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Old 02-06-2010, 17:23   #1
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Steel Boats and Welding

I have some question to anyone out there regarding steel boats and welding skills. In my search for the ultimate boat I keep running into steel boats that I adore, but hear mixed opinions about ownership responsibilities, sailing, maintenance etc.

So what is the real truth behind steel?

- Do you do your own welding repairs etc and how difficult is it to master and practice?
- How difficult is regular maintenance on a steel yacht for an owner DIY?
- Comparably expensive to fiberg? Same?
- Are there any particular things to look out for when looking at steel boats for sale out there? Both in quality and sailing ability.
- Anything else I left out?
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Old 02-06-2010, 18:34   #2
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steel boat welding

Welding is a relatively easy skill to acquire. Once the basics are learned it is simply a matter of practice practice practice. I acquired the skill at night school and burned through about 50# of rod (stick welding) to get my basic ticket, after that I improved with on the job practice. If you have steady nerves and good hand eye coordination it can be done.I haven't done a lot of Mig welding but I think it is easier than stick welding.
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Old 02-06-2010, 18:37   #3
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Thanks Perchance.

Do you use it at all in your boating at all?
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Old 02-06-2010, 19:02   #4
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Hi there

I'll pre-qualify my answers in saying that I have never owned a steel boat personally but I know others that have, and I do know a bit about steel in general...

Quote:
- Do you do your own welding repairs etc and how difficult is it to master and practice?
Welding (and cutting) isn't too hard to learn and mild steel is probably the easiest material to weld. One issue is that a lot of welding on a boat would be out of position which is a little more difficult and no doubt at times difficult to reach. No doubt there are some basic welding courses available around where you live which would be well worth doing if you intend to do a fair bit of welding.

Quote:
- How difficult is regular maintenance on a steel yacht for an owner DIY?
With sufficient metalworking, welding and PAINTING skills, shouldn't be too difficult. I'll stick my neck out here and say the cost of repairs on a steel hull is probably quite cheap compared to other materials if you can do the grunt work yourself. However, as they say, "rust never sleeps" so expect to be doing regular maintenance which I would imagine as being more paint repair then metal repair.

Quote:
- Comparably expensive to fiberg? Same?
See above, but fibreglass generally looks after itself unless you have problems with the core in cored construction or, of course, osmosis.

Quote:
- Are there any particular things to look out for when looking at steel boats for sale out there? Both in quality and sailing ability.
Steel boats rust from the inside out. From what I have seen, if a boat has that "home made" or budget look about it - e.g. warped panels, lumpy welding, rough cuts etc then avoid it like the plague and run away because imho if the boat has been built to this standard, it is just heartbreak waiting to happen. Even if a boat is fabricated to the highest standards (and you will know this when you see it), make sure you get a survey done by a savvy professional versed in steel hull construction, as the vessel could still be hiding, pardon the pun, a boat load of corrosion.

Also, the paint coating is af vital importance to reducing corrosion, so make sure this is up to spec.Modernish steel hulls should be painted in specialised protective coatings, especially designed for these kinds of applications. Plus don't forget that a steel hull is conductive, so the sacrificial anode system needs to be up to speed

Quote:
- Anything else I left out?
Yes, steel hulls need good ventilation in the cabin because of the tendency to retain condensation and hence induce corrosion. Because steel is a conductor and not an insulator, outside temperatures will also transfer to the cabin more readily unless there is suitable insulation installed
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Old 02-06-2010, 20:00   #5
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Generally it is Steel that is the preferred material for boats - look at the big ships and tankers. But steel is expensive and trying to get compound curves into a steel plate is a major problem that only huge expensive machinery can solve.
- - There is a steel boat "kit" named "Roberts" that probably accounts for more than half of the steel low end sailing boats you will see around. It was designed to use simple single direction curves which give the boats their distinctive shape.
- - Buying "used steel" is very dangerous to your wallet unless you really know how to examine and research the particular vessel. A lot of used steel boats are for sale because the owners cannot keep them up or have lost interest in them. Then rust sets in. Plate rusting is less of a problem than internal stringer and rib rusting. A lot of used steel boats rust from the inside out. Getting behind bulkheads, sidewalls and fixed furniture to examine the inside of the hull is not for the timid or lazy.
- - Best bet for getting a used steel boat in good condition is "drug confiscations" and government auctions. There are great steel boats used in the drug running trade and are in great condition when they are confiscated. They can be bought very cheaply if you know how to do it.
- - New Steel is the dream of most sailors with new Aluminum running second. For the rest of us it is FRG (fiberglass) that is the most affordable material used to build a boat. Boats can be manufactured in "molds" of the hulls and another mold of the "cabin top" and a third mold of the "interior pan." Like model airplane kits, the three parts are "glued" together and then the rest of the boat if finished.
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Old 02-06-2010, 20:28   #6
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Steel v. Fibreglass...

