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.