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  #1  
Old 03-09-2007
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Hull materials...

I've never owned a wooden boat. Growing up on the coast in the 60's/70's I saw them die out. I do remember the first fiberglass shrimper on the Ga coast (possibly the east coast ) the Laura Lee.

Anyhow, I'm familiar with glass and wood but what are the advantages/disavantages of Aluminum and Steel?

I get the ones like... Steel there is the obvious corrosion control issue, and the advantage of strength.

I'd guess that Al has corrosion issues, neither have osmosis problems though.

Anyhow, I'm curious what the opinions out there are on Steel and Aluminum for sailboat hulls.
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Bob likes steel ...
she'll last longer than Bob ...
'spect that's long enough ...

... in this you can trust. Conan's dad
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Old 03-09-2007
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I've never owned either steel or alum sailboats, so can't provide first hand testimony. But, fiberglass is the most popular recreational sailboat hull material for obvious reasons . . . at least to my logic.

Steel is heavy, rusts and requires frequent painting (read high maintenance). Aluminum is lightweight, but will also corrode in a salt water environment, unless protected (again - high maintenance issues). Additionally, it could dissolve in marinas from being a sacrificial anode for improperly wired boats with more noble metals.
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Old 03-09-2007
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For boats smaller than 35' or so, steel and aluminum are far more expensive as building materials than fiberglass.

Aluminum hulls, especially if they're not painted, and most aren't, can be seriously attached by galvanic corrosion or stray current-induced corrosion. One boat I know of was scrapped, after the owner realized that a current leak at their marina had eaten away much of the hull over the course of two months...

Steel hulls tend to corrode from the inside out...and it is a constant battle. There was an article by Simon Alvah recently, about the recent re-fit he did of his steel sailboat...and how the battle with rust is constant.

Of the two, I would probably go with steel rather than aluminum.... especially if cruising to foreign parts. Most places can easily weld steel, even if they have to use primitive methods to do so... Welding aluminum is much more difficult to do, and can not be found in some foreign regions... or at least not at a reasonable price.

If you really want a nice sailboat and want low maintenance on the hull, get one made of copper-nickel alloy... they use this on some bigger ships and the metal itself is essentially non-fouling. Very expensive as hull materials go...but very low maintenance too.
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There's a book by Dave Gerr called The Elements of Boat Strength that deals with the design of pleasureboat hulls in fiberglass, wood, steel and aluminum. He's got a comparison of the pros and cons of each if you want to get into detail.

From memory, fiberglass is cheapest, especially in mass production where you can pop a new hull out of the mold everyday. It also lets you do compound curves much more easily than bending flat metal plates.

One of steel's issues is that it is the strongest material, but also the densest. To make the hull plating thick enough so it doesn't flex, smaller boats get very heavy. There is a breakeven point for steel, maybe 60 feet or so, if memory serves.

Metal is easier to fabricate one-off boats since you don't have to make a mold. See the success of Bruce Roberts designs. You can buy all the parts computer cut to size, then weld them together.
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XTR,
True Blue is correct. In the long run, maintenance is always an issue, however, regardless of material, boats are always going to require maintenance, even if you never leave the dock.

The most important factor is that you're happy with the gal ya brung to the dance.

(I've built in wood, fiberglass, and steel ... bought ready-mades also ... steel is just a preference ...)
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Last edited by cockeyedbob; 03-09-2007 at 03:34 PM.
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Old 03-09-2007
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I've had fibreglass, and now I have steel. They both have their advantages, as has been pointed out. Were I a coastal cruiser, I would choose fibreglass for weight, resistance to corrosion and decent looks. But as I'm voyaging, and want to go offshore and perhaps to high latitudes, I've chosen steel. Yes, there is more maintenance, but preparation of the metal initially plus a regular round of inspection and "keeping on it" will take care of that. Ask me about Ospho and two-part epoxy paints.

The advantages aren't readily apparent until you hit a reef or a container, or lightning blows holes in what isn't, in fact, a very good Faraday cage. Then they become obvious.

If you are in Indonesia, on the other hand, with a badly dinged steel panel, you can pay a guy $50 to cut out the old and weld in the new. Stove in a two-foot piece of your fibreglass hull, and your trip may very well be over.

Anyway, I weighed (no pun intended) all the cruiser books I'd read and tried to assess the pluses and minuses of each material next to our intended, and comparatively extreme, use, and steel came up first. If I was to cruise the Caribbean, by contrast, I absolutely would get a cruising cat in fibreglass, even though I've never sailed one. The advantages of cats in shallow, semi-protected waters are evident.

If I had loads of money, I'd probably have a Sundeer done in copper-nickel, which is a rare boat building material, but as has been noted, seems to be the best choice of strength, anti-corrosion and weight of all.
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Aye Valiente ...

Depends on intended use, and for most sailors and purposes, GRP is the material of choice, however, if one intends on going in harm's way, steel is the best material.

Read somewhere cupronickle is having a problem ... lot of hulls on the market for cheap ... I'll see if I can find the reference ...
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Go titanium...no real corrosion problems, and it's light... but you need a good budget...
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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.

—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)

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sd ... got some in the shop ... strange stuff ... keep it under lock and key so it doesn't wander off ...
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