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All aboard – Marine Wraps are riding a wave – Andy McCourt

The $3 billion signage and display industry never stops looking for new opportunities to use its technology and knowledge. Vehicle wrapping has proven to be a huge boost to the signwriter’s offerings, tying-in brand advertising with ‘mobile billboards’ and fleets. Fleets of another kind are now promising extra revenue streams – “If you can wrap a car, you can wrap a boat - with a bit of extra care,” says Andy McCourt.

Boatwrap Glenbrae monster2
Example of a great boat wrap by Melbourne's Glenbrae Signs

Australia’s romance with the sea has resulted in 85% of our population living within 50km of the coast. This means that many driveways have a recreational boat parked in them, alongside cars. If it’s much bigger than a Quintrex tinnie, it might be on a trailer by the road, or moored in a marina. Commercial fleets add to the national flotilla as do the ‘paddlers’ (kayaks, surf skis etc). The Boating Industry Association values the overall industry at $8.83 billion in 2021, with over 5 million Australians – one in five - participating in some form of boating and registred vessels now over one million. The state with the highest boat ownership per capita is Western Australia, with the Covid era contributing to a massive 98% increase in boat registrations in 2020 over 2019.

Andys boatwrap Autowrapz Brookvale boat
Brookvale, NSW's Autowrapz has tapped into boat wrapping in a big way

It's a similar ‘seascape’ in New Zealand where latest data says that, at 1.7 million, almost one in every two Kiwis is engaged in some form of recreational boating. Both countries report strong growth during Covid and there is no sign of it slowing down. An estimated 70% of recreational boats are used for fishing.

This presents good opportunities for signees to use existing digital print, vinyl cutting, application and wrapping knowledge, to offer marine wrapping services. Some already have, while a few marinas who offer coating and anti-fouling have moved into digital print and wrapping, such as Sydney’s Innovative Marine Coatings, who has since rebranded as https://www.iwraps.com.au/ .

Differences car-vs-marine wraps

While the essential skills are similar there are some special considerations with marine wrapping, particularly with durability which is expected to last up to 7 years:

  • High UV and salt spray call for premium materials to be used
  • Cast vinyl and an overlaminate is common, eg 3M Series 1080, Orafol Oracal 970RA, Avery Dennison SW900 & MPI1105RS etc.
  • Interior and exterior wrapping is commonplace, eg cabin makeovers
  • Marine graphics may be on varied surfaces, eg, hull and sails
  • Wrapping starts at the waterline and up to the gunwales and topside. Below waterline is for anti-fouling coating or film
  • Location access is varied, eg dry docks, dry storage, marinas, homes, workshop for trailered boats and never while in water except for interiors

The reasons to wrap are similar to those of cars, transport and trucks:

  • Protection of paint (called gelcoat on boats)
  • Colour/appearance change
  • Bold distinguishing graphics
  • Advertising/sponsors
  • Conspicuity/safety (reflective and prismatic media)
  • It can be cheaper than re-painting a hull due to less labour hours

One notable sign printer who has a distinct sevice for boat wraps is Melbourne’s Glenbrae Signs, focusing mainly on trailerable and sports (Hydroplanes etc) boats. Others include Sydney’s Provinyl and Brookvale, NSW’s Autowrapz and Auckland's MGI graphics.Andys wrap marineGraphicsInk Surtees

What inks last longer on the water?

It’s hard to find direct comparisons based on aging and wear tests that involve high UV and saltwater but talking to sign printers, there is still a bias towards using solvent and eco-solvent inks as they penetrate further into the vinyl or polypropylene and have more vivid colours. UV printers and inks are coming into the marine wrap sector too, now that flexible inks are widely available. Don't use us 'hard' UV inks designed for flat surfaces and these will crack and water will get in between the ink and substrate.Andys wrap Provinyl Jetski Aussie

Avery, understandably, is a good source of testing information and advises:

"Printers using solvent, mild solvent or eco-solvent inks are the best option for boat graphics. The solvent inks are flexible and can conform to the boat without worry of the inks cracking. Avery Graphics has tested the most popular printer/ink combinations and any printer/ink combination that is part of the Avery Graphics ICS Performance Guarantee program can be used for printing boat graphics." Just as you should use the very best cast vinyl or PP/PE plus laminate, you should stick with proven wrap-quality printers such as Mutoh, Mimaki, Epson and Roland DG.

That having been said, water-based latex-type inks are being used for boats, as they are for vehicles, but there is a shortage of testing information on durability and longevity. Graphic Wraps has a nice installation video available HERE. A good, laminated and expertly installed marine wrap should last anywhere between 5 to 12 years. Some don't need to last that long, such as sponsor-backed sports racing boats and yachts where sponsors may change.

Orafol Leopard25
Leopard25 Superyacht wrapped in Oracal 970RA

Of course, not all marine wraps are printed, it may be just a paint (gelcoat) protection job, colour change or restoring faded coatings. In 2020, Sydney's Inovative Marine Wraps used 150 metres of Orafol Oracal 970RA - purely for gloss gelcoat protection on a prestigious Leopard 25 superyacht.

Installation tips

While basic skills and tools to wrap boats are very similar to vehicle wrapping - surface perparation, tape, squeegees, heat guns, extra pair of hands etc; there are some differences. Wrappers will often be printing extra lo-o-ong graphics - the fewer seams the better as water ingress can cause peeling. Any seams and edges must be very tightly sealed. Lamination with a quality UV laminate is a must and it may be accomplished better using a long flatbed applicator such as the Rollover, which also serves as a trimming table.

Surface preparation is critical - more critical for boats than vehicles - it has to be literally 'ship-shape.' Measuring and allowing for bi-directional curves is essential. Boat wrappers recommend measuring at one metre intervals from transom to bow, waterline to gunwhale. Some experienced marine wrap outfits also provide a selection of themed graphics ready-to-go, for popular hull shapes, such as marinegraphicsink.

If using solvent or eco-solvent inks, allow 24 hours for out-gassing before laminating, even if the ink spec says shorter than that. Likewise, a beautifully wrapped vessel should wait 24 hours before being returned to the water, to allow adhesives to cure.

Three big advantages of wrapping boats are:

1) Typically a wrap is 33% cheaper than a professional re-spray

2) Wraps can be removed without leaving any residue, returning the hull to original gelcoat

3) The addition of printed graphics can personalise and identify vessels, making boating even more fun than it already is!

Every sign maker with an appropriate printer and laminating capability can address the marine wrapping sector - so make friends with your local marinas, boat merchants, power and sail clubs! And that's a wrap.

Boatwrap Glenbrae sportsboat