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Old 27-07-2016, 00:36   #1
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Steel boat – heaven or hell?

We are interested in buying a STEEL sailboat (40-45 ft) that is really stable and secure for ocean crossings. So far, we only have experience from glass fibre boats, but we find the strengh and stabilizing weight of steel attractive.

Now to the problem. The yachting community seems totally divided in two opposite groups: Steel boat HATERS (saying steel boat owners end up doing nothing but chasing rust) and steel boat LOVERS (saying rust is no major problem and steel is just great!).

One scary thing with steel boats seems to be so called "pin holes" that suddenly appear in the hull, and can flood the boat. According to the anti-steel people, that is. The steel boat lovers don't seem to see this problem.

What on earth should we think? How do we choose and check a steel boat to avoid the problems? I would be grateful for any advice.

Par, a Stockholm, Sweden based sailor.
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Old 27-07-2016, 00:48   #2
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

US Navy has been using steel boats (ships) for a long time... they can last a long time as evidenced by USS Enterprise operating from appx 1960 to appx 2010 and now its a museum.

Even the Arizona which has been sunk since Dec 7 1941 is mostly intact. Maybe 50 years from now they'll have to support the memorial with pilings driven in beside the hull.

Rust is and isn't an issue.

You do good maintenance and it won't be a problem. You skimp on maintaining the bottom paint and other paint and you'll be chasing it forever after just like a 1970 Chevy that's been driven on salted roads.

NEVER paint over a rust spot... clean it to bare shiny metal, apply primer and good quality paint.

Longevity of autos is actually good to look at. Those that get cared for never seem to have a rust spot. Those that are not cared for rot away.
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Old 27-07-2016, 00:57   #3
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Steel boats are not actually like cars -- they are made of heavy plating, not light sheet metal.

Like other hull materials, including wood -- there's no nightmare, as long as you don't treat it like a plastic boat. You have to understand what it takes to maintain it (and there's more to it than painting), and you have to do that maintenance. You have to understand galvanic and electrolytic corrosion, and take adequate measures to ensure that it doesn't happen. Steel is not as maintenance-free as plastic, but it has other, very significant advantages. It has one big disadvantage in that it is very heavy for smaller boats, so not very good for sailing boats below a certain size (consider aluminum for a smaller sailing boat, which does not have this disadvantage).

Obviously you also have to be sure you are not acquiring a rust bucket, but a good surveyor with competence in metal vessels can figure that out for you.
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Old 27-07-2016, 02:36   #4
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Welcome to CF!
Good info for you so far. It's well worth heeding. In terms of evaluating a boat, one thing to do is to have Audio Gauging done on her as part of a survey. More or less it's an Ultrasound of the hull to determine the thickness of the metal, as well as defects.

I'm far from an expert on it, but were I looking at buying a metal boat, I'd surely do a lot of studying on it. Ditto on learning about Non-destructive Testing (NDT). And also, various other forms of evaluating metal structures, including weld quality, etc. That, & like Dockhead said, get up to speed on the different types of corrosion. What to do to prevent them, & how to fix them.
Also, there are even NDT forums. Which I learned about over on www.BoatDesign.net Where both amateurs & professional builders, designers, & sailors discuss the afore mentioned topics & many others relevant to your quest.

I also learned, or rather re-learned a good bit about metal vessels, & caring for them by reading Snowpetrel's blog. He's a wizened member of this community who's owned both steel & aluminum boats. And he delineated, in detail, the steps that he took in terms of inspection, & TLC with his steel boat for peace of mind with it. Especially as it was being used down in ice country in the Southern high latitudes.

It was a good contrast to what I learned about metal boats, engineering, & ship/boat related science from my time in the US Navy. Where I even supervised much of our ship's overhaul over a two year stint with her in the shipyards. Groan.

There's a good bit of info here on the forums on metal boats too, if you dig for it. Preferably with a customized Google search.
Plus there's www.MetalBoatSociety.org as well. Which is pretty much what it sounds like. And their forums are back up & running, knock on wood, er, metal

They're even having their annual Metal Boat Festival in about 2 weeks. Which usually features some pretty prominent folks in attendance. For example, Dudley Dix has been to it more than a few times. And his website's fairly informational, with some good links as well -> www.DixDesign.com He's a very well regarded designer, & real easy to work with. Who's sharp in the use of most boatbuilding materials.

