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Old 10-29-2002
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Steel Boats

I have been looking for a steel bluewater boat but my finances are limited. Some of the steel hulled boats in my price range are overcoated in fiberglass. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Is this to protect & strengthen the hull, to hide deterioration or for cosmetic appeal? Does this make surveying or ultrasounding the hull impossible?
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Old 10-29-2002
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Steel Boats

One of the advantages of steel boats is that they can supposedly be easily repaired anywhere by anybody handy with a welding torch. Even the owner, in a pinch. One of the disadvantages is that they rust and corrode all over, and therefore need repairs. I believe that commercial steel ships are only expected to have about a 20-year lifespan. A fiberglass covering over steel sounds like a recepie for disaster. Wouldn''t condensation tend to form between the layers, causing unseen rust and weak areas? Steel doesn''t get cost-effective in the strength/weight equation unless you''re looking at a pretty big hull - perhaps 50 or more feet. Costs to equip, maintain and crew such a large hole in the water could get serious pretty quickly. Smaller steel cruising boats seem to be more popular in Continental Europe - especially France - than here. They''re used to pretty heavy winds and short distances between ports. It makes me wonder how much sailing they actually do (and how well many of them actually sail). With a limited budget, unless you''re a welder yourself, I would look for something more readily available and less prone to "issues". Not that fiberglass, wood, aluminum, or other materials don''t each have their "issues" as well.
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Old 10-29-2002
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Steel Boats

Steel can be ''overcoated with fiberglass'' for a lot of different reasons and using a lot of different techniques. To begin with all ''fiberglass'' is not the same. Similarly neither is all forms of steel. The best steels are relatively corrosion resistant. The best coatings, zinc rich epoxy primer, bonds tenaciously to steel and provides a good base for the final paint job. Epoxy with glass cloth can improve the protective nature of the barrier coating.

On the other hand, polyester tends to bond poorly with steel and where ever voids occur crevice corrosion is likely to occur as well.

Fillers are often used to fair up an unfair steel hull and these are often coated with epoxy/fiberglass sheathing to protect them from blistering.

Epoxy is an excellent moisture barrier and there by reduces the opportunity for electrolysis.

In the worst case you have all of the worst posible worlds. A few years back a detailed survey of boatyards was made. When viewed over a long period of time, steel was the highest maintenance material typically used in boat building. (According to this survey, even higher than wooden construction.) Add to that a polyester/ fiberglass sheathing you have the worst of all possible conditions.

Jeff
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