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Old 06-04-2001
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Dan Dickison is on a distinguished road
Replacing Teak Decks

I have an older wooden boat and the deck is planked with teak which is fastened directly to frames. I'm tired of the battle with leaks and want to cover this deck. What would be the best material(s) and method(s) for proceeding?

Dan Dickison responds:
Thanks for your question. You've got a number of options regarding how to deal with your leaky deck. Of course wooden boat purists will tell you that the only proper thing to do is to lay a new deck using teak. I agree that this would certainly be the way to keep the boat in its traditional trim, but that process can be cost-prohibitive for some owners. Anyway, it's clear from your question that you don't want to go that route.

One other quasi-traditional option for sheathing your deck is to cover it in canvas and then paint that. It might sound strange to you, but this method was quite common prior to advent of fiberglass. You'll have to remove all deck hardware and the toerails to do this, and depending upon the shape of the teak that's there, you may need to tear it out and replace it with marine plywood, or at least sand it smooth and seal it with epoxy (we're trying to combat rot here). Then you can adhere the canvas, paint it, and rebed the hardware and the toerails. I owned a 23-foot Bear Boat (native to San Francisco Bay) aboard which the deck had been sheathed in canvas for roughly 40 years. We had the boat for five years, and with a little regular maintenance, it held up quite well.

The third option, and the one that will likely give you the longest life out of the boat, is sheathing the deck with fiberglass. Again, you'll have to remove all of the deck hardware and the toerails and any hatch fittings, so there's a fair bit of work involved. And you'll have to prep any weak or rotted teak just as you would with a canvas sheathing, but once you have done all the preparation, wetting out the fiberglass and laying it in place will go fairly quickly. Then when it's fully cured, you can paint it.

Before you get started on a big project like this, it's always best to check with someone whose gone through the process recently, or done it several times in the past. That way you can learn about most of the pitfalls in advance. I recommend you find a boatyard that works on wooden boats in your general geographic area and strike up a conversation with the workers there. In the time it takes to drink a beer (or two) on a Friday afternoon, these guys can give you most of the information you'll need to know so that you can get to work and get your boat ready for some more sailing.
Best of luck to you.

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