To me the big differences between steel and fibreglass is that if there is a problem with steel it's quite often very obvious and even a fair bit of rust does not greatly reduce the strength of the boat (Boat could be strong and still sink, though!). Rust streaks really stand out, even on the inside.

Having said that the practice of spraying polyurethane foam on the the inside of a steel hull may give better initial protection, but major problems could remain hidden for years. To my way of thinking the inside of a steel boat needs to be completely inspectable.

Boracay came with sheets of 1" polystyrene foam glued right through, and this seems to work well. I have cut it back next to most stringers, frames and bulkheads so that I can see what's going on. In the same vein I have poured epoxy resin into every void where water has accumulated to minimize future problems. I also seem to spend a bit of time touching up the paint on the inside.

From the viewpoint of a steel boat owner fibreglass in not going to show problems unless you know how and where to look. Two good gel coats could be sitting on top of a core with greatly reduced strength.
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Old 02-06-2010, 20:58   #7
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Osirissal Borakay. Thanks so much for your information.

I get a sense that steel boats are a lot like wooden boats in terms of inspection and maintenance in that they do need to be carefully looked at ongoing - inside out.

My questions really originate in that I see a number of very nice Canadian steel boats - mostly motorsailers in the PNW with a few sloops and ketches etc. I'd like to open up my options when shopping around; however, most of these are small yards and designed by designers I do not know. So, its a fair question...since I dont know what I am doing...what should I do if I do go down this path. Fiberglass and wood, I am extremely familiar with. Steel is a beast I feel totally lost with.

I understand a number of steel boats are now using west as a preventive kit against issues. However, I don't know if that is a real answer or something half in between and not effective long term.
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Old 02-06-2010, 21:23   #8
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Performance and looks...

In all fairness I should have mentioned that fibreglass boats (in particular Beneteaus) are going to sail better than steel because they are, well, lighter.

And steel boats are never going to look as good as their fibreglass cousins. One chip or scratch and there is going to be rust. It is difficult to keep the paint good while the boat's in the water.

The big advantage to steel is in the cost to size ratio. If you want a big boat, like to customise, and don't mind learning to weld it's hard to beat steel.

As for the sailing qualities of a steel boat a little research on the net, followed by a lengthy test sail could answer a few of your questions about an individual boat.
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Old 02-06-2010, 21:32   #9
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I have no problems with sail-ability or even chine hulls of steel boats. I sort of like the boxiness of them - almost feel they allow for more roomy interiors. The skill set in maintenance is what I was most concerned about as it seems very deep to me.

And please no Bennies! =O

I do have questions about Roberts designs and sailing ability of you wist to elaborate on Roberts.
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Old 02-06-2010, 23:56   #10
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Light doesn't necessarily mean faster in the real world. Lighter surely doesn't mean better for a cruising boat. Light normally means the boat will surf quicker and react to inputs, both by the crew and the environment. If you have a big crew to keep the boat under control, surfing can significantly increase boat speed beyond the theoretical waterline speed. Fortunately most cruising boats don't have the big crew and are usually interested in getting there somewhat fast, not ultimately fast. Since a lighter boat is, well, lighter, they tend to bounce around like a cork. Not a lot of fun if you are living inside that cork. A light boat doesn't have the carrying capacity of a heavier boat and even if it did, if you load it down, it's no longer a light boat. A light boat seems to take a bigger hit to performance with added weight than a heavier boat.

A steel boat that is built right is not a maintenance headache. It's not a launch and forget material like fiberglass, however. If you are into steel, get a surveyor who knows the material. Preferably someone who owns, and/or has built a steel boat. The Achilles heal of steel is rust and poorly built steel boats are usually full of rust traps. There is one Canadian Manufacturer who made cheap steel boats in more ways just he price. In cutting corners or lack of experience, they left the boats full of rust traps. Not a problem in the Great Lakes but a real PITA out on the ocean.

Round bilged steel boats are expensive to build, and repair, if needed. The multi chine boats don't sail all that much, if any worse than their round bilged breatheren. More in the quality of design than the construction. The French have built a great reputation for their chined boats in both steel and aluminum. Roberts is probably the most prolific of the chine designers. Don't have any personal experience but others seem to think his designs won't win any races. Definitely sail on any boat you buy in as many types of conditions as you can. If it could be done, I'd reccomend a week charter to thoroughly check out all the qualities of a boat. With a mass produced FRP boat, you have a lot of them out there and people with experience with them. A one off steel boat doesn't come with that network of information.

