Article by Frances and Michael Howorth
The White Stuff
Ever wondered why so many superyachts look like wedding cakes? Frances & Michael Howorth talk to industry experts and attempt to explain the reasons why!
It is strange that in fashion magazines, there are endless pages devoted to coats. The subject seems uninterruptible as length, colour, and the materials that they are made of, get discussed. But ask folk to discuss what topcoat a superyacht should wear, and the brain seems to shut down. But stay with me on this one, because what a yacht wears as her outside coat is vitally important to just about every aspect of working as crew on board one.
Believe it or not, no one wants to charter a shabby looking craft. Come to that, no one really wants to work on one either. So how a yacht looks is, as important as how you look before you head off into town tonight for some RnR. Charter yachts generate crew tips. Tips find their way into your pocket, so inversely, the topcoat helps your bottom line!
The colour a yacht wears affects the air conditioning plant and as such the running costs of the yacht. Darker hulled yachts absorb more heat, need more power to run chunkier a/c units and as such are not as kind to the environment as say a white one.
There are various reasons that explain why superyachts are mostly white, some aesthetic, some technical, some personal! Discounting the most obvious answer of “Because that is what the owner wants”, some of the more technical reasons for choosing white are as you would expect.
As all crew know from sitting on chairs left out in the sun, black absorbs a lot of heat whereas white seats are significantly cooler (in our experience the temperature difference is >20°C in some cases). When you consider this as paint on a superyacht, a black-coated hull would absorb significantly more heat and this has multiple effects; internally, as heat is transmitted through into the cabins, air-conditioning will have to work harder to cool the rooms; externally this heat will be transmitted through the paint system. If a sub-standard or not-fully cured filler is used, or indeed any build coating, then this extra heat strain can result in shrinkage leading to cracking, print-through of defects etc. all ruining the aesthetic. This heat can also bleed through to the substrate, especially on lesser filled areas leading to warping of metals potentially or softening (overcuring) of the GRP or movement of the weave. All these, in combination, will again result in paint defects ruining the aesthetics.
Now to compound these issues, defects on or in a glossy surface are somewhat magnified by darker colours whereas white can “hide a multitude of sins” as they say. Chris Toole Product Manager, Yacht Coats at Hempel says Another technical reason for white being so prevalent is that regardless of the paint, the manufacturer, the vessel, at some point the sun will always win! UV light is an unrelenting beast and at some point, it will break through the glossy resin-rich surface and start to degrade both the resin and the pigments of the paint. With a white, when the resin starts to breakdown, the discolouration and loss of gloss will take more time to notice than on a darker coloured hull.
We’ve all seen red cars that are somewhat pink! But how many white cars have we seen that are that discoloured. The pigments in white paints are more resilient than the inorganic pigments used in coloured topcoats and as such give the impression of significant longevity.
Another, but hopefully lesser issue if you are using a competent paint supplier, says Hampel’s Chris Toole, “Is the batch to batch variation that can occur using coloured products. Despite significant improvements and better QC methods, ultimately coloured pigments are either natural and subject to variation or have strong tint strength meaning even a small amount can impact the colour more than expected. Painting larger yachts and not being officious ensuring the same batch for the complete job can lead to the well-known tiger striping also seen when colour paints aren’t fully mixed. Of course, with whites this is less of a problem.”
Micheli Gabriele the Technical Manager at MCR Marine, the yacht painting surveyors in Italy believes white is the colour that guarantees the best performance and is standard maintenance. Dark colours, moreover, would require different procedures during the yacht building phase, to prepare the surfaces and structures for when they will be exposed to UV rays and thus withstand extreme temperatures.
