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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest > General Discussion (sailing related) > Why are steel boats so cheap?
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Thread: Why are steel boats so cheap? Reply to Thread
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Topic Review (Newest First)
12-09-2006 10:22 AM
ianhlnd Not all steel boats are cheap, somebody mentioned perception of the product, and that's right. Nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers are made of steel. .. . . .they're not cheap. Different set of problems for different building materials. The Dutch make some very fine steel boats and are still in use after 50 years.
12-09-2006 02:01 AM
yotphix On second thought, ignore my advice to check out the metal boat forums and just read and reread the above post. That pretty much tells the story of how it ought to be done!

Recommended reading:
Steel Away by Lecain Smith and Sheila Moir. A little too much info at times but a good resource to help you get your head around it.
Metal Boat Building - A Heretic's Guide by Brent Swain. A fairly radical way to put together a good looking boat quite inexpensively. Also quite interesting for the instructions for a cable windlass, bow rollers, a watermaker and myriad other tidbits. Again, helps you open your eyes to the virtues of steel

Perhaps other's have some suggestions? I have my entire library in storage now and can't think of some of the other titles I have read.
12-09-2006 01:38 AM
Dawkahab My steel 47'round bilge schooner is 20 years old, primed with zinc rich epoxy,painted inside and out with high grade commercial quality epoxy, Devoe 235, and the exterior is finished with polyurethane. Insulated with 2" of blown in polyurethane foam,covered with a fire retardant coating. She is warm and dry in the winter thanks to a big diesel stove.lots of cowl vents in galvanized steel Dorade boxes keep her well ventilated, incidentally the galvanizing on the Dorades keeps the brass vents almost as shiny as when they were new.I use a Tides marine lipseal on both shaft and rudder so the only water inside is what I spill. Yes it requires care and maintainance, but I can spot a problem almost instantly and with a little cleanup reprimer 2 coats of epoxy and finish with polyuretane I am as good as new. I will blast her below the waterline and redo the coatings next year. As to galvanic corrosion, the answer is lots of zinc, about 300 pounds of it.( see Nigell Warren's " Metal Corrosion in Boats" You have to be careful with the electrical system to prevent stray current corrosion but you should be on any boat. An isolation transformer solves a lot of the green wire problem, I only have to worry about my own, not somebody down the dock who is sharing stray current with the entire harbor. I use a permanently installed silver/silver chloride reference cell and a milivolt meter to monitor galvanic condition. Yes she is heavy but having come from commercial boat background I consider that a plus. I am dry warm and comfortable in weather on the Pacific coast which has most plastic boats tied up to a dock. I have cruised in weather that would scare the bejezuz out of me in a light displacement glass boat, but then my wheel house windows are 1/2" tempered glass,( I was once in a fishboat that had the wheelhouse windows blown out and don't want to do that again) I have a hydraulic anchor winch that holds 900 feet of 1/2" wire and 100 feet of 1/2" chain with a 100 pound plus Bruce. She is gaff rigged and not much of a performer to windward but I don't expect her to be. Even my masts are steel, schedule 20 pipe tapered and hot dip galvanized. All the fittings are welded on, no fastenings to corrode or pull out. I have a hydraulicly powered capstan at the base of each mast to move the gaffs or anything else that is heavy. Rigging is 1/2" galvanized steel which does not suffer from crevice corrosion and shows any problems right away, there haven't been any as I wipe the stays and shrouds down with cable dressing every year. You can see she is steel as I couldn't bring myself to lay in buckets of fairing compound, so she shows her fish boat heritage. In any harbor she is the boat that everyone wants to come see. If I spent my time cruising inshelterd waters I probably would have a lighter glass boat, but in the winter Pacific Ocean when it is gusting 50+ with 20 foot seas I don,t worry about deck hull joints coming apart or chain plates pulling loose or any of that other worrisome or worse stuff. We just keep on going till we get to our intended port, dry, warm well fed and rested. Steel has it's drawbacks as does any medium but 20 years later I would do it again only bigger. The long and short of it is you have to do it right at the outset. "There is never enough time or money to do it right but plenty of both to do it over". The comments about surveys by knowledgeable professionals, thickness gauging and the rest are absolutely correct. Whatever your boat is built of you have to take care of her. Steel obviously isn't for everyone but it is strong and durable if properly maintained.
12-07-2006 05:50 AM
mandovai I met several dozens of steel boats owners around the world, and if many where saying that steel was the best material, most changed material when they changed boat. Mainly in direction of the more expensive marine aluminium, the rest in direction of grp boats. The fact is that building in steel brings an economy of not more than 15% for the whole boat. Boat is more heavy so you need bigger and stronger engine,rigging,winches,sails and so on. After 10-15 years it is time for sandblasting inside, and you will have to dismount the whole furniture for that messy job. Well, that is more an ideological choice than a logic one. But people can be happy on boats of any material and any size.Good luck.
12-07-2006 01:20 AM
yotphix Anyone interested in steel boats should spend some time here:
http://www.metalboatsociety.org/
Steel is a viable option for cruising sailors and like anything else it has pros and cons. Most are discussed in detail at the MBS forum and by people with a great deal of experience, including many steel builders and designers.
12-07-2006 12:37 AM
sailaway21 Boat building and ship building are two different animals. All modern ships are built with high-tensile steel and are thinner skinned but stronger than their forebearers. Ships undergo stresses that boats do not so the flexibility of the high-tensile is more desirous than any corrosion resistence. In fact, you are more likely to break a tanker in two from improper loading than you are for her to break up in a seaway. Corrosion is handled with by cathodic protection, coupled with a special hull paint compatible with same, where small amounts of electrical current are run through the hull to prevent corrosion.
Galvanic action is a huge consideration and ships that employ aluminum ladders and even aluminum superstructures must insulate them from the steel. The ubiqitous nylon washer is used for this. Aluminum lifeboats were abandoned many years ago for this exact reason. A crescent wrench left in the bilge of an aluminum lifeboat first shows up as a shadow on the hull of the boat, when viewed from deck, and some months later there is a crescent wrench size hole in the hull. Salt water exacerbates this tremendously.
Also ships are designed for a twenty to thirty year life span. A good size tanker pays for itself in three voyages.
A steel hulled boat would be a natural on the Great Lakes where there are ore-boat hulls running around that are pushing a century old and I'd much rather be dealing with ice in a steel hull than glass.
12-06-2006 10:51 AM
Jeff_H Steel boats are cheap partially based on perception, partially on reality. Studies of long term maintenance costs found steel to have one of the most, if not the be the most expensive life cycle cost for an equal quality level of finish. Steel boats are percieved as having a limited lifespan, partially because of the relatively large number of crudely built, poorly manintained steel boats that are out there. They are perceived as requiring constant attention to prevent small dings from becoming major rust. They are perceived as rusting out from the interior out requiring removal of the interior and replating at some regular interval.

