As we’ve seen in our two prior installments on teak, there is quite a lot to ingest when making decisions about how best to care for your investment. New boat owners may struggle with not knowing who to listen to or which path to choose. You might think, well, its just wood that lives outside- must be kind of like the deck on my house, I should probably just seal it up and that will keep it protected. You could think this. You could also do this. I have seen it, and can confirm that people have done this but, I am of the opinion that sealing your teak deck is a bad idea, and I’ll explain why. One thing we’ll need to suss out is how we define ‘seal’. If you’re thinking of sealing your new teak deck with varnish, paint or water sealant, my answer is no, just no, don’t do it- there is a good chance that you may regret the decision long term, unless you sell the boat (and the problem) away to another person.
Sure, it can be remedied if you’ve painted over your teak—you can have all the paint, plus a few millimeters of your deck sanded down to remove the mistake and start fresh (if your deck was new enough and thick enough to take a good sanding). A reminder, think of the poor Burmese elephants. There is a reason why all the best super yachts have raw teak. Its because raw, naked teak is, simply put, the best—and can’t be beat. Nothing compares to the feel of clean, naked, raw teak beneath a bare foot (not to sound too bizarre but its just an actual factual).
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some beautifully sealed teak. I’ve also seen teak that was sealed years ago and not maintained and it looked like Frankenteak. Basically, once you’ve sealed your teak deck, the stakes have risen. You’ve committed to a path that, if not properly maintained can end up a real train wreck on your boat. I’ve certainly seen it done- the sealing of teak- and done well on a long term basis but this has been done by owners who are possessed by the boat and not the other way around. That is to say, people who live on and for their boat and in particular, for the regular maintenance of the boat. In my experience, this represents a very minute percentage of boat owners. The vast majority of boat owners simply don’t have the time to put into caring for sealed teak religiously.
I say the best rule of thumb for teak is to keep it simple- naked and regularly cleaned. But, if you’re really looking for a religious experience with your teak (like at least once every 6 months) and sealing is tempting you, I would recommend using Semco. Semco has a consistency like water and is quick and easy to apply. Less is more when applying Semco, use a rag or cotton cloth to wipe on clean, dry teak- allow an hour or so to dry and apply 2 coats. It looks really, really nice on clean, brightened teak but is definitely a commitment.
If you’re looking for longevity for sealing your teak and thinking maybe we’ll use polyurethane or something along those lines, fuhgeddaboudit! Boats live outside and neglected bright work looks bad too- the risk with trying to varnish seal teak is that if any moisture (even a teeny tiny weeny bit) gets under the varnish, the wood will mold/mildew (think fungi) and rot from the inside out. A crusty old varnished yellowed cracking handrail is one thing, but do that to a teak deck and its just too sad. Please don’t. Again, think of the elephants.
During the long days spent at home last spring, while we were all in lockdown, I may have seen a Ted-Talk or two, or several dozen. I decided to take advantage of some distance learning and find out more about the world of Mycology and Lichenology. For years, I had been seeing all sorts of puzzling growths on long forgotten vessels that owners were looking to resuscitate, wondering what they were, where they came from, and how they formed. I’ve seen plenty of ferns and grasses (even a small sapling or two) growing on boats, so it made sense that other things could ‘float in on the wind’ and get established. I’ve also come to realize, many other things may also float in on the poo raining down from various birds, but who’s to say? Sure, it's nerdy, but really knowing the difference between mildew and mold and lichen seemed prescient to me.
Obviously when any of these are present on a boat, yacht, or what have you, it’s there. ‘It’ has arrived and set up fungal shop. Another way to think of ‘it’ being there, is the term ‘it’s in the’. In the detailing world, the terms ‘it’s in the…canvas’, ‘it’s in the… paint’, or ‘it’s in the…teak’ are indicative of a fusion between a force of nature, and the varying material conditions present on a given vessel. In science, these materials become known as substrates. Lichen form on 'vapor and sunlight' as some eloquent scientists have put it-- a symbiotic community of fungi, algae and photosynthesizing cyanobacteria—this is what you see when you spy lichen, and they are surprisingly resilient and resistant to UV exposure, salty or even anaerobic environments. They’ve blasted these things in the lab with radiation, heavy metal—fuhgeddaboudit, it’s really not going anywhere. Scrape it off, sure. If ‘it’s in the’ honestly, it’s there. We can make it go away, for a while, but I guarantee you, it’s coming back-- as the conditions are prime. If it was left alone long enough to be there, in short, it’s probably time to think about replacing your canvas (if it bothers you).
