Boat decals exist for multiple purposes. People typically use them for identification, decoration, and advertising.

So they can be a mix of showcasing boat names, numbers, and imagery. When promoting other brands, boat decals can take the form of full wraps and reflective graphics. The terms “decal” and “sticker” are often used interchangeably, but some people use narrower definitions. Others say all decals are stickers but not every sticker is a decal if it lacks font and imagery.


How are boat decals different from boat stickers, boat lettering, or boat wraps?

A wide variety of shapes and sizes are used for boat decals, whereas mandatory boat lettering such as registration numbers must conform to standards for color, character size and placement. Decorative boat decals have no restrictions, opening up endless aesthetic possibilities.

In most cases, regulatory IDs must be placed at the stern or back of a boat while registration numbers appear at the bow or front of the vessel above the water. Boats built since 1972 also include a Hull Identification Number (HIN) located on the stern. But when it comes to artistic decals, you can place them where you want on the sides of the boat without violating regulations as long as they aren’t near official ID numbers.


Boat Lettering

Boat lettering is typically printed on a vinyl strip that is applied to the boat with a flat tool such as a squeegee before transfer tape is removed. A decal, by contrast, is a design on one piece of material with an adhesive backing.

The terms “lettering” and “decal” are not necessarily interchangeable but often are in the sense that lettering represents the characters on a decal, whereas the decal is the entire adhesive material that contains the lettering and design.

Boat Wraps

Boat wraps are vinyl sheets of film that allow you to temporarily change a boat’s color or design pattern. They may either partially or completely cover the boat and can be used for protective layering. They are commonly seen at boat shows to promote sponsoring brands. The advantages of boat wraps are numerous since they’re easy to install and allow for customization.


What are boat decals made out of?

Decals, like boats, must be made of durable waterproof material.

Laminated vinyl decals backed with a permanent adhesive are ideal for boats. The material should be resistant to both water and UV rays. Durable decals can last up to five or ten years on a boat, depending on the quality of the material, the nature of the climate, and sailing conditions.

Decals should only be installed on clean surfaces to maximize lifespan.


How do I decide what kind of boat decal I need for my boat?

The sky’s the limit on what you decide for decal designs beyond government requirements. You can be as creative as you wish using different fonts, colors, gradients, and designs. One of the advantages of decals is they can be printed directly onto vinyl strips without worrying about pre-masking, which is necessary for boat lettering.

Decals are designed to peel and stick, making them easier to install than lettering, which is also a fairly simple but more precise process that requires measuring.

Deciding on boat decals can relate to what you want to communicate to other sailors in the boating community. A decal can be any design that makes the boat look more attractive. Sometimes decals are used to celebrate an achievement at sea. They can also earn revenue since they act as advertisements.

Boat name decals are allowed as an alternative to lettering. In the United States vessels are either registered at the federal or state level, but not both. So there’s only so much regulatory data placed on a boat, leaving plenty of space for other messages. Choosing a boat name must follow certain guidelines as well, such as it may not contain obscene language. Commercial ships are required to place the vessel name on both sides of the bow.


Can I customize my boat decal and what will a printer need for that?

Sure, you can customize your boat decal by selecting various attributes such as width, height, and color. If you want to use imagery it can be photography or artwork created by a graphic designer. Ask the printer what file format in which they accept the artwork.

The great thing about decals on boats is they can be used experimentally then taken off at any time. It’s an inexpensive strategy for a commercial boat to change its marketing messages for different events. Boat decals revolve around themes of not just water, but emotions, people, places and events. Replacing decals to try new designs when you feel like it is an easily affordable option for maximum flexibility.


Are there color limitations or other specifications required for boat decals?

Certain regulatory displays on a boat are considered decals, such as registration and fee stickers. Registration numbers can appear as either painted on the surface or as an attached decal. The only color requirement is that the color of registration numbers contrast with the background color.

The use of three-inch block letters is required for registration numbers and characters must be separated by hyphens or spaces. Make sure no other numbers come near the registration number.

Overall, the text must be easily read by port officials and the boat’s registration must comply with state and local regulations. Most states require stickers that confirm current registration before or after the registration number.


Who can get boat decals? (Personal, business, etc.)

Anyone with a boat can put decals on it as long as they don’t obstruct placement of regulatory displays. Boat racing champions like to put decals on their boats that document their success. Sometimes using a graphic that depicts “#1” is all it takes to convey a winning message. Since boats can travel the world they can spread global messages through creative decals.


9 Boat Decal Design Tips

If you’ve been considering boat decals for your boat, here are some design tips we recommend taking into consideration as you make your purchase and after you get your decal.

    • Decals will last longer if you regularly gently clean them.
    • For mandatory graphics, look for size and placement requirements.
    • Be aware of the space limit for lettering.
    • Only use designs that are easy to see from a distance.
    • If you live in a boating community, your decal can be used to easily distinguish from other boats.
    • Avoid putting decals on areas subject to friction.
    • Stick with decal materials that are designed for boats.
    • Remove surface dirt and debris before applying the decal.
    • Consider a boat wrap as an affordable alternative to a paint job.


Choose TNT Signs for Your Boat Decal Needs!

Deciding on what type of decals to stick on your boat is open to many possibilities. As long as you follow the regulations of your state, you can post whatever designs or messages you want on either side of your vessel.

Remember that decals and wraps can change with your moods to show diversity. Contact our experts at TNT Signs to learn more about communicating with decals and other graphics.

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