How to Apply Waterline Stripes on a Boat
Here, I'll show you the correct way to apply waterline stripes to your boat. I have had many boat owners tell me how difficult can it be putting a stripe on a boat. Pull the paper off the back of a stripe and stick it to the boat -- very easy, right? If you do it without following these directions, you're going to run into many problems, and end up with a beachball-sized waterline stripe from ripping it off the hull, when it doesn't work out for you.
The end product you want to see is a nice smooth finish on the waterline stripe, with no wrinkles, air bubbles, or particles stuck behind the tape. If any of these things happen, then there's a good chance the stripe will fail over time.
Let me tell you a little story, before we get started. One day, I was working on a boat repair job at the marina, minding my own business, when this boat owner came over to me, from the boat he had just hauled. He wanted me to give him an estimate to replace its old waterline stripe. This was a 60-foot Motor Yacht -- a very big boat. I told him that it can run around $600, which included removing the old stripe and applying a new stripe that he supplied, but that I couldn't start the job until I finished the boat I was already working on. He said, "I can't wait. I have to be back in the water in 2 days." Then he said, "How hard can it be, putting a stripe on a boat? It looks easy," he told me. I told him, "Good Luck."
So I went back to work and while I was busy, I noticed him using heat guns and razor blades. He started around 9:00 am and finished around 6:00 pm.
The next day, he was admiring the work he'd done removing the old stripes, and was getting ready to install the new stripes. Around lunch time, I heard some screaming. When I looked up to see what all the commotion was about, I saw the guy fighting his waterline stripe, and ripping it off very fast because it wasn't going on straight. One final scream later, I saw a 60-foot, sticky waterline beachball. He got so mad, that he pulled all of the tape off the boat and rolled it up into a big ball. I never saw anyone get that crazy over striping a boat. But then again, he didn't do it right.
Remember, a boat is supposed be a calming, tranquil experience -- relaxing, listening to the sounds of the water, feeling the rocking motion of the waves, and enjoying a tasty beverage is what it's all about.
After he left, I checked out his boat. He made a big mistake while removing the old stripes. He used a heat gun with a razor blade, and by using this method, he dug out the gel coat, because he wasn't careful about how much pressure he applied with the razor blade. Then when he tried to apply the new stripe, it looked terrible. I could see all of the spots that he dug out with the razor blade.
Here's a tip for applying stripes that I learned in the late 60s while working on the old Chevy and Ford station wagons -- the ones with the simulated wooden decals. Those decals used to be water activated, but didn't hold up well, so they switched to pressure-sensitive glue for the back of the decals, instead. The pressure-sensitive glue decals were very hard to apply because once it stuck to the panel, it was stuck. If you tried pulling it off to realign, you would stretch the decal film -- then it became garbage.
So, I started to use a light spray of water so the decal wouldn't stick to the panel as quickly. But it was still difficul to shift and move around. Then I got the idea to add a few drops of dish soap, and this turned out to be the magic method. Note that whenever this process is used on a boat, you will need to use a squeegee to remove the excess water and soap, or else the stripe won't stick.
Now almost 50 years later, there is an excellent product on the market called "Rapid Tac." This stuff works great and saves a lot of time. So I hope this information helps you!
By the way, the owner of the 60-foot Motor Yacht just went ahead and put his boat back in the water without any waterline stripes.
Warning: If you don't have the right tools, or the ability, then do not attempt this procedure.
Do It Yourself Step-by-step Photo Guide: How to apply Waterline Stripes on a boat.