Radiotrophic fungi have been not only found on it’s own in Chernobyl and on the International Space Station but they’ve also brought it on purpose, for science (by SpaceX) to do experimentation on. Molds and mildew mycelium are out there in space, all on their own, and rusts. They can suspend indefinitely and wait eons necessary to find the right conditions to begin growth again. Harsh environments are nothing to these fascinating fungi that can be found on space rocks of all sorts, which begs the question, where do they really come from. The mycology and lichenology of boat detailing is absolutely fascinating and has put me in touch with some of my scientist heroes, in pursuit of answers about marine fungi. There are astounding discoveries being made currently in the field of mycology and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of hydrocarbon loving fungi who prefer plastic substrates(!). The inert silica in fiberglass isn’t tasty for mycelium, but everything else is definitely on the fungal banquet table.
I take great comfort knowing that when humans stop making yachts (or anything really), fungi will recompose all our leftovers someday. Mycoremediation is a process we’re only just beginning to understand but it is fun watching it happen on boats, and funny to think about how we intervene to try and slow this process. Although lichen grows at, what feels like an astonishingly slow pace, it’s pretty fast, when you think about it in the context of natural forces.
I’ve wondered about these a couple instances in particular, for a long time. When I didn’t know what they were, I referred to them as ‘the orange lichen’ or ‘the black lichen’. Its been kind of my super star scientist heroes to talk layman science with me about this stuff. If you haven’t fallen asleep already, the orange lichen is Xanthoria parietina known as sunburst lichen, and it is a foliose, leafy lichen. I found this particular little patch, growing on a rehab boat by the Canadian border. You’ll see it anywhere along our coasts. Often, it’s on rocks clinging to the shoreline (or pretty much anywhere), but if you ignore a boat long enough (short enough depending on how you look at it), it will grow well on your canvas, yes even the Sunbrella kind (and yes, I have seen it on teak too, and gelcoat).
I’m probably mistaken, but I believe the black lichen on this particular hard top could be Verrucaria maura, also known as ‘sea tar’ lichen. It has been said these primarily grow on seaside rocks (as they actually aid in the digestion of limestone in particular and also in the formation of mosses), but I would argue they may also thrive on marine paint and perhaps even gelcoat, if left alone long enough. This type of lichen is part of training for oil spill cleanup crews, so they don’t go willy-nilly scrubbing shore rocks of that which is not in fact, oil, but can look strikingly like it.
We’ll talk more later on the differences between an open or closed celled material (substrate), and how oxidation plays a huge role in how ‘open’ to fungal growth your boat may be. Take it from me, just like you, your boat has a mycobiome all it’s own, and although it now seems to live in nature, someday it will become nature, recomposed, thanks to fungi.
If you ask Google, there are millions of ways to clean your teak. If you ask, what’s so special about the properties of teak, it’ll tell you "Teak is naturally water-resistant and physically very strong and durable. It is not prone to significant expansion or contraction with humidity changes. The oils in teak are what make it weather-resistant and it requires basically no care when left outside." This of course, is a lie-- if you want your teak to look a certain way. As with most questions, I find that the answers to teak care tend to be ‘it depends’. Luckily, we can guide you in directions.
*Disclaimer, we’re talking about real teak here, Tectona grandis, not the popsicle stick stuff.
So, getting down to it. First things first would be an assessment. We already know the teak is gray and probably old. If it wasn’t, you likely wouldn’t be reading this. How old though, makes a difference; some people say you should expect 20 to 40 years or more out of the life of a real teak deck. Everyone agrees, teak that hasn’t been maintained, will die young, or be in serious need of repair. Just how much repair? Well, ask yourself a few questions. Is the caulking (black stuff in lines between the wood) ‘standing proud’? Cut it down, or replace it. Are the panels dished? Ready the Dremel and belt sander, or hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Maybe the teak is just gray, and it would be nice to give it a scrub and bring it back to a nice brown color, or even, dare I say (the highly coveted) ‘honey’ color? You may think pressure washer, but you’d be wrong. It’s starting to sound like work now.
