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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I want to buy a used sailboat, but she's been in the water(freshwater) for 10 yrs. I don't think she's been out of the water during that time. I will double check with the owner to see if she's been taken out for maintenance, etc. What are possible problems that I should be concerned about? (The boat is fiberglass). If there is already a thread on this topic I apologize but I couldn't find one. How long can/should a fiberglass sailboat be in the water?
 

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I have a 23 yr old sailboat that gets hauled every year for the winter, but it has a 23 yr old fiberglass water tank that is never completely empty. It has plain water for at least 6 months and an antifreeze mixture the rest of the time. There doesn't seem to be any problem.

You may want to ask your surveyor this question. At minimum, you should have the boat hauled so the surveyor can check for moisture levels in the hull (and other potential surprises).
 

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As Fallard hints, leaving a boat in the water for long periods MAY promote absorption into the gelcoat and fiberglass layers, leading to high moisture levels in the different strata. This can be a problem if the moisture is present when the temperature drops below freezing. The water expands as it freezes, and blows the layers apart. This results in delamination - a real weakening of the structure wherever it occurs, because things that were supposed to be held together aren't any more. This is less of a problem with solid fiberglass than with boats built with a core (balsa, foam, or whatever) with layers of fiberglass on both sides. You don't say what kind of boat you're dealing with, so moisture absorption may or may not be a big deal.

Leaving a boat in the water for a long time can also cause osmotic blisters. This happens when water seeps into microscopic cracks in the gelcoat, and reacts with the chemicals it finds there. The result is blisters in the gelcoat. This can also affect the structural integrity of the hull if they are big: eventually one or more of them could cause a leak. Osmotic blisters can be fixed by popping them and filling them with an epoxy filler, or in severe cases, by stripping the entire gelcoat and re-applying one, along with an epoxy barrier coat to prevent it from ever happening again.
So..... leaving the boat in the water for a really long time could cause problems. Or it might not. As fallard suggests, you can have the boat hauled and see if any of the problems actually exist. If they don't, no problem. If they do, then you'll know.
 

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My 10 year old boat has been in the water (ocean) for 10 years, except for 1 week every 3 years for bottom paint. The 30 year old boat next to me has been in the water for 30 years etc., etc.
So, is the boat painted and kept clean or is it growing a long green beard ?
Hard to give you an answer without more information.
 

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As Fallard hints, leaving a boat in the water for long periods MAY promote absorption into the gelcoat and fiberglass layers, leading to high moisture levels in the different strata. This can be a problem if the moisture is present when the temperature drops below freezing. The water expands as it freezes, and blows the layers apart. This results in delamination - a real weakening of the structure wherever it occurs, because things that were supposed to be held together aren't any more. This is less of a problem with solid fiberglass than with boats built with a core (balsa, foam, or whatever) with layers of fiberglass on both sides. You don't say what kind of boat you're dealing with, so moisture absorption may or may not be a big deal.

Leaving a boat in the water for a long time can also cause osmotic blisters. This happens when water seeps into microscopic cracks in the gelcoat, and reacts with the chemicals it finds there. The result is blisters in the gelcoat. This can also affect the structural integrity of the hull if they are big: eventually one or more of them could cause a leak. Osmotic blisters can be fixed by popping them and filling them with an epoxy filler, or in severe cases, by stripping the entire gelcoat and re-applying one, along with an epoxy barrier coat to prevent it from ever happening again.
So..... leaving the boat in the water for a really long time could cause problems. Or it might not. As fallard suggests, you can have the boat hauled and see if any of the problems actually exist. If they don't, no problem. If they do, then you'll know.
Paulk has it partially right. The basis mechanism is that the gelcoat can allow water pass through to the structural fiberglass, even without microscopic cracks. If the water passes into the fiberglass laminate through a molecular exchange process called osmosis, it can cause the polyester resin (which was common a number of years ago) to dissolve and the laminate is no longer a laminate. Think of the glue between wood layers in plywood losing its adhesive properties. For a more technical explanation, see The Real Story of Osmosis Blistering.

In any case, somewhere in the 1990 timeframe vinylester resins came into use and these were more resistant to osmotic blistering. Epoxy resin is even more resistant, but is expensive and not commonly used. If you are looking at a newer boat, you might verify the kind of resin used in the fiberglass--at least for the hull. Better yet, if the boat has an epoxy barrier coat (e.g., Interlux 2000) below the waterline and usually applied over the gelcoat, you should be in good shape.
 

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Hey,

It's a boat. It's supposed to be in the water.

I assume / hope the boat has bottom paint that has been maintained (ie the boat has been hauled, old paint removed, fresh pain applied). If that is true, then there is nothing to worry about.

Of course you need to have the boat surveyed, and there may be blisters, but that could be true for a boat that is in the water for 6 months and stored on land for 6 months.

Good luck,
Barry
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank you for the input! It seems like the general consensus is that being in water for years effects different boats, in different bodies of water, in different places. At least now I can rest a little easier that being in the water for a decade is not "inherently" bad. I will definitely take her out of the water before I purchase.
 

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I agree. It's all about the maintenance. If its been regularly cleaned and hauled and painted than it can have spent every day of its life in the water. Most salt water boats do. I wouldn't let it negatively impact my decision at all. It could be better. I would rather have a well used and kept boat than one that has sat in someone's backyard for 10 years until they finally decide to sell it.
 
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