Superyacht owners are embracing the flexibility and savings that vinyl wrapping can offer. Cecile Gauert takes a look at the trend that’s giving the traditional paint job a run for its money...
“I don’t think I’ll ever paint a boat again,” says Brian O’Sullivan, owner of the 41-metre Horizon Komokwa, speaking from the office on his boat which he has docked in Pender Harbour, just north of Vancouver. An avid boater and hands-on yacht owner, he is a recent convert to the benefits of vinyl wraps.
He was facing the possibility of losing the entire summer after repairs to his boat at the Delta Marine Shipyard. He had been dealing with issues resulting from a previous paint job that left “blue splotches” on the hull. But what got him to the Seattle shipyard was the need to replace a garage door. Once that was done, he needed to decide what to do about the finish. He had only two options: repaint the entire hull or do a vinyl wrap.
What made up his mind between a $350,000 (£255,000) paint job and a $55,000 vinyl wrap wasn’t the money, but the time commitment – if he painted, the boat would have to be out of the water for four months (including time to remove all the hardware, sand down the hull, buff, repeat for all the layers, apply a topcoat and reinstall all the hardware). That was a deal-breaker for him. “I count my years by how many more boating summers I’ve got. I didn’t want to lose one,” he says, only half in jest.
He decided it was better to gamble on the wrap than to lose his summer. “The price difference was so dramatic that even if it didn’t work, I could start again and paint next year,” he says.
He went for a Stone Grey vinyl wrap with a yellow boot stripe. From start to finish, the work took just two weeks. He’s been putting his new hull finish through the test all summer long, and for the most part he loves it – so much so that he says that if he must touch up the superstructure, he’ll have that wrapped too.
That is a common reaction for people who try a vinyl wrap for the first time, says Tim Charles, who operates the refit shipyard Platinum, yacht builders Crescent Yachts and Tactical and vinyl wrap company Wrap Boats, all based in Vancouver.
“It’s been a really fun part of our business,” he says. “We get quick results. They’re big and visual and people get very excited. When clients pay what they think they’re going to have to pay and they get something that they want to get quickly on time, they’re always happy.”
A satisfied customer was the owner of a 25-metre yacht with several years under the chines. “The client had multiple quotes to paint, from over $300,000 to close to $400,000. We finished the whole project for around $80,000. And we did it in three weeks.”
Charles launched into this line of business six years ago, and after a two-year learning curve he gained quick momentum. Although the makers of vinyl wrap (the main ones being 3M, Avery and German company Oracal) offer myriad colours, they did not have Matterhorn White, one of the most common hull colours in the yachting world. So Charles did a custom order, which has helped a great deal when undertaking quick repairs.
He’s also getting creative with products now available to designers and builders for exterior and interior applications. He is using wrap inside and out of his line of Tactical boats, which are built for rough Pacific waters. If there is a fair surface (be it fibreglass or aluminium), he says, a wrap can go right on and look great. It can be repaired and, if well maintained (it can be waxed just like a painted surface), will last several years. If applied on a painted hull, it can help protect the paint from UV rays and abrasion and can be removed without causing damage, he says. It’s also lighter than paint: designer Greg Marshall is currently building a 12-metre performance boat in carbon, and because every gram counts on this project, it will be wrapped.
All these positives don’t mean that a full exterior wrap instead of a paint job is for everyone. “We now have an option if time or cost is an issue. Value is different to everyone for different reasons, but a vinyl wrap is not for all applications,” says Charles, who says his paint facility at Platinum remains busy.
“What I tell people is, if you have a blank cheque and time, then a premium hard marine finish is ultimately the best quality,” he says. New coatings, such as Awlgrip’s topcoat HDT (High Definition Technology) add depth and shine and are fully repairable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s also the opinion of the marine paint specialists. “Wraps offer a wide range of colours and finishes that are fast to apply but are limited in size. If you don’t want seams, paint offers a robust, high-gloss, multi-functional long-term finish,” says Matt Anzardo, yacht segment manager for AkzoNobel. “You can see the difference when they are placed side by side with the gloss and clarity differing considerably. The paint option offers a deeper and richer gloss, colour and depth.”
There’s also the matter of resistance. “When it comes to durability, polyurethane [paint] coatings are in their own premium league, delivering supreme colour and gloss retention, abrasion and scratch resistance as well as surface toughness,” says Torgeir Asker Bringeland, regional category manager yachting at Jotun Performance Coatings.
