How do you get signage on your ship?

From the perspective of the second mate tasked with fighting off deck cadets and day workers to get brass stencil time to mark up pipelines and other bulkheads, I realized that I absolutely hate stenciling. Yes its an art and a skill, but apparently what I lack in skill, I don’t make up in artistic talent. Or maybe I do - the dripping blobs and overspray could be construed as a post-modern industrial masterpieces, if only I could get them in front of New Yorkers instead of Newarkers.

Likewise, I am always super frustrated ordering actual stickers or signs on ships. Replacing IMO stuff is annoying - we ask for a very specific life-ring sticker… then two and a half months later we get the wrong one. Thank you NS5. As for actual placards… I am pretty convinced that the only way to go is to spend your 6 hours ashore running down to a commercial print shop and pleading with them to engrave something right then and there in front of your eyes. Or of course spend your vacation time and get it done… but thats only if you really care about your boat and the captain doesn’t mind paying you back out of the ship’s fund. Maybe I am alone on this, but the last sign the forklift clipped on the RORO was still damaged 2 full trips around the world later when i returned back to work. I guess after that long, maybe pulling out the laminator and double-sided tape isn’t such a terrible solution for the OCD out there.

So before I go and start trying to sell people on the benefits of modern technology and the tiring process of convincing people that there is a better way to get things done… I wanted to hear from everyone about how they themselves make stencils on their ships or source signage or other placards while at sea.

Lets hear them please!

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I’ve never had much issue with spray paint. Trace the brass stencils onto heavy paper like an out of date chart, razor blade out the letters, put it in place and spray. Then save all your stencils for future use so you’re not having to remake the same one over and over again.


For the vessels I’ve worked on, the easiest go-to for making stencils has been cardboard and a razor blade. Early on I picked up when painting letters, use a foam roller rather than a standard cover, Being that the foam holds less paint, it won’t cause bleeding issues.

Paint pens work good sometimes for labeling on things that aren’t exposed to too much weather. More time consuming than spraying but it works too.

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Second that. Chart paper works pretty good.

If you want to get fancy, you can get one of these:

Easy and slick. Only drawback is: its so fun to watch, you might find it distracting.

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Top 3:
3)Precision Label Maker. Ordered the $350 one and $3k one. Worked great and came out on whatever color vinyl you ordered with it. Came in handy for some Bilingual Portuguese signs. Made several IMO labels with bioluminescent vinyl roll. Also free M&M’s with every purchase. Boost morale right there.

2)Dayton Engraving Machine. Very similar to Emrobu’s vid. My favorite is the fake wooden pattern. Think high school kids hanging out in a late 70’s basement.

1)Cheap X-Acto Knife, Cheap Manila Folder & Magnum Sharpie or Paint Pen. CTony hit it on the head with the elements though. Plus side is you carry both and touch up on PM’s or rounds.

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SOLD! glo-n-the-dark ftw.

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Maybe I am dating myself. . for small signs. . .

For acrylic signs in the states, we’ve used and they’ve been very reliable. They have also made us some special stencils with our own wording which we keep onboard.

@BoatRoach The foam brush is a good call - If the ship has actual stencil brushes laying around i’ll go that route but those are few and far between.

@Irish_Pennant The proper label makers and little engraving machines are awesome, just a hard sell sometimes it seems. Although, both seem better (and cost about as much) as the Marsh Machines. Although the disassembled pictures do make you appreciate how well they are built

No brushes needed, just spray paint.

My favorite was an old Brady vinyl label maker. I use to buy rolls of stickers and bring them to the ship to print gCaptain stickers. Those stickers still look good outdoors 10 years later.

It looks loke brady doea mostly smaller labels now but this unit looks similar:

For stencils cut a file folder (brown/manila) to an acceptable width of your printer. Go online and find your stencil font of choice and instructions to load the font into your library. Type it up, print it, cut the stencils with a razor. You may have to tape a couple sheets together for longer stuff which is fine by me because you can fold it back to stow it in a regular drawer.

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Ouch. A little pricey. . . I use stickers for my side business. I think that I will continue to buy them from my printer. . . .

Yes using a local printer is a much better option (here at gCaptain we use StickerMule but we buy in bulk) … but he asked for an option to use aboard ship and you can’t run down to the local printer at sea.

Pricey yes but way way cheaper than paying an AB overtime to make stencils.

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Agreed. . .I just can’t carry that kind of overhead. I WOULD spend at least that much on new camera equipment, though.

most of my ships had a stencil making machine (Dayton?–as Irish mentioned) and was able to make large or small… 2.5" being large. There were drawers full of ready made stencils and as long as they were wiped clean after use and dried were serviceable for years. The Brass stencils mentioned above are probably the more versatile but for interior use not much beats getting the ‘store bought’ ones which I painted over with clear acrylic paint, they were easy to clean, stayed in place and looked great.

There are a whole bunch of pretty good label printers (I think we had a Dyna on my last ship) that print custom labels that you can mess around with on a computer - the tape gets a little bit pricy but not prohibitively so. Saved LOADS of time and money with that thing - if the label fades you just print another one that you’ve saved in your label files on your computer. Worth it’s weight in gold. But I’m with CTony - a good paint pen for the life rings is the way to go.

Yes! What is with the free M&M’s? But I loved that printer! Never got the M&M’s though…