Transforming the Non-Skid Decks

This article appeared in the July/August issue of Good Old Boat.

Anyone that owns or is considering the purchase of an older boat that is in need of some renovations has wrestled with what to do with worn or faded non-skid surfaces on the decks. There are several options including artificial materials glued to the decks, paints and coatings. Our Mariner 40 ketch, Sea Trek, has just had the 30th anniversary of the laying of her keel. We  lived aboard and cruised her extensively for 17 years and the repairs and renovations were ongoing from the beginning. While she had not been abused, she had not been used and was allowed to simply sit at the dock uncared for. Simple cosmetics like redoing the extensive teak trim was easy although time consuming. Our plans were two fold; first to bring her back to like new condition, and second to make her as safe and comfortable as possible for offshore and coastal cruising.

After a few short term cruises on the Chesapeake Bay, we came to several conclusions. One that stood out was the fact that the non-skid was non-skid no longer. Also, the finish was badly faded and worn, despite the lack of use. So we began our research of just how we might do this without spending serious dollars or hiring a professional. One of our goals was to do any repairs or renovations ourselves to save money, to improve our skills and knowledge, and to know that the boat was done to our liking and expectations. Our first attempt was to try the easiest and most obvious. We decided to paint the surface close to the original non-skid color and not change the surface texture. This first try was done using Awlgrip paint for it toughness and ease of application. We used a flattening agent to take the high gloss out so it would not be so slippery. This looked great but the reality was that underway with rain or seas breaking on the deck, we still had to crawl down the deck to go forward because you had a hard time keeping your footing. So it was time for plan B, and there is always a plan B.

With more research came several expensive and very labor intensive choices. If we went this route, the cruising would have to be delayed and we would have had to plan for a fair amount of our free time to complete the project. Almost by accident, we came across a post on a cruisers web site about a product called Tuff Coat by Ultra Tuff Marine that could be painted on the deck, came in different colors and was touted as a true non-skid that would not break the bank. The manufacturer claims the product is used in industrial applications and is used by military and commercial shipping alike. It sounded like the answer to our dilemma and more web research brought very positive feedback. And also as important, it fit into the budget. While we waited for the product to arrive we studied the installation requirements and even began preparations.

The first requirement was to thoroughly sand the surface to be covered with a 40- to 60-grit sand paper. Needless to say, this did a number on our painted surface and almost completely smoothed out the texture on the non-skid areas. We had to be very careful not to sand into the adjoining painted surfaces. Did I mention that we had completely Awlgripped the entire boat from the waterline to the masthead? Once the sanding was completed we cleaned all surfaces with soap and water and waited for the product to arrive.

For the square footage of our decks that needed to be covered we calculated three gallons and decided to order four. An epoxy primer recommended by the manufacturer was also needed so we ordered a gallon, plus the special roller applicators needed. The entire process was a bit more time consuming than we anticipated. As with any project like this the preparations are not only important but can take up the most time. The first step was to remove any deck hardware we were able to or felt that it would be more beneficial than leaving. There were some items such as handrails that would mean removal of interior headliners and such that we chose to leave in place. Once the items were removed, the painted areas and whatever was left in place needed to be taped around securely. Rounded corners and odd shapes required a bit more effort, and then a strip of 9” paper was added to the taped strips to prevent splatter. Getting all of this in place took much longer than the actual painting of the coating.

Once all of the taping was finished, we laid on the first coat of primer. This was in two parts that need to be mixed in the correct proportions. Once mixed, it must be used, since it cannot be kept for very long even in a closed container. We were able to mix enough to cover all of the decks on the first pass. A small paint tray and a 4-inch closed foam brush made applying the primer a quick and easy task. The primer is little more that the consistency of milk and only a light coat was needed. There is no need to sand the primed surface prior to the top coat. Once done, a 24 hour wait is required before the coating can be applied.

The final finish needs to be done in two coats. There is a special foam roller that is used for the application to give the surface a uniformed textured look and an ordinary brush to “dab” the topcoat in areas that the roller won’t reach. The coating has suspended particles that require thorough mixing throughout the process. We use a mixer attached to an electric drill to get a good mix in the can. The first coat is laid down in strips of about 3 feet rolled on alongside each other but not overlapping. Complete coverage is not important at this point but keeping the roller moving in the same direction is. Once an area of about nine square feet is covered, the coating needs to be rolled at a 90-degree angle to the first application and worked in until there is a pretty uniform coverage. Total cover is still not important yet, but a uniform texture is. In a short period of time, you get the technique down easily. This whole process is continued till the entire non-skid areas are covered.