If you spend too much time on YouTube, you’ll find yourself bouncing around between an ancient sailor, down on hands and knees scrubbing the deck of his sailboat with a stiff bristled brush and a bucket of salt water uttering the phrase ‘across the grain’ till it hurts, to a teenage deckhand in the Mediterranean on a superyacht, scouring powdered dish detergent or into the teak with a 3M doodlebug, to some guy in Florida who swears by scrubbing his teak swim step with Coca-Cola. Seriously, it’s like, pick whatever channel you want, you’ll find variations on a lot of themes, but I assure you, some of the ideas out there get pretty wild.
If you ask the boat makers, the shipwrights, the shapers and mounters, the installers of the elephant harvested teak from Myanmar, they will give you a list of rules about what to do and what not to do and it will typically look something like this.
1)accept the fact that the wood will become gray, or don’t and see what happens (you’ll probably be just fine)
2)do, always scrub gently with a soft or medium/soft brush across the grain (don’t use stiff bristle brushes, don’t scrub with the grain)
3)increase intensity of cleaning product strength from regular boat soap to white vinegar and water to a small amount of bleach or ‘mildew remover’ and water to oxalic acid, Bon Ami powder, powders of all types, some say various detergents, then we enter the realm of two step acid washes, a realm where some dare never venture- but if you’re after that honey color it’s really your only option, that, or sanding
Ask yourself, how do you like your grain? I’ve noticed the grain effect on super yachts (given the doodlebug treatment) I would describe as ‘smashed, but pleasant underfoot’. I once knew a guy who liked to use pickle juice on his teak, he said the smell helped keep the birds away. One thing that really degrades a deck (other than obviously scrubbing it too hard or using a pressure washer) is marine fungi. Yeah, you heard me, fungi. Mold, mildew, lichen, even mosses (especially here in the Pacific Northwest)-- its all part of the re-composition, where in, nature turns your teak deck back into soil. Fungal communities feed on algae that quickly establish onboard your vessel and yes, there are plenty of hydrocarbon loving fungi out there too, who love even the diesel in your boat engine. Those ones are the sludge makers, also known as Hormoconis resinae. If you’re not paying attention, the fungi will absolutely move in, birds poop it in on the wind, maybe. It’s just out there, man. Don’t feel weird about it though, there’s even molds mildew and fungi that live on the International Space Station. Completely anerobic and even salty environments are a non-issue for many fungi and also rusts (queue blog foreshadow). This is something not many talk about when we’re talking about teak, I know. But, to put it bluntly-- you do have to ‘keep it clean’ if you want it to last-- what this translates into is quite simply, regular maintenance washes.
Whether its boat soap, vinegar, bleach, what have you, keeping your teak clean is the key to longevity. Once the fungi has moved in, and if bleach (mildew remover) isn’t cutting it, then you may have to decide which acid treatment is right for you, or get to sanding. Pretty much every commercial teak cleaner doesn’t pass the EPA smell test for discharge into any waterway, and although some work very well, in essence it’s a chemical sanding. The real key is, once you’ve got it clean, keep it clean. Need a sand? We can’t help there, but we can help keep it clean, and this should always be the ultimate goal for maintaining your teak. Leaving nutty pickle juice guy behind, we’ll venture into the realm of “to seal or not to seal” on our next analysis paralysis session of this teak deep dive. We’re going to be talk oiling, staining, painting, maybe dip a toe in popsicle stick flooring and all things imitation teak.
When we talk about washing boats, dirt and mildew tend to get a lot of attention, especially in the Pacific Northwest. But, one thing folks don’t talk much about is the need for some serious UV protection, especially for unhoused boats that spend their whole life out in the open. Just as with our own skin, the sun causes the vast majority of damage to your boat, or your boat’s ‘skin’-- which is a good way to think about the exterior of your boat.
Sure, you can get dirt on your skin, it just washes off. But there is a reason your dermatologist tells you to be sure to put lotion on after you shower (and then sunblock, of course). A conditioning protectant is essential to, not only save you from the ashy, chalky look, but also to create a barrier layer between you and the free radical, oxidative stressors inherent in environmental exposure. So, the moral of this story is, as odd as it may sound, after you’ve washed it, lotion your boat. We’ve found the best nautical cosmetics counters and have been conducting extensive boat beautification testing for decades. We can vouch for several great products.