Good luck with your information quest, & enjoy your time on the forums!

PS: One thing which may be helpful too, is if you have a short list of criteria that you're looking for in a boat. As it's common for members here to steer folks towards perspective candidate boats, in addition to helping to educate them.
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Old 27-07-2016, 03:00   #5
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Ive got a steel boat and there can be more work involved in keeping them good I am always painting ,but if the boat is modern and has had a good epoxy coating from new they wont have much wrong with them.what I like with steel is the fact that they are tight as a drum and dont have annoying leaks as other materials may have.Having no keelbolt or chainplate issues is also a good bonus.Rust always gives plenty of warning as well of any problems you get a hell of a lot of rust before you get any holes.Good luck in your search
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Old 27-07-2016, 03:06   #6
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, Par.
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Old 27-07-2016, 03:17   #7
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Quote:
Originally Posted by builder dan View Post
. . . what I like with steel is the fact that they are tight as a drum and dont have annoying leaks as other materials may have. Having no keelbolt or chainplate issues is also a good bonus.. . .
This is a very, very big advantage of metal boats, especially for cold climates. They can be welded up absolutely watertight so no drips, leaks, etc. This was the main advantage cited by Evans Starzinger on here, one of our great voyagers, which led him to choose an alu boat.

Also very easy to make modifications to the deck, install new hardware, etc., because the whole structure is strong -- you just need to weld whatever you need to it.

Plastic boats are also fine -- as witnessed by the thousands of them in use. Maintenance is easier. No corrosion problems -- plastic is marvelously inert. But there are other disadvantages to plastic. Especially the decks of plastic boats, are difficult to make strong, difficult to attach things to, difficult to seal up really well.

As we say, you pays your money and makes your choices.
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Old 27-07-2016, 03:47   #8
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Quote:
Originally Posted by builder dan View Post
Ive got a steel boat and there can be more work involved in keeping them good I am always painting ,but if the boat is modern and has had a good epoxy coating from new they wont have much wrong with them.what I like with steel is the fact that they are tight as a drum and dont have annoying leaks as other materials may have.Having no keelbolt or chainplate issues is also a good bonus.Rust always gives plenty of warning as well of any problems you get a hell of a lot of rust before you get any holes.Good luck in your search
On the epoxy coatings, I'm very very much aware of their importance. Though I'm curious as to your take on the efficacy of having a boat or component blasted down to white metal, & then doing the epoxy seal/coatings. And adding (more) primer & paint on top of it? As that's what snowpetrel mentions IIRC. Plus it's what we had done to much of the ship when I was Navy.

Albeit, having grown up in the rust belt, where cars start dying after half a decade if they're not looked well looked after, I get that keeping corrosion at bay from day one is a big help.
So I'm curious to hear opinions & feedback on this, if it's not too far off topic that is.
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Old 27-07-2016, 03:47   #9
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

"Also very easy to make modifications to the deck, install new hardware, etc., because the whole structure is strong -- you just need to weld whatever you need to it."
sorry, definitely NOT true: there'd be insulation (well, hopefully, otherwise it's going to be hell on wheels...) that'll start burnning, paint will be burned off,...
the facts as I see them:
for ant/arctic adventures unbeatable, same for collisions with floating objects or reefs (although there are any number of steelboats lying on reefs & staying there, as it's simply too expensive or altogether impossible to get a tug to tow them off)

