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Installing Treadmaster Nonskid

Larry and I thoroughly tested other boats with Treadmaster before we settled on this product for Serengetti's decks.
After removing teak decks from our 1978 Formosa Peterson 46, Larry and I were faced with the decision of how to refinish them. This led us to doing a lot of dock walking in search of the right nonskid for us.

We managed to get ourselves invited aboard a whole slew of different boats that had various types of renewed nonskid. We checked out painted-on nonskid that was obtained by adding sand particles to the paint, those with a thickened paint or gelcoat applied with a textured roller, new teak decks, and synthetic surfaces like Treadmaster, which are glued on top of the deck. We interviewed each owner as to how well they felt the nonskid on their boat worked under various conditions. Combining firsthand reports from these owners with personal experience jumping around barefoot and in shoes on both wet and dry decks, we soon came to a very conclusive result. The synthetic nonskids far outperformed all other surfaces. Teak decks were a close second, but we did not want to put teak decks back on our boat.

After researching the life expectancy, price, colors, and feasibility of installing it ourselves, we soon decided upon Treadmaster nonskid for our decks. Treadmaster is an extremely durable combination of rubber, cork and polymers that is sold in three-by-four-foot (actually 35 1/2-by-47 1/2-inch), flexible sheets. You cut each sheet to the desired shape and glue it onto your deck. Itís available in several different colors and two different patterns. The diamond pattern is designed for deck treatments and areas where you want the greatest traction, so this is what we used.

Spending the time to make templates before we actually cut the Treadmaster ensured a fully functional, better-looking finished product.
We chose the off-white color, white sand, which reduces glare nicely from an otherwise bright white deck. Although dirt shows easily on this color, just as it does on white gelcoated decks, weíve found itís also easy to clean. We were originally worried about bloodstains from fish and rust stains, but we have been able to remove both successfully. The darker colors may hide dirt better, but they will be hot underfoot in the tropics.

An unexpected bonus weíve discovered from our new decking material is its wonderful durability when things are dropped on it. Dropping a wrench on a gelcoated or painted nonskid deck will often cause a chip or crack. With the synthetic covering, it simply lands safely, and it doesnít even slide any farther. Based on our observations of the product installed on older boats, we hope to see a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years.

Iíve heard an occasional complaint from sailors that the diamond Treadmaster pattern is too aggressive and therefore uncomfortable under bare feet. They also say it would really hurt if you fell down or were sitting on it for prolonged periods. Our personal experience is that itís fine under bare feet, and that in all conditions, either barefoot or with shoes, it provides the most secure traction we have ever felt. We believe the chances of falling are greatly reduced because of the good traction and our overall safety greatly enhanced.

"We mistakenly thought installing this synthetic nonskid was going to be much easier than masking off and painting on a sanded surface"
We mistakenly thought installing this synthetic nonskid was going to be much easier than masking off and painting on a sanded surface. This is not the case. The 238 square feet of deck and cabin house surface that we laid the Treadmaster material on turned out to be a very labor-intensive process. It took many steps to ensure a good installation, and one that looks like it belongs on the boat and wasnít just an afterthought. Although it was a lot of work, now that itís done, weíre extremely pleased and feel it was definitely worth the extra effort.

So, if you want great new nonskid yourself, here are the steps to follow to install Treadmaster. Our application was over a fiberglass deck that had been newly sealed with epoxy after removing old teak planking. We painted our decks and cabinhouse with Awlgrip before installing the new nonskid. If youíre renewing your nonskid without painting your deck, your steps will be similar to ours. Your existing nonskid, however, will need to be sanded down prior to covering with Treadmaster.

Make Patterns and Estimate Material   
Before you can estimate precisely how many sheets of Treadmaster you need to order, you first need to make nonskid patterns of your entire deck. Buy a roll of building paper from the hardware store, then cut out as many three-by-four-foot sheets as you think youíll need for your deck application. Arrange the pattern pieces on your deck, spacing them out to ensure you donít end up with a tiny sliver at one end. Try to achieve a layout that maximizes the use of your materials. For the best appearance, keep the four-foot length of each sheet of Treadmaster running fore and aft to ensure that the diamond pattern stays lengthwise. Itís OK to allow the diamonds to follow the curve of your deck, rather than staying precisely fore and aft.

