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How to Remove Boat Decals? – A Complete Beginner’s Guide

Fact checked by William Hart

how to remove boat decals

Marine decals are meant to stay for a long time, you can’t just peel them off like regular wallpapers and stickers. They endure the moisture, salt water, and weathering of harsh marine environments. So, it’s no surprise if you tried traditional methods and they didn’t work.

Still, it doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of the rusty decals that you no longer enjoy. With the right guide on how to remove boat decals, you can get the job done quickly and efficiently. In this article, I’ll explain four methods: using adhesive removers, eraser wheels, heat guns, and hot water pressure washers.

What You Will Need

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Your best way to remove boat decals depends on the tools that you have at your disposal and the decals you are dealing with. If you want to remove small stickers like registration numbers, all you need is an adhesive remover and a razor blade.

Adhesive removers are versatile and easy to use. You can employ them to remove decals from gel coat, fiberglass, wood, metal, and even glass. But you should do a spot test before applying them to a painted or fragile surface. Spray a small amount on the decals and cautiously scrape them off. Once you notice any damage, immediately wipe down the solvent.

Sometimes, chemical removers can’t break down the old marine glue, especially with large decorative decals or boat lettering. In that case, you need to pick up a professional tool. Select one of the three below:

1. Eraser wheel

The working mechanism of silicon eraser wheels is similar to pencil erasers. But instead of holding them in your hand to scrub off the stickers, you connect one to a drill to enhance its erasing power. The benefit of this method is that it doesn’t involve high pressures, intense heat, or harsh chemicals.

If you own a reliable power drill, purchase an eraser wheel tool kit. One kit usually costs around $10. In my experience, this is the easiest, safest, and quickest method to remove boat lettering.

2. Heat gun and scraper

A heat gun heats up and loosens the toughest decals in seconds. Then, you can slowly peel them off with a scraper or razor blade. If you already own a heat gun, put it in the lowest setting and warm up a small section of the decals to spot test.

Be aware that a hot air gun will scorch GRP (the material of fiberglass boat hulls) and boat paint when you heat it excessively. Please pay attention and be extra careful to avoid burns and injuries.

3. Hot water pressure washer

Similar to a heat gun, a hot water pressure uses heat to soften and loosen the stickers. The high pressure also helps clear away the residue. Again, put the pressure washer in its lowest setting and watch carefully to see if it is safe to remove decals from your boat this way.

When you have finished the spot test, grab a boat soap to clean up any decal residue and a boat polisher to finish up the work. Now, you are ready to remove the old boat decals.

Steps to Peel Off Old Boat Decals

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Before removing the boat decals, clean the surface with a dry clean rag. You should also put on a mask and pair of gloves to avoid contacting chemicals.

Step 1: Remove the decals

  • With the adhesive remover

Step 1. Spray a generous amount of the remover onto the decals.

Step 2. Wait for at least one minute.

Step 3. Slowly move the razor blade to remove the boat registration stickers. As you peel back the decals, keep applying the product so the surface stays wet and the stickers come off easily.

Step 4. Wet a rag with the adhesive remover and scrub off any residue.

Working with fragile materials like glass can be treacherous. You should let the sealant remover do most of the work and avoid using excessive force.

  • With an eraser wheel

Step 1. Make a mixture of boat soap and water. Use it to wipe down the surface before removing decals from the boat.

Step 2. Connect the eraser wheel to your power drill. An eraser wheel tool kit should come with a drill adapter.

Step 3. Firmly press the wheel against the decals and switch it on. The eraser will start to rub off the decals. Remember to place the wheel on the surface before turning it on. You should keep running the eraser wheel over the decals several times.

Step 4. Wet a rag with the adhesive remover and wipe off the flakes.

  • With a heat gun

Step 1. Place the heat gun two inches away from the decals and heat until they soften. Fiberglass and white paint will turn yellow when you overheat them. So, if you’re removing decals from a fiberglass boat, always put the heat gun at its low setting.

Step 2. Gently peel back the decals with a scraper or razor blade. You should work in small sections and keep moving as quickly as possible to avoid concentrating heat in one area.

Step 3. When you finish, wait until the surface cools down.

Step 4. Wet a rag with the adhesive remover and wipe off the remaining glue.

This method removed the old lettering of my aluminum boat incredibly well. If you opt for it, watch this video for more details of each step:

  • With a hot water pressure washer

Step 1. Fill the reservoir with hot water, point the nozzle at the vinyl stickers, and turn on your pressure washer. Be careful not to hurt yourself.

Step 2. Play the washer over the decal until it starts to come off.

Step 3. Turn off the pressure washer and wait until the surface cools down.

Step 4. Clean up any residue with the adhesive remover.

Step 2: Rewash the surface with boat soap

Many boat owners overlook this step. But the surface is not clean after you remove stickers from a boat. The leftover adhesive will attract debris and dirt. So, make a mixture of boat soap and water. Dip a cloth or brush in the solution and rub the surface. Then, wash it with clean water to get rid of soap residue.

Step 3: Apply boat polisher

Finally, put a decent amount of the boat polisher onto a cloth and apply it to the surface using circular motions. Keep buffing until the boat looks shiny and glassy.

If there are lingering shadows of the old decals, you need an electric buffer. Gently press the pad against the boat and start buffing. The electric buffer will remove the shadow-like image. If you don’t own an electric buffer, don’t worry as we’ll explain a wet sanding method later in this article.

This final step polishes up and protects the boat paint. A polisher is essential if you are replacing boat decals. It ensures the new decals have a clean and polished surface to adhere to.

Tips to Remove Boat Decals Efficiently

The best tip I can give you is to work carefully. Don’t rush the process and force the issue when the decals insist. That only leads to endless frustration, tears, and damage. Instead, be patient. As long as you’re using the right strategies and products, the stickers will come off.

What to Do About the Lingering Shadows of the Old Decals

Don’t panic when the image of the decals lingers after you remove the actual decals. It is the result of years of sun exposure. An old trick that works all the time is wet sanding. Follow these steps:

Step 1. Grab a sheet of 2000 grit sandpaper.

Step 2. Cut about a few inches square and fold it in half.

Step 3. Hold the sandpaper in one hand and a water sprayer in the other. Spray the area and lightly rub it in small circular motions. You should keep spraying, making sure the surface stays wet as you rub.

Step 4. Wipe off all the residue and let it dry.

Conclusion

To wrap up, there are four effective ways to remove stickers from a boat: using adhesive removers, wheel erasers, heat guns, and hot water pressure washers. All of them guarantee the best results as long as you follow the procedure appropriately.

So, what method on how to remove boat decals will you choose? If you have already tried it, let us know how it went in the comments.

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