How to Apply Waterline Stripes on a Boat

Here, I'll show you the correct way to apply waterline stripes to your boat. I have had many boat owners tell me how difficult can it be putting a stripe on a boat. Pull the paper off the back of a stripe and stick it to the boat -- very easy, right? If you do it without following these directions, you're going to run into many problems, and end up with a beachball-sized waterline stripe from ripping it off the hull, when it doesn't work out for you.

The end product you want to see is a nice smooth finish on the waterline stripe, with no wrinkles, air bubbles, or particles stuck behind the tape. If any of these things happen, then there's a good chance the stripe will fail over time.

Let me tell you a little story, before we get started. One day, I was working on a boat repair job at the marina, minding my own business, when this boat owner came over to me, from the boat he had just hauled. He wanted me to give him an estimate to replace its old waterline stripe. This was a 60-foot Motor Yacht -- a very big boat. I told him that it can run around $600, which included removing the old stripe and applying a new stripe that he supplied, but that I couldn't start the job until I finished the boat I was already working on. He said, "I can't wait. I have to be back in the water in 2 days." Then he said, "How hard can it be, putting a stripe on a boat? It looks easy," he told me. I told him, "Good Luck."

So I went back to work and while I was busy, I noticed him using heat guns and razor blades. He started around 9:00 am and finished around 6:00 pm.

The next day, he was admiring the work he'd done removing the old stripes, and was getting ready to install the new stripes. Around lunch time, I heard some screaming. When I looked up to see what all the commotion was about, I saw the guy fighting his waterline stripe, and ripping it off very fast because it wasn't going on straight. One final scream later, I saw a 60-foot, sticky waterline beachball. He got so mad, that he pulled all of the tape off the boat and rolled it up into a big ball. I never saw anyone get that crazy over striping a boat. But then again, he didn't do it right.

Remember, a boat is supposed be a calming, tranquil experience -- relaxing, listening to the sounds of the water, feeling the rocking motion of the waves, and enjoying a tasty beverage is what it's all about.

After he left, I checked out his boat. He made a big mistake while removing the old stripes. He used a heat gun with a razor blade, and by using this method, he dug out the gel coat, because he wasn't careful about how much pressure he applied with the razor blade. Then when he tried to apply the new stripe, it looked terrible. I could see all of the spots that he dug out with the razor blade.

Here's a tip for applying stripes that I learned in the late 60s while working on the old Chevy and Ford station wagons -- the ones with the simulated wooden decals. Those decals used to be water activated, but didn't hold up well, so they switched to pressure-sensitive glue for the back of the decals, instead. The pressure-sensitive glue decals were very hard to apply because once it stuck to the panel, it was stuck. If you tried pulling it off to realign, you would stretch the decal film -- then it became garbage.

So, I started to use a light spray of water so the decal wouldn't stick to the panel as quickly. But it was still difficul to shift and move around. Then I got the idea to add a few drops of dish soap, and this turned out to be the magic method. Note that whenever this process is used on a boat, you will need to use a squeegee to remove the excess water and soap, or else the stripe won't stick.

Now almost 50 years later, there is an excellent product on the market called "Rapid Tac." This stuff works great and saves a lot of time. So I hope this information helps you!

By the way, the owner of the 60-foot Motor Yacht just went ahead and put his boat back in the water without any waterline stripes.

Photo Section

Warning: If you don't have the right tools, or the ability, then do not attempt this procedure.

Do It Yourself Step-by-step Photo Guide: How to apply Waterline Stripes on a boat.

First, you have to make sure that the boat is very clean. You don't want any dust or particles getting stuck behind the striping tape.

Google "Rapid Tac" to find it online. Then go to Home Depot and buy a $1.00 spray bottle.

Pour the liquid into the spray bottle.

Now, use masking tape to make a straight line -- the striping will go above it.

Press the tape down firmly on the hull.

Here, the masking tape is about 1/2" up from the bottom paint.

You're going to have to work around the exhaust port with the stripe.

What I usually do, is give the stripe area a light spray of Rapid Tac, then wipe it clean, then spray Rapid Tac again, about 3 feet at a time.

Get the stripe, pull the backing paper off and overlap the old stripe, and tack the beginning, above the masking tape.

Unroll the stripe along the side of the boat.

Now start using the Rapid Tac, working it about 3 or 4 feet at a time.

You'll see how easily the tape shifts. Don't overlap the masking tape, stay above it.

Use a plastic or rubber squeegee and run it over the stripe, removing the air bubbles and excess Rapid Tac. You may have to go over the stripe a few times to get all of the air bubbles out. Sometimes, you might have to re-wet the stripe so the squeegee flows smoothly over it. After using the squeegee, it's very hard to remove the tape and then reposition it.

Work the stripe down the side of the hull.

Here, I'm using a squeegee. When you do this, you'll see the Rapid Tac squirt out, and hear the air bubbles pop.

Always use a lot of Rapid Tac. There have been times I used a light spray, and the tape stuck to the hull very quickly, so I didn't have time to reposition it. If this happens to you, you'll have to be careful to pull it off very slowly, then spray more Rapid Tac. Because if you just yank it off, you'll stretch the stripe, and then it will be no good.

Remember -- you're working about 3 or 4 feet at a time.

Cutting Around Hull Fittings. I always cut less -- about 1/4" -- then work it around the fitting. Then I come back in an hour and make the final cut, close to the fitting.

Use a rubber squeegee to force out all of the excess Rapid Tac.

Cut the exhaust port the same way.

Wipe the whole stripe dry and let it sit for a while.

Now I'm working on the second stripe, above the main stripe. Outline it with masking tape. This stripe was 3/4" above the main stripe.

Press the masking tape down firmly -- you don't want this tape to move. If it does, you're going to end up with a crooked stripe.

Applying the second stripe with Rapid Tac. Overlap the old stripe and tape it.

Remove the backing paper.

Align it to the green masking tape. It's a good idea to use two different colors so you'll be able to see the lines better, and get a straighter result.

Squeegee the excess Rapid Tac and air bubbles out of the stripe.

Work yourself down the side of the hull.

Dry the tape by wiping it down, and then let it set up for a while.

Pull the masking tape off carefully.

Now I use plain water to wet the paper section of the waterline stripe.

I found out that when a paper backing is used, it comes off easily, when wet.

This is how you pull the paper backing off, keeping it close to the hull.

Not like this. You will pull the stripe off of the boat and ruin the stripe.

Like this. Note that sometimes it's very hard to pull.

Removing the Clear Liner on the Upper Stripe. Use a straight edge razor, with light pressure, to cut the overlap areas. I usually leave a 1/8" overlap on the old stripe, because the new stripe may shrink a bit.

This is how it should look when your done.

Side view looks straight.