Don’t worry, we’re not greedy, and won’t keep these secrets to ourselves; because we don’t believe in information hoarding at Deckhand Detailing, we’ll go ahead and list some the best products on the market for all those times, between buff and wax Spa Appointments (once the boat has been cleaned) where you’ll want to ‘sunblock’ your boat’s skin. Putting these ‘lotions’ on your boat every month or two will go a long way in fending off crows-feet, never mind the nautical folliculitis that happens when you don’t keep your boat’s skin clean and protected.
A wonderful, top-shelf product is 303 Marine UV Protectant. Its safe for use on several surfaces, but it works especially well for vinyl seating. Use it on your dinghy tubes, dash area, it really is a fantastic UV blocker and also repels dirt and dust. It’s spray on, wipe off application makes it especially quick and easy. Meguiar’s 59 Quick Wax is a real gem to use on your gel coat; again, the spray and wipe application makes this especially quick and easy, and you can use it everywhere. Using a product like Rain-X (StarBrite also makes a similar product) on your glass, also goes a long way to help prevent the formation of water spots and aids in repelling dirt and preventing mineral deposits caused by hard dock water. Plexus and IMAR Strataglass Protective Polish work very well on any type of isinglass or plastic windows.
I will keep one outstanding product line in this arena a secret, for now, but will tell you all about it soon, we promise. So, whenever you think or hear ‘don’t forget the sunblock’, remember to share that love with your boat too.
Buckle up as we take a ride on the teak highway, from Lake Union in Seattle all the way to Myanmar. We'll be doing some time travel as well, so put your helmet on, and get ready to hit a few destinations along the way including the Netherlands, en route to the land of unemployed elephants. At the end of this leg of the journey, you'll understand why the question "where did your teak come from" is the new "where did your diamond come from".
When I talk with boat owners who are interested in 'the how and why' of all things having to do with boats, I usually find myself quite capable of being longwinded. If there is a teak deck involved, sometimes this conversation could go on for hours. There is so much to say about teak, and this is why Google will give you 2,090,000 search results for "how to clean teak on a boat". You're probably all like, yeah, yeah, I came for the blood diamonds part. We'll get into it, I promise. To be truthful, given the breadth of the subject, this may need to become a multi-blog topic, but I'll try to cover some ground here, starting with a disclaimer.
When I say teak, I'm talking about the real deal, Tectona Grandis-- not the fake stuff, which I like to refer to as 'popsicle stick flooring', or the various other iterations of imitations in foam and composite. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what the alternatives are trying to accomplish, they just happen to be a nightmare for detailing. Teak decking is also a nightmare for detailing. As with the diamond trade, many people have little inkling of the ramifications that go into the acquisition of these raw materials, and the varying shades of associated 'legality' depending on country of origin. Now you may be thinking you were promised a ride on a highway, not a rollercoaster but by now you're strapped in already, helmet on. PPE, check. Keep your hands and arms inside the ride, remove dark soled shoes, here we go.
In 2006 Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly and Leonardo DiCaprio brought the complicated topic of 'conflict diamonds' (mined in war zones and sold to finance conflicts in Sierra Leone) to the American zeitgeist via the silver screen, with the movie Blood Diamond. In part, the growing consideration for where and how ‘items’ or ‘materials’ are 'harvested' was spurred on by this film, and gave rise to the now highly sought after 'conflict free' diamond, along with notions of becoming an educated consumer. Terms like 'fair trade', 'sustainably sourced', 'ethically sourced' started hitting the mainstream around this time and all of the sudden child labor became a consideration when you popped into Sephora to pick up a new eyeshadow pallet and had the thought, "where does mica come from", never mind the diamond you've been after.
