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This article was previously published in Sail Magazine. We are using the same technique to refinish our decks now, only we are including slipstrips between the patches of sanded/nonskid areas. When the weather allows us to finish this latest upgrade, pictures will follow.
Accidents happen, and your boat's deck is often the victim. Dropped winch handles, unwieldy spinnaker poles, anchors, dinghies, and outboards can all effect a deck; causing a simple ding, hairline stress cracks, or more significant problems.
The first step to repairing fiberglass decks is assessing the damage. If the hole is too large and deep, you will need to use fiberglass for the repair; otherwise, filler alone will be sufficient. If you try to repair a large, deep hole with only filler, it will eventually crack and fall out.
Using a chisel, remove any raised paint, gel coat, nonskid, or fiberglass. After donning gloves and a respirator, wash the area with acetone using two towels: one wet with acetone, the other dry. This removes any surface impurities and mold release wax which can remain on decks even after decades.
Prepare the area according to the type of damage. Hairline cracks through the gel coat should be ground out with a Dremel until you reach fiberglass. Sand smaller dings to soften the edges and remove any loose material. For larger damage, measure the depth of the holes and draw a circle whose radius is eight times the depth. This is the area you will grind to a feather edge.
If fiberglass is required, cut mat and 6 oz cloth circles, starting with the size of the circle you drew around the hole. Decrease the size circles by 1/2 inch diameter, and cut one each: mat and cloth. Continue until they completely fill the hole to the level of the deck, using a straight edge to verify. Start with the largest mat circle on the bottom, then the same size cloth circle, then next smallest mat then cloth, alternating until all circles are used, ending with the smallest cloth circle. The mat fills the whole quickly; the cloth is structural.
Before mixing epoxy, assemble all materials: resin, hardener, colloidal silica, filler, mixing pots, stir sticks, chip brushes, putty knives, gloves, and a respirator. First, acetone wash the holes, then mix a batch of neat epoxy (straight, with no fillers). Use this to wet out the repair areas and the fiberglass circles. Next, add small amounts of colloidal silica and fairing compound to the neat epoxy. The West System 406 colloidal silica adds strength to the traditional 407 fairing compound. Continue to mix and add material until it is the consistency of peanut butter. Use this to completely fill the smaller cracks and holes, but put just a surface layer in the area to be fiberglassed. For that larger repair, place the wetted out circles of mat then cloth and squeegee any air out of the hole. Continue in this manner, using progressively smaller circles, until the repair reaches the level of the surrounding area, being sure to end with the cloth circle. Cover with a sheet of polyethylene and squeegee flat. Allow to cure; depending on the hardener used and weather conditions this generally means overnight.
After the epoxy cures, peel the polyethylene. Acetone wash the area to remove any amines released during the curing process. Sand all repairs to remove high spots. Mix another batch of filler as above and fill in any low spots. Allow to cure. Continue this process until the repairs are level with the deck. Wait 3 to 5 days before painting any epoxy repairs, otherwise as the amines are released, they push the paint off. Wash the area well with water before continuing.
Now that the damage has been repaired, it is time to think about the nonskid surface. If you had a sand-in-paint finish, it is best to redo a small section of deck, since matching paint that has faded in the sun is nearly impossible. Tape off the section to be covered. For taping around corners more easily, cover the area with tape, find a round object with the correct diameter to match the rest of the deck, and draw the semicircle on the tape corners. Cut the tape along this line with a razor blade and peel excess tape. Prime the area; we like to use a two-part water-based epoxy primer, Tile Clad. If using an epoxy primer, after it cures, wash with water with a small amount of ammonia in it before covering.
For the sand texture, it is more effective to put the sand ON the paint rather than IN it. This results in more even coverage. One pound bags of sand are available, or for larger jobs you can use play sand. DO NOT use beach sand. Working a small area at a time, apply a thick layer of paint; again we prefer two-part water-based epoxy paint, this one by Sherwin Williams. Leave no brush or roller marks. Immediately cover the entire area with sand.
After the paint cures, vacuum or sweep to remove loose sand. Knock down any high spots by rubbing a piece of wood over the area. Cover the sand with paint and again cover the wet paint with sand. This second coat is necessary to avoid a splotchy finish. Do not underestimate the amount of paint necessary to cover sand; it is about twice that required for the same area of smooth surface.
Allow the paint to cure, remove loose sand and any high spots, and cover with two coats of paint for even coverage. Before the last coat of paint completely hardens, carefully remove the tape. This allows the edges to soften. Following the steps for a sand-in-paint finish results in a safe, attractive nonskid surface.
If there are enough repairs to warrant a larger project, consider using this method to nonskid your entire deck. Beware: this is a messy job. We used 300 pounds of sand to cover the deck - of course very little of it stuck, but it was required to cover the entire area. Close all hatches, but still expect sand to be everywhere. Plan ahead how you will get off the boat – don't paint yourself into a corner. We are pleased with the results and highly recommend this method.
If you repaired a deck with a sprayed on factory finish resembling small dots, it too can be matched. Mix a small batch of epoxy and fillers to mayonnaise consistency and put it in a sandwich bag. Cut a small hole in the tip of the bag and decorate the deck with dots as if it were a cake. For the stipples between the dots, dip the tip of the chip brush in loosely thickened epoxy and touch it to the deck. Prime and paint to match. It is best to experiment with this method before applying it to your decks.
For repairs to gel coat finishes, you can match random peaks and valleys by rolling on the gel coat, waiting for it to get tacky, then going over the area again with the same roller. This pulls the gel coat up in a random pattern of peaks. Again, practice before applying it to your decks, experimenting to find the optimal length of time to wait before re-rolling. Be sure to add gel coat wax, or buy gel coat with the wax already included, to ensure that it cures.
Matching the pattern of a molded gel coat nonskid is only a do-it-yourself project if you are feeling ambitious. For those interested, patterns are available in a variety of styles and sizes from Gibco Flex-Mold (gibcoflexmold.com). Detailed instructions are included and it is possible, with some practice, to match the pattern on your deck.
Whether repairing dings in your deck or replacing worn out nonskid, the ultimate goal is a waterproof, attractive, safe deck covering. Investing the time to research, practice, and consider all options can reward do-it-yourselfers with professional results.
MONDAY we'll share the results of one of our favorite Crucian holidays. It should be on everyone's bucket list.
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