The Beginning of Our Journey

2024, we celebrate 20 years of Alexseal Yacht Coatings. It is an excellent time to take a look back at our mission, the first steps, and what lies ahead.

Image © Michael Kurtz  →

"It's about time." Under this slogan, we started at Mankiewicz in March 2004 as an global paint manufacturer to help shape the market for high-end yacht coatings. In the more than 125-year history of Mankiewicz, a few products already have been used in boatbuilding over the decades.

At the beginning of the 2000s, there was a comprehensive vision: a complete portfolio under the name "ALEXSEAL Yacht Coatings" was to be launched. Applicable from the first primer coat to the final topcoat. Thomas Schultz, Global Sales Director at Alexseal, has been on board from the beginning and looks back on the course already taken. And what lies ahead in the coming years.

Engineering in a Can

"Developing and applying yacht paints is considered one of the fine arts in the coatings industry. There are an incredible number of industries where the highest demands are placed on the finish, the surfaces to be painted are rarely as large and demanding as on a superyacht," says Thomas. "In car and aircraft painting, a comparably good finish is essential, although the design of a car or aircraft is much more forgiving in terms of the visual appearance of the finished surface." 

This is because many vehicles only very rarely have large, completely flat surfaces. For example, the fuselage of an airplane is enormous and is painted by several painters at the same time. But it is still round, and the passengers "only" expect an extremely high gloss, not a mirror-like surface. "Especially on large yachts, we have comparably huge but almost flat surfaces on the hull. This is an extreme challenge, even for professional painters. If the performance of the topcoat is not at 100%, you cannot achieve a mirror-like surface appearance. Suppose the underlying primer or fairing compound layers are not 100% perfect. In that case, you can also see this immediately through the topcoat," says Thomas, summarizing only one of the challenges for yacht paints and the paint crews.

Anyone who has ever painted a high-gloss yacht can confirm this and know that it is important to match and coordinate products for each layer to achieve a perfect surface finish. To develop and produce yacht coatings at the highest level, you must know how to do your homework right from the beginning.

Suppose you look at all five layers of a yacht coating. In that case, you come up with a vast bundle of functional and optical properties that must be fulfilled: DOI and UV resistance are just the tip of the requirements iceberg, extending deep into adhesion, sandability and polishability. "Painting conditions vary significantly worldwide and also play a crucial role. Almost everything is possible, from construction site environments to clean rooms and from cold, dry environments to warm, humid ones. The coating portfolio must be able to map all of this with suitable systems.

 Image © Michael Kurtz ↑

Challenges: Sought, found, solved

"At the beginning, it was a very complex and exciting challenge to enter this market and put together a suitable portfolio," recalls the yacht expert. "But what made life much easier for us was the wealth of experience that we, as the Alexseal team at the company Mankiewicz, could draw on. There have been some synergies in terms of development, and we have gained experience with high-gloss and robust surfaces over time since our foundation in 1895 as a paint manufacturer."

Mankiewicz's markets and product lines show clear parallels. The global coating manufacturer is firmly anchored in the aviation industry, which has taken the exterior painting of aircraft to a new level with innovative coating systems. The rail sector is also concerned with large exterior surfaces with visually and functionally highly sophisticated finishes.

"Of course, this was and still is worth its weight in gold for developing our yacht portfolio. Right from the start, we had an experienced team and colleagues who could quickly adapt to the yacht industry on the laboratory side, in application technology and production," says Thomas.

Markets ahead

With such a background, it was easier for the young Alexseal team to get a foot in the door with shipyards and yacht painters. "Nevertheless, despite the many advantages, it was difficult to win the first major projects at the beginning," explains the Alexseal pioneer. "Confidence in our set-up is one thing, but experience with the right paint job in the dock is another. We first had to earn our spurs." 

In 2004, ALEXSEAL was brought to market first in Australia and the United States. After yacht painters and shipyards had noticed the first results, the first inquiries came from Europe, especially the Netherlands, in the second year. And in America, demand continued to grow steadily. Already in 2006 and 2007, many yachts were applying Alexseal's Polyurethane Premium Topcoat 501, including the largest dark blue private yacht in the world at that time. 

 The story and the level of awareness naturally continued to develop over the following years. More and more projects came along, and they got bigger and bigger. So big and prominent that most of them can no longer be named. In 2023, almost 40 percent of the world's 100 largest yachts were coated with Alexseal systems. For more than one decade, Alexseal has been a solid and still strong growing number 2 in the yacht coatings market.

 Image © Michael Kurtz ↑

Sailing on the Seven Seas

And the projects are painted worldwide nowadays. While the focus in Europe is primarily on the construction and refit of superyachts, there are sportfish yachts in the USA and a strong DIY community with smaller boats. In Asia, too, increasingly high-quality and larger new builds have emerged in recent years. The larger the paint jobs, the more critical it is for yacht painters to receive close and personal support from the paint manufacturer. Trust in partnership and specialist knowledge is integral to a perfect finish.

"To do justice to this, a global network of experts is essential for a paint manufacturer," says Thomas, looking at Alexseal's setup. "With our global distributor network, we are always quickly on site for our customers. This ensures fast and reliable technical support." Also the Mankiewicz locations in Charleston, SC (USA), Hamburg (Germany), Gyancourt (France), Leicester (UK), Singapore, and Shanghai (China) are vital support hotspots.

However, Alexseal is interested not only in close cooperation but also in personal relationships. "One of our highest standards is that we work with the same experts in the local markets for many years. The closer the relationship and the trust on both sides, the more effective and targeted the advice and joint project support. And you can see that in the final surface result," says Thomas about the Alexseal philosophy.

 Image © SYT, Charl van Rooy ↑

New Horizons

If you ask Thomas where the journey in yacht coatings for yachts is heading, you get a clear answer. "When we started twenty years ago, a classic PU topcoat like our Premium Topcoat 501 was the established system." Then, we introduced a new approach to the market with our BaseCoat / ClearCoat approach. That is a system with which Mankiewicz has already revolutionized the aviation industry."

The system offers outstanding values for a wide range of painting parameters but should be applied by experienced painting crews to achieve the best possible result. "The final, additional layer in particular - the clearcoat - gives the finish particularly high durability, UV resistance, and visual depth. This is the direction we consider significant for the coming years."

However, the yacht market is not just a sea of superyachts. The sport and leisure segment and medium-sized luxury yachts also make up a large part of the market. "Today, we are very proud that we have the right answer for different requests and painting conditions with our Premium Topcoat 501, Acrylic Topcoat X, and High Solid BaseCoat/ClearCoat system. And we look forward to every new challenge that makes our portfolio even broader, more durable, and richer in effect and color. A big thank you to everyone who has challenged, accompanied, and trusted us over the last 20 years."

Here's to the next 20 years, and always a shiny, perfect finish on the keel.

 Image © Michael Kurtz ↑

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