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Home | Protective Coatings | Coatings Saves the Subs

Coatings Saves the Subs

Coatings Technology Preserves Amusement Park History

By Jen Kramer

The year was 1958 and the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, traveled below the polar ice cap. The following year, a popular amusement park debuted a submarine voyage “to the bottom of the sea,” complete with a vessel named after the famed Nautilus, in honor of that technological and patriotic achievement.

The amusement park Nautilus and her seven sister subs sailed in their lagoon until 1998, when the ride was shut down and re-themed based on a popular animated movie. After a complete makeover, the ride re-opened in grand style in 2007.

But about that makeover…therein lies a whale of
a tale (as it were).


Stretching a quarter-mile, and including an “underwater cave,” the lagoon holds 6,300,000 gallons of water. When drained, the lagoon is essentially a large horseshoe-shaped concrete pool with walls that are approximately 80 feet wide and 20 feet tall. In addition to decorative ride elements, the pool contains nine “dry boxes” – rooms that hold the ride’s electronics, keeping them dry under the water.

As Kyle Flanagan, Technical Director for Freedom Chemical Corporation, the industrial coatings company specified for the project recounts, the original 2006 scope of work was for 44,000 square feet and included the “removal of years of gunk to expose the expansion joints.”

Don Dancey, the President of Innovative Painting and Waterproofing, the coatings contractor involved in the project, says, “Before the ride was closed for remodeling, it was discovered that the lagoon was leaking. It turned out that the lagoon was leaking 120,000 gallons a day. When it was drained, we found that there were cracks in the lagoon and the cave and the expansion joints were leaking as well. We also found cracks and leaks leading into the dry boxes.”

In order to address those leaks, the original specs called for the walls and floor to be waterproofed with a system consisting of geotextile fabric and 150 mils dry film thickness (DFT) of polyurea on top of caulk.

However, time and budgetary concerns intervened. The owners had them leave out the dry boxes and the walls, knowing that for water-environment rides, the state mandates a complete ride shut down every nine years. They planned to address the leakage problem in a more complete manner at that time. They also decided to use a more cost-effective waterproofing solution, as the problem did not involve health or safety.

“In addition to the fabric and caulk, we sprayed a 60-mil DFT coat of polyurea on top of the expansion joints only,” states Dancey.

Although it only addressed the expansion joints, the repair resulted in an immediate 70 percent reduction of water leakage.

“But,” Flanagan says, “When they began filling up the lagoon, they found they had problems with leaks into the dry boxes. The cracks started on the floor beyond the applied polyurea.”

Dancey explains, “The dry boxes house elaborate computer animation that absolutely cannot get wet. And they are totally submerged. When they started leaking, the park maintained that the waterproofing wasn’t working. But the cracks in the floor were occurring in part of the ride that they had eliminated from the scope of work. We went back in and waterproofed the cracks by injecting SealBoss polyurethane water stop foam grout.”

“The concrete pool’s slabs are eight-inches thick,” he continues. “We would drill a hole four inches away from the crack, at a 45-degree angle to intersect the crack. Then, we would inject the foam.”

It took a crew of 14, divided in two, seven-man teams, working 12-hour days for 13 straight days to inject the foam and stop the water from leaking into the dry boxes.

Once the leaks were stopped, the pool was filled, and the makeover was deemed complete.

The remodeled ride then set sail to great acclaim until nine years later, when the mandated maintenance brought the subs back to port.


“Because the park knew that OSHA requires the water-environment ride be drained and completely shut down, 2014 was earmarked as the year that they would replace any run-down theming, up-grade the cat-walk, and that they would install polyurea on everything that was exposed,” Dancey explains.

The existing coating, which was original to the ride and had been in place since 1959, contained high concentrations of metal and glass. It also was impregnated with 30+ years of diesel fuel residue from the subs themselves.

This time, the scope of work included the walls and floors, as well as abatement of the old paint, and totaled 50,000 square feet.

Flanagan says, “From the start, the floors presented a real challenge because there was a wide array of permanent fixtures attached, including decorative ride elements, as well as the rail for the subs which was very low to the ground. There was also an intricate system of plumbing and pipes that had to be accommodated.”