Most nonskid patterns on decks are set up with waterways in between sections. These are usually one and a half to three inches wide and provide a route for the water to run between areas of nonskid. This increases traction in wet conditions by channeling the water away from the nonskid while providing a pleasing look to the eye.

Taping around the nonskid area before applying the adhesive allowed us to end up with a clean, professional-looking job.
To ensure a uniform distance away from our curved bulwark and cabin house, we cut a small block of wood the width we desired for our side waterways. Then with the three-by-four-foot paper pattern taped in place on deck, we ran the block of wood along the curved surface with a pencil moving with it along the inside edge marking where the pattern should be cut. For a professional look, youíll want uniform rounded corners on each piece of nonskid. We used the lid from a piece of Tupperware as our pattern guide. Cut out each piece of pattern after tracing its shape, and tape it in place.

Once your patterns are complete and in place, youíll have an idea of how your new nonskid will look. Before removing, outline each piece on the deck with a pencil. This will help you determine exactly what areas may need additional fairing before painting. Thereís no need to waste time over-fairing an area thatíll be under your nonskid. Clearly mark each pattern piece using a system that allows you to know exactly where that piece goes, fore and aft orientation, and which side is the top. This becomes crucial once you begin cutting out the Treadmaster pieces. With your new pattern pieces, you can now determine exactly how much material youíll need to order. We think itís a good idea to add one additional sheet, just in case.

"Thereís no need to waste time over-fairing an area thatíll be under your nonskid. "
Cutting Nonskid from Patterns    To cut your Treadmaster, lay the three-by-four-foot piece on a flat surface with the tread side down. Then lay your pattern with its topside down making sure your diamond grid is running fore and aft. Tape the pattern to the Treadmaster so it will not shift while you trace its outline. Remove the pattern and get ready to cut.

To cut the tough Treadmaster material most easily, use a pair of industrial "bent shear" scissors. Our pair with 10-inch blades cost us $65. They were worth every penny! Even with these good scissors, youíre going to have a very tired hand and probably a couple of blisters when youíre finished. After cutting each piece, mark the back with the same code you used on the pattern.

Dry-Fitting Your Deck    Next, place all of your newly cut pieces of nonskid in their appropriate positions on deck. Make sure that they fit correctly and look proportional. After doing this step, I ended up re-trimming every single piece to enlarge our waterways to a final width of 1 1/2 inchesóugh! More blisters, but it looked better with more smooth white space.

Preparing for Paint    If youíre painting your decks, youíll want to do it before applying Treadmaster. After all fairing preparations have been made, cut each paper pattern down by one inch all around and tape it back in place using two-sided carpet tape. This will ensure that you donít waste any paint in the area under your nonskid. Additionally, the edge of your paint will be well sealed under your Treadmaster. The pattern taped to your deck gives you a safe place to walk while youíre painting.

Once the Treadmaster was applied, we rolled it to ensure good adhesion to the deck.

Sanding under Nonskid    Once your decks are painted, youíll need to sand the area beneath each piece of Treadmaster, before it can be epoxied down. Itís important to know exactly where you can and cannot sand. Lay the Treadmaster in place on your deck, and tape around its perimeter with masking tape. Your taping job needs to be extremely precise so that you donít sand into a finished area. To ensure proper adhesion, sand aggressively with 60 to 80-grit paper staying 1/4-inch inside your tapeline. Although power sanders are OK for the middle, youíll want to use a small sanding block to hand sand carefully around the edges. Vacuum away all sanding residue, then using an acetone soaked rag clean the back of each sheet of Treadmaster, and the deck area that youíve just sanded. We found itís best to sand and adhere just a few pieces at a time to ensure everything stays uncontaminated.

Adhering Nonskid to Deck    Treadmaster is permanently adhered to your fiberglass deck using a thickened epoxy resin. The manufacturer sells an already thickened product made just for this purpose. Having lots on hand, we used West System epoxy resin after being assured by the Treadmaster people that it would do the same job as their adhesive. We catalyzed our resin using an extra slow hardener, then thickened our mixture to a peanut-butter consistency using Cabosil. The extra-slow hardener gave us a long working time for both the adhering and cleanup of each sheet.

