Ask Sail: Steel vs. Fiberglass Hulls

I was raised sailing mainly on fiberglass boats. I am now preparing to purchase a bluewater boat that I can live aboard while doing some extensive cruising.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Bob Herbert Niles, Michigan

Q: I was raised sailing mainly on fiberglass boats. I am now preparing to purchase a bluewater boat that I can live aboard while doing some extensive cruising. Over the past few years I’ve kept an eye on the used-boat market to gauge prices for the sort of boats that will suit my needs. I expect to buy something within 10 months and need to settle a question to narrow my search. Does a steel hull require more maintenance than a fiberglass hull? My perception is that a steel boat might be significantly more work. Will chasing rust become a lifestyle if I buy a steel-hulled boat?

Don Casey Replies 

A: Steel hulls do have a high potential for corrosion, but modern construction techniques and coatings can reduce that risk significantly. Unfortunately, many steel boats on the used-boat market will be short on such protection. Even if you know the construction pedigree of a particular steel boat, coating life varies widely. The most corrosion-prone areas are often hidden beneath tanks, machinery and furniture and are hard to inspect.

A steel hull does require more attention, but may not cost more to maintain if you have time do the work yourself. When you see a steel hull that shows no signs of rust, you can be sure that the owner has been exceedingly vigilant in maintaining the boat. If you become the owner, the same vigilance will be required of you. A fiberglass hull can wait months or years for attention, but the unrelenting nature of corrosion will severely punish the slothful steel-boat owner. If keeping a weather eye out for rust and dealing with it instantly when you see it seems like extra work to you, steel is probably not your best choice.

Got a question for our experts? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com

Photo by Charles J. Doane

Related

BoatTalk-2048

VIDEO: Sailing Not just for Millionaires

Sailing and boating can come with a hefty price tag, but there are plenty of ways to get on the water without breaking the bank. In this episode of Boat Talk, SAIL's managing editor Lydia Mullan and Power & Motor Yacht's executive editor Charlie Levine share tips on getting out ...read more

Cornell-2048x

Elcano Challenge Resurrected

In late 2020, sailing legend Jimmy Cornell set off on his Elcano Challenge, a green-powered circumnavigation aboard the custom Outremer Aventura Zero. Unfortunately, shortly after setting out, the boat encountered major power-generation issues. "I took the decision to turn ...read more

F8V-BOOK-for-SAIL---1

Book Review: The Figure 8 Voyage

“What is the color of the ocean that rolls beneath Pacific trades? How does a wave curl and crash at 47 degrees south? Can an albatross remain awing in the worst of weathers?” Randall Reeves has always found images to be the most compelling part of the stories we tell about the ...read more

AC210117cb_23806

VIDEO: Capsize in the Prada Cup

American Magic's Patriot capsized during day three of the Prada Cup. If you haven't yet watched the catastrophe unfold with your own eyes, check out the above video or any number of others that are circulating on social media. It's truly a tip that has to be seen to be believed. ...read more

210115-AC36

Prada Cup: Brits Take First Two Races

Who saw that coming? After getting skunked in December, INEOS Team UK has swept the first two races in the Prada Cup elimination series of the 36th America’s Cup  Racing took place on racecourse “C,” sheltered between Auckland’s North Head and Bastion Point to take advantage of ...read more

ac-2048x

Hutchinson: 36th America’s Cup will be a Close On

On the eve of the Prada Cup challenger series, the official start of the 36th