Skip to main content

Technology changes bottom paint equation

Environmental regulations and improvements in technology have given boaters a wider array of products

Environmental regulations and improvements in technology have given boaters a wider array of products

Buying bottom paint used to be so simple — and not so darn expensive. You’d go to the chandlery, find your favorite paint and buy it, without having to cash in your 401K. Today, the shelves are crammed with different types of coatings from a growing number of manufacturers, with prices exceeding $200 a gallon.


 There are more bottom paint options than ever, and using multiseason anti-fouling will reduce time spent beneath your boat.

What happened?

The rising cost of copper — the stuff that fends off marine growth — is what happened, according to major bottom-paint manufacturers Interlux, Pettit and Sea Hawk. In early May, copper was fetching about $3.90 a pound, compared to about $1 a pound five years ago. “It becomes incredibly expensive to produce paint with these prices,” says John Ludgate, vice president of sales and marketing for Pettit Paints. “Over the past 24 months there has been such a dramatic increase.”

Copper obviously plays a role, but so does technology. Manufacturers are using expensive synthetic resins that determine when and how much copper is released from paints. Case in point is Interlux’s Micron 66, which releases copper at a controlled rate for multiseason protection, according to company vice president of marketing Robert Donat. This paint has other benefits, such as leaving a smooth finish for better powerboat fuel economy, and it uses 40 percent less copper without sacrificing effectiveness, he says.

A high-copper paint contains around 70 percent copper. Copper-rich paints include Pettit Trinidad SR (70 percent), Interlux Ultra-Kote (76 percent), and Sea Hawk Tropikote (76 percent). Donat says there is a bright side to the rising cost of paints that count heavily on copper. “Those boaters who have gone with the traditional high-copper paints might be more willing to try one of the high-tech paints,” he says. “The price gap is getting smaller.”

For instance, Interlux Micron 66 retails for $213 a gallon, which is $37 more than a gallon of the company’s Ultra-Kote ($176 a gallon). The price differential used to be double that a few years ago, says Donat.

Slime fighters

Bottom paints may be more expensive, but they’re much more effective than they were 15 years ago, particularly when it comes to fighting barnacles and other hard growth, according to industry representatives. So it’s no surprise that manufacturers in recent years have taken aim at soft growth. Paints armed with such additives as Irgarol and Zinc Omadine keep the hull free of that green or brown slippery film we all know and hate. Irgarol and Interlux’s Biolux additive fight soft growth by inhibiting photosynthesis, while the Zinc Omadine in ePaint links sunlight with water to form a layer of hydrogen peroxide that protects against growth.

But these so-called slime fighters will cost you extra. Sea Hawk Cukote, for example, costs $140 a gallon, while Cukote Biocide Plus cost $160 a gallon. Pettit’s popular Trinidad costs $225 a gallon, while Trinidad SR (slime resistant) costs $240. Interlux Micron CSC costs $230 a gallon, while the version with its Biolux slime fighter costs an additional $15. Blue Water Paints, a New Jersey-based company that makes the Sea Bowld brand of paints for Boater’s World, also has jumped on the slime-fighting bandwagon. Its Irgarol-enhanced Coppershield SCX (Slime Control Xtra) is $165 per gallon, compared to its $120-per-gallon Coppershield.

This subset of paints has further swelled the market — and added to consumer confusion. At issue: Is it worth the additional money for the extra ingredient? The paints with slime blockers — also called bio-boosters — are better all-around paints than those without, says Donat. “The benefit to the boat owner is that if there is less or no slime, the copper in the paint can do its job better,” he says. “Slime can impede the release of copper in paint, so with no slime there is no restriction.” And additives such as Irgarol allow paint manufacturers to use less copper, he says.

Do you need copper?

Major paint manufacturers are slowly bringing to market antifouling coatings that utilize ingredients other than copper to ward off marine growth. Environmentally friendly coatings from ePaint have been around for more than 10 years. Its paints contain pigments that react with sunlight to form a hydrogen-peroxide barrier against hard and soft growth. To further combat fouling, the products also use Zinc Omadine, which has long been used in Head & Shoulders shampoo, says ePaint president and founder Alex Walsh.