Clearly, Ultra Violet absorption plays a significant role. Inge De Jonge, Imron Marine Product and Marketing Manager for Axalta in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has a more technical and scientific answer. He says “UV absorption is controlled by the final product used when painting a yacht. There are two paint systems available to painters – a direct gloss 2K topcoat or the clear-over-base system. UV sensitivity is a property built into both of these as part of the manufacturing process – the 2K topcoats in the direct gloss system, and our Imron Marine DP6940 Clearcoat, in the clear-over-base system. This works effectively regardless of the colour of the basecoat – from black to white and all shades in between. While both paint systems handle UV absorption equally well, at Axalta we tend to favour the clear-over-base system largely due to the colour choice our Imron Marine Basecoat offers yacht designers and owners. It can be mixed to create any colour, including all solid, metallic, and pearlescent colours, as well as tri-stage and tinted clear colours. This really provides an infinite colour palette from which to choose while still having outstanding UV absorption properties.”
Today, Map Yachting is the only French paint brand specifically aimed at the yachting and shipbuilding market. The company, part of the Sicomin group, develops and distributes complete finishing systems for naval, military, and other high-tech industries. Ken Marcovich the company CEO says, “Another aspect of a white paint finish is that it can be a little more forgiving in terms of showing any slight surface defects or inconsistencies in the hull finish.” He adds, “This isn’t so much of a problem on the highest quality superyachts with a fully faired finish, but a coloured or metallic paint really does need the substrate to be perfect before painting. Lastly, if the vessel ever needs a repair, it is much easier to rework a section of a white painted hull, with the repair needing less technical effort and there being less risk of the repair being visible.”
White on Trend?
There has been a growing trend away from painting a superyacht white says Chris Toole
The Product Manager, Yacht Coats at Hempel, it is he says, “Very much following the automotive industry, for more and more metallic or pearlescent coatings. Initially used as accent colours, it is very noticeable now that full hulls are being painted in these effect coatings as they are generally termed. He adds, “Also, like cars, there will be trends within colours pace often matching the trend of cars or fashion. We’ve seen a lot of blue and dark blues over the years, when metallics launched there were always the off-the-wall brightly coloured trendsetters, however blues and whites still remain favourites, along with greys.”
Ken Marcovich agrees saying, “You only have to look at the number of performance sailing catamarans being launched at the moment. All seem to have brightly coloured and metallic paint systems. MAP Yachting supplies these paints and works with many other superyacht builders and refit specialists on non-white finishes.” He adds, “the base material finish is critical, and something like a metallic finish needs a well-drilled painting team, but it’s definitely something owners are asking for more and more.”
2021 saw about a 60% increase on previous years in the number of customer requests for colour studies and developments. Owners and builders come to us looking for a colour that doesn’t exist, and we are able to develop a bespoke shade that is their colour, unique to them and their project. At MCR Marine in Italy Micheli Gabriele the Technical Manager says that in “recent years the trend among modern designers has been to offer attractive lines and geometries, accompanied by special colours such as metallic, pearlescent and dark colours.”
Get Your UV Absorption and Reflection White
When looking at colours other than white, there are important factors to consider within manufacturing to reduce UV absorption and reflection. Micheli Gabriele the Technical Manager at MCR Marine in Italy believes that in the case of composite yachts, surfaces should always be subjected to a “post-curing cycle” to prevent UV absorption in the composite that causing movement and re-activating chemical processes in the resin. He says, “The type of resin to be used must also be assessed, take epoxy resin as an example. It has a high cost but it offers high performance in return.” He adds, “On the other hand, for metal yachts, structural design is crucial; for example, for lightweight aluminium yachts in dark colours, a solid structure behind the sheets and the thickness of the sheets themselves can help reduce the risks of deflections and movement when exposed to temperature limits.”
The fairing/painting cycle is also important. Due to the new trend/demand for special finishing colours, paint manufacturers are developing chemical technologies that are more stable even under extreme temperatures. Some products are already on the market, tested and used with excellent results.
Inge De Jonge, says that UV absorption is controlled by the final product used when painting a yacht. There are two paint systems available to painters – a direct gloss 2K top coat or the clear-over-base system. He says, “UV sensitivity is a property built into both of these as part of the manufacturing process – the 2K top coats in the direct gloss system, and our Imron® Marine DP6940 Clearcoat, in the clear-over-base system. This works effectively regardless of the colour of the basecoat – from black to white and all shades in between. While both paint systems handle UV absorption equally well, at Axalta we tend to favour the clear-over-base system largely due to the colour choice our Imron Marine Basecoat offers yacht designers and owners. It can be mixed to create any colour, including all solid, metallic and pearlescent colours, as well as tri-stage and tinted clear colours. This really provides an infinite colour palette from which to choose while still having outstanding UV absorption properties.”
