Narrowboat Blacking (A Complete Guide)

Owning a narrowboat gives so much enjoyment whether you holiday in it, have weekends away with it or live onboard, but, there is essential maintenance that has to be kept on top off and blacking your hull is part of that, keeping your vessel in a solid condition.

The Ultimate Guide to Blacking Your Narrowboat

In this guide, we will give the various ways that this can be done, from the initial taking the boat out of the water, the all-important preparation that is required, to the methods and materials that can be employed for the job.

Why do you need to black your narrowboats hull?

Let’s start with why a narrowboat needs to be ”blacked”. As we all know metals are prone to corrosion and the hull of your barge or narrowboat is no different and by using a blacking you extend the life of your hull.

Blacking covers the section of the boat that is below the water level up to and including just above the waterline and is the layer of protection that helps prevent against any rusting or pitting.

It doesn’t matter how careful or good you are in steering your narrowboat it is inevitable that it will get knocked and scraped by locks, banks and even other boats.

Materials for blacking

Up until recently, there were only two different materials used for blacking, bituminous (bitumen) and 2 pack epoxy, but, now we have a new kid on the block which is molten zinc with an additional coat of 2 pack epoxy treatment.

Each has its own preparation and application requirements and not all boatyards will offer all three. Along with the cost of each different option varying greatly, the regularity that blacking is required also does.

T.A Paints Limited Black Bitumen Bitumastic Paint for Narrowboats

A good example of black bitumen narrowboat blacking paint by T.A Paints Limited if you are thinking of doing it yourself. Easy to apply, fast-drying and extremely waterproof making it ideal for narrowboat blacking.

This is a solvent based black bituminous paint that can be used for boats, it is not recommended that you buy just any bitumen paint from a local store as they are not all suitable for this purpose.

Narrowboat blacking frequency

One of the most frequently asked questions, especially by new owners, is how often does a narrowboat need blackening, there is no true answer to this question as it really does depend on the material that has been used and the quality of preparation and coating.

The general consensus is that it should be done every 2-3 years if a bituminous coating is used, a little longer for the 2 pack epoxy of 5-6 years and although expensive the ‘claim’ is for up to 10 years for the new molten zinc plus 2 pack epoxy treatment.

But, one thing for sure is that too often is better too late as it cannot do any harm, remember it is a preventative measure and not a cure so leave it too long and you could have major problems looming for the future.

Starting the process

Before you can even check the sides and base of your narrowboat you first have to get it to dry land and this can be done in various ways, with a lot depending on not only the mariners’ or boatyards facilities but personal preference and location.

Slipway –¬†Using a slipway is a fairly easy process that I am sure we have all seen, where the boat is physically pulled out of the water with specialist equipment.

Craning – Craning a boat out is what it says, a specialist boat crane will lift your boat up and out of the water.

Dry Dock – The narrowboat will be floated into the chamber when the water is then pumped out leaving it in drydock.

Narrowboat blacking Cost

When you are trying to cost out just how much it will cost to have the blacking process done for you there are numerous factors that come into play, there are no fixed costs per boat.

First, the narrowboat has to be at the yard whether that be by water or another means, it also has to be taken out of the water and the cost of both can vary greatly depending on the method used and this in itself can be a fairly expensive process.

Secondly, you may be charged daily while the narrowboat is at the yard for treatment, whether that is outside or in drydock this will also include the ‘dry day’ that the treatment requires before being able to put the boat back in the water.

Not all boatyards charge the same for preparation and application, but, they nearly all quote per foot of boat size, this cost will also depend on the coat type that they will be applying, bitumen is the cheapest while the new molten zinc the most expensive.

Bear in mind here, that, should you take your boat to have a 2 pack epoxy blacking and it has a bituminous coating on the hull already then it will have to be shot blasted to remove the bitumen and this will require the use of a specialised company or boatyard.

Although the boatyard will be able to advise you, an easy way to find out beforehand is to soak a cloth in white spirit, rub it on part of the blacking and if you have a black residue on your cloth then you have a bituminous (bitumen) coating type.

A word of advice, get a written quote for everything that you are expecting the boatyard to do on your behalf as there is nothing worse than finding out the hidden costs after the job has been completed.

Here is a wonderful video showing just how the job is done with 2 pack epoxy in a dry dock, it is a very informative and interesting watch.

Blacking the bottom of a narrowboat

You will hear an awful lot of people say that you do not need to use a blacking treatment on the base plate of a narrowboat, however, there is a lot of debate about this with the professionals in the know saying that you really should ensure the base is fully coated and protected.

It may be in deeper water and therefore less prone to corrosion from oxidization and it is a lot thicker than the sides of the hull, but generally, a boatyard will not include the base when quoting. You should take this opportunity to get them to check it out, although most will naturally do this not all will, for any corrosion or abrasions that may have occurred and then make a final decision.

DIY Narrowboat blacking

Are you itching to have a go at DIY narrowboat blacking and is it possible? The answer is yes you can do it as long as you like hard work and are prepared to get dirty, those that have done it really seem to have enjoyed the experience and have a wonderful feeling of achievement when finished.

You do need to take into account that it is not just your materials, such as the rollers brushes and new sacrificial anodes etc., that you have to cost, you will still need to have your boat taken out of the water and somewhere safe to work on it, this will usually be charged for daily so the longer you take to finish the job the higher this extra cost will be.

Here is a great video that shows a young couple who have completed their own blacking process along with a full break down of the costs you will need to consider.

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