I just had to peel the name off a boat.  The letters were made of vinyl.  The transom had been baking in tropical sunlight for years. It was a long name—not quite as bad as Gotterdammerung or Supercalifragilistic—but just about, and the letters were big and ornate. It took me about 12 hours over three days– also baking in the tropical sun--to get the job done. And by “peel” I mean “remove in minuscule fragments,” with an occasional victorious pull of an inch or so. Those were moments for celebration.

peeling vinyl boat letter

If you can grab this much of a vinyl letter that's been on a transom for years, you're doing well.

There are times when a hair dryer or heat gun can help a lot, as long as the vinyl still has some suppleness. But I knew that in this case I’d have to resort to a razor blade, and that the transom gelcoat would get dinged up. Had to be done. Long story. Point is, if you can possibly avoid it, don’t use a razor. There’s no question that you’ll gouge tiny chunks out of your boat.

It was just a few weeks after the feeling returned to my cramped blade-holding fingers that Brett Becker wrote a piece on Boat Trader’s Waterblogged called Removing Vinyl Boat Lettering and Decals. It was mostly about a product I’d never heard of -- the Stripe Off Wheel, made by 3M.


Anti-Bond is expensive, but does a good job with the adhesive residue left after the vinyl letters are removed.

I was interested to note that the wheel – basically a rotary eraser that you chuck into your drill – only removes the vinyl, not the adhesive underneath, which is an equally thorny problem. For that, Brett says to use lacquer thinner and a fingernail on the adhesive.  I’ve used Goof-Off in the past, but it’s unpleasant to work with, and probably not very healthy. My favorite stuff is called Anti-Bond. It seems to liquefy lettering adhesive so that you can just swipe it off with the edge of a plastic putty knife, or even wipe it off with a rag or paper towel. It’s the only product I know of that will soften and help de-bond 3M-5200, which as we all know is the most serious stuff on the planet for holding boat things together. Anti-Bond is expensive (usually around $15 for a 1.5-oz. spray can), but a little goes a long way, and it’s non-toxic and non-smelly. It’s hard to find online information about it, and hard to find it in hardware stories, but it's carried by chandleries like West Marine and Jamestown Distributors.

If you have to remove a painted-on boat name, Brett suggests Easy-Off over cleaner.

By the way, you have to be very careful of the sea gods when you change a boat name. I’m not sure whether the same holds true for lake boats, but better safe than sorry. The proper actions must be taken, recitations made, and libations poured. There has always been some debate about the formalities, but the best approach, I think, is described by John Vigor in his Simple Denaming Ceremony, which goes on to cover christening the boat with the new name – a much simpler procedure.

And if you have any human feeling for the guy who might own your boat next, name it Vim, or Gig, or Pip.

- Doug Logan