Nanotechnology — Wilson Custom Coatings

New high-tech coating for hulls could improve performance.

A new high-tech coating for hulls, propellers and running gear could be the performance enhancement and growth inhibitor that the go-fast crowd has been looking for. Wilson Custom Coatings, a division of Wilson Custom Marine, in Stuart, Florida, started using this new coating, developed using nanotechnology, in the spring and is seeing intriguing results.

Just the word “nanotechnology” makes people think of something out of science fiction, but basically the term means you’re working with products at the minute molecular level.

The technology has been available for a few years, said Mark Wilson, co-owner of Wilson Custom Marine, which distributes Wilson Custom Coatings, but until now it was too expensive to be viable. The biggest advantage that nanotechnology brings is how well the product bonds to the surface to which it’s applied.

“All the other coatings sit on the surface but the nano product becomes more one with the substrate,” said Wilson. “It bonds to the product you’re putting it on and it then becomes a single structure.” He added that propellers coated with the product have come back to the shop bent, but the coating has stayed intact. It will also stay on surfacing propellers. In contrast, the popular anti-growth coating Propspeed will blow off surfacing props over time.

Because Wilson and his son Craig, the president of Wilson Custom Marine, had just started working with the product on yacht propellers and a couple of high-performance catamarans, we don't have before-and-after speed data yet. Boating will provide an update as soon as we have it.

Wilson said his coating had done an excellent job repelling growth. After letting a Pershing 76 sit in south Florida for two weeks, the captain of the boat noticed some growth on the props. He bumped the Arneson drives in gear at the docks with the boat still tied up, and afterward the props were shining like new. After leaving the boat for another week, the skipper took it for a no-wake cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway. When he returned to the slip, he could see the white dots where barnacles had been blown off the surface of the blades.

One thing that sets Wilson Custom Marine’s products apart from other coatings is that they come in three formulations. The hull coating is a different formula from the propeller coating, and there’s a third metal coating that you put on anything metal above the water (the propeller coating is basically the metal coating with a catalyst to make it harder). All three are sprayed on.

To apply the coating, the prop must first be finished with a 180-grit sanding pad and wiped down with a dedicated chemical cleaner to ensure there are no impurities on the surface. Then the coating is sprayed on in two successive coats that must be applied within 10 minutes of each other. Because of its nanotech formula, the spray is super light. A gallon of Wilson Custom Coating for propellers weighs 6.5 pounds, compared with 7.2 pounds for gasoline, 8 pounds for a gallon of water, and 15 pounds on average per gallon for conventional bottom paint. Wilson estimated that 80 percent of the fluid actually evaporates into the air when the coating is applied. That would explain the $1,000 price for the two-part kit for propellers.

Props are dry to the touch in an hour, but a full cure takes 48 hours. While the projected performance increases will be beneficial, Wilson admits that stopping growth is what’s going to draw the attention of most boaters. “It really is the Holy Grail, trying to find something that stops the growth,” he said.