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Old 30-11-2012, 13:35   #1
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20+ Year Old Steel Hull

I am considering purchasing a 20+ year old steel hulled boat. As I have spent my whole boating career in fiberglass vessels, what do I need to be aware of as I consider this purchase? The boat is currently in salt water and that is my intended use. Thanks in advance for any advice and insight!

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Old 30-11-2012, 13:46   #2
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

Look at every square inch of the inside of the hull. If you cant get to it to inspect it, its likely thet the PO didnt get to it to maintain it. I am refitting a 20+ year old steely. rust never sleeps.

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Old 30-11-2012, 13:51   #3
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

The old adage is that steel boats rust from the inside out. I have two 20+yo steel boats. I don't know it all but here is what I would advise.

1. You need to do your own survey. It is hard to get a good metal boat surveyor.
2. You need to look at every inch of the inside of the boat below the water line.
3. Be cautious of freshly painted bilges.
4. Thump on stuff with a hammer.
5. Stringers should have a limber hole to let water drain. Ideally you have no stringers. One boat has round bars at the chines and they act as stiffeners but no water accumulation.
6. Ultrasounds are fine, but can easily miss small but deep areas of corrosion.

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Old 01-12-2012, 16:54   #4
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

what they said. In spades. The guy who did my survey changed careers and is now a successful fantasy writer. If you can't get to it than it is suspect.

I just finished stripping the entire interior out because it was permanently built in. I'm glad I did, as a row of rust perforations at the junction of the lower and middle chine some 18 inches below the waterline would have sunk me. The spot was behind the Head vanity, which was built in in 1979 and never ever removed.
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Old 01-12-2012, 21:47   #5
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

I had just the opposite problem with the amature built steel boat that I bought. The inside was done in a black primer that was perfect, but the builder must have run out of money when he got to the outside paint. A year and a half in the tropics and the outside looked like dog droppings and the inside still looked great. I agree with hpeer about doing your own survey(to a point), but depending on where you are there may be good surveyors available. See if there is a metal boat society in the area to make a recomendation? 90% of the condition of a 20 year old steel boat will depend on the skill of the original builder. __Just my 2 cents worth.____Grant.
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Old 01-12-2012, 23:07   #6
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

Anyone mention electrolosis?
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Old 01-12-2012, 23:18   #7
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

Electrolysis is the least of your problems on a steel boat. Everything's connected (electrically) to everything else and you just need good zincs, regularly replaced, and you'll be fine. Rust on the inside is a bigger problem than electrolysis outside the boat.
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Old 02-12-2012, 08:06   #8
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

Educate yourself.

Steel is a great material, but it is not a carefree material. If you develop good habits of inspection and service, it can last as "long and strong" as anything else.
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Old 02-12-2012, 14:45   #9
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

When we bought "Star" she hadn't long been externally shot blasted and nicely painted with a two pack system, her interior looked clean and well looked after and was fully insulated between hull and interior. We spent the first Winter living on her as snug as a bug in a rug.

But then, after several other electrical systems proved problematical, I decide to check the two bilge pumps. You see the one in the saloon bilge always made a satisfying buzzing noise but never pumped any water over the side . . . we couldn't be that lucky, could we?

No access was provided seeing that a previous owner had laid a new oak floor over the original ply but when we did get to the pump . . . we found that sitting in gallons of water with it's outlet pipe not connected as the worm-drive clip had long ago rusted away! When we did drain that bilge we started shoveling out huge amounts of VERY thick delaminated steel . . . sorry . . . rust!

Removal of the entire floor and lower interior showed a picture so ghastly we shivered at the thought we had been sleeping on her. An ultrasound survey indicated that some plates appeared to be around 1.4 mm thick!!

Two decades of being used as a live-aboard and several HW calorifiers, central heating systems and sink/plumbing changes not to mention the condensation had all but rotted her out inside . . . still, she did look pretty on the outside!

Nine months later and much poorer than we ever thought we're now at the stage of re-priming and painting the lower hull, almost a half of it is now new and the opportunity has been taken to add a fair bit of extra structural strength to her unique hull. We did one thing as a result of the experience that we hope, together with a generous two-pack paint system, will prevent water sloshing about doing this again. We got the welder to cut a notch in the keel and then weld across that into the new plate a big sump . . . into which a big pump will go . . . and when the water stops going over the side now then I'll know there's barely a pint of water left in that bilge.

