Life expectancy of fiberglass boats - SailNet Community

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  #1  
Old 06-22-2010
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Life expectancy of fiberglass boats

Hello everyone:
*
A newbie here with no doubt the dumbest question of the day. But just so you may appreciate from where it is that I am coming from, I’d classify myself as being right smack in the middle of the dreaming stage of sailboat ownership. Simply put, I have no prior experience with sailing at all. What little exposure I’ve had to boating has always been associated with weekender-variety motor boats. Up until this point in my life my hobby has been flying, but for the last couple-few years I have found myself becoming increasingly interested in sailing.
*
Anyway, my question is as follows; what is the life expectancy of a modern, assembly line-constructed fiberglass sailboat? To be a little more specific, what I’m thinking of is a 27’-35’ Catalina, Hunter or Beneteau- nothing “custom”. As I study the classifieds what I’m pondering is, do such boats have the potential to remain seaworthy much beyond three or four decades of use? In plain words, is it reasonable to expect a circa 1985-1990 fiberglass boat to still have another 20 years of useful service in her? Should a NEW boat be expected to last 30-40 years if it is maintained? In the field of general aviation, many, if not most of the planes being flown today are 20-30 years old. But unlike boats, with planes it is mandated that they pass annual inspections and receive necessary maintenance. In other words, maintaining a plane is not optional (legally, anyway).
*
Thanks in advance for your valued opinions. Incidentally, “Huckleberry” (“Huck”) is the name of my Labrador Retriever.
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Old 06-22-2010
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There are a lot of variables that go into how long a fiberglass boat will last. Some of them are:

1) How was the boat laid up and constructed—solid hull? Cored hull? Foam or balsa core? Cloth or chopper gun for laminate? Hull with liner, or hull, stringer, floor, or grid construction?

2) How was the boat used—was it raced, was it used year round or just during the summer sailing season, was it daysailed or sailed in all conditions, was it a lake boat or a bluewater voyager?

3) How was the boat maintained—were the deck penetrations properly potted? Did they seal the core from moisture intrusion? Were backing plates used where necessary? etc.

I'd point out that some brands, like Hunter, have had some time periods where their build quality was more suspect than others, and I'd avoid boats built during those times.

There are many fiberglass boats going on 50+ years old that are still afloat and in fine shape. I'd point out that some of the older boats have managed this due to ignorance of the material when they were built, as they are far heavier than was strictly necessary due to no real knowledge of a relatively new boat building material.
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Old 06-22-2010
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True, nobody really knows how long glass boats last. Wood boats are up to 200 years old. How long are YOU gonna last?
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Old 06-22-2010
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One of the reasons the sailboat market tanked starting in the late 70s and early 80s was the realization that older sailboats work just as well as new ones with a little proper maintenance. They didn't act like cars where there was the push to upgrade to a new one after 10+ years as things started to really break. There are very few 20+ year old cars on the road on a regular basis. Fiberglass proved to be much more durable as the makers learned to their misfortune. How can you push someone to upgrade to the latest model SuperSailer 38 when the older SortaSailer 375 works just as well? Only so many ways to sell the same features.

My mother-in-law was shocked when I was talking about being perfectly fine buying a late 60s/early 70s or even 1980s era boat. She was taking a car approach where a 10+ year old car was basically shot. In the sailing world, buying a 20-30 year old boat is routine.

How long do they last? Well, like planes, if you want to do regular teardowns and rebuilds of a boat in distress on 20-30 year intervals, they can last theoretically forever. In normal use, the number one factor appears to be water penetration. Standing water INSIDE a hull for a year or two will do more to destroy a boat than it sitting in the water or on the hard for 40 years dry. Once water is allowed to sit and pool inside, the boat rots from the inside out. It's not so much the hull but everything attached to it. The hull eventually goes as water finds the weak spots, gets between and begins to delaminate but by then, the boat is usually beyond recovery short of full-up rebuild.

I would fully expect a modern era boat to be as seaworthy as its older counterparts. Construction techniques have changed but as long as the boat is taken care of to some reasonable standard, we'll be in the same situation in 2030 with 30-40 year old Beneteaus as we are now with 70-80s era Catalinas.

One of the reasons I like sailboats is they tend towards this longevity. It's seen as normal. It's knowing when to say "enough is enough" with a boat that's the hard part!

Matt
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Old 06-22-2010
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In a couple of thousand years, some archeologist will be digging and find one of our boats. They may be puzzled that some cultures choose such a primitive form of transportation, especially if they happen upon a 747 in the same carbon dated layer.

Not all boats are created equal, but there are some old boats out there that are built better than many of the new ones, IMHO.
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Old 06-22-2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mpickering View Post
How long do they last? Well, like planes, if you want to do regular teardowns and rebuilds of a boat in distress on 20-30 year intervals, they can last theoretically forever. In normal use, the number one factor appears to be water penetration. Standing water INSIDE a hull for a year or two will do more to destroy a boat than it sitting in the water or on the hard for 40 years dry. Once water is allowed to sit and pool inside, the boat rots from the inside out. It's not so much the hull but everything attached to it. The hull eventually goes as water finds the weak spots, gets between and begins to delaminate but by then, the boat is usually beyond recovery short of full-up rebuild.

Matt
Well, with a glass boat, it's kinda hard to do "teardowns and rebuilds" as it's a monocoque structure. I agree with your statement about standing water is the hull is wood, but with glass, osmotic blistering just happens if the boat is in the water.
As hulls have gotten thinner, the thing to remember is that glass doesn't respond well to repeated flexing- that's the most common mode driving failure after blisters. So a thick rigid layup may last 50 years but a newer thinner laminate may not.
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Old 06-22-2010
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Cool Up to a point, older is better

I expect my vintage 1974 Albin Vega will be sailing long after a new-in-2010 Hunter has gone to the landfill.

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Old 06-23-2010
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I think it's been answered, but simply put the sailboat will last as long as her owner maintains her to last. Good luck in your new foray, and of course around here you'll get encouraged at every step. IF, however, you get closer to realizing this little dream, be sure to invest in a thorough survey with a knowledgeable person who comes with plenty of positive recommendations. Spending a little money to find out you almost make a several thousand dollar mistake is priceless. Keep us informed of the process.
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