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Old 01-27-2015
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Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

I'm in the market for a bigger boat. I'm mostly considering a fiberglass hull around 38' to 41'. My price range is going to dictate that I purchase something from the 1980s. It would be ideal that once I make this purchase, that this will be the last boat purchase that I make for the rest of my days. Unless I win the lottery or something. I am 31 years old. I am wandering if it is realistic to think that a boat that is around 30 years old will last another 40 years? There are a ton of production boats out there from the 1980s. What is a reasonable expectation of the lifespan of these boats if well maintained and barring any major accidents? I will have it in saltwater conditions. Also, I am wandering what big ticket replacement/maintenance cost are in the pipeline for a boat from the 80s? I know that is a question that should really be asked about a specific boat and design, but I am thinking more broadly. Are there major items that will need to be done to almost all boats as they age?
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Old 01-27-2015
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

The jury is still out. Most boats built up to 1972 were solid fiberglass. The energy crisis of the 70's saw the innovation of cored hulls. Which some cored hulls were plagued by osmosis, C and C come to mind but I would not let that stop me from buying a boat as it is reparable and mitigated by a good barrier coat of epoxy. I digress, the big killer is stress on cored hulls, but a well designed interior with well placed supports well tabbed to the hull will keep flex to a minimum. Hulls move even thick solid fiberglass hulls will flex.
One thing is for sure UV is hard on fiberglass and will deteriorate. I found this interesting article recently. If you look at the table of the coast guard vessel it is interesting to note the hull actually gained strength in tensile testing at the 20 year mark. so far there is only antidotal evidence. There are lot of 60's/70's vintage boats around still sailing. I have redone two boats of that era. the wood interiors suffer most so I just rip 'em out and redo. of note the fiberglass tabbing has held well just the wood has rotted.
I so no reason why an 80's vintage boat will not last another 50-75 years atleast . Just be careful as not all boats of that time are created equal. I would get a good structural survey done not an insurance survey they do differ.

ericgreeneassociates.com/images/Boat_Longevity.pdf
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Old 01-27-2015
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

Quote:
It would be ideal that once I make this purchase, that this will be the last boat purchase that I make for the rest of my days.
This is the part that I would "not" worry about....

Unless you are extremely lucky (or pig headed) the "first" boat you buy will not be your last...You will out grow it, or it will out grow your needs or...your just gonna want something different cause there are so many choices out there...

It's not like a marriage...and even if it was, less than half of them last 30-40 years....no matter how much you put into them...

(I've got 37 years in mine....marriage...not the boat)
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Last edited by Squidd; 01-27-2015 at 10:08 AM.
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Old 01-27-2015
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

The big ticket items for boats of that era will depend on how well the boat was cared for. from my experience it has been power plants and electrical, sails, standing and running rigging typically get replaced. If you have dated electronics they will have to go. Through hulls I always replace as they usually have the wrong valves on them. water and head hoses also. It all depends if previous skippers kept the boat up to date.
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Old 01-27-2015
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

You are right in assuming that it is kind of a loaded question...

As are most responses "it depends."
A 1980s plastic boat certainly can get many more years out of it. Not unusual to find 40 and 50 year old plastic boats, however, many of the layups are different in boats 40 and 50 years old. It wasn't uncommon for boats to be solid glass in that vintage... however the layups also had various designs that were more prone to osmotic blistering. Depending on in what stage you catch your boat in, that can be a pretty minor issue though.

So that gets you 10-20ish more years out of a NOW 30yo boat, assuming you address any immediate problems, and keep up with preventing new ones. That should include an annual haul-out, blister seek, patch and repair and bottom touch ups. I would hope 20 more years is a good number for you... if 20 is possible, 30 or 40 might ALSO be possible. HOWEVER, I've not heard of many people buying a boat and keeping it that many years. The reasons for it have more to do with WANT, or NEED changing, than the boat not being able to survive. Sadly lack of use, and neglect is a very common reason for boats to not make it as long as you propose. That is not picking on owners... peoples lives change, sometimes they move on to other things, sometimes they are required to move on. Before a bunch of people hop on and say they've had their boat 40 years... I KNOW it happens, but it's more an exception to the rule.

Now you ask what are the most common repairs ongoing for a 30yo boat (that you want to keep for 10-20 more years)? What are normal upgrades, and timeliness?

Simple ones?

running rigging every 5 years or so... (expect running rigging on a NOW 30yo boat to not have been touched so it'll likely need it now).

standing rigging every 10 years or so (expect standing rigging to be older than 10yo on a 30yo boat, yes it's not uncommon to find original rigging on a 30yo boat).

Some blocks, and hardware will have seized and need replaced - that's an inspect and replace kind of thing.

Rebedding most deck hardware should be done every "couple" years... some would say every 2, some would say every 5... static things like winches might make the longer duration, chainplates, splinlocks, genoa tracks, and mainsail travelers might require the shorter durations... as might stanchion bases. Expect the prior owner to not have done any of it.

