In the latest struggle to combat mold and mildew on the boat, we tackled replacing the headliner. We knew there was a leak near the mast and it had been taken out and repaired but we didn’t exactly know what was going on under the original vinyl that covered the ‘ceiling’ on the boat. The amount of mildew that grew on that vinyl was just gross. I could wipe it down with bleach one day and the next week it was back. The thought of cleaning it that often when we were living on it was just not appealing, and I can’t imagine breathing the mildew nor the cleaner is very good for our lungs. So I decided it had to go. We weren’t sure exactly what was between the vinyl and the hull, it was a gamble to take it down. All I knew was that I wasn’t going to put up more vinyl. Here it is before, and from a distance it looks fine.


But then I started pulling it down.


All that dark stuff on the backside of the vinyl… we were breathing that in every time we got on the boat! The only good thing is that there is 3/8″ plywood attached to the hull and the seams looked fairly straight.  Here’s another closer picture of the mildew.

moldyheadliner1.1 ICKY!

When I started this project, I didn’t think it would take very long. Haha, that’s pretty funny, a quick boat project! It took me several days to just get the old vinyl down, then I had to get the foam off. I think the guys that put it up invested stock in staples because there had to have been millions of staples holding the vinyl and foam up. MILLIONS OF STAPLES that each had to be individually pried up with a screwdriver and pulled out with pliers. My arms got a workout!



It took me several days to take the vinyl down and the foam even longer. The original foam pulled down easily after the staples were taken out, but the area that had been fixed had new foam put in with spray adhesive and it did not want to come off. And once I finally got it off the plywood was a sticky mess underneath.


I tried several products to get the sticky foam off the plywood, but what worked best was a gel type of Goo Gone. The bottle on the right didn’t work at all and it didn’t spray very well either.


All this working above my head meant I needed eye protection, but most goggles fog up here in the South Texas humidity so I needed some with air flow. I found these at Lowe’s, and I love them! They protect my eyes from falling bits of yuck and are comfortable. So comfortable that I have worn them off the boat and in the car on the way home and not even realized it!


Once all the foam was removed, the surface had to be sanded down to remove the sticky residue. That made a huge mess. We spent as much time cleaning up as we did actually working on the ceiling.

So now we had a blank canvas. We discussed several options, from fabric to the plastic we used on the walls to paint. I voted paint (and I won because it was the best and easiest idea).  We weren’t  sure what we would do about the gaps between the plywood pieces, but I had some ideas. First we put on three (yes, three) layers of Kilz primer. I wanted a barrier in case there were anymore leaks and it kept any mildew in the plywood away from my lungs. Then we talked top coat. We finally went with John’s suggestion of a textured deck paint (Rescue It) from Lowe’s. It is meant to be outdoors and the texture would fill in small gaps (which we had plenty of). Next was to pick the color, warm beige, neutral white or cool blue? I had enough brown tones with the abundance of teak so I ruled beige out. We decided white would be to stark so a light blue that matched the sunbrella fabric won. Here is the clean plywood, the primer and the blue in one shot.


It really does look so much better than the vinyl. The primer dried quickly so that went up easily, but the deck paint took 6 hours between coats. We chose to put on two coats, and it did fill in small holes and gaps. I really like the blue also, it brightens up the whole boat. We had another issue besides the gaps between the plywood pieces, the vinyl and foam were thick, and the paint (even 5 coats) is not. The vinyl and foam were installed first, then all the woodwork was put in. There were places where the old vinyl was extremely visible, enough that it would bother me every time I looked at it. Hmmm, I needed to think about that.

I decided to put some of the old teak pieces we had removed from the walls to good use. I covered the gaps between the plywood with them, a very good way to recycle! It makes the ceiling onto a big jigsaw puzzle, I like the character it brings to the boat. And I used old rope to cover up the spots where I could see the old vinyl, like trim. Rope trim.



Here is the finished headliner and trim:


I like it! I hope it will be maintenance free (or as maintenance free as you can get on a sailboat). The paint didn’t cover all the dings, holes and screws in the plywood, but it looks so much better. And the mildew is gone and hopefully won’t grow on the painted surface.

I also added a bit of galley storage with some hanging wine glasses and attaching a basket to the ceiling for the new dishes from Sea Dog.


My quick project lasted over two months! Well, that’s how boat projects go… Onto the next one!

Sailboat Headliner Replacement
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