“We figured if it has been safe for human heads for 26 years, it’s going to be safe for the bottom of your boat,” says Walsh. The company’s line of antifouling coatings includes the water-based EP2000, a hard paint with a smooth finish, and EP-ZO, an ablative general-purpose paint.

However, “green” boating comes with a cost. At $212 per gallon for EP-ZO and $248 per gallon for EP2000, ePaint antifouling paints are some of the most expensive on the market. And you can add around $35 for a gallon of the high-performance

version of ZO.

The big three — Pettit, Interlux and Sea Hawk — also use Zinc Omadine in their copperless paints. Sea Hawk beat Pettit and Interlux to the punch with the 2007 launching of its Mission Bay CF (copper-free) and water-based Mission Bay CSF (copper and solvent free) coatings. The paint is named after San Diego’s Mission Bay, an area where copper in the water has been a problem. The copper content in San Diego waters — specifically, the Shelter Island Yacht Basin in the north section of San Diego Bay — must be reduced by 10 percent in the next five years, according to Lilian Busse, an environmental scientist with the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“Individual boat owners are not responsible,” says Busse. “The marinas are responsible for reducing copper loads to meet this mark.” If marinas and boatyards fail, fines may be handed out and other “enforcement actions” may be taken, she says. The five-year reduction is part of a 17-year program to lower copper content in the water by 75 percent.

With government penalties looming, boatyards have begun pushing low- and non-copper paints. Driscoll boatyards in San Diego (there are two in the Shelter Island Yacht Basin and one in Mission Bay) use Sea Hawk Mission Bay and Sea Hawk Sharkskin, a low-copper coating, says Chuck Driscoll, one of the owners of the family-run business. “We know what’s coming down the pipeline, and they won’t be able to point the finger at us,” says Driscoll, who has coated his own boat, a 48-foot sloop, with Mission Bay anti-fouling paint.

Color coded

The movement on the West Coast has prompted Interlux and Pettit to bring no-copper paints to market, too. Interlux Pacifica and Pettit Vivid Free — both about $200 per gallon — were introduced this year. Interlux would not have created Pacifica if it weren’t for California, says Donat. “Our company is in support of copper,” he says. “We are simply supplying a market need.”

Both Interlux and Pettit say their copper coatings and high-tech paints will outperform their eco-friendly offerings. “[Vivid Free] is not going to be as strong as our regular Vivid,” says Pettit’s Ludgate. “The performance varies by region, but in general we expect Vivid Free to deliver about 80 percent of the performance of Vivid.” Vivid contains 25 percent copper.

Donat says Pacifica provides average antifouling performance. “It certainly won’t perform like other paints in our current range of products,” he says.

On the bright side, the makeup of copperless products allows manufacturers to produce them in vibrant colors. The specific type of copper used in most paints — cuprous oxide — is a purplish powder that gives the paint a darker, dull appearance. Without it, the colors can shine through. However, another type of copper — cuprous thiocyanate — doesn’t stifle colors. This is the active ingredient in the multicolored line of paints from both Interlux (Trilux 33) and Pettit (Vivid).

Top sellers and newbies

In addition to Pacifica, Interlux has added a translucent version of its Trilux Prop & Drive. The spray-on paint is ideal for light-colored lower units and propellers (think Honda outboards and Volvo Penta sterndrives). Another newcomer for Interlux is a roll-on version of its VC Performance Epoxy, a hard, white coating with Teflon previously offered only as a spray-on paint. As the name indicates, the product is for performance sail- and powerboats.

Interlux has dropped its two-part Micron Optima. “It wasn’t selling enough, and Micron 66 is good, if not better, than Optima,” says Donat. The company is also working on a version of Micron 66 that can be used in fresh water. This paint currently works only in salt water.

Vivid Free is the only newcomer for Pettit, though Ludgate says it’ll be widely available. West Marine is stocking Vivid Free in 125 stores, mostly on the West Coast and Northeast, he says.

ePaint has added three products to its lineup. EP-ZO High Performance contains a Teflon-like additive to reduce drag for racing powerboats and sailboats. EP SN-1 High Performance does the same for commercial boats. This product is ideal for fast ferries, says Walsh.

Sea Hawk has no new offerings for 2008.



No-Sand Bottom Painting

We test a process that takes the angst out of antifouling a new boat