Ships are one of the most critical means of transportation that exist in the present day. Even though the jet age stole the glamour of the ocean liner, it would simply be impossible to transport everything by plane. And so the lumbering behemoths of the sea still travel east, west, north, and south.
Of course, as with any other method of transportation, shipping brings with it its own fair share of problems. From oil spills to the burning of the crudest fuels available, ships may be majestic, but they aren’t flawless. One of the more obscure issues with shipping is biofouling, which sailors are well-acquainted with but the layman may not know about.
No matter where you sail your vessel (and no matter how big it is), you’ll always have to put up with biofouling, it just depends on the degree. For example, the slime that accumulates on the bottom of a kayak after a day in a lake is a form of biofouling, but it is less severe than some of the other instances.
Biofouling is a phenomenon in which organisms living in the water will attach themselves to the hull of a passing vessel. Most of the time, it isn’t a single organism that latches onto the boat, but rather the accumulation of many microscopic creatures up until the point that they start having a noticeable effect.
For example, barnacles and algae on the underside of a boat are both a form of biofouling, and they will bring with them a whole host of problems. You may be wondering what issues could be caused by a few stowaways on the exterior of the hull, but it is much more severe than that.
Biofouling was first discovered during the age of sail, and it caused a massive number of problems for vessels that were traveling between continents. Up until that point in history, ships had never traveled so far and so fast, and this only amplified the effects of biofouling until it was noticed.
While biofouling can affect the performance of a metal hull, it can do catastrophic damage to a ship’s wooden hull, to the point that they sometimes had to be entirely overhauled. Other than reducing the speed of a ship through drag, biofouling also ate away at the wood itself.
When traveling from continent to continent, biofouling could have made the difference between arriving on time with provisions to spare and getting there late and starving. Back during that time period, you typically either made it to your destination on time or you never did.
Of course, you also have the massive costs associated with having to overhaul the hulls of ships every so often, and fouling became an unacceptable problem. It was eventually discovered that copper sheets on a ship’s hull could almost negate the effects of fouling.
Now that you know why fouling was originally an issue, you may be wondering why ships still have problems with it, since most are no longer made out of wood. By now, the problem with fouling has mainly become more of an inconvenience, but one that can still cost thousands of dollars.
Biofouling still reduces the speed of a ship, and when goods need to be delivered, they need to be there on time. Fouling can result in late deliveries, and we don’t just mean toys arriving on shelves a few days later. Oil shortages, lack of building materials, and many other issues can arise from late cargo ships.
There is also the matter of fuel economy, as a reduction in this metric can be the difference between life and death for a shipping company.
Modern ships also have a wide range of sensors on their exterior to give the captain an accurate picture of their vessel’s condition. Another biofouling impact factor is the clogging or blocking of these sensors and the reduction to the data needed to safely crew a ship.
Now that we have covered the reasons why you would want to prevent biofouling let's look at how it's done in the first place. Over the course of this list, we'll take a look at some of the techniques that are used to prevent fouling in the first place and the ways that it is removed from ships.
Biocides are one of the more recent inventions in the antifouling world, and they are more eco-friendly than antifouling paints. These substances immediately kill algae and barnacles once they come into contact with a ship’s hull, ensuring they just fall away.
Marine biofouling can also be heavily reduced by the use of antifouling paint, which is one of the most popular methods used to prevent the accumulation of biological matter on your hull. Paints are split into “soft” (ablative) and “hard” varieties, for recreational and commercial uses, respectively.
While antifouling will prevent buildup on your hull, it won't provide a complete defense, and one of the best ways to remove stubborn biological matter from your ship is with laser removal. As you can imagine, this service uses a laser to zap off any barnacles or other creatures.
Another removal method, ultrasonic treatments use extremely high-frequency sound waves to break off barnacles with the power of vibration. This treatment will resonate the hull of your boat so that anything on it vibrates to dust.
Heat has always been used as a way to clear off organisms and bacteria from other objects, so why shouldn’t it be the case for your boat? As you would expect, your boat is heated up using this method so that the surface becomes unbearable for the biological material and it is burnt off.
Biofouling is a massive issue for shipping, and new methods to prevent it are being developed every year. We hope that this guide has provided you with everything you wanted to know about keeping your boat’s hull clean.