This section deals with painting the topside of your hull - for information on painting the lower hull see the Blacking and Biocides section.
Painting and decorating has been classed by the UN as a “carcinogenic profession” because of the fumes from paints and other materials. Although you may only be touching up the paintwork on your boat it's the same fumes you're breathing in as the professionals.
Paint manufacture consumes a huge amount of energy, and produces up to ten tonnes of (mostly toxic) waste for every tonne of paint.
- A major hazard is VOCs - Volatile Organic Compounds. These evaporate, causing eye, nose, and throat problems, and headaches, and contributing to the formation of ground-level ozone. VOCs can be carcinogens such as toluene and xylene. Many paints now carry VOC ratings to show how bad they are.
- Unfortunately water based paints rated as Low VOC sometimes actually contain more of other harmful chemicals! - e.g. alkyl phenols and vinyl resins.
- Alkyl phenols are hormone disrupters, which accumulate both in the human body and in the environment.
- Vinyl resins are carcinogenic skin irritants, which can also cause lung, liver and blood damage.
- Titanium dioxide is often used for improved whiteness or opacity. The amount of energy used to manufacture it is an environmental concern, though it is harmless to use and supplies are plentiful.
There are a number of 'eco' and 'natural' paint products available. Most use natural, biodegradable ingredients which are harmless both to us and to our environment but how well do they work on boats hat are outside in the elements all year round?
- Gloss Green Paints, available by mail order from the Green Shop (no longer available there, see below for update) are durable and appear to provide the best compromise between eco-standards and decent paint that doesn't flake off after the first winter. In a telephone conversation with the manufacturers they claimed that lots of canal boaters are using their product.
Update: Now called Green Earth Paint and available from The Greener Home Store in Machynlleth - they do mail order and can colour match. Phone them up for friendly advice: 01654 703259.
- Many communities now have a paint redistribution scheme - ask around to see if you can get unwanted pots of paint.
- Gloss paint works well enough on steel hulls on the inland waterways. It's a good idea to make sure you touch up any thinning or flaky patches as soon as you can, otherwise you'll end up having to do the whole lot every couple of years!
- Green paints - available from The Greener Home Store in Machynlleth - they do mail order and can colour match. Phone them up for friendly advice: 01654 703259.