Like most diamonds, teak has no real markers on it to say where it came from, or how it was sourced and likewise the usual answer to either question on teak or diamonds origin, is typically answered with a shrug and an 'I don't know' or 'couldn't say'. In 2013 the EU implemented strict rules surrounding 'illicit timber'. What a provocative term! In 2014 Myanmar (the country also known as Burma and current worldwide winner, for longest civil war) banned the export of wild teak logs. This was big, because Myanmar has all the good teak, having the most tropical forest in Southeast Asia. Despite the issues around deforestation (especially in the regions known for teak) and the governments ban on export, Uncle Pennybags demands only the best teak for his yacht building and all logs must be harvested using elephant labor. But for real, apparently, it's like, a big problem in Myanmar-- what to do about all the out of work elephants, especially during the pandemic. I know, it all sounds a bit like theatre, but I swear its true! The below photo is courtesy if the Dutch Police from a multi-pronged teak raid in 2019 of smuggled Burmese teak found in numerous locations in the Netherlands via the Czech Republic.
I kid you not. Apparently the Tectona grandis is, no joke, hotter than drugs and the authorities are looking to crack down. The yacht makers (some names have been named in media reports) must have their Burmese teak fix though, and will not be denied. Sure, there is a myriad of ethical questions one could consider, from the laborers (my god, the poor elephants) to the environmental impacts, but ultimately, those lawsuits are being played out in high courts in other countries and the powers that be are charging the middlemen in the supply chain-- the 'dealers' and the 'shippers'. By the time your new teak deck arrives in the Pacific Northwest, as a mere user-- one can assume those fines have already been paid. But the now, illicit nature of it does make the status symbol of having a deck teak more of a rarity and it will become increasingly more difficult to acquire as raids and unavoidable restrictions increase.
These developments in the teak market and global trade have only added to the mythos of having a teak deck. This also makes it all the more important when a boat owner has to weigh decisions about how to care for and maintain their teak, especially with an understanding of the unicorn-like nature of both a new or old teak deck. Stick around as we peel back the layers and layers of teak care. We're going to talk caulking, sanding, washing, scrubbing, oiling, brightening, products, tips and tricks, things to look out for and then, we'll talk same on all variations of 'fake teak'. For now, the ride is coming to a stop. Keep your dark soled shoes off, summer is nearly here. Leonardo did not win, although he was nominated in 2007, for best actor. You may remove your helmet, we'll pick back up with this deep dive into teak in the next one.
What are the water streaks on your boat (sometimes referred to as black streaks) and why do they keep happening? Where do they come from, how can we remove them, and once they're removed, how can we keep them from coming back? Keep reading for tips and tricks to learn how to keep your boat looking it's best year round in the Seattle area with Deckhand Detailing.
If you take a close look at the before and after photos above, you'll notice a cluster of vertical stains on the white gelcoat of this older Sea Ray. Not to worry, these are actually very common and there are a variety of ways to treat and prevent water/black streaks from forming. So, what is the best way to keep this from happening to your boat? The most guaranteed, (but not the best) option to prevent the formation of water streaks is... (drumroll, please) covered moorage. The reason for this is, as you may have guessed, rain.
Boats that are kept in uncovered moorage have the privilege of regular, free boat washes from nature, in the form of precipitation. Now, you might think this means covered moorage will help keep your boat clean. That is unfortunately, not the case either, and I'll explain more on why this is, shortly. You might also think, who has the time or the money for covered moorage? Especially in the Seattle area, some marinas offering covered slips have, not only astronomical prices, but years long waiting lists. So, if covered moorage is not an option for you, guess what. You're not alone.
The vast majority of boats are, in fact, kept uncovered and exposed to, not only rain and UV damage, but also environmental particulate (aka dirty air). Don't worry, covered boats are exposed to the same dirty air too (especially in the city and in close proximity to roadways) and they have the added bonus of bird and spider droppings as their regular gifts from nature. So, rain-- probably not such a bad thing. The good thing is, we can manage all the impacts of the environment on your boat, which unfortunately can't live in a showroom.
So, where do black streaks come from? Simply put, these streaks come from dirty boats being rained on and then drying. And yes, your boat gets dirty just sitting there, even if you don't use it. More dirty air settles particulate on the surface of the boat, then it rains again carrying the dirt in streaks down housing and hull, and the boat dries. So on and so forth, again and again, over and over, and until we intervene, the water/black streaks will continue to 'get worse'. When to intervene, is a great question.
