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Old 22-03-2004, 10:46   #1
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Fiberglass Hull Life Span ??

I just read a chapter in a book by Hal Roth concerning different types of hull materials. He said that after 20 years fiber glass starts to loose it's integrity, weaken, and tend to be not so reliable. I have seen many boats well over the 20 year age still to sea, should I avoid buying an older glass boat ????

thanks Bob

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Old 22-03-2004, 10:56   #2
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I bought a old boat and I would do it again. There is a tread going I think under yacht maintance that you may want to look at.
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Old 22-03-2004, 19:27   #3
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As I said in a prior thread on this subject, I would not think that fiberglass has a life span per se. Neither concrete nor fiberglass truly breaks down or loses strength on their own. They require other causes. In the case of fiberglass loss of strength can result from one or more of the following,

-The surface resins will UV degrade.
-Prolonged saturation with water will affect the byproducts formed in the hardening process turning some into acids. These acids can break down the bond between the glass reinforcing and the resin.
-Fiberglass is prone to fatigue in areas repetitively loaded and unloaded at the point where it is repetitively deflected. High load concentration areas such as at bulkheads, hull/deck joints and keel joints are particularly prone.
-Salts suspended in water will move through some of the larger capillaries within the matrix. At some point these salts are deposited as the water keeps moving toward an area with lower moisture content. Once dried these salt turn into a crystalline form and exert great pressure on the adjacent matrix.
-Poor construction techniques with poorly handled cloth, poorly mixed or over accelerated resins, and poor resin to fiber ratios were very typical in early fiberglass boats. These weaker areas can be actually subjected to higher stresses that result from much heavier boats. It’s not all that unusual to see small spider cracking and/or small fractures in early glass boats.
-Of course beyond the simple fiberglass degradation there is core deterioration, and the deterioration of such things as the plywood bulkheads and flats that form a part of the boat’s structure.

In a study performed by the marine insurance industry looking at claims on older boats and doing destructive testing on older hull materials, it was found that many of these earlier boats have suffered a significant loss of ductility and impact resistance. This problem is especially prevalent in heavier uncored boats constructed even as late as the 1980's before internal structural framing systems became the norm. Boats built during the early years of boat building tended to use a lot more accelerators than we use today. They also would bulk up the matrix with resin rich laminations (approaching 50/50 ratios rather than the idea 30/70) non-directional fabrics (mat or chopped glass) in order to achieve a desired hull thickness. Resin rich laminates and non-directional materials have been shown to reduce impact resistance and to increase the tendency towards fatigue. The absence of internal framing means that there is greater flexure in these older boats and that flexure increases fatigue further. Apparently, there are an increasing number of marine insurance underwriters refusing to insure older boats because of these issues.

There are probably other forms of degradation that I have not thought of but I think that the real end of the life of a boat is going to be economic. In other words the cost to maintain and repair an old boat will get to be far beyond what it is worth in the marketplace. I would guess this was the end of more wooden boats than rot.

You may find a boat that has a perfectly sound hull. Perhaps it needs sails, standing and running rigging, a bit of galley updating, some minor electronics, a bit or rewiring, new plumbing, upholstery, a little deck core work, an engine rebuild, or for the big spender, replacement. Pretty soon you can buy a much newer boat with all relatively new gear for less than you’d have in the old girl. Its not hard for an old boat to suddenly be worth more as salvage than as a boat. A couple years ago a couple friends of mine were given a Rainbow in reasonable shape. She just needed sails and they wanted an auxiliary, but even buying everything used the boat was worth a lot less than the cost of the “new” parts. When they couldn’t afford the slip fees, the Rainbow was disposed of. She now graces a landfill and the cast iron keel was sold for scrap for more than they could sell the whole boat for.

Wooden boats represent the difference between a maintainable construction method versus a low maintenance. A wooden boat can be rebuilt for a nearly infinite period of time until it becomes a sailing equivalent of ‘George Washington’s axe’ (as in “that’s George Washington’s axe. It’s had a few new handles and a few new heads but that is still George Washington’s axe”.)

And finally if you buy an old fiberglass boat, paint the bilges white. It does nothing for the boat, but if you ever have to sell the boat, then someone may look in your bilge and say “Lets buy her because any man that would love a boat so much that he went through the trouble to paint the bilge white must have enjoyed this boat and taken great care of her no matter what her age.”

Good Luck,
Jeff
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Old 06-09-2012, 15:56   #4
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

wow! and i have a 48 year old plastic yacht? I did once have a wooden one but rarely got to sail it.allways needing attention!! I have had steel boats ok! but I now have a 48 year old plastic one and I sail her a lot. Long keel,encapsulated ballast,and she can sail! I would say however that she is well looked after and gets what she needs to keep her right! There is no such thing as a maintenace free boat? but I would buy her again.But she ain't for sale lol.
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Old 06-09-2012, 16:29   #5
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

I would never say no to a boat just because she's old. Many are built better and sail better than the new beauties.
Of course you can disagree and insurance companies can do tests to prove anything they want. My hull was laid up in 1969 and the hull is fine. The rest of the boat done in wood has rotted or been eaten by termites and needed replacing. Still working on it.
kind regards,
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Old 06-09-2012, 16:45   #6
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

One of the attractions of our model of trailerable is that they were built like brick outhouses, especially the hull. She's faded-looking, even though we've buffed alot of shine back into her... but there's no cracking or blistering. One of the reasons we paid so little was that bulkheads were starting to rot. So... I've replaced them... it was easy. I've been on some older fiberglass boats whose deck gelcoat up close looks like grandad's cheek, but they're still fairly strong and resilient boats.

