not visibly see the bottom paint when a boat sits in the water, a shoddy bottom job will also cause you grief.
When it comes to painting any part of a boat, preparation is key. The basic formula that all painters go by is simple: Spend 80 percent of your time doing prep work and 20 percent painting (some folks say it's more like 95 percent prep, but you get the point).
"If not prepped properly, the paint job won't hold up, and you'll see it right from the beginning," says Tripp Nelson of Alexseal Yacht Coatings.
Not only will you see areas that did not get the proper attention, your new paint might also start chipping off. "The biggest mistake when painting decks is not sanding enough," says Billy Maxwell, a custom boatbuilder whose North Carolina company BB Boats also takes on extensive refit projects. "If you don't sand thoroughly, new paint won't stick, and when you hit it with a hose, it can lift off."
Thankfully, today's paints, both topside and bottom, have come a long way in terms of longevity and durability, but you'll still need to consider a new paint job above the waterline about every 10 years and a new bottom job every other season or more. The life of your paint depends on your maintenance routine, the number of coats and the type of paint applied.
"You need to protect the finish in between paint jobs," says Bob Donat, marketing manager for Interlux. "Clean it well with soap and water, and use a proper water softener that won't leave spots."
Sun, bird droppings, careless mates and pollution can all wreak havoc on your shiny paint job. When you do find a blemish, it's best to consult with the paint's manufacturer to make sure whatever polish you use is compatible with the paint. The same can be said for spot repairs. If there's a scratch or section of blistered gel coat on your boat, you can make a small repair, but blending the colors is an artwork few can master. For very small scratches, a touch-up kit might fix it to where it's not noticeable. When dealing with a good-sized spot, however, consult with a yard.
"A big scrape on the side of a boat from a blue marlin might require filler and primer and is probably best left up to professionals," Donat says. "Spot repair is a fine art, but if you can get a tape edge, you'll probably be OK. If you can't find a sharp edge to end on, it's difficult to blend in, but it can be done."
The subject of bottom paint might not be one of the sport's sexiest talking points, but the role it plays in your boat's performance cannot be denied. When it's time to address the bottom, you want to start clean. Hard bottom paint, once the industry standard, builds up over time, causing chipping and flaking, and it makes your bottom look like Swiss cheese if not properly applied. If your bottom has several layers of old paint, strip it clean before priming and starting fresh.
Today's polishing bottom paints actually get smoother over time and wear off on their own. Many owners will apply two layers of paint - for example, a black undercoat and a blue topcoat. That way, once the black starts to show, you know it's time for a new coat of paint.
The number of bottom-paint products on the market today is mind-blowing. You can choose from all sorts of colors and applications, but its antifouling properties and longevity are most important. You need to match up the paint with your local conditions. The more slime and barnacles you keep off the bottom, the faster and more efficient you'll run - and you'll look good doing it. Do some homework and pick the best product for your boat. "The best people to talk to are those who deal with product on a daily basis - boatyards, manufacturers and captains," says Nelson.