Ideally you'd of had the time to keep up with the boat, but maybe it got away from you, and that's ok. Maybe it got away for six months, maybe six years. How bad could it be? Well, enter Deckhand Detailing, or, just you-- reading this like a pro and getting down to the business of DIYing it. In assessing how bad the black streaks are, you'll want to consider several factors, such as when was the last time you washed the boat, also when was the last time the boat was waxed, and how nice would you like the boat kept. If water/black streaks don't bother you, then que syrah! But, you probably wouldn't be here reading this if that was the case. So, what to do?
A huge contributing factor in the formation of water/black streaks (and their management) is having an hard to reach or unreachable 'top' to your boat. Short of acquiring some of those new jet packs I hear have been coming out in France, or organizing a special date with a crane operator, there are some roofs and bimini tops we just don't have access to (on some larger yachts), and we blame this on poor boat design. As layers and layers of particulate and dirt settle on the 'roof' hard/soft top, more and more dirt has the opportunity to be carried down the vertical surfaces of your vessel with the rain. The longer this continues, the more 'set in' the water/black streak staining will become. So, first things first. In order to decide how bad it is, you're going to need to wash the whole boat top to bottom. This will answer the first, age old detailing question--"Will it wash out?"
We'll skip the suspense. The answer is no. The stains won't wash out. So now what? Well, if you have time, energy, or money, and your goal is to not only remove the water streaks, but keep them from coming back, then have your boat waxed (we suggest boats be waxed at least annually, and if your boat is kept uncovered, potentially every six to nine months). Once your boat has been waxed, we recommend washing your boat at least once a month. If your boat is close to a major roadway or 'in the city' you'll want to consider having it washed more often, whether it is covered or uncovered. Keeping a layer of wax on your boat acts as a protectant for your gel coat. It helps to minimize oxidation and UV damage and keeps the pores of your gel coat closed, giving the finish a glossy look. It also makes keeping the boat clean much easier, and even when it gets dirty after a wax, it will all wash out easily, exposing a glossy gel coat below.
If you don't have the time money or energy for a wax, not to worry. There are good options and some stop gap measures that can be taken as well. Companies such as 3M and StarBrite make some good spray and wipe products labeled as 'black/water streak remover'. A word of caution when using these products, they often contain caustic chemicals and should only be used with proper PPE and cannot be rinsed into our waterways (they must be used as a spot treatment and wiped off completely with either a microfiber cloth or cotton rag). A secondary word of caution, when your boat does not have proper wax on it, and the gel coat is fully exposed and oxidizing, this is when black water streaks appear strongest and are most difficult to remove, and using a black streak remover will clean the streaks away BUT it cleans everything away and leaves your boat's gelcoat even more exposed to the next round of particulate settling/raining/drying , creating streaks that will only become more and more set in over time as the gelcoat gets worse and worse. Things getting worse sounds bad. Luckily there is a wonderful product out there bridging the gap between washing, waxing, and using black streak remover and its called 'Cleaner Wax' (good makers include Meguiar's and 3M).
Similar to black streak remover, cleaner wax will clean away not only black water streaks, but also scruffs, some small scratches and stains of all shapes sizes and colors on your boat. The best part about cleaner wax is that it will bring up a gloss and leave an all important layer of protection between your gelcoat and the wide world outside. Particulate, spider, mildew and bird staining is a distant memory when you bring cleaner wax into your boat life. Cleaner wax is made to use as a spot treatment (wipe on/wipe off) and the only thing you'll want to be aware of, is ending up with a bunch of areas/spots on the boat that look nice, clean and glossy, when the rest of the boat has a chalky thirsty, oxidizing, open-pored gel coat framing each beautiful cleaner-waxed 'spot'. Having a full boat wax will even out what I like to call the 'patchy' look. You can think of black streak remover as more of a chemical peel for your boat's skin, cleaner wax acts as a moisturizing, anti-aging face mask. Bonus pro tip: cleaner wax can also be used on your stainless and stamoid enclosures.
Keep your eyes peeled for more fresh blogs on how to care for your boat and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on boat detailing, coming soon!
And the winner to the best type of boat enclosure goes to...don't have a boat enclosure! I say that from a detailing perspective, but I realize how nice a boat enclosure can be, especially living here in Seattle where it's wet for what feels like 13 months out of the year. Boat enclosures provide shade in sunny climates and rain-protection in wet climates. They give you a break from the wind and allow you to have more livable space on your boat. In a way, they're a necessary evil. I say that because they get dirty quickly and are a pain to clean (or keep clean).