Your boat would be seen as the exception.

But also, even on a well built steel boat, from a design standpoint, there is a real compromise in some combination of carrying capacity, strength, and/or stability associated with the weight of steel. Pound for pound, rather than analyzed by strength to unit area, steel is one of the weakest boat building marterials out there.

Respectfully,
Jeff
12-06-2006 09:32 AM
Goodnewsboy Steel boats are cheaper because sandblasting and painting them is expensive.
12-06-2006 05:29 AM
tdw The quality of the build is all important. Borrowing money and/or insuring a home made steel (or ferro) for that matter can be a nightmare. You need a survey that states that your boat is professionally built. Get that and all is fine but such a boat will definitely be more expensive that a home built clunker.
While modern coatings do indeed reduce the maintenance of steel it is nonetheless more maintenance intensive than plastic. You need to remember that a steel hull usually rusts from the inside out so it's most important that the bilges are kept good and dry. This will entail a super dooper stuffing box or you will be mopping out your bilges after every trip.
On the other hand a well placed "it's ok we're steel" is a quick and simple method of enforcing your right of way against a recalcitrant plastic fantastic.
Whatever you do , do not buy a cheap steel boat because you figure she will be a good fixer upper. That way lies madness, bankruptcy and a fire sale at the end of the day. Same goes for Timber and Ferro of course.

Raven is a Van de Stadt (34') and their boats are pretty good designs. There are plenty of other fine designers of steel boats although some of them are a bit love 'em or hate 'em visually.
06-25-2006 02:56 PM
sailbobs We have owned a steel boat for 3 years now and are very pleased with her. Modern coatings keep rust at bay and do not require inordinate maintenance. Steel boats have some very distinct advantages if they are built by knowlegeable builders. Some are listed below:
1.) Virually no hull and deck joint to leak or work in a seaway.
2.) All deck hardware can be attached with doubler plates so there are no through deck fittings to leak.
3.) Cleats are welded to the hull so they are super strong.
4.) Since the hull is all welded there is virtually no flexing and no noise.
5.) Steel boats should be insulated and are very comfortable in cold weather and warm.
6.) Super strength. Our boat was built under Loyds of London supervision by a reputable builder knowledgeble about steel so she is as good as new after twenty years.
When we purchased our boat we had a surveyor knowlegeable about steel go over her thoroughly. We had the former director of SAMS audio gauge her to determine wastage and there was none detected. Everyone brings up the subject of electrolisis, but there are a number of good books on the subject, and if properly maintained corrosion is not a problem. All the ships I know of are built of steel and they sail for years.

Bob Allen
s/v Callisto
sailbobs@yahoo.com
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