Once the first coat is dry to the touch, the second coat needs to be applied. It is important that this be done quickly and not left until the next day. For us, once we were finished with the first coat it was dry enough for the second. The process is the same as the first coat, except that attention should be paid to getting complete coverage with this coat. To cover Sea Trek’s decks with two coats took us a total of three hours. Once the second coat is completed, the paper and tape must be removed immediately. Leaving the tape too long can pull the coating off of the edges when the tape is removed. As soon as the second coat was completed, we pulled first the paper then the tape around the edges. This can be a bit acrobatic while trying not to walk or lean on the coated areas. Once all of the tape and paper was removed, we had to just stay off the decks for several hours. After that, we were able to walk carefully on the surface in stocking or bare feet. Ideally we wanted to stay off for 48 hours to give it plenty of time to dry. The final step is to re-install and re-bed the hardware that had been removed. Any time hardware is removed and re-installed on the decks, we soak the holes for the fasteners with thinned epoxy to completely seal the deck core so it can not leak or absorb water if the bedding fails.

One of the big challenges in this project is not letting the decks get wet for 48 hours. Careful planning for weather, keeping your dock neighbor from hosing it down and other considerations come into play. One of our concerns was evening dew settling on the surface. We waited until there was no rain in the forecast and the relative humidity was projected to be low. This can be difficult with a boat sitting in the water. Perhaps done on the hard or in a shed with a controlled environment would be the best way to go. As it turned out we had no problems. The finished result looked fantastic and was better than we expected. Taking our time during the application process we were able to get a good looking uniformed texture that rivaled or bettered many factory finishes on the dock. But best is the entire surface was indeed a true non-skid which did not seem to be affected by water or the kind of footwear, or lack thereof, you might be wearing. It appears to be rugged and has held up to anchoring, piling chain up on the foredeck and whatever else we have done in the normal process of sailing the boat. Our entire time invested to completion was about three days. How long the finish will hold up and how long it will continue to look great…only time will tell. But for now we are very optimistic and would recommend anyone contemplating the refinishing of their non-skids to consider this option.

A Hatch From Scratch

Our article from the May/June 2009 issue of Good Old Boat

Sometimes a simple solution to a problem is not always simple. Although Sea Trek is a great cruising vessel, there are a few things we wanted to change. One draw back was the lack of good ventilation below. With six opening ports we thought it would not be a problem. But with ten-inch high bulwarks around the deck it left something wanting. The only deck hatch is forward over the vee-berth. This is great for sleeping but still not great for airflow thru out the main cabin. We added strategically placed solar vents and cabin fans but in the tropical areas we usually cruise it was still not enough.

Our main salon is very open and airy. We knew a center hatch was the perfect solution. It should have been an easy project to accomplish. Not being an experienced woodworker I knew I needed to seek professional help. I am not sure why but we just couldn’t get a carpenter to even come to the boat to look at or estimate the job for us. Some were willing to give us an exorbitant estimate based on my measurements, sight unseen. Believe it or not we went back and forth with this for six years.

One day I met up with a friend that had recently relocated back to our area. I knew he was a very good woodworker and had all the tools and skills necessary. When I mentioned my attempts to get someone to build a hatch he immediately offered to help make it happen. I was delighted to finally get this project started. Sea Trek is a very traditional looking vessel. The off the shelf hatches available just would not do. It had to match the forward hatch as closely as possible. Since that hatch was teak, this one needed to be the same. It also needed to be strong enough to withstand heavy breaking seas and handle the weight of someone walking on it.

The actual hatch size was to be 24 inches by 24 inches. We found a single piece of teak at a local wood shop that was ¾” X 10” X 9’. Cost was just under $200.00 including having the shop do some of the finished planning for us. Since we wanted the hatch to open in both directions, two sets of hinges with removable pins were needed. We also needed to dog it down in both positions, so two sets of latches were needed. A good strong pair of hatch holders to allow us to hold it open in any position rounded out the hardware. Total cost for the hardware was about $95.00. The final piece would be the Lexan top for the finished cover. We chose the dark smoked to again match the forward hatch. It needed to be very strong so we decided on ½ inch. This was slightly thicker than the forward hatch, but in it’s center location it would get walked on quite a bit. Cost for the Lexan locally was $81.00.

Then the construction was to begin. There would be two finished pieces. The main hatch itself measured 24”X24” on the outside and needed to be only 3 ½ “ deep. This would give us a low profile on the deck and fit flush with the headliner inside the cabin. A strip frame was added to the area that would sit above the deck. This would position the hatch frame at the right depth on the inside and give us an overlap on the deck for thorough bedding. Deck leaks are always a concern for us. All pieces were screwed and epoxied together with the screws countersunk and bunged. Next we needed a 1 ½” finished frame for the underside that would attach to the very bottom of the hatch. This was to nicely finish off the bottom that was flush with the headliner.