As far as owning a steel boat vice FRP. Steel is the strongest material. If I was doing extreme sailing into the Southern Capes and or high latitudes, steel would be my first choice. Since I'm sailing the usual tradewind/coastal routes will stick with FRP.
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Old 03-06-2010, 00:34   #11
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Three comments from a steel-boat owner...

First, insulation is good, but not in the bilge. I looked at a Roberts 53 that had been foamed all the way to the bilge, and down inside all those inaccessible corners was thick rust.

Second, unless you have deep pockets, it's really a lot easier and more practical to think "workboat patina" intead of "Bristol."

And third, yes, I think having welding skills and a rig on board is good, though steel welders are ubiquitous worldwide (though maybe not where you happen to be at anchor!). I'm getting a Hobart Handler 140 wirefeed with MIG, which from my research seems to be a sweet spot in cost-performance ratio. It can run from either my genset or shore power, and should provide an extra sense of security in addition to being another source of casual barter while traveling. I've heard a few tales of fishing boats rafting up to welder-equipped yachts for a quick repair. Wirefeed has been called the glue-gun for metal; it's much easier than stick and safer than gas (of course, gas doesn't need all those amps... but it does need bottles refilled). I'm going with the MIG (inert gas) option since I also want to be able to do stainless. You kind of need TIG for good results on aluminum, but that is MUCH more expensive.

Cheers,
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Old 03-06-2010, 01:03   #12
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Learning to weld in flat position is a piece o cake. A days practice will have you doing flat welding easy. Horizontal takes a bit more practice to master, and vertical is the next most difficult. Vertical up, Vertical down. Practice it and you will master it. Overhead is a real PITA. I guess if you have good gear, then it would be easier but red hot steel dripping on you is not fun. One of the previous posters was right when he said most welding on a boat is out of normal flat positions. All the other comments about maintenance, insulation, etc are all right on.

Owning a steel boat is more maintenance intensive, as you have to touch up scratches as soon as you notice them. A bit of sand paper, feather the wound and paint it. If you do a walk down every couple weekend after coming in for the day, you won't have it build up on you. Same thing with inside inspections. Every day pull up a couple of sections of interior and give them a good once over. Work out a maintenance routine and follow it religiously and you won't have a problem. Even with large areas of rust, its possible to get a small hand sand blaster, put some sheet plastic up and do small patches at a time.

Expense wise? I can get a bigger steel boat for less than a similar FG boat. People tend to run away from steel boats. But there are some real gems out there if they are not in bad shape and are kept up.

I'm partial to steel. My first steel boat fell off a trailer at 60mph and survived. A bit banged up, not quite as fair as before but solid as a rock. I'm on my third one now and will never waste time on a FG boat again.

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Old 03-06-2010, 09:21   #13
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This is all great advice, gentlemen. It gives me not only a skill assessment but a real sense of what you go through everyday as an owner and maintenance person, which I can use to assess my own motivation and willingness and character. e.g. am I able to mirror your behavior and level of knowledge over time, and stick with it. Overhead welding was particularly interesting. Didn't even consider that issue.
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Old 03-06-2010, 09:35   #14
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''Do you do your own welding repairs etc and how difficult is it to master and practice?''

Maybe you need to ask your insurance company that question.

Sure, anyone can glue some steel together but is that what you realy want when your life and investment relies on keeping the water out?

I worked on late one evening to finish laying in a gas supply at a house and the owner and his 2 sons came by to see how it was going. They watched me prep and solder a joint and said 'Is that all you have to do, it looks so easy we could do that'
I offered them the gas torch, flux pot and solder and told them to to it themselves.
As per usual with bull sh*t types, they backed away and made excuses about not wanting to get hands dirty.

It always looks easy when your watching someone trained, qualified and experienced.

Go sit, and pass your Lloyds code exam and then you will know the difference.
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Old 03-06-2010, 10:16   #15
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Nice anjou. Love your story.

On the other hand

"Sure, anyone can glue some steel together but is that what you realy want when your life and investment relies on keeping the water out?"

No different than wood or fiberglass in my opinion. Still need skills to keep the water out.

Spending 6 months learning a new skill seems to me a good investment, keeps the mind fresh learning something new, put me out of my comfort level definately, and might provide an additional income stream. LLoyds - wow...thats a stretch for me no question about it. Doubt I could go that far.
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