The two main materials that boat enclosures are made of these days are canvas and Stamoid. For those unfamiliar with Stamoid, it's a vinyl-coated woven polyester material that's supposed to be superior to canvas. We say "supposed to be" because in our line of work, we've seen a lot of Stamoid covers that didn't hold up to their promises.
Pros and Cons of Stamoid
Stamoid vinyl is advertised as waterproof, resistant to mildew and UV damage. It maintains it's flexibility with extreme temperature changes and doesn't shrink. It's coated with a "Nanotop" barrier that helps to prevent dirt from "sticking" to it, making it easy to clean and keep clean. That all sounds good to me, you say. What cons could there possibly be?
How many people actually clean AND treat their enclosure on a regular basis? And by "regular basis", I mean a few times a month, and by "clean and treat", I mean actually washing it down and using the special cleaner that the manufacturer recommends and then treating the Stamoid by applying a cream conditioner to it? The reality is that very few people take the time to clean and condition every inch of their Stamoid enclosure material on a regular basis or ever because they either don't have the time, don't have the ability, can't reach every inch of it once it's installed or simply don't bother.
I completely understand because it can be a lot of work and keeping those Stamoid enclosures clean is part of my job as a detailer. We see brand new enclosures turn brown or grey with water streaks and dirt quickly if they don't get cleaned often from day one. Even when a boat owner has a detailing company washing their boat every other week, those enclosures still get dirty fast and each time, the dirt and streaks are harder to remove.
Also consider the cost. A custom-made Stamoid enclosure is not cheap! If you're going to pay your boat detailer to clean and polish them a couple times a month in order to keep them looking as good as possible, that will cost you a few hundred dollars each time because it takes a few hours to properly clean and polish them.
Even then, they will still age. Sun, wind, rain, heat, cold and humidity will affect them no matter what the brochure says. We often see where the thread comes out or disintegrates over time and where seams comes undone. So even if you've hired someone to clean and treat your enclosure every few weeks, you'll also need to repair the seams at some point.
Pros and Cons of Canvas
Canvas as an enclosure material can be just as annoying to work with, but it's a bit more forgiving when it comes to cleaning it. Dirt and mildew love canvas enclosures because they can work their way into the fabric and retire there. If washed on a regular basis though, even if it's with the same bucket of water and soap you're washing the rest of your boat with, any loose dirt and new mildew should come right out. If it's been there for a longer period of time and isn't coming out with just soap and water or the resident blue heron at your marina always chooses your canvas enclosure to rest on, then you'll need to use a scrub brush with some stronger products to get the dirt and stains out.
However, over time, canvas will shrink from the sun making it harder to work with. Stretching it to reach a snap could cause it to tear and once mildew has been on it for a while, it can be almost impossible to get out. Pressure washing canvas can sometimes be too rough for it and using harsh chemicals on a regular basis to clean it can cause the canvas to degrade over time.
The Verdict: Stamoid looks great, but unless you plan on cleaning and treating it often (and can reach all of it once installed), you may want to consider a different material. We're not slamming it at all, we're simply pointing out the fact that you need to stay on top of cleaning and treating it in order to maintain its great qualities as an enclosure material.
We say this about a lot of boat detailing products. Many of them work great IF you actually use them on a regular basis AND use them properly. A Stamoid cover will look great on your boat and last a long time, but you have to be willing to care for it regularly and properly.
Canvas is a bit more forgiving until it's not. What I mean by this is that you can let it go a bit longer without cleaning it, but if you let it go too long (especially if green mildew is building up), then it can get to a point where you can no longer get the mildew stains out because they're in the fibers. As far as pricing, canvas seems to be just as expensive as Stamoid these days, so I'm not sure how much savings there is with a canvas enclosure.
If I had to choose, I'd choose not having an enclosure. But if I really had to choose, I'd go for a canvas enclosure with elastic loop attachments. Since canvas will shrink, choose connectors that will accommodate tighter canvas, such as elastic loops or suction cups. That's right - suction cups! We saw this on a boat recently and it's a brilliant idea for canvas as long as the area you want it to attach to is a smooth window or gel coat. It's a great idea for canvas covers too.
Thanks for reading! We hope our boat detailing articles help you with your own boat maintenance.