Fouling: What It is and How to Deal With It

One thing that boat owners have to deal with is the constant growth of unwanted critters (if you can them that) all over the underside of the boat–including the propellers. There are quite a few species who would like to set up shop there. You wouldn’t really think so, given that a boat rolls moves through the water, sometimes quite fast. But hey, there’s no accounting for taste. Fouling is best kept to a minimum–it increases the boat’s fuel requirements and decreases efficiency, as well as increasing the rate of wear and tear.

What likes it there
Several species like to establish themselves on wetted surfaces. It is called “fouling,” specifically, “biofouling.” Biofouling is divided into micro- and macrofouling. Microfouling is caused predominantly from biofilms, a slimy mixture of bacteria. Macrofouling’s main culprits are barnacles (small crustaceans that bind themselves to substrates), mussels, worms, bryozoa–moss animals, and seaweed. This “fouling community” attaches itself very securely and requires concerted effort to remove.

Fouling Removal
There’s that saying about if there are a lot of cures for a given disease, none of them works. It’s the same way with dealing with fouling beasties. Lots of different methods exist for getting rid of the community and keeping it away for as long as possible.

For removing the crustiness, some recommend barnacle brushes, many recommend pressure washing, some recommend vinegar (nice and mild, but seems like a lot of work!), still others recommend chemicals like brick cleaner (hydrocholoric acid). The prevailing thinking seems to be “whatever works.” You will want to take an approach you are comfortable with.

We’ll talk about anti-fouling paint next time: it’s kind of cool how the paints work. But I’ll just give away that most anti-fouling paints use copper as their active ingredient.

See you next time.


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I write blogs. Lots and lots of blogs!
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