Dancey concurs, but is quick to point out that his team attacked the project with a tightly executed plan. “The coatings portion of the project took my crew of eight to nine guys, working eight hour shifts, three months to complete,” he says. And remember, that was in the midst of one of the busiest amusement parks, while sharing the space with other trades. “It is all about planning and safety.”

As it happens, those floors, or at least the portions that had been previously protected with polyurea, were in good shape. “Everything from Phase 1 (the work Innovative accomplished in 2007) was in perfect condition,” Dancey says.


Phase 2 started with a blast…or rather  a scabble.

The Innovative crew set up containment using Visqueen and signage, dividing the area into 150-lineal-foot work zones.

“We were away from the public, and from the other trades,” says Dancey. “Although we were underground, it wasn’t confined space, but we still had a sign-in sheet. We wore full PPE, air-fed hoods, respirators, suits – there was third-party inspection on-site from start to finish.”

A scabbler was used to remove the top surface of the concrete, leaving a ¼-inch profile that then had to be parged.

“We used high-strength Cement All™ from Rapid Set® because it develops strength very quickly,” says Dancey.  The crew used rubber sponges to hand-apply the Cement All at a thickness of approximately 1/8 of an inch. “We filled in any bug holes or voids in order to float the concrete and create a new surface.”

Then, per ASTM D 4263 (Standard Test Method for Indicating Moisture in Concrete by the Plastic Sheet Method), they performed calcium chloride moisture tests on the concrete surface.

“We drilled holes in the concrete and dropped the test anchors because we’ve found that this method works best,” Dancey explains. “Roughly 50 percent of the floor, about 10,000 square feet, was of concern due to moisture. Those areas were then coated with 16 mils DFT of Freedom Tuff® 6600 MVR epoxy primer. Applied with rollers, Freedom Tuff® 6600 MVR epoxy primer is designed to reduce moisture vapor. It is a 100 percent solids plural-component epoxy, alkali-resistant, and according to the technical data sheet, has the ability to reduce moisture vapor emission levels from 25 pounds to less than three pounds per 1,000 square feet.

The rest of the floor and wall surfaces were coated with seven to 10 mils of Freedom Tuff®6160, a 100 percent solids, plural-component epoxy primer and sealer.

Following application, while still wet, both primers received a hand-broadcast of light aggregate.

When dry, the primer was topped with a spray-applied, 100 mils DFT top coat of FreedomTuff® 2245-HCR. Freedom Tuff® 2245-HCR is a two-component, 100 percent pure aromatic polyurea coating that features high chemical resistance. It was specified specifically because the park knew that the repairs had stopped the leaks and that instead of “recycling through leakage, the water in the lagoon would now be chemically treated for the next nine years,” Flanagan explains. “At this point, they could not predict how the water would be treated and so they wanted a ‘highly chemical resistant’ polyurea. Freedom Tuff® 2245-HCR was specified to handle the potential unforeseen water chemistry changes.”

Using a Graco Reactor HXP3 and 410 feet of hose, the Innovative crew was able to work from their trailer, spraying in 150-lineal-foot work zones.

Once the polyurea had cured, adhesion tests were performed per ASTM D 4541 (Standard Test Method for Pull-Off Strength of Coatings Using Portable Adhesion Testers).

As Flanagan explains, “a minimum reading of 220 psi is required to pass. All these results exceeded minimum requirements with readings of over 400 psi, including glue failure.”


Needless to say, the third-party inspector and the owners all signed off on the job.

“After the application was complete, and the lagoon was filled, the ride experienced an additional 20 percent reduction in water loss – making it a grand total of 90 percent,” says Flanagan. Dancey adds, “It is a permanent fix for the leaking dry boxes.”

So there you have it. From the Nautilus to the search for a little lost fish, for this popular amusement park ride, polyurea and polyurethane technology have helped bring movies to life – evolving with successive generations.

The next time you find yourself setting sail in an amusement park submarine, spare a thought for the artistry behind the magic. Now you know that the voyage “in search of fish and fun” is brought to you courtesy of polyurea and polyurethanes and a hard-working crew, perhaps not much different than your own.  •

Photos Courtesy of Innovative Painting and Waterproofing

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