A staple decoration on classic hulls, a cove stripe is easy to apply

by David Brown

The cove stripe is that decorative recess cut into the side of the hull just below deck level. It’s called a “cove stripe” because in the days of wooden boats carved recesses of this type were called coves. Indenting the stripe below the surrounding surface of the hull protects it from being scraped or banged against dock pilings. High class yachts of olde had gold leaf rubbed into their cove stripes. Today, most are painted an accent color to coordinate with the hull and boot stripe colors. Despite being indented, cove stripes do get their share of scratches and dings that require repainting.

De-waxing the old paint is the first step. This is a critical step because years of waxing the hull will have built up a fair amount in the cove. If this wax is not removed, it may prevent the new paint from properly adhering. Wet a rag with the de-waxing agent and rub down the stripe. Keep rotating the rag so you pick up the old wax. If you rub with just one spot on the rag you will remove wax at first, but later you’ll just be pushing the wax around.

Put off sanding sand until the de-waxing is completed. If you sand over wax, the grains of sand in the paper will drive the wax into the old paint where it will be virtually impossible to remove. Light sanding with 220 grit paper should be sufficient if the old paint is still well adhered. Sanding should break the gloss of the old paint and feather out any scrapes or other damage. Try wrapping your sandpaper around a dowel rod with a diameter that closely matches the recessed cove of the stripe. Exercise care to sand only in the cove stripe and not damage the surrounding gel coat which will not be painted.

If the old stripe is heavily damaged, or if you want to change colors, complete removal of the old paint may be necessary. Paint remover intended for use on fiberglass is the best way to do that. Read and follow the directions. Even so-called “safe” paint removers can do damage to gel coat if improperly used. Put the paint scrapings into a container for proper disposal. A scrubdown with mild soap and water should remove any traces of the remover that might interfere with applying new paint.

Use 3M Fine Line tape to mask the top and bottom of the cove stripe. Scroll work at the bow or stern may require cutting the masking tape with an artist’s knife. Get an inexpensive all-metal handle and a package of No. 11 X-Acto blades for this job. Sharp blades will allow you to cut accurately with virtually no pressure so that you won’t damage the gel coat. The fine tips of No. 11 blades break easily in use, so expect to change blades several times before you are finished.

Alkyd enamel or one-part epoxy marine paint works well in cove stripes. Apply it with a good China bristle brush slightly narrower than the width of the stripe. If you can’t find a suitable brush at your local hardware or paint outlet, try an artist’s supply store. Ask for a long-bristle “blunt” brush with natural bristles suitable for oil paints. Marine paints are designed for high gloss more than good hiding characteristics. It may take two coats (occasionally more) to get full depth of color. Follow the instructions on the can regarding drying time and sanding between coats.

Applying real gold leaf is an art that’s best left to professionals. You can get nearly the appearance of gold leaf from special paints used by sign painters. Or, you may find a tape stripe with a gold or silver metallic finish which may look quite handsome. Tape stripes can be difficult to install in a true cove recess because of the radius.
Pro Tip: Get Tape Off Early

Masking tape should never be left in place longer than one or two days. Tape that has been left on the boat too long becomes difficult or impossible to remove without scraping. If you must work over two weekends, remove the tape on Sunday afternoon of the first weekend and replace it Saturday morning of the second..