Getting the decals off, and why

Alas, the old Maritime 20 I bought last fall is still a driveway boat, but I’d like to think that Junior will look sharp when it does launch. I extended the black trim paint to the dash — and have almost finished all new wiring and electronics (and am excited about testing that Humminbird Solix 10) — but to my eye, the good looks of the Maritime and Evenrude E-Tec designs really popped when the branding decals came off. Getting some of them off wasn’t easy, however, so I’ll share what I learned.

Decal removal tools... for de-decaling?
Decal removal tools… for de-decaling?

A plastic razor blade is my normal go-to tool for removing decals without messing up the underlying gel coat or paint. And if scraping up a decal’s edge and then finger pulling it off with even pressure at a very low angle doesn’t work well, I try softening it up first with a heat gun. Alternatively, an acetone-based product like Goof Off can be used to “loosen” the decal’s grip, or at least to remove any remaining adhesive.

But I am certainly not a de-decaling expert, and my first attempt at the white “Maritime Skiff” logo on Junior’s house side ended with loud swear words. I had gotten enough off that I was fully committed, but the task was extremely slow going even with extreme heat. I wasn’t surprised that Maritime used quality decals and applied them well — this boat is solidly built in every way — but I had not realized how 20 seasons of exposure could apparently make the adhesive even more tenacious while leaving the plastic more brittle and breakable.

I had created a problem! So I searched the Internet hoping to find a better solution, and that’s where I discovered a world of decal erasures like that ABN 4-inch disk seen above.

The wheel works like a big pencil erasure, the friction of soft rubber grabbing the decal plastic and adhesive. In fact, the process works with even less rpms than I was using in the video, generates very little heat (that could possibly damage the gel coat), and I was only wearing the mask for the benefit of my friend Alden manning the phone camera. The erasure and decal debris tend to fall away or hang on the boat until wiped off.

I estimate that removing these particularly hearty 20-year-old boat decals was 10 times faster with the $10 erasure wheel than with the heat gun process that’s worked for me in the past, and that was good news worth sharing.

The (Furuno) radome got a heat gun dimple that's not sexy
The (Furuno) radome got a heat gun dimple that’s not sexy

I was not trying to illustrate the dangers of a heat gun, but I did indeed hold one to that dimpled spot a little too long when removing the Furuno decals (that were about ten years old). I wouldn’t use the erasure disk on the more delicate radome cover, but maybe I should have tried harder with blade and Goof Off (or another chemical solution, anyone?). And I’ll add that the big decals on the almost new E-Tec came off pretty easily without a heat gun, a further indication that age can make for significant differences.

But why remove the decals anyway? There is no practical reason I know of, and actually I’ve been told that it reduces the resale value of an outboard motor. And in my case — unlike, say, when my dad glued plastic half lemons to the doors of a displeasing station wagon — I’m quite pleased to own the Maritime, Evinrude, and Furuno brands involved. So it’s a “beauty in the eyes of a beholder” sort of thing and maybe a regional preference given the numerous classic yachts looking good around here with all brand names expensively painted out.

Getting back to Junior, note the custom antenna plate recently shown with its Sirius Signal C-1002 eVDSD holder, but now fully installed. Also note the ACR RCL-85 LED searchlight, which I’m tentatively delighted with (and which does not come with any decals applied). Is this little boat looking sharp or what?

20-year-old Gizmo does 20 knots for the first time in 10 years (at least)
20-year-old Gizmo does 20 knots for the first time in 10 years (at least)

And what about my other boat? Junior projects were delayed while I got Gizmo at least minimally ready for launch on Tuesday, and while the elaborate electronics redo remains largely in my mind, I did get a thrill on the ride up to Camden yesterday. In January, my long beloved Volvo mechanic/technician Pat Ricci did everything he thought necessary for Gizmo’s TAMD74C-A at 20 years old and 3,500 hours of use, and behold the results. In my 10 years of ownership, I’ve never seen the boat go over 19.5 knots before (and the exhaust looked clean).

I like to see older things get new life, and that also applies to Gizmo’s Firefly battery bank, which are acting like spring chickens after a series of restoration charges (that I will detail soon). And I smile as I find myself an old boat guy, now with two 20-year-olds, who still can’t reasonably estimate how long projects will take.

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

4 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I was surprised to learn that my “almost new” Evinrude E-Tec 115 has become the end of a breed:

    I tend to agree with the Trade Only commenters who think that Covid 19 is mainly an excuse for something that BRP already wanted to do, and also with those who think that the E-Tec two-stroke technology is quite good and not why the brand failed. Here’s hoping that Evinrude dealers — apparently also taken by surprise — can keep on keeping on.

  2. Maldwin M Drummond says:

    Good Evening Ben,
    Congratulations on removing those decals, as I think it improves the overall look of any boat, or car. The individual decals are not always bad, but create a hodgepodge look when all together. On many of my boats, I have painted engine covers, radar antennas, etc which brings me to a question: Is it ok to paint radar antennas? I have been told it voids the warranty, but esthetics have always carried the day with me, and if it does not significantly degrade performance, I will probably continue to do it.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Good Morning, Maldwin!

      No, I’ve never heard of voiding a warranty by painting a radome or similar, and it’s hard to imagine how exterior paint could actually break something. But apparently paint can affect RF performance, especially metallic paints and especially high frequencies. Paint thickness matters too, and here’s an authoritative piece saying that aircraft radomes should only have odd layers of paint, never even:

      I think that most aircraft radar is X band — higher frequency than typical S band marine radar — but VSAT is even higher frequency. I would hesitate to paint a dome without consulting the manufacturer.

  3. Justin Heady says:

    Hi Ben,
    I appreciate the info in this article. I have attempted to remove decals off of a few of my boats and had the best success using the heat gun and the plastic blades as you show in you photo above.

    Another product that I have used successfully is D-Limonene. This works really well to remove the adhesive that may remain after the decal is removed. The thing I like most about this product is that it is non-toxic.

    I am definitely going to check into that eraser pad you used. Very much appreciate the tips here Ben.

    Thanks again,

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