The second piece is the hatch lid. It needed to overlap the main frame so that water could not work it’s way under it. We decided to allow the lid to sit on the strip frame we added that would rest on the deck. This gave a nice even appearance when the hatch was closed. Everything gave the same appearance as the existing forward hatch. The hatch frame stood 2 ½” above the deck. The lid was 3”tall. But when it was closed, the entire hatch only stands 3 ¾” off the deck because of the overlap. We flush mounted the pieces of Lexan to the top and used a polysulfide sealant to make the Lexan watertight. All fasteners on the Lexan were counter sunk for a nice finished look. Next we added five, ¾” wide strips across the lid. This was both decorative and functional. It hides some of the fasteners in the Lexan and keeps it from getting too scratched when we have to walk on it. We decided that all corners would be overlapped instead of being mitered. This would give us greater strength. Also the finished frame and top needed to be square.

The next and most important step was the placement. I had designed it so that it fit nicely between two teak crossbeams on the headliner. Using the frame itself as a template, we drew out the inside area with a pencil on the interior headliner. Before anything else, we checked to be sure the template we had just marked was truly square. Next we checked to be sure the interior finishing frame would fit clear of any obstructions. I believe I rechecked each of these about ten times. Once I was satisfied that this was the spot, I drilled a ¼” hole through the headliner and deck at each corner. Now I was committed. The main section was then taken on deck and lined up with the four holes I had drilled. Once I was again satisfied with the positioning I drew an outline again using the frame as a template. This time using the outside dimensions. Once again, everything was check to be sure it was square. Then it was checked again….and again….and again.

Now comes the scary part. I was about to cut a two foot square hole right in the middle of my deck. I can’t tell you how many times I asked myself if I had totally lost my mind. We needed to do this in the neatest fashion possible. The executive officer was already making threats if one ounce of fiberglass dust got into the cabin. By taping plastic trash bags to the headliner outside of the area we were working in, we just about eliminated that problem. The exec stood by underneath with a vacuum running just in case. I was concerned that we might have wires for the cabin lights in the area so the saw blade was set to just cut through the deck. It was do or die time. When I get myself to this point I go a little crazy. I ask myself over and over, did I miss something? Was one small calculation off? This is major surgery. Finally, we cut off the power inside the cabin just in case and fired up the trusty power saw. Even with a good carbide blade, Sea Trek was not giving up this section of her deck easily. Finally the cuts were finished on four sides. Because the power saw blade is curved, the cuts did not go all the way to the corners. I needed to finish off with my saber saw, also with a carbide blade. Once the section of the deck was removed the headliner was exposed and no wiring was present. In hindsight, I might have cut out the headliner first to make sure. With that, I adjusted the power saw blade and retraced my steps to cut through the headliner. I now had a perfectly square two-foot hole in my deck. I was sure we would have torrential rains beginning in about three minutes and lasting for days.

Another decision I made was to not use fasteners to attach the hatch to the deck. Because the deck works to some extent and I wanted the hatch to work with it I decided to use a liquid fastener we commonly know as 5200. After carefully taping off the deck and the frame around the hatch I applied generous amounts under the lip and were the frame went through the deck. I used the mahogany color since it was kind of close to the teak. Next I positioned the lid on top of the frame without adding the hardware yet. And finally a five gallon bucket of water added just enough weight to the whole thing as to seat the frame solidly in the 5200 but not squeeze it all out. Then the messy part, cleaning off the excess. And this is how she sat for a week. I wanted it to be undisturbed until the 5200 had completely cured.

One week later the finishing work began. Before the hardware was attached we did the required varnishing. The interior headliner frame was fitted and since we wanted a screen to keep out the bugs we worked on that. A simple wood frame was made that fit inside the opening. A ¾” strip was attached at one end, which ran the length of the inside. At the opposite end on the corners two small 1 ½” strips were attached that could be turned to allow the screen frame to get past them. One end of the frame sat on the strip on one side and the other end sits on the small pieces on the corners when they are turned inward. A quarter turn of those two small strips lets the screen drop right out. I added some molding just above the screen frame so it could not be pushed or blown out the open hatch. Finally all the hardware could be attached.

This has more than surpassed our expectations. The difference this hatch has made in comfort and appearance to the boat was well worth the effort and the wait. The interior is even brighter than before and the amount of air circulation we have now is enormous. We now find we have to chase every piece of paper we put down, all over the cabin. It is not a project I would enter into lightly. The design and planning must be well thought out. I thought ours out for six years. A mistake could be very costly. But for those willing to tackle it, the rewards are wonderful. Careful consideration of structural integrity of the hatch and the decks, once these modifications are done should be at the top of your list. Our total expenditures for materials was about $400.00. This does not count the sweat equity. The satisfaction of such a project cannot be calculated.