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Old 09-07-2011, 17:22   #1
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Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

Pros and cons on fiberglass or steel hulls. Why are steel hulled sailboats in the 40' range generally less expensive than steel. Steel must be stronger. Fiberglass hulls seem to last for ever though if kept off bottom and rocks. Maintainence issues? Repair issues? Come on all you cf'ers, I really would appreciate all opinions, informed or not, before I make a financial decision on purchase of an offshore cruiser or a stout coastal cruiser that I might take off shore.
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Larry
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Old 09-07-2011, 19:04   #2
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Re: Fiberglass vs steel hulls

Like many things in life, there isn't a single answer for your question. Some steel boats are more expensive than the same boat in fiberglass, and some times is the other way. It depends if the construction is professional or amateur, if it's pretty or ugly, and many other such parameters.

All boats need expensive maintenance. And all are expensive when new.
I like steel boats, but that's a personal thing. I have friends that like wooden boats, but wouldn't touch one even if it's a gift. To each...
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Old 09-07-2011, 19:22   #3
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Polyester resin dissolves in water. Steel rusts. Wood rots.I would rather be in a steel boat if hit by lightening. I would rather fix a wood boat then a glass boat. I prefer to sail then fix a wood boat or a steel boat.. Thanks to cf I have solved the lightening problem. There is a very pissed off coon cat chained to the mast. There is a Brillo pad at the top of the mast attached to a wire attached to the mast attached to a chain which is attached to a very pissed off cat. If you can deal with the yelling of the car this us the best boat for you.question for cf. If the cat tragically died will it still provide lightening protection?
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Old 09-07-2011, 23:03   #4
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Fiberglass consumer friendly, Steel builder friendly

For mine the big difference is that fibreglass is consumer friendly. It looks good, makes strong durable boats and can be mass produced for an acceptable cost.

Steel on the other hand is not so consumer friendly. It does not look as good, takes longer to build, requires more maintenance does not lend itself well to mass production.

I consider steel to be more impact resistant than fibreglass, repairs are straightforward and its relatively easy to match or improve the original strength.

Where steel excels is in custom boatbuilding, particularly by amateurs. Errors can be unsightly but are normally unlikely to have a big effect on the seaworthiness of the boat. Its possible for an amateur to build a large boat (over 40') part time over an extended period (10 years is not uncommon).

Unlike fibreglass boats that are essentially complete when they leave the factory some steel boats are completed while they are "in service".

Provided the hull and deck are sound a 30 year old steel boat would very likely be better shape than the day it was launched. How many fibreglass boats could that be said of?
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Old 09-07-2011, 23:08   #5
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Re: Fiberglass consumer friendly, Steel builder friendly

If construction details anticipate, steel boats can be hoisted with cranes set up to handle containers and not require the special equipment usually needed to handle recreational vessels.

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Old 09-07-2011, 23:25   #6
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Re: Fiberglass consumer friendly, Steel builder friendly

I suspect commercially-constructed steel-hulled boats are usually more expensive than fiberglass equivalents because they require higher-skilled labor to construct and are typically of single or low-volume construction as compared to fiberglass boats which can employ lower-skilled labor and are typically made in higher volume.
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Old 10-07-2011, 03:20   #7
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

Market forces - less folk want a steel boat (for a variety of reasons), therefore the prices reflect this. If there was a demand for steel boats then Beneteau would be banging them out by the truck load.

For me the big caution with a DIY Steel Boat would be that it was a DIY boat, not that it was steel. For a Vessel from a manufacturer I would be most concerned about the PO's.

IMO fibreglass is the best idiot proof material (over the lifetime of the boat accross multiple owners - of varying skillsets / knowledge / pockets). Albeit the move to cored hulls does perhaps reduce that idiot margin........
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Old 10-07-2011, 04:51   #8
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

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Market forces - less folk want a steel boat (for a variety of reasons), therefore the prices reflect this. If there was a demand for steel boats then Beneteau would be banging them out by the truck load.
That may be economics 101, DOJ. But 202 teaches that the supply and demand rule works both ways, and that everyday lemming behaviour has to be thrown into the analysis as well.

Fact is, the quickest/cheapest method of boat building is to pop them one after another out of the mold. Thus the world is awash with plastic boats and, in a sad kinda way, it follows that most people want one.

That said, the odd weekend sailor would be wise to get plastic; steel requires constant vigilance. But nothing is safer at sea than steel.
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Old 10-07-2011, 12:29   #9
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

I think ice breakers are built in steel. That would be for strength perhaps. And the fishing boats. That would be for cost perhaps. And for the use and misuse.

Plastic is very low maintenance. Most people have no time, no know-how to do the maintenance anyway.

Unless cruising very rocky/very icy waters, go for plastic (unless your heart dictates otherwise).

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Old 10-07-2011, 17:07   #10
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

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...

Plastic is very low maintenance. Most people have no time, no know-how to do the maintenance anyway.

...
Please come and tell my plastic boat it should be very low maintenance.
It keeps sprouting leaks, cracks in the gelcoat, soft spots in the deck, rusting hidden chainplates, I worry about keel bolts that I can't inspect, and so on.

My friends with metal boats just touch up the paint here and there once in a while.
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Old 10-07-2011, 17:22   #11
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

Anyone who has worked on steel naval or commercial vessels can attest to the fact that keeping rust at bay is an on going battle. Have you never seen one pull into harbor that isn't covered in paint blotches over the rust spots? In the navy we called the bosuns dibby dabs for obvious reasons
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Old 10-07-2011, 17:30   #12
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

Steel hulled boats get magnetised going through the water and so when you get to an anchorage and throw the anchor over, it jumps straight back up and sticks to the hull.


That doesn't happen with FRP.
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Old 10-07-2011, 17:58   #13
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

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Steel hulled boats get magnetised going through the water and so when you get to an anchorage and throw the anchor over, it jumps straight back up and sticks to the hull.


That doesn't happen with FRP.
It is totally true about the magnetism. Why...I had a steel boat that was so magnatized...I no longer needed sails to go north. Just weigh anchor and away she would go to magnetic north...amazing!!!
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Old 10-07-2011, 18:00   #14
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

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Originally Posted by perchance View Post
Anyone who has worked on steel naval or commercial vessels can attest to the fact that keeping rust at bay is an on going battle. Have you never seen one pull into harbor that isn't covered in paint blotches over the rust spots? In the navy we called the bosuns dibby dabs for obvious reasons
That's not the case with recreational boats. They don't keep banging into concrete piers and such. In steel rec boats you have to watch the inside.

Where I live I see steel sail boats coming and going to Patagonia often (the last one was seen yesterday, a German named Resolute). Not a single spot of rust in any, as far as I can recall.
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Old 10-07-2011, 18:39   #15
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Re: Fiberglass vs Steel Hulls

I think that a neglected steel boat is a lot worse than a neglected glass boat. One of my boatyard neighbors has a 47' steel pilothouse that's been neglected and I have a 40' glass boat that's been neglected a similar amount of time. My boat's almost ready to hit the water and he isn't even finished welding up the rusty spots yet. He's a year ahead of me and he'll need another year to finish it and another big pile of money. I just need a small pile of money and a couple of weeks.
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