Ken Marcovich believes the key to a successful coloured superyacht finish is not only the surface prep, following of the paint application guidelines, control of the painting environment and quality of the paint system, but also the performance of the clear coat applied on top. He says, “We have been developing our clearcoat since 2007 and the Map Yachting 360 UVR has some really special properties. The clear coat provides superb UV resistance, protecting the base coat, and extending the overall life of the paint system. It also has a flexibility that you don’t find in other clear coats, providing much improved damage tolerance and impact resistance which maintains the protective clear coat layer for longer.”
At Hempel Chris Toole says, “The ability to produce consistent colours over multiple batches is a clear and obvious focus above anything else before even considering pigmentation and resins! The below all face that issue as well as their own technical pitfalls.” He adds, “To then consider reduction of UV absorption and reflection there are numerous technical routes to this, all with their own challenges. Low Solar Absorption pigments are available, in various colours, but their true impact is not yet fully understood. There is some reduction in temperature noted with certain colours, but it is not linear nor consistent.”
White You Are
Modern manufacturing methods and technology are helping reduce the paint business carbon footprint. There is a strong demand to see it reduce Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions, hazardous materials, chemicals, and reducing solvents but what are their alternatives? Hemple has sustainability front and centre in its strategy says Chris Toole, “It is key to reducing not only the carbon footprint of our business but of the yachting industry as a whole. He adds, “Higher solids products requiring less solvents and less coats obviously make a significant impact upon VOC’s however there are also other ways to achieve the same result.” Hempel’s Hempaguard X7 is a good example. Comprising silicone foul release technology with proprietary hydrogel technology with minimal biocide content, not only is it higher solids than a standard antifouling but its performance and longevity much more significant impacts upon carbon footprint and sustainability overall. This new technology emits less VOC’s per square metre on application but also significantly reduces fuel consumption on even the most inactive of vessels.
Yet the fact remains that; currently there is no such thing in the sector we all work in as: VOC free paint. Micheli Gabriele the Technical Manager at MCR Marine says, “Companies need to invest in appropriate equipment that drastically reduces VOC emissions into the environment, and to confine and contain the emissions without releasing them into the environment. Hazardous waste disposal is also crucial, always make sure this is done in accordance with local regulations.
CCS are a Dutch based consultancy that bridge the technical gap between the paint supplier/ paint contractor and the Owners Representative. Colin Mason, their Technical Manager says “Top coatings have seen a change in ingredients to meet the current and future safety, health and environmental requirements. For example, there are less solvents in the paint than before. He adds, “This leads to less gloss, orange peel and DOI. The difference in ingredients, does not affect the performance of the paint, but certainly does to the cosmetic properties. In the future owners should settle for a less glossy coating than they used to.”
CeraShield based in Palma de Mallorca, are experienced applicators of Ceramic coating technology. Fully mobile and able to undertake projects globally they have applied ceramic coatings to over 150 Superyachts. Claire Steel the CEO and Director in charge of production says, Ceramic coatings continue to play an increasingly important role in the future of Superyacht topcoats. She adds, “They are a “greener” alternative and do not need a containment system when applying to protect the environment. Ceramic coatings come in at a third of the cost of painting a vessel and the work can be completed in a fraction of the time it takes to paint”
Another key part of improving carbon and environmental footprint is obviously simply not using hazardous or persistent chemicals! Many of the more responsible producers, employ HSE (Health, Safety and Environment) teams who are constantly in contact with regulators, industry bodies and other key parties to understand not only current and future legislation but also potential future legislation. Internally the “red raw material list” is flagged up very early to prevent development of products on potentially future-vulnerable materials and also as an early indicator to remove them from any existing products.