We will then have to re-build the full interior but, in our case, that work is my job so it won't cost but materials . . . but even that job alone would be heart-braking for a DIY owner.

We love "Star" - she's a one-off - but she has taught us one hell of a lesson in what to look for in steel boats.

When viewing an old steel hull, expect the worse, the reality will be twice that!
What d'you mean "scrap it"? She's cost more to repair than she cost to build!!
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Old 02-12-2012, 15:16   #10
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

Steel is great, but as other posters have stressed, you must inspect the entire inside of the hull. Maybe a little remote inspection camera would suffice.
We built Nekeyah 25 yrs ago and at present I am removing the interior bit by bit to check the hull. Have not found anything of consequence so far but it will only take one bad hidden area of corrosion to sink a boat.
A couple of years ago there was a little paint blister on the cabin side a few inches below a porthole. I hit it with a screwdriver and ended up with an inch hole. Easily welded up and as good as new now, but if it had been below wateline another story entirely.
The upside is that once checked and remediated where necessary we should have another good 25 yrs which will well and truly see us out of boating.

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Old 02-12-2012, 16:15   #11
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

I have an old Harbor Freight snake camera that I think I bought for about $50. It works fine, but I just did a quick google search, and found a couple of similar ones that have 15' cords for less than $30. Even a cheap one should be good enough to send down into crevices and check for rust, and water entrapment. I have never looked seriously at a steel vessel, but I wouldn't consider buying one with out something like this.

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Old 02-12-2012, 23:33   #12
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

Gents, Thank you for all of the replies and advice! I was more concerned with an ultrasound and electrolysis, but can now see the a good inspection with the "Ole Mark I Eyeball" is the way to go. Forewarned is forearmed! Thanks again! gts1544 - George
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Old 03-12-2012, 01:04   #13
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

gts, I bought a 28y.o. steelie 18 months ago. I don’t disagree with anything said above, but this is how it was for me. From my personal inspection things basically appeared worse than they are – a good thing perhaps. But I really liked the boat so I got a well-regarded surveyor to look over the boat before purchase – my instruction to him was tell me why I shouldn’t buy this boat. He basically said go for it.

After buying I did an extensive ultrasound and found just 2 points of concern below the waterline, that no amount of inspection would have found. I am embarking on a major refit now. The thing I wanted to say is this, the ultrasound gave me the confidence that the money I am spending on the refit won’t be wasted.

Also, my experience so far has showed, the surveyor made a good call - you don't often hear that. Still I should have done the ultrasound before purchase. Thing is, if you are paying ultrasound people by the hour, be there and if the results soon show the boat is crap, call it off to minimise ultrasound costs, and walk away. Also, I helped out with the recording of ultrasound results, and we got a whole lot more points picked up in the time.

I highlight also, there’s ultrasounds and there’s ultrasounds – pay for professionals. Don’t buy a $120 unit off ebay and do it yourself. You may come unstuck due to paint, rust etc. You need to be confident in the results.

I think there would be opportunities out there, old steelie’s that were well looked after, with superficial rust, but still with much integrity which people are overlooking.
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Old 03-12-2012, 01:21   #14
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

There definitely are. Mine sat on the market for a full year and nobody made an offer.

36' steel, in the middle of a refit, new fridge, new stove, 2 new propane heaters, lots of misc stuff like 3 gallons of trinidad, 14 120w solar panels, Yanmar w 1000 hours, 2 electric windlass', 11 new stainless ports, recent 2" stainless railing all around and davits, 12' hard dinghy w 2002 8 hp Yamaha, 3000 watt inverter, new isotherm water heater, new $1,000 elec head.

The boat looks like sh*t, bit I think I did pretty good for 6k, and the scary thing is I could have probably got it for 3
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Old 03-12-2012, 01:36   #15
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Re: 20+ Year Old Steel Hull

+1. Very good real world advice

The download is cheaper

Metal Boat Repair and Maintenance: Your Ultimate Do-It-Yourself Guide by Scott Fratcher (eBook) - Lulu

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