For sailors in the 90’s, it has become apparent that water contamination and the dying off of marine life are not an acceptable price to pay for immaculate hulls below the waterline. Controversy over human impact on marine environments has kicked off a flurry of development for new antifouling solutions.
A breakthrough product recently began to pick up steam as a new alternative that may offer increased benefits to the boat owner, one of which is it’s ecofriendly nature.
Originally pioneered more than 10 years ago, CopperPoxy is a hard slick and inert coating with no toxic chemicals or compounds leaching into the water. The nonsloughing antifoulant has an extraordinary life span. As tested thus far, it does not require reapplication. It also serves as the barrier coat, protecting against osmosis. And, in the long run, it may prove cheaper than using traditional antifouling paints (See Cost Comparison Page).
COPPER AND EXPOY
“We knew about the effectiveness of copper as an antifoulant long before this century,” said Ed Ehler, vice president of production at manufacturer American Marine coatings, Inc. “That part isn’t new. But copper sheathing is difficult to apply.” CopperPoxy, on the other hand, is a unique combination of 60 percent copper within an epoxy resin. This combination forms a nontoxic antifoulant, a safe modern version of a now-antiquated technique.
“The marriage of the copper and the epoxy is the real innovation, not the copper alone,” said John Conser, a multihull designer and sailor who came upon the compound two years ago and used it for a Conser 47. He is now a CopperPoxy distributor, one of several nationwide.
HOW IT WORKS
Essentially, the copper in the coating repulses hard growth by creating a disagreeable environment – a bad taste. The marine life is not poisoned, but elects to find other digs. Soft growth will gradually build up on the hull but, according to the manufacturer, routine maintenance will take care of that. Because the coating is so hard, the hull can be scrubbed to remove the soft growth, which will maintain the compound’s effectiveness. And, because it is nonsloughing, scrubbing will not release foreign elements into the water, hurting local marine life. Coral reefs are especially sensitive to such releases.
“It will also be effective protection against zebra mussels in the great lakes,” said Scott Church, (former) president of the manufacturing company The compound is equally effective in fresh water and salt water; the only difference will be in the frequency of removing soft growth. “There are more critters in the salt water, and you have to scrub more often if the water is warm,” Church said. “Simply, it depends on how fast the grass grows.”
“In it’s lifetime, the product has had test panels worldwide, so we’ve had 10 years of good feedback,” Conser said. “If it is applied properly, I don’t see why it should have a life span. It should last a long time.” With 10 years of existence, the official life span is, thus far, 10 years.
The compound will eliminate the routine bottom painting of the fitting out season. “We don’t claim this is a perfect antifoulant,” Ehler said. “It gives you a maintainable bottom that does not need to be reapplied.”
“You don’t need to take it off and put it back on again – that is the distinct advantage,” Conser said. “You might need to restore the thickness if you’ve done lots of sanding, but that’s all.”
Conser pioneered an in-the-mold application process as an alternative to painting or spraying. “In-mold application has opened a whole new corridor,” he said. My prediction is that it will eventually be the biggest application for the product.
“It is the best way to achieve a racing quality bottom because it is so smooth,” he added. Ehler agreed with this. “The boat’s midrange speeds may not change, but you’ll see a difference in the acceleration speeds.”
And the coating is attractive. “It creates a beautiful finish,” Conser said, describing it’s application to a 52 foot Wylie yacht. “It gives a yacht a million-dollar look. People ask me what color they will get and I point to a shiny new copper penny.” With maintenance, it’s luster will not diminish over time.
Although the compound can be applied by the boat owner, Conser recommends in-the-mold application or professional spraying for the best results. If self-application is the suggested route, however, the manufacturer suggests that, due to the product’s thickness, the boat owner should have some experience with epoxy. “It’s pretty easy stuff to work, but a little finesse is needed,” Ehler said.
The compound is compatible with most barrier and primer coats. Old coats of paint, however, need to be removed before application. The compound is a 100-percent solids coating. It needs to be mixed by a variable speed drill with a mixing blade, then blended with a xylene solvent. The warmer the temperature, the shorter the mixture’s pot life, so the applicator needs to plan ahead based on both temperature and available crew. With a curing temperature of 60 degrees, the boat will be ready for launch after 24 hours and the coating will harden for 7 to 9 days in the water.
The copper-epoxy compound was a sleeper as a new development. Ehler was involved in the product’s conception in 1986 experimenting in a Seattle boatyard with copper ground up and added to an epoxy carrier. During1987 and ’88, the final product was applied to the bottoms of 40 boats. EPA approval came in 1991 – ’92, and manufacturer System Three Resins, Inc. made the compound available by catalog. Ultimately, American Marine Coatings purchased it from System Three in 1994. The patent was issued that year and the publicity wheels started turning.
CopperPoxy is available directly through the manufacturer or through it’s distributors. According to Conser, American Marine Coatings is currently talking with several production boatbuilders and the discount catalogs regarding CopperPoxy’s future. W.D. Schock Corp. is already on board, offering the compound as an option for it’s customers.