Steel Hulls—Pros and Cons - SailNet Community

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Old 09-12-2001
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Steel Hulls—Pros and Cons

I'm trying to find out what is better in the long run regarding hull types: wood, fiberglass, or steel? For bluewater boats, in cold waters, steel seems to be is the way to go. Does warm, tropical water have any effect on steel hulls? Regarding maintenance, I figure that steel would be easier to repair (welding cracks/holes) rather than wood or glass. Can you tell me about the insular properties of steel and if steel hulls suffer from condensation problems compared to wood or glass? 

Also, is it fairly simple to remodel the interior of steel hulls? What is involved in doing a retrofit? 

Sue & Larry respond:
Steel hulls are generally accepted as being extremely strong and relatively easy to repair. For this reason they are chosen by a number of cruising sailors. But no material is perfect, and that is certainly true of steel.

You may not think it at first, but steel hulls require diligent maintenance. Any nicks or dings in the paint must be immediately repaired, or rust and corrosion can become a problem. A major concern with steel boats is the rust that you don't immediately see.  This can occur in places such as under cabinets, behind lockers or underneath a leaky head and the boat can literally rust from the inside out. The warmer the temperature, the greater and more rampant the corrosion and the higher the potential for problems due to electrolysis. Steel hulls also provide little protection against heat and cold. Unless sprayed with an insulating agent, condensation on the inside of the hull can be a major concern. 

As for remodeling the interior of a steel boat versus a wood or glass boat, let us just say that it is an extremely difficult task on any boat. Nothing is square and you're always dealing with strange angles or curves. If you're boat shopping, our advice to you is to choose a boat that has an interior layout that you can live with.  Focus on cosmetic upgrades or changes, while leaving the basic interior layout intact. Good luck.

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