Cetol—An Alternative to Varnish - Sail Magazine

Cetol—An Alternative to Varnish

Not so long ago, boat owners would recoil in horror at the mention of Cetol. It was a product used by amateurs who didn’t know any better and the result was an orange coating that dulled quickly and did nothing to enhance the grain of any wood.
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Not so long ago, boat owners would recoil in horror at the mention of Cetol. It was a product used by amateurs who didn’t know any better and the result was an orange coating that dulled quickly and did nothing to enhance the grain of any wood; in short, better suited to the deck on your house than the trim on your boat.

Those days are long gone. The Sikkens range of marine coatings has improved beyond belief and if you apply it according to the instructions, it is often difficult, to all but the professional eye, to tell it apart from traditional varnish.

Cetol Marine can be applied anywhere that you would use varnish, but is particularly suitable for areas that endure hard use—grabrails, swim platforms and ladders, or the cockpit sole, where it produces a surprisingly durable and non-slip finish. It comes in three shades; Cetol Marine, Cetol Marine Light, and Cetol Marine Teak. I personally think the Teak pigment produces the richest finish, but this depends on the type of wood and your personal preference. All of these products should be finished with a coat of Cetol Marine Gloss, which is designed to provide further protection from UV damage.

As with any finish, the path to a pleasing long-lasting finish begins with thorough preparation. If this is the first time you are using Cetol, any old finishes must be removed completely, then the surface must be sanded with 180-220 grit paper in the direction of the grain. New wood just needs a light sanding; vacuum the surface and wipe down with Interlux 216 to remove any oil and dirt from the surface. I apply three coats, allowing 24 hours between each. Unlike varnish there is no need to sand between coats. If you want a varnish-like finish then you can gently rub the surface down with an 3M abrasive pad and wipe down with 216 before applying the final coat of Marine Gloss.

Cetol is much easier to maintain than varnish; a light rub-down at the beginning of the season and a refresher coat of the Marine Gloss should do the trick. If you’ve let things go for a couple of seasons, sand back gently, paying attention to any grey spots, apply a coat of Teak and then a coat of Gloss, and you should be ready to go.

Admittedly, you won’t get the deep, lustrous finish that comes with a half-dozen lovingly applied coats of varnish, but nor will you have spent many hours in preparation that could have better spent sailing!

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