Innovative solutions to this rite of spring


With Easter round the corner it seems a good time to blog about antifouling. There’s something about antifouling that seems to encourage innovation. Maybe it’s the cost of the stuff or perhaps the less than favourite job of putting it on, no doubt on a breezy, cold day that sees any other person, boat or car to leeward getting generously spotted with International’s finest.

Over the years I’ve come across many different ideas to solve the problem. One impecunious sailor thought he’d save a few pounds by using swimming pool paint (though if he had a pool he could not have been that impecunious). The sky blue was very fetching. The barnacles thought so too. Another added copious quantities of rat poison and creosote to domestic emulsion paint. Other than deterring the occasional passing water rat or gribble that too had little effect. One that did work, though it’s frightening to think of the environmental consequences if widely used, was adding vetinerary antibiotics to household paint, though no doubt continued use could have developed MRSA-like super barnacles. And then there was Barnacle Bill.

Back in the 1970s, when a US Coastguard cutter was slipped for a refit the shipyard was puzzled when they found that one area of hull was completely free of fouling. On investigation they found that it correlated to a sailor’s cabin and that sailor was a hi fi enthusiast and had speakers mounted all round the cabin, including on the hull. Barnacle Bill was born, a system of sonic devices glued on the inside of the hull designed to blast away fouling, though no-one used it long enough to ascertain whether Mozart or Black Sabbath worked best. Because it made little discernable difference.

Well Barnacle Bill, or son of Barnacle Bill is back. The Shipsonic ultrasound antifouling system has just been announced. Now I won’t tar it with the same brush as Barnacle Bill (come to think of it tar is supposed to work well) as it may well work in a completely different way. But it will take a lot to convince me to fit it to my boat. Read about it at