Gelcoat cracks are a biggy, and can lead to core damage if not addressed, worse if it's a balsa/wood core... still a problem if it's corecell or the like.
rudder bushings...

motor mounts - there are a plethora of motor maintenance items depends on motor and type this could be a novel in and of itself.

Lets not forget sails... people love to keep 30yo sails on a boat, but truth is the boat will just perform much better if you sail your boat with any frequency at all, with a refresh of sails. Cruising sails should be replaced on a 5-8 year schedule, and yes ones used less frequently can be put off longer... but for example your everyday mainsail, should get a refresh on the early side of that schedule. No I don't recommend retiring them at 5 years, but having a new and a backup isn't a bad thing. You can stretch that cycle time some if you are very careful, and take extra care storing your sails (and folding/cleaning etc).

Those are just the obvious things I can think of. I've not included other wear items like cushions, anchor chain and rode, woodwork, appliances... etc.
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Old 01-27-2015
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

I currently own a fibreglass boat built in 1977, so it is approaching 40 years old. The fibreglass is in fine shape. I can see no sign of significant deterioration. UV damage, for sure, but the hull is fine, and it's even cored (airex). However, I don't think all boats are created equal. Good design and build quality matters. I know this will land me in hot water, but I bet my Rafiki will outlast many of the big-name production boats being made today.

Maintenance and upgrades are essential to keeping any boat functioning well. For any old boat I would look critically at all structural factors, but then focus in on deck hardware, standing rigging, rudder, and keel. If the mast is deck-stepped, look carefully at the support structure. Most boats will have balsa-cored decks, and most older boats will have some water intrusion into this core. Stop the leaks and repair what is needed. Finally, look critically at the plumbing and electrical.

Of course, the disposables (sails, running rigging, electronics, pumps, etc.) will all have to be replaced over time. This is true for boats of any age.

All this said, I agree with Squidd. It's very unlikely that this will be your final boat. Very likely this first boat will teach you what you really want in "the" boat. I always recommend that first-time buyers get an inexpensive, solid older boat in the 25 to 30 foot range. Go cruising/sailing as much as possible. Learn what you like, and what you don't like. This boat will teach you what is important for your style of sailing/cruising.

THEN go buy your ideal boat (and probably start all over again )
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Old 01-27-2015
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

Well, let's see. In 1974 I was 31, married, no children and living in Naples Italy (U.S.Army) where I received my first formal sail training. Since then I completed three more east coast military assignments, sailed the Barnegat and Chessapeake bays, retired, opened a bike shop in Texas, put two children through college, have three grandsons sold the bike shop and am sailing the third boat I've owned. There are very few things in my life now that we're there in 1974. Mainly my wife and a few household items. So don't sweat the 30-40 year thing, you can't possibly project the future that accurately. Get a boat you really like, that you can afford to keep and is appropriate for where you will be sailing now.
Remember Alvin Toffler, he was right.
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Old 01-27-2015
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

As others have said, the age of a reasonably well built fiberglass boat isn't really a known factor, yet. My boats glass hull and decks are 53 years old and show no signs of diminishing structural strength.

The design of the boat may have more of a say on how long a sailboat is useful. Look for qualities in the style and build that keep it popular, decade after decade.

Look for boat designs that tend to keep owners long term. That may be due to many factors. Size may be important to general owner satisfaction, make sure it's the right size for you.

How the boat performs under sail may be a big factor in why some are kept decade after decade.

The age you're looking it is tricky as to the life of expensive parts, like engines.

When you've picked out some likely design candidates, if you want the most bang for your buck, buy the best example;nicely upgraded and well cared for.

It will be more expensive up front, but the payback- in comparison to a project - boat, will be enormous.

Having given my two cents, I bought a boat that needed a lot of work. 15 years later, I hope to keep sailing it for another 15 anyway, it's that much of a pleasure to sail. My boats previous owner sailed it for 35 years. Good luck!
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

What I haven't seen mentioned here is mast and deck. Old masts will eventually need replacing at a cost more than likely more than the price of a 1980's boat. Decks will also need work as the old core will eventually start to develop voids.
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Old 01-27-2015
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Re: Lifespan of Fiberglass Boats

Plenty of 1950's boats are still around, that is when they started becoming popular. I think a well maintained fiberglass boat should be able to last indefinitely. That maintenance will of course include painting periodically, so it is not like it is maintenance free. The fiberglass itself will last hundreds of years, and is it's biggest drawback, since there are more and more boats being put into landfills. A wood boat will decompose and good wood can be reclaimed an used for other things. Fiberglass will just sit in landfills and does not decompose.

By the way the core in hulls is not because of cost of resin, but is for strength and weight. Generally a performance item more than anything(IE C&C) There is no reason a cored hull section should last any less time than one that is solid. It is critical that the water tightness is maintained, but otherwise is not a disadvantage. Coring started well before the price of oil went up. The thick hulls on the 60's and 70's was not for strength, but more due to sloppy practices of not wetting out the fiberglass as efficiently as possible. Most of the more advanced processes were not used because labor and resin was cheap. Once the resin went up they started looking into things like vacuum bagging. It is not like that was not possible in the 70's it was more like they did not bother as it was not necessary.
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