Gloss is a big deal in the superyacht world, confirms Greg Hoar, owner of UK-based vinyl wrap specialist The Wild Group. “Once you get to about 60 metres, you get layers of consultant and owners’ reps and they are obsessed with gloss level, particles of dust per metre and other readings that they take with special tools,” he says.
However, he knows there is a space for vinyl wrap in the superyacht segment and his company has proven that. He started in business in the sailing world, wrapping boats for sponsors during events such as the Vendée Globe. His first yacht order in the yachting world was around 2008 for an Oyster 86, whose owner was in a hurry to get to the Caribbean. The blue wrap was to be temporary, just to keep the boat looking good for the season. The owner ended up keeping it on for five years.
When he resettled in the South of France for a few years, Hoar began doing more work on motor yachts and superyachts. A noticeable boon for the business was the 2015 order from the then captain of the 68-metre Abeking & Rasmussen Aviva. “It made people sit up and notice,” he says. The deciding factor in this case, again, was time. “The owner pretty much lived on the boat. It made sense to him,” he says, because he had a small window for a quick refit. “It took two weeks to wrap the hull and everybody was happy. It was eventually resprayed when it came in for a 15-year refit, and I would agree with that process. If you have a thing you put in saltwater that wants to rust, you should fill it, fair it, prime it and paint it properly every 15 years.”
Aviva remains a bit of an outlier though. The bulk of the company’s business is with yachts smaller than 60 metres. “We are doing regularly 30, 40 metres and it tapers quite a bit after 50 metres,” he says. Owners and captains are more receptive than the teams of consultants that are involved with the construction and maintenance of the largest yachts.
Hoar freely acknowledges a couple of drawbacks. For instance, nicks and cuts can be an issue for vinyl near mooring lines and tender bays. A wrap will also require regular upkeep and repairs around the swim platform. “You should expect to come in every year,” he says.
And that’s precisely where O’Sullivan noticed degradation on his boat. “One spot that is failing and failed right from the beginning was all along the stern where people bring the tenders,” he says. While some people choose to paint this area, he plans to have a custom fender installed.
Another drawback of a vinyl wrap, typically the type delivered in 120- to 150-centimetre-diameter rolls, is that, depending on the surface being covered, there will be seams visible from about a little more than a metre away. Hoar and his team are adept at finding places to hide the seams, although on a large surface like a plain transom door, he acknowledges, it can be hard.
For Komokwa owner O’Sullivan, those seams were not a huge problem. For the most part, the wrapping expert hid them and when they are visible, it’s only when seen from up close. “It’s just a question of whether you can live with that. A perfectionist probably could not, but I’ve always thought that perfection is the enemy of the good.”
Ultimately it is not always a case of choosing between paint or a wrap – they can be complementary. For bigger yachts, the work the Wild Group does is more specialised, like overhead panels. It’s the case for the Winch-designed 99-metre Feadship Madame Gu, “All deck heads or overheads are wrapped in a satin white,” Hoar says. “We do that a lot.” It makes sense, he says, because these panels get touched a lot and hands and suction cups can leave marks. If they are retouched and sprayed in a different direction, they tend to “stick out like a sore thumb. With a film, it does not do that.”
Of late, he’s seen more requests from brokers to do a quick refresh on the interior of brokerage boats. “The interior side of things is the largest part of our business now. Typically, in a boat that’s 15 years old, the interior will be quite dark. It will have beautiful mahogany or cherry and marquetry that people just don’t want now,” he says. “We do a huge amount of wood effect. We are turning the cherry and mahogany off-white because that’s the thing now.”
The hotel industry and interior design are driving the new creativity in interior finishes. “There are wonderful films with leather effect, a huge range of wood-effect films, or metallic, mirrored, marble effects and textured film – whatever you are after,” says Hoar. Fittingly, Wild Group is currently working on a project on the wilder side of things, with an interior that combines a custom-designed dark jungle print with a mirrored film for the ceiling.
For these and other reasons, Charles thinks vinyl wraps will continue to gain momentum over the coming years. “I think of it as what happened with traditional teak,” he says. “When Flexiteek and all these different alternatives started to come out, people were saying is was poor quality. Now, for reasons of longevity, value, maintenance and everything else, superyacht owners are moving to different options other than traditional teak,” he says. “Vinyl is becoming more and more accepted by our clients, especially the younger clients. We’re just happy to work in both worlds.”