This is the curse of the boating industry, isn't it? Too many old boats are still around, outlasting a series of owners. I suspect that it would still be cheaper to own a succession of used boats than to buy new and keep that one boat forever.
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Old 06-09-2012, 17:08   #7
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

yep SkiprJohn, as they say "ther's many a good tune played on an old fiddle" as long as the strings are maintained and the bow is in good shape? Two hulls from the same mould can be very different after a number of years. fresh water and salt water sailing ? the quality of maintenance and the difference an owner can make to his/her boat after years can affect the condition. The thing is to be carefull when buying any boat! get it checked out and check it out! then be prepared to do what is needed to ensure it's fit for purpose and keep it that way for your own safe keeping. older boats tend to be cheaper and for a lot of us more affordable, but some can prove very expensive. never buy one in a hurry!
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Old 06-09-2012, 17:32   #8
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

Of course, there IS some performance loss in any old material. But if the boat was well built then 20 y.o. can be actually a nearly new boat. Our own boat is 30+ years old and I cannot see any age related issues on her.

I have sailed plastic boats built in the 60'ies that were in fantastic structural condition. They were built very well and they received proper maintenance and care during their lives too.

This much said, I believe that very, very many newer designs are starting to show their age very early - they are built from thinner material, have bigger, flatter panels and appendages & fittings attached in a way that creates much more stress than in older designs. This relates not only to the mass of mass produced paper boats (no, no no names PLS) but equally to some very 'serious, offshore, luxury' boats.

So to say, no issues with a 20 y.o. plastic boat, but beware of some design features, no matter what age and pedigree your boat is.

b.
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Old 06-09-2012, 17:33   #9
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Old 06-09-2012, 17:40   #10
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

I have a '69 Westerly Nomad that is very well built, and extremely strong. I would have complete confidence in her in the worst conditions.

Maybe it's just those "newer" 20 year old boats that are falling apart!

My car is even older than my boat!
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Old 06-09-2012, 18:29   #11
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

Quote:
Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
Of course, there IS some performance loss in any old material. But if the boat was well built then 20 y.o. can be actually a nearly new boat. Our own boat is 30+ years old and I cannot see any age related issues on her.

I have sailed plastic boats built in the 60'ies that were in fantastic structural condition. They were built very well and they received proper maintenance and care during their lives too.

This much said, I believe that very, very many newer designs are starting to show their age very early - they are built from thinner material, have bigger, flatter panels and appendages & fittings attached in a way that creates much more stress than in older designs. This relates not only to the mass of mass produced paper boats (no, no no names PLS) but equally to some very 'serious, offshore, luxury' boats.

So to say, no issues with a 20 y.o. plastic boat, but beware of some design features, no matter what age and pedigree your boat is.

b.
Very true words...The industry realized most people plan to cruise or say they do but don't. Then came the condominium interior's with large flat sided, poorly supported hulls. Their rudders have been known to snap off in moderately bad conditions and in their later years need additional deck supports.
Sure...their will come a day when we will know how long a f/g boat built in the 60's will last...but not yet.
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Old 06-09-2012, 18:30   #12
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

Quote:
Originally Posted by bob_deb View Post
should I avoid buying an older glass boat ????
The most honest answer is that we really don't know how long fiberglass hulls will last. The earliest hulls were so overbuilt that they're still ridiculously strong. But they had their issues with such things as osmosis, or delamination, et cetera, especially when coring materials were used. Subsequent hulls were built with better materials and better procedures, such as vacuum bagging. New hulls might be reinforced with such materials as Kevlar.

We really don't know how long these hulls will last. Ask any boat builder, and they'll tell you they're lasting too long. Most fiberglass boats built 30 years ago are still sailing. Most cars built in that era have long since been scrapped.
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Old 06-09-2012, 18:42   #13
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

I read a quote from a Coastie, years ago, that said something to the effect;
Quote:
"wooden hulls die premature deaths from neglect everyday, while fiberglass boats must be shot to be put out of their misery."
Like BAsh says, I do not think we yet know the lifespan of a firerglass hull... and looking around my marina I don't think we are going to find it anytime soon...
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Old 06-09-2012, 18:48   #14
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Re: Fiberglass hull life span ??

Quote:
Originally Posted by bob_deb View Post
I just read a chapter in a book by Hal Roth concerning different types of hull materials. He said that after 20 years fiber glass starts to loose it's integrity, weaken, and tend to be not so reliable. I have seen many boats well over the 20 year age still to sea, should I avoid buying an older glass boat ????

thanks Bob

Blanket quotes are interesting and almost always wrong.

Not all fiberglass hulls are the same. It is dependent on individual hull design, materials, layup and maintenance.
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Old 06-09-2012, 19:19   #15
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Re: Fiberglass Hull Life Span ??

If 20 years is the wear out time , theres a bunch of Columbias out there that should be condemed then? Boy Ive seen Glass boats 5 yrs old I would not have bought because of both bad maintaince, and shoddy bild work !! But Ive seen 30 yr old Glass boats I would have loved to have !! Just look at Yatch World at Bertrams, Hatteras, ECT they don't ever seem to quit selling!! and sure carry non worn out prices !! Just sayin there only wear out if they are not taken care of !!!
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