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How do I strip the bottom paint off my boat?

2013 January 4

Dear Boat Doctor,
My boat needs a full bottom job. I have a lot of loose flaking paint as well as thick buildup. I think I'm at the point where I need to strip the bottom and start fresh, but I don't know how to remove the old paint. My boatyard is not keen on me sanding or sand blasting the bottom, so I think my only option is a chemical stripper, although I'd like to avoid something really toxic if possible.
Fred DeMaria
Grand Haven, Michigan

Dear Fred,
It does sound like it's time to start fresh on your bottom. At some point there's just no way to keep piling paint on. With the fact that bottom paint is fairly toxic and most boatyards are becoming stricter on toxic waste and bottom stripping has become contentious. Your best bet is likely a less toxic stripper (one that does not contain methyl chloride) and then being very careful cleaning up your waste. Be sure to coordinate this with your yard and take the proper safety precautions for yourself.

There is really no way to avoid sanding right at the waterline, but keeping this area to a minimum will prevent the mess and danger of airborne bottom paint dust.
I wish I had better advice for you. Good luck on this tough job.