With proper maintenance, you can keep a boat running for a long time, but the elements will begin to take a toll on your watercraft’s appearance sooner or later. After a while, your boat starts to collect decals: registration, boat name, etc. Over time, you may want to get rid of them and start over.
But how to remove boat decals?
Unfortunately, since these decals are designed to be as durable as possible to withstand the harsh marine environment, they are often difficult to remove without damaging your boat.
In this guide to removing boat decals, we’re going to take a look at some of the techniques that you can use to remove boat decals with minimal effort and damage to the underlying surfaces.
How to Remove Boat Decals
There are three approaches you can take to removing the decals on your boat, and they each have their pros and cons:
- Heating and scraping off the decals
- Using an eraser wheel
- Using a pressure washer with hot water
Let’s look at each one individually.
Heating and Scraping
The cheapest way to remove decals from your boat is by heating up the decals before scraping them off. You can often do this with items you already have around the house. Removing decals on a budget is possible with a hairdryer and some razor blades, but if you want to make the job easier, you can use more specialized tools.
To remove your boat’s decals faster, you can replace the hairdryer with a purpose-built heat gun, and you can use a scraper instead of razor blades.
The heat gun will get the decals up to the right temperature much quicker than a hairdryer and a scraper will give you more leverage than a razor blade (and will also be safer).
And here are the steps to removing the decals with these tools:
- Heat up the decals using your hairdryer or heat gun until you notice that they’ve gotten soft enough to remove.
- Use your scraper or razor blue to gently remove the decals from the boat’s hull. Newer decals will come off more easily while older decals will take some work.
- Using the proper solvent, wipe down the area where the decals were located to remove any glue residue.
Using this method will require you to purchase some specialized equipment. This won’t be the cheapest way to remove your boat’s decals, but it is probably the least work-intensive method you can use.
While an eraser wheel won’t entirely erase the decals, it will do the majority of the work to the point that you just have to do cleanup work once you’ve run the eraser wheel over them.
Along with the eraser wheel, you’ll also need a reliable enough power drill, so this method can get expensive if you don’t already have a fully stocked toolbox.
Here’s what you’ll need to erase your boat decals using the eraser wheel decal:
And here are the steps to using an eraser wheel on your boat’s decals:
- Use a rag to wipe down the surface of your boat’s decals with soapy water before you get started.
- Attach your eraser wheel to your power drill. Eraser wheels usually come equipped with a bit just for this.
- Gently but firmly press the eraser wheel against your boat’s decals and pull the trigger of the drill to start wearing away the vinyl decals.
- Don’t expect the decals to come off easily, so keep running your eraser wheel over them as they’re gradually erased.
- By the time you’re done, there should be nothing left apart from a few flakes stuck to the underlying adhesive.
- Stow your tools and soak a rag in your solvent of choice before wiping the surface clean of any remaining glue.
- Use soapy water and a rag to remove any of your solvent that remains on the surface.
- Using a new rag, dry off the surface, and there should no longer be any signs of the decals that were once there.
Here’s a short video showcasing the basics of the eraser wheel.
Hot Water Pressure Washer
Much like our second option, using a pressure washer with hot water to remove decals from your boat is relatively expensive.
Due to the cost of buying a pressure washer compared to a drill with an eraser wheel, this option is best reserved for people who already have one in their garage.
You’ll also need to be sure that your pressure washer is compatible with hot water, as you don’t want to accidentally damage it while you’re trying to remove your boat’s decals. Hot water is necessary, as it softens up the vinyl before the high-pressure water jets remove it from your boat’s hull.
Keep in mind that this method is best used on boats with thicker, more durable hulls.
Thin-skinned boats may be damaged by the high-pressure water, so you may want to stick to using this method on boats with hulls made of aluminum or other, equally durable materials.
Here’s what you’ll need to use this technique:
And here’s how you can remove your boat’s decals using a pressure washer:
- Heat up the water to be used in your pressure washer.
- Fill the reservoir with hot water and turn on your pressure washer.
- Start your pressure washer on a lower setting and start playing it over the vinyl decals on your boat.
- If the lower settings aren’t working, gradually turn up the power until you start whittling away the decals.
- Keep pressure washing the decals until all that remains are remnants of the adhesive.
- Turn off your pressure washer.
- Use a rag and your solvent of choice to remove any adhesive remaining on your boat’s hull.
- Turn your pressure washer down to a low setting and rinse off any remaining solvent.
- Dry off your boat’s hull.
The best method for you to remove decals from your boat for you will depend on the tools that you have at your disposal and how much elbow grease you’re willing to put into removing your boat’s decals.
If you don’t have the required tools and you’re looking to save money, a hairdryer and a razor blade should do the trick. But prepared to do some work.
For an easier technique that may be a little more expensive, you can use an eraser wheel, and we’d highly recommend it if you’re trying to save time and effort.
Finally, if you already have a pressure washer that’s compatible with hot water, you can use it to quickly remove any traces of decals on your boat’s hull.
Good luck, and after you’ve got the decals off, be sure to give your boat a good cleaning!