Getting Ready to Wrap a Boat?

Wrapping boats isn’t rocket science-and you can learn a lot from your vehicle wrapping endeavors-but installing vinyl on a boat is different than applying vinyl to a vehicle. Find out why.

Before you set out to apply vinyl to a boat, be sure you have all your templates, materials and tools in a row.

So you want to wrap a boat. The opportunity can spell big business, but where do you go from here?

There are, of course, some similarities between vehicle wrapping and boat wrapping-but there are also some key differences worth exploring before you start printing your design. Actually, there are some key differences you should be aware of before you even design your wrap.

Likewise, you can’t just use any material. In fact, the material you use to wrap a vehicle might fail quickly on a boat wrap. The major issue you need to be aware of is how the water-whether salt water or fresh-beating against the boat at high speeds can impact your installation-and how to take measures that will help ensure the vinyl lasts at least through the boating season.

Let’s go step by step through the preparation so you can get a clearer picture of how the process of boat wrapping really works. Future articles will look at how to approach the actual wrap, overcoming challenges and avoiding costly boat wrapping mistakes.

Struggling to find-or build-a boat template 

With vehicles, many vinyl installers use templates based on the make and model of the car. This serves as a good foundation for designing the wrap. That’s not the case in the boat wrapping world.

According to Andy Gutentag, a vinyl installer for Sirlin Enterprises, the parent company of boat wrapping company System, Inc., there are some generic boat templates available but nothing that resembles the Digital Auto Library with its tens of thousands of templates for all makes and models and years.

In fact, Craig Campbell, marketing coordinator for digital products at Oracal, a vinyl media manufacturer based in Georgia, says the biggest challenge for boat wrappers is getting an accurate template of the boat with all its measurements.

“A boat looks basically flat to the naked eye but when you look at the bow and the way the bow flares out from the bottom of the boat, there’s a lot more boat there to cover than you would think,” Campbell says. “You have to take all that extra room in consideration when you do your design. Even if you are especially careful in creating your templates, sometimes when you print a design it may still look skewed.”

Choosing the right materials

The next issue is choosing the right materials for the boat wrapping job. Generally speaking, for boat wraps you need digitally printable cast vinyl. Of course, there are many different vinyls to choose from in that broader category. But Campbell does not suggest air egress vinyl. Oracle’s brand is called RapidAir. 3M pushes Comply and Avery’s air egress vinyl is known as EZ series. The air egress system is built into the liner so that when you install the vinyl the air escapes easily through the channels and you avoid bubbles.

“When you put the air egress adhesive down, it’s easier to apply. But there is a potential danger,” Campbell says. “This type of vinyl is good for regular application on vehicle wraps, but if the channels are not sealed off properly on a boat wrap, then water can run through those channels and rip the graphic off. I’d recommend a repositionable vinyl for boat wraps because it gives you some flexibility but you can avoid the issue of the water in the channels.”

Cleaning the vessel

As far as preparing the surface of the boat, Gutentag recommends washing the vessel. You also need to remove any hardware, like handles and i-hooks on the back for towing. If other decals were previously applied to the boat, those also need to be removed.

Campbell says some boat wrappers also remove the rub rail that runs all the way around the perimeter of the boat. “It’s always a good idea to pull out existing factory silicone that’s in there prior to the boat wrap, and then tuck your graphic into it and re-silicone afterwards because the water really hits that area pretty violently,” Campbell says. “The point is to make sure that area gets sealed and pulling out the rub rail and resealing it is one way to ensure you get it tight.

Before you begin the actual boat wrap, you need to gather some tools for the job. Those tools include the same sort of squeegees you need for your vehicle wrapping jobs. But you also need a heating apparatus, like a heat gun or a torch that makes the vinyl more pliable so you can stretch it. The final step in preparing the boat is to wipe it down with alcohol. Campbell said this is even more important on boats than it is on cars, again because of the velocity of the water pulling against the vessel.

Even if you do get it squeaky clean, don’t wrap below the water line, warns Jeff Stadelman, a technical marketing manager at MACTac, a vinyl manufacturer in Stow, Ohio. “Keep your boat wrap above the water line and seal it just to make sure that you aren’t going to get moisture under the edges,” he says. “The biggest challenge with boat wraps is to avoid the edges lifting when you cruise through the water or from extended exposure to the sun.”

As seen on