all other bonuspoint of steel have to be compared to an aluminium hull - & there steel is the big loser:
unless sandblasted on the INSIDE too (& primed within hours!) serious maintenance will have to be done sooner or later, there'll be millions of unreachable places where rust is goign to develop sooner or later.
steel is going to be heavier (costlier engine, rig, sails, heavier gear...), aluminum topsides can be left unpainted!
anecdotal evidence but still: 32' french steeler beside us in marina apooiti (Raiatea) filling to level of saloontable in the absence of the owners before discovered...(throughhull defective...)
big german steelboat in Whangarei: whenever you were looking/listening they had the generator going & an anglegrinder was running...
Moitessier's Joshua was a writeoff at cabo san lucas...
various steelhulls adorning tuamotu-reefs...didn't help them any, that they survived the impact...
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Old 27-07-2016, 08:25   #10
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Quote:
Originally Posted by double u View Post
"Also very easy to make modifications to the deck, install new hardware, etc., because the whole structure is strong -- you just need to weld whatever you need to it."
sorry, definitely NOT true: there'd be insulation (well, hopefully, otherwise it's going to be hell on wheels...) that'll start burning, paint will be burned off,...
.
That's all true, but all of that is manageable. Have you ever tried to install a new strong point in a plastic deck? Eek.
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Old 27-07-2016, 08:54   #11
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Our last boat was steel. I think with any metal or ferro boat you have to ask not how you're going to maintain it, but how the previous owners have maintained it. Bringing a sadly neglected fiberglass boat back is one project and working on a sadly neglected steel boat is another (soul sucking) project.

If you decide to go ahead with it get it "ping"ed. (Sorry, I can't remember the name of the instrument). Basically it sends a sound through the metal and will tell you with a very simple formula the thickness of the metal. You test it first on a good looking spot and then in dodgy looking areas to see how much metal has corroded away. You can buy one of these instruments ($$$) or hire someone to do it for you.

Hopefully the boat you are looking at has been cared for and isn't marginal. I don't recommend marginal. Ask me how I know.
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Old 27-07-2016, 08:54   #12
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

Setting aside the rust issue for a moment, I'd like to point out a couple of other issues with the day-to-day livability of a metal hull.

Having owned a metal hulled boat in warm climate, I can tell you that no amount of insulation will keep the boat from being harder to cool compared to a glass hull. On very hot days the hull simply bakes in the sun and transfers that heat to the interior. You don't mention where you plan to sail, but I would assume that even in northern climates the reverse would be true, that a metal hull would be very cold by comparison.

The other issue is condensation. In a hot climate with lots of humidity you will have condensation. And not just atmospheric humidity, but that produced in the interior of the boat as well. So although a tight metal hull may not have leakage from the exterior, don't expect the bilge to be constantly dry.

It's true that metal hulls have some inherent advantages, but I've found that, for me at least, the glass hulls are more convenient and allow more time for the pleasure of boating and less time spent on maintenance. To each his own.

Good luck in finding the right boat for you.
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Old 27-07-2016, 09:01   #13
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

My experiences of hull material over the past 50 years is that fibreglass is preferable to both wood and steel in terms of strength. Fibreglass hulls bounce off dock walls and even underwater rocks. Steel hulls will puncture easily. Wooden hulls are also flexible but will split easily too. I never thought that I would admit that plastic is best but only from a strength point of view. Wooden boats have souls which no other structure seems to have.
If you do get a steel hull, remember that the hull will rust from the inside out first, and that rust will also occur at seacocks as opposed to the large flat areas.
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Old 27-07-2016, 09:26   #14
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

So, Fiberglass hull with Aluminum decks.! 🤔👍😬😀😏


Still surrounded by anchors.
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Old 27-07-2016, 09:28   #15
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Re: Steel boat – heaven or hell?

I have sailed a lot of steel boats, offshore tugs, ships, and a few yachts. Strong boats most of them. To me, it depends on how you are going to use your boat. If you are like most people and let your boat sit in a marina and sail it occasionally, then you want fiberglass. Steel needs looking after. You buy Ospho by the gallon, and keep a chipping hammer handy. Only takes a few moments to rustbust, ospho, prime and paint. But if you let it go, it looks bad quick, and eventually is bad. If you are a cruiser, it is great because you can find a welder for not much money just about anyplace in the world who can fix, repair or replace parts on your boat. Hell, look at Moitessier’s boat Joshua. He did a little maintenance and sailed her around the world. The boat was beached in Cabo and buried in the sand, he sold her for 5 bucks and the guy reflated her and sailed her away. I think she is in La Rochelle now. Like wood, you gotta love a steel boat and take care of her or she will rot, but if you take care of her she will take you just about anyplace you want to go and get you through.

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