The most comprehensive survey ever undertaken to study the DIY use of antifouling (AF) paints in the UK has shown that boat owners are taking the correct precautions and are well aware of the hazards involved when using these products.

The British Coatings Federation (BCF) Marine Coatings Group launched the survey in September, to acquire information and data to defend the DIY use of these products.

Industry concerns

There is a concern that authorities may decide to restrict the application and use of AF paints to professional applicators through the implementation of the latest EU regulations on biocides.

The RYA urged members to take part in the survey and it was completed by just under 2,500 boat owners, the vast majority of which paint their own boats with antifouling paint on an annual basis.

The findings confirmed that over 90% of boat owners are well aware of the hazards involved in the application of AF paints, and use the appropriate personal protective equipment accordingly.

Minimising risk

The survey results also highlighted several areas where improvements could be made, including the provision of training courses, better guidance on preparing the boat and disposing of waste paint, and further efforts that could be made to minimise the risks of skin contact with AF paint during its application.

BCF members are now reviewing a 14-page preliminary report on the responses and discussing how to take forward this information to the next stage. 

Boat owners and representatives from the marine industry have been invited to a meeting in early February to discuss the findings summarised in the report and to put together a strategic action plan as the BCF proceeds with lobbying to defend the continued use of AF paints by the DIY applicator.

Antifoul best practice

Whilst antifouling does a great job of keeping our hulls clean, and even has some environmental benefits such as improving fuel efficiency and preventing the spread of invasive non-native species, it is toxic to aquatic life.

Since the banning of TBT in 1987, most antifouls are now copper or zinc based. Some of the compounds found in these antifouls can accumulate in marine organisms, and can find their way into marine wildlife further up the food chain.

The majority of copper in antifouling enters the marine environment through leaching. However concentrated amounts do enter the marine environment during the removal of antifouling paint, which occurs mostly by water blasting or mechanical scraping, and can form concentrated deposits in the sediments around marinas and in river beds.

Boat owners can play a vital role in preventing concentrated scrapings from entering the water by choosing a marine facility that uses a washdown system that captures run off and by following the best practice advice available from The Green Blue. 

  • Avoid antifoul scrapings from entering the water by collecting in a tarpaulin
  • Dust from sanding paint and antifouling coatings is toxic. Using a dustless vacuum sander will also protect your heath
  • If you use scrubbing piles, only scrub off the fouling and not the underlying paint – be careful not to let old or new paint enter the water
  • Select a marina, club or boatyard which has a washdown facility which collects residues and wash down
  • Take advice from your chandlery on the correct type of antifoul for your location and use and preferably with the lowest levels of biocides and copper suitable for your needs
  • Use water-based paints where possible, or low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds)   
  • Look into using less damaging bottom paints, such as vinyl, silicone or Teflon or ultrasonic technologies
  • Apply the right amount of antifouling required and do not spill it – when applying use a sheet to collect drip    
  • Dispose of used brushes, rollers and trays and empty cans of antifoul as hazardous waste

Queries regarding the BCF survey should be addressed to Trevor Fielding, the BCF’s Regulatory Affairs Manager,