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Removing and Applying Vinyl Lettering

We bought a boat, and she’s pretty much the perfect boat for us—comfy, quick and beautiful. However, the name on her transom was not “our” boat’s name. So after much deliberation and discussion, we decided on the right name for our boat. After the appropriate ceremonies were performed, it was time to apply her new moniker.

As on most boats today, the old name had been applied with stick-on vinyl lettering, and I knew getting it off was going to be a pain in the neck. I consulted with Bill MacGowan of Mac Designs in Newport, Rhode Island, who made the boat’s new name out of vinyl, and he provided the answer—hot air and a plastic scraper. I’m pretty good with a heat gun, so I used that to heat up the lettering. You need to be careful though; you can easily ruin gelcoat or paint if you get it too hot. Lots of sailors I’ve talked to say they have had success using a hair dryer. I also used plastic “razor blades” to scrape under the old letters. It was tedious, but a couple of hours later, a sticky residue was all that remained. Some 3M Adhesive Remover and lots of paper towels took care of that. An alternative solvent to try would be Goo Gone.

After the glue was gone, the remains of the hailing port could still be seen on the transom, so I removed what was left with a power buffer and 3M Finesse-It polish. To ensure the new letters bond well, I recommend you not wax the topsides before putting them on.

To make sure your name is centered and level, carefully measure down from the rail and mark the points on a horizontal line where you want the name to go. A flexible metal yardstick helps here. Mark the center of the line and then cut and mark the backing and name horizontally and vertically so you can line it up with the marks you’ve made on the hull. The backing for the letters is translucent enough that you’ll be able to see through to line it up with your marks.

You will never be able to stick the name on a dry hull and have it turn out straight, so spray the area with Windex or slightly soapy water. Remove the backing on your name decal, exposing its sticky side, and you’ll be able to slide it around to line it up perfectly.

To get out any air bubbles and make sure the name goes on smooth, use a new smooth flexible plastic spreader to press out air bubbles and wipe away the moisture. Leave the paper covering on for an hour or so to be sure removing it won’t pull up the letters you’ve just put down. If you want to apply a second color, simply repeat the same process. The pencil marks we made came off easily with a little denatured alcohol.

It took some effort, but getting our new name on the boat was worth it. Peregrine is from the Latin for traveler, and is also the name of a swift falcon. Three years after applying the name, it still looks good as Peregrine continues to carry us swiftly to and from our home port.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Burton

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