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Shrinkwrapping Ships For Protection and Display

Randy Dutton
FPM Inc.


Protect-A-Boat Division of FPM Inc. is the founder of boat shrinkwrapping and is the only company with a process patent for boat shrinkwrapping. Some of the historic ship preservation with which FPM has been involved include shrinkwrapping the Presidential Yacht Sequoia and the 171 foot sailing ship Gazelle, located on the Philadelphia dock. Both the Sequoia and Gazelle were shrinkwrapped to protect the ships and allow workers to perform repairs during the winter. Not only did the shrinkwrap covers provide environmental protection for the ships but they also allowed the workers to work in short sleeve shirts in indoor conditions.

Since 1981, millions of boats have been shrinkwrapped for transportation and winter storage. Most of these were shrinkwrapped by the boats' owners and boat manufacturers. And since 1981, several other companies have gotten into the business of protecting boats and ships with shrinkfilm, notably Shrink Wrap Solution whose pictures of their protection of a 135 foot ship I used in this presentation.

What is ship shrinkwrapping?

Shrinkwrapping is the envelopment of a boat, or part of a boat, with a tight plastic skin and through the application of heat.

Why use shrinkwrap?

To protect the ship against environmental damage during reconstruction or repairs, or while awaiting repair funding. The environmental factors shrinkwrapping can virtually eliminate are:

  • precipitation: rain, snow, hail, ice.
  • wind,
  • excessive temperatures,
  • salt air,
  • bird droppings,
  • rodents,
  • insects.

To protect the ship for a season against winter storms.

To provide a humidity and temperature controlled environment for custom paints, patching materials, and solvents.

To save money by reducing labor costs, workers compensation, insurance, lost material charges, and risk of environmental contamination.

To increase reflective lighting and productivity.

To continue educational tours during inclement weather.

To prove to funding contributors that their money is being well spent!

Without protection the adverse factors:

Degrade your ships through dry rot, mildew, rust, and corrosive compounds.

Reduce the effectiveness of your workforce when conducting repairs, by
limiting the hours they can work due to inclement weather and poor lighting,
increasing the environmental clothing they must wear.
increasing worker safety risk due to ice, darkness, wind, animal feces, blowing dust, sandblast debris, etc.
increasing the risk of lost tools and materials.

Degrade the repair materials prior to installation.

Reduce your ability to conduct educational tours.

Who can shrinkwrap?

Any experienced ship shrinkwrapping company that, when using FPM's patent, goes through FPM. It additionally is important to verify their credentials and past work.

Where can shrinkwrapping be done?

Virtually anywhere. Shrinkwrapping can be done while the ship is in dry-dock or in the water, during cold or hot weather. It is not advisable to shrinkwrap during windy, moist days, however, framing can be assembled during those times.

How much should it cost?

The amount is relative to the design, environmental conditions, location of the work, personnel to be involved, the type materials used, and any related equipment rental. Each job is unique. To give an example, a 100 foot ship, in San Francisco, using Armorshield PlusTM, might cost approximately $10,000-15,000 to shrinkwrap, whereas, the schooner Wapama, protected down to the keel might cost $40,000. This amounts to less than 0.3 percent of the $17 million estimated cost of structural repairs to the Wapama. But consider all the costs associated with not properly protecting your ship and weigh the difference.

Currently, most ships are stored virtually unprotected. When protection is provided it usually is in the form of tarps spread across a small portion of the ship. Tarps have the following disadvantages:

  • Shifting causes abrasion.
  • Not preventing weather from blowing underneath.
  • Laying against the wood or metal results in damage from condensation.
  • Not preventing birds, rodents, or insects from entry.
  • Flapping causes uneven pressure on a ship part, tarp destruction and can be annoyingly noisy.
  • Sagging which causes moisture accumulation on the tarp's top, which can pull the tarp off entirely or put undue force upon part of a ship.

How shrinkwrapping would protect your ships.Working with the customer we would determine your requirements:

  • Goal of protection, whether for ship storage, protection of workers and materials, personnel comfort, all weather tourist shelter, dry-rot spore eradication, bi-metal corrosion protection, temperature and humidity sensitive painting or fiberglass curing, or transoceanic towing.
  • Duration of coverage required, whether for one month to two years.
  • Type of weather encountered, whether heavy snows, sub-zero temperatures, hurricane force winds, or tropic sun. This affects the shape of the design and the color and type of material used.
  • Amount of involvement by your personnel. Whether your personnel will assist in the protection and how much training you would want your personnel to get.
  • Amount of coverage, whether a portion of the ship, down to the waterline, or completely around a ship while in dry-dock.
  • Equipment available to do the job. A highlift, floating scaffolding or small boats may be needed to place and heat shrink protective shrinkfilm alongside the ship's hull.
  • Facilities in which to work. Usually a clean sail shop floor and an area in which to store equipment and materials is most beneficial.
  • Accessibility required, whether for tours, repairs, or equipment and personnel access.
  • Ventilation required. We can build in insect screening and adjustable cross ventilation or seal the ship for air conditioning, dehumidification, and/or heating.

Then we would:

  • Prepare the ship by padding or protecting any railings, booms, sharp points, rough edges, etc.
  • Design and build a frame over the deck of the ship, and if desired, a scaffold alongside the ship. Depending upon the requirements and size of ship, the frame may be constructed of a variety of materials including PVC pipe, steel pipe, lumber, strapping.
  • Create a perimeter belt around the ship with which to lock the film down.
  • Cut and place the shrinkfilm material over the frame.
  • Anchor the shrinkfilm edges.
  • Seal the shrinkfilm seams.
  • Heat shrink the shrinkfilm with hand held, gas propane heat guns.
  • Install a custom passive, or active, ventilation system, and personnel and material access doors.

The materials used can include

  • A single 7 or 8 mil, specialty blended polyolefin available in clear, blue, or white, such as ArmorshieldTM depending upon the desired effect. White is used to reduce heat and ultra-violet (UV) exposure and increase coverage longevity; blue is used to increase heat absorption while reducing UV exposure to the ship; clear is used to increase heat absorption, natural lighting, and improve external visibility of the ship.
  • A multi-layer shrinkfilm with special properties, such as Armorshield PlusTM. It has a fabric backing which makes it stronger, eliminates scratching, and inhibits condensation. Its middle layer is a hot melt adhesive that can contain special additives such as anti-mold, anti-mildew, and bi-metal volatile corrosion inhibitors. The shrinkfilm is clear, or blue tinted, and the backing is white which gives the film a glossy appearance.
  • Splicing tapes to connect shrinkfilm edges.
  • Sealing tapes to seal the shrinkfilm edges.

Once the cover is installed, modifications can be made to meet later requirements. With the proper design, sections of the ship can be uncovered without adversely affecting the remaining cover, or additional areas can be covered. Want to show off part of the ship but keep it covered? Replace the film with a clear shrinkfilm. Want to keep the ship covered for an additional year or two? That can be attained by fusing an additional layer of film to the existing layer. Want additional accesses and more ventilation? That can be easily done. Want a dehumidified environment? A dehumidification system can easily be installed.

Safety: Our process has been used on millions of boats and over 5000 fueled military helicopters with no known significant accidents.

Shrinkwrapping a historic ship for preservation and display purposes is the most cost effective way to protect and showcase a national asset. Shrinkwrapping works for any very large and irregularly shaped object and is the most incredibly flexible preservation system in existence today.

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Version 1.01, 7 July 1997