Protect Yourself

During any DIY project, live by the physicians' oath: do no yourself.

Most new boat owners quickly learn that relying on a marina to do all the maintenance on their boat can get pricey, so most of them become do-it-yourselfers. But some boat projects are downright nasty. Many require grinding, sawing, spraying, sanding, painting, stripping and using chemicals that have a warning label as long as the tax code. Fortunately, there are some great, comfortable ways to protect yourself from yourself.

When dealing with any chemical, know exactly what you are working with, which means actually reading the label. The text under words such as “Caution” or “Warning” should be read with care and attention. If the word “toxic” and its big brother “highly toxic” are present, there’s a good chance you need to use protective clothing, a respirator, and eye and/or face protection. It’s not a bad idea to go to and pull the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which provides the most comprehensive explanation of the substance. It’s easy to “use in a ventilated area” if the project is on the exterior of the boat, but if the workspace is in a garage or an engine compartment or a cabin, don’t take chances.

Workers at boatyards wear suits, masks, boots and respirators, but that has to be really expensive, right? I was shocked by the fact quality gear can be very inexpensive. While researching this story, I found a company called PK Safety that’s been in business for 65 years and has everything anyone needs for personal protection. Its experts can advise DIYers as to what protection they need (877-490-1874). All the items mentioned here can be purchased online at Harbor Freight ( has some of the items and likely has a nearby store to satisfy immediate needs.

Protecting one’s eyes is critical during nearly any project. Danger can come from something as innocuous as drilling a couple of holes and then thoughtlessly blowing into the drilled hole to clear the dust — only to have it shoot straight up into your eyes. I cringe when I think about some DIY incidents I’ve experienced. One time I was working with liquid wood that required just a bit of sanding to even out. The wind was blowing away from me and I was wearing regular glasses. Naturally, as soon as I started sanding with a rotary sander the wind shifted and a fine cloud of dust blew right into my eyes. I rinsed them quickly, but my eyes burned for months afterward. I was lucky. Another time I was inspecting my sterndrive engine when a sharp piece of rusty metal flew off the alternator and hit my glasses hard enough to knock them off my face. In the center of the lens was a deep gouge. I would have lost an eye had I not been wearing glasses. Safety glasses that provide a seal, such as the Pyramex Capstone anti-fog model that only costs $8.25, fit well with a respirator and could protect your eyesight.

Whether working with polyurethane paint such as Imron or thinners, or sanding and grinding fiberglass or wood, first make sure you are not inhaling either fumes or fine particles. Unless you are outside with a bit of breeze going, it’s also helpful to have a fan to direct the cloud. Modern respirators are comfortable and don’t cost a lot. The filters are split between organic vapor (for filtering chemicals) and particulate filters (for grinding and sanding). A 3M 6000 series half-faceplate respirator is only $13; the 3M P100 filters for particulates only are $6.73 for a pair, and the combination vapor/particulate 3M 2097 6000 filters are $9.25. Tip: If you can smell a chemical with the respirator on, change filters or move to a higher level of protection.

Fine glass particles from fiberglass tend to find a way onto your skin, even if you are wearing a long shirt and gloves, and will itch like crazy. The best item for than required, for better mobility and less chance of blowing out a seam.

When working with hazardous chemicals, hand protection is critical, because many substances can be absorbed through the skin and cause victims to become sensitized, which means an allergic reaction that might be ongoing. When you see the term “strong sensitizer” in chemicals like epoxy resins, steps must be taken to avoid contact with the skin, and that means wearing gloves. Nitril surgical-type gloves are preferred over latex for incidental contact with toxic chemicals, and models such as the Ansell Sol-Vex gloves can be purchased for as little as $0.70 a pair. Tip: Avoid using cheap dishwashing gloves or ones made of polyurethane, because they lack durability.

Don’t forget ear protection during grinding, cutting or general exposure to loud sounds. For as little as $4.06, you can protect your hearing.


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