world’s worst producers of hazardous byproducts, including dioxins, PCBs, carcinogenic phthalates, and other nasties. When its service life is over, vinyl can be recycled—PVC can be reused again and again—or broken down (controlled incineration) in wastetreatment plants. Tossing it into the landfill, however, is not good— the bad stuff can leach out into the environment. Open burning is even worse. But scrapings and blasting debris from removing LP paint has to be collected and disposed of safely, too, as do leftover solvents and other components, so there’s no free lunch with either material. If you’re green, do your research before choosing a topsides coating.
It’s Not All Vinyl
So where do you start if vinyl turns out to be your final choice? We talk of “vinyl wrapping,” but while most of the stuff that comes off the roll and onto the boat is PVC, some of it isn’t. Some wraps are actually polyolefins, among the world’s most commonly used plastics; polyethylene and polypropylene are both polyolefins. (Most Tupperware is low-density polyethylene, a safe plastic for food storage; so is Saran Wrap.) What difference does all this make to the end user? In practice, not much, but it explains why some wraps are fine for interior use—wood-grain designs for covering joinery, for example—but won’t hold up outside, while others can be used anywhere. There are even wraps for lining swimming pools and Jacuzzis. The important thing is to match the wrap with its use, something an experienced wrapper will know.
While there are several manufacturers of wrapping vinyl, two that are used by most pros are 3M’s Wrap Film Series 1080 and Avery Dennison’s Supreme Wrapping Film SW900. 3M’s website lists 269 variations of Series 1080, in enough colors and finishes (including metallic) to satisfy just about anyone. Series 1080 is one of the most popular wraps for marine use. A standard roll is 60 inches wide, up to 50 yards long—so unless you’re wrapping a megayacht, it’s more likely any seams will run longitudinally somewhere between chine and gunwale. (Expert wrappers can make an overlapped joint that’s almost invisible.) Avery Dennison makes SW900 in more than 100 colors and effects, including some cool metallic films.
Wrapping vinyl incorporates a protective surface layer to improve UV and abrasion resistance. Vinyl is softer than gelcoat or linear polyurethane, and even with the protective laminate is more susceptible to damage from sunlight, abrasion (e.g., from fenders) or impact (e.g., the tender or club launch coming alongside too hard). Fishermen need to be careful with the gaff; wakeboarders and waterskiiers have to watch their gear, too.
For belowdecks, 3M’s Di-Noc architectural finishes come in a variety of designs—more than 500, according to company literature, including 94 woodgrain patterns, just right for rejuvenating joinery or even cabin furniture. (Automobile wrap shops can even cover spoked wheels with vinyl, so furniture is a doddle for an expert wrapper.) Forget stripping, sanding, and recoating; just wrap it. In six or seven years you’ll have to re-wrap, but by then you’ll be tired of teak, anyway, and will want something else—maybe cherry or mahogany, or even chrome, or just a simple color. Any decent wrapper will have access to these vinyls and many others. But vinyl-wrapped joinery suggests to me clear plastic slipcovers on furniture—I prefer not to live surrounded by plastic, and joinery that’s properly finished in the first place doesn’t need refinishing very often if given even a modicum of care. Maybe you feel differently.
Application and Aging
Applying vinyl wrap requires few tools: basically, squeegees and a heat gun, plus tape to hold it in place until it can be tacked down. Unlike LP, which requires a paint shop for spraying, vinyl can be applied outside by a crew working from staging. Once the surface is scrupulously clean—wrap manufacturers call for “like new” condition—the main thing is to keep it dust-free. Laying down the vinyl is a job for professionals: The long lengths of material used to minimize joints make it awkward to corral, and working it around compound curves, spray rails, hull windows, design features, and other impediments while maintaining a glass-like surface takes skill and patience. But the adhesive is low-tack, so the crew can reposition the vinyl as necessary, stretch it, and then use heat to lay it into place around tight curves and corners.
Once the covering is just right, squeegeeing out the air activates the adhesive. There are channels in the vinyl to make this easy; it’s not like trying to get air bubbles out of a windshield sticker, something I can’t do to save my life. Marine wrappers add a primer around the edges to improve adhesion before lay-