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The USS Yorktown: Battling the Elements

Grainger Editorial Staff

As one of the most celebrated ships in U.S. history, the USS Yorktown (CV-10) was the tenth aircraft carrier to serve in the United States Navy. Sponsored by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, it was built in only 16 ½ months at Newport News, VA, and was commissioned on April 15th, 1943. Later that year, the ship began service in the Pacific Offensive and ended its mission with the defeat of Japan in 1945.

The USS Yorktown went on to receive the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 battle stars for its service in WWII, and continued to provide support until it was decommissioned in 1970. Today, it serves over 200,000 people per year as a major attraction at the Patriot’s Point National Maritime Museum, making it one of the most visited historical landmarks in the U.S.

The ship is now permanently docked in Charleston Harbor, SC, and although it is safe from military threats, it now faces another battle: rust and corrosion. The combination of saltwater and the hot, humid South Carolina environment means that the maintenance crew of the USS Yorktown must work constantly to combat the effects of rust and corrosion on the 888-foot-long steel vessel.

Operation Preservation

Painting is a major part of the museum’s ongoing maintenance plan to help preserve both the exterior and interior of the USS Yorktown. Until recently, the maintenance crew had been using oil-based paint that required long prep times and a complex application process. In addition, they faced a number of other challenges when it came to painting the exterior of the ship.

Application – Unlike most commercial ships, which enter a shipyard for maintenance, the USS Yorktown sits in the water at all times – even while the crew paints the exterior. Its large size, along with the fact that it is located in a waterway, means that the maintenance crew is limited in terms of how the paint can be applied. Rollers are preferred over spray systems, which are a danger to the waterways and have also been known to disperse paint spray onto cars on the pier.

Environment – The oil-based paint put the crew at risk of causing a small oil spill if it dripped into the water during application. The Coast Guard, EPA, and other regulatory bodies constantly monitor water levels and water quality in the harbor. This means that with the old paint the crew had to go to extremes, such as hiring an environmental contractor to clean up after painting, in order to make sure that they maintain compliance with environmental regulations.

Location – The USS Yorktown is located in a harsh environment where exposure to saltwater and salt-spray can cause metal to corrode. Add in extreme wind cycles and the rate of corrosion is even faster. Most consumer-brand paints aren't durable enough to withstand such conditions for extended periods of time.

Limited Resources – In addition to the long prep times and complex application process, the crew also found that once the paint was mixed, it was only stable for a short period of time and could not be re-sealed and used again later. This meant that they either had to paint larger sections of the ship at one time, which would require more manpower, or end up disposing of paint that was no longer usable.

Painting Intelligence

Tourism is a year-round industry for the USS Yorktown, which can make painting the ship a bit of a balancing act. The crew typically starts their day about a half hour after dawn and application time must be scheduled in a way that doesn’t interfere with the visitor experience. Due to the location of the ship, the crew must use a barge in order to maneuver around its massive exterior. With water levels that change every 6 hours, movement is limited to certain times of day. In order to be more efficient, the crew has a three-part system for painting the ship:

Using this system, the crew was able to apply all 3 paints in the same shift. "Because of the size and how we have to apply the paint, we needed something that was very user friendly. Rust-Oleum really fit the bill in that area," says maintenance supervisor, Thurman Pellmun.

Now, the maintenance crew can paint small sections at a time without having to worry about pot-life (the period of time after mixing that the paint is suitable for use), sweat times (the time it takes for the chemicals to react after mixing) and cure times. They could open a can of paint, mix it, apply it, close it up and use it again later that day or even the next day instead of having to dispose of it after one use.

The crew is also able to address some of the environmental concerns with painting the ship. The new paint is water soluble, so while you still want to avoid the paint getting into the water, if it does, it’s not considered an oil spill, and doesn’t require a special environmental contractor to clean it up. Water solubility also makes the paint much easier to clean up, which improves efficiency and reduces downtime.

Serving Double Duty

A fresh coat of paint wasn't the only benefit realized by the USS Yorktown. With Rust-Oleum's help, the USS Yorktown now has paint specifications for each part of the ship. Now each area has an outline specifying which product and color to use, where to use it and how to apply it. Plus, the low VOC, low-odor paint allows year-round maintenance of key spaces within the ship without disrupting the tourists who help make upkeep possible.

Building Strong Alliances

The team at the USS Yorktown now works with fewer suppliers who can offer better product availability and shorter lead times. Today the Yorktown crew can consolidate their paint purchases from twelve suppliers down to two. Because they need paint and supplies on such short notice, product availability is one of their biggest challenges. With the success of the paint the exterior of the Yorktown, the team is re-evaluating how the painting process for the interior spaces of the ship, such as the commissary, hangar decks, showers and berthing areas with the Rust-Oleum® Sierra Performance range of paints.

The painting story of The USS Yorktown is just one example of an ongoing maintenance challenge that can be addressed with the right supplier partnership and the right product designed to meet the need.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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