Biocidal antifouling paints are hazardous mixtures that function by preventing the build-up of marine organisms on the hulls of commercial ships and pleasure craft of all sizes. Antifouling paints work largely by releasing biocides into the water, thus preventing organisms from attaching themselves to the bottom of boats.  

Whilst this is good for keeping the hull clean, improving efficiency through the water and preventing the spread of invasive non-native species, it does mean that some of the toxic ingredients leach into the water. Increased concentrations of copper can sometimes be found in the sediment around lift out points in estuaries and rivers and can find their way into the food chain causing a wide range of environmental problems.

The future quality and availability of antifouling paints, in particular for pleasure craft use, is in doubt due to the requirement for all biocidal products to undergo a stringent authorisation procedure under the Biocidal Products Regulation (EU) No.528/2012 (BPR).

What’s at stake?

Reducing the effectiveness and availability of these specialist paints will overall be detrimental to the environment, resulting in increased carbon dioxide emissions and proliferation of invasive species. It is also likely to result in significant economic and social impacts for the recreational boating sector.

The British Coatings Federation (BCF) has called for the prompt support from the UK and European authorities, to ensure the safe passage of current antifouling paints for protecting ships and boats through the BPR.

If the proposed approach to the evaluation of antifouling paints continues to be supported by the authorities, the BCF is concerned that:

  • current antifouling paints for pleasure craft may fail the authorisation process and have to be withdrawn from the market
  • national authorities will be neglecting their duty to protect marine environments, with respect to preventing the transfer of invasive species, maintaining biodiversity, and limiting carbon dioxide emissions 
  • significant negative economic and social impacts will impact on the recreational boating sector

The BCF has also expressed a concern that the worst case scenario for the leisure boat sector will see significant job losses, business closures and a decline in boat ownership.

Next steps

The RYA supports the BCF’s call for those responsible for the BPR to work with their European counterparts to establish a common, appropriate and pragmatic approach to biocidal product authorisation, especially with regard to setting realistic protection goals.

To achieve this, UK government departments including the Health and Safety Executive, BEIS, DEFRA and the Environment Agency, will need to actively engage in this issue and recognise the significant negative impacts on the UK recreational boating community and the environment if the effectiveness and availability of antifouling paints is reduced.

Antifoul Best Practice Advice

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 from The Green Blue:  

  • Prevent antifoul scrapings, drips and spills from entering the water or nearby drains by placing a tarpaulin under the hull.
  • Dust from sanding paint and antifouling coatings is toxic. Use a dustless vacuum sander.
  • 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 with a washdown facility that collects residues and wash down
  • Take advice from your chandlery on the correct type of antifoul for your location and use, preferably with the lowest levels of biocides and copper suitable for your needs.

Free tools available!  

At the start of 2017, the BCF teamed up with the RYA and British Marine to launch the DIY Safe Antifouling Initiative 2017.

The DIY Safe Antifouling Initiative includes a range of freely-available resources for reference and display, including a poster, trifold and a 16-page guidance document. To find out more, or to download any of these tools, visit www.safeantifouling.com.

Download the leaflet: "Antifouling your boat safely"

A five minute video "How to safely antifoul your boat" is available here or watch below.