Using a notched spreader, apply your epoxy to the deck in a swirled pattern just like when laying tile. Spread the epoxy consistently over the deck making sure that you leave no dry areas and alternately no areas with excessive material. We discovered that a 1/8-inch notched plastic spreader works best. Larger notches will leave more adhesive than is necessary, and they cause problems during cleanup.

"We catalyzed our resin using extra-slow hardener to give us more working time."
After completely covering the area in adhesive, lay the nonskid pieces in place. The notches in the adhesive will cause a type of natural suction as you lay each piece in place. Use a rolling pin or sturdy bodied paint roller with the cover taped over to eliminate air pockets and obtain a consistent bond. Begin in the middle of your sheet and firmly roll outward being careful not to push so hard that you squeeze all of the adhesive out. Also make sure that you donít get any adhesive on your roller then roll it all over your new decking. Carefully check the entire surface to ensure that there are no high spots due to epoxy build up or air pockets underneath the material. Take a small wallpaper seam roller and run this gently around the edge to ensure a uniform and tight bond.

Cleaning Up   This is perhaps the most important step to ensure that your finished job will look great. Any epoxy that is not cleaned up right away will turn yellowy-brown after a few weeks in the sun, and it will be almost impossible to remove. The tape around each piece of nonskid will help keep the bulk of epoxy off your deck, but it does not take care of it all.

At this stage of the game, a small amount of epoxy has oozed out from underneath the entire edge of Treadmaster. Use a two-inch, flat metal scraper to assist in removing this excess before removing the tape.

After you've completed the installation, you can sit back in your cockpit and survey the finished productóa deck that looks years younger.
Next, carefully remove the tape from around the sheet of Treadmaster, and deposit it into your handy garbage pail. There will still be plenty of clean up necessary after the tape is pulled. Youíll want to have lots of paper towels handy and a tub of acetone. Tear small pieces of paper towel, and dip into the acetone before wiping the outside edge of the Treadmaster and the painted surface. Make sure you clean any epoxy from the top edge of the nonskid. Use a new small piece of paper towel dipped in acetone with each wipe. Be very diligent; the epoxy is hard to see. Your cleanup must be thorough yet quickly paced, because youíre dealing with a catalyzed product. Once the epoxy has hardened, there is no removing it. After that, youíre done!

Our resurfacing project, not counting any paint, cost about $2,300 total. We covered both the decks and cabin house of our 46-foot boat, using 23 and a half sheets of Treadmaster. This left us with some good-sized scraps that will be very useful in other places on the boat. The off-white Treadmaster is a little more expensive than the darker colors (about $10 per sheet) and at $73 per sheet, this alone ran us $1,750. The epoxy adhesive was $300, with scissors, sandpaper, tape, acetone, etc. accounting for the rest.

As for the time involved, we had about two and a half weeks invested in this project, not counting the removal and subsequent reinstallation of our deck hardware. Thatís two people working eight to ten-hour days. Patterning took three days. We were very particular here. Cutting out the material took another two days. Checking everything took a day. We were able to sand, adhere, and clean up a maximum of four to five pieces of nonskid per day. That easily took the remaining week and a half.

If youíre looking to renew your nonskid after removing teak decks, or itís just time to stop slipping around on the old, tired out nonskid that presently graces your decks, Treadmaster is a wonderful answer. With the last piece neatly installed, youíll have lots of fun enjoying your new decks and I promise youíll feel a new sense of sure-footedness that you didnít think possible on board a sailboat.

The Right Tools for the Job

Like any boating project, it really helps if you have all the proper tools for the job beforehand. This was our first go around with Treadmaster, so we now know that other first timers will appreciate the following list of required tools and materials. Get these and you've taken the first step toward a new looking deck.

Sheets of Treadmaster nonskid

Epoxy adhesive

Building paperĖone roll Double-sided carpet tape



Small block of wood

Rounded lid to radius corners

Industrial "bent shear" scissors

Masking tape Sandpaper Eye protection, dust masks, ear plugs Latex gloves


Random orbital sander

Stirring sticks and plastic containers 1/8-inch notched spreader

Wallpaper roller Foam paint roller, or rolling pin


Paper towels

Flat metal scraper

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