Methylethyl ketone oxime or MEKO, as it is called in the paint industry, is used to suppress “skinning” of paints: the formation of a skin on paint before it is used. It is well known as a substance of concern now and many manufacturers are just starting to remove it or look at it. Hempel removed this organics compound nearly 2 years ago and its formulations are MEKO-free already, but they claim that the removal has not changed in any way the performance of their product. “Indeed,” says Chris Toole, “We didn’t make a public spectacle about this, we simply removed it, maintained performance and moved forward. These changes should not be a change to make profit or to create marketing buzz, these are the things we MUST do as responsible manufacturers to work towards a more sustainable and lower impact industry.”
Clearly there more paint regulations in the pipeline. The Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) program is a regulation adopted by the UK and European Union countries to improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals, while enhancing the competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry. It also promotes alternative methods for the hazard assessment of substances in order to reduce the number of tests on animals.
Ken Marcovich says, “REACH has already made changes to the industry and a lot of the most harmful raw materials have been successfully formulated out of the current paint systems. The regulations continue to evolve from year to year and this is a good thing for everybody. He says, “As a company MAP Yachting has always formulated with a target to minimise the risk to both the environment and to the paint applicators, using the least harmful components necessary for the performance required. We are now trying to remove all carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction (CMR) materials from our paint systems, whilst still preserving their technical properties.”
Product Manager, at Hempel, Chris Toole thinks change is inevitable. He says, “Obviously the major red flag chemicals have been regulated for years but as we move towards a more sustainable future it is almost guaranteed that there will be more and more controls put in place, which as, along as they are done for the right reasons to create a positive impact, is no bad thing. We already see a drive towards lower VOC’s so being waterbased is clearly in the future scope for topcoats, and indeed other parts of the system. Best available practices will also become more prevalent, we have already seen an increase in electrostatic spraying to reduce overspray and thus emissions to the air. Films and foils have been used for a long time, where the coating is applied in a control and capture process and the dried film is applied to the substrate.
The saltwater environment is a harsh one. But it’s far from the only situation where a paint finish can be pushed to its limits. Industrial machinery is tested by heat and friction on a daily basis. Automobile interiors must withstand scorching UV rays and owner negligence, and still return to showroom condition after years of use. Passenger airplanes must retain their exterior integrity and luster despite abrupt changes in atmospheric pressure, and temperature swings of up to 100 degrees with each take-off and landing.
For over 100 years, German paint manufacturers Mankiewicz has been involved in the development of technologically advanced products that protect machinery, car interiors and wide-body commercial airliners. Within the past several years, Mankiewicz has applied this advanced technology to a new set of products specifically designed for fiberglass, steel and aluminium yachts. This combined with over 150 years of combined experience,
s research and development effort has led to Alexseal, a complete set of premium paint products that combines quality pigments, solvents, resins, ultraviolet resistors and agents to create superyacht topcoats. With laboratories in both Germany and the United States working to adapt today’s breakthrough research to the yacht market, can expect to see even more innovative products coming down the line.
Research and development teams are constantly working throughout the superyacht paint and applications industry seeking out new technologies that will shape its future. Application techniques, robotic application and improved aesthetics have all been noted in recent times. Anti-skid deck grip products for the marine market that will provide a safe, durable, and easy to apply deck grip solution are being brought to market. Bio-based epoxy fillers and fairing compounds are on the cards and MAP Yachting is running a development program with some composite shipyards who use their IM409 material to provide an in-mould coating that results in much improved demoulded part surfaces that are quicker and easier to prepare for paint. Pinholes and surface defects are massively reduced and only a light sanding is required before painting.
In the world of fashion Haute Couture, the wedding dress is considered to be of the highest order. These creations in exclusive custom-fitted clothing, constructed by hand from start to finish, using high-quality materials, are said to be at the pinnacle of the trade. Topcoats for superyachts are equally fastidious and while over the years all colours will dull a little and become less bright than the initial application, with a white paint, this effect is less visible. And perhaps that’s a very good reason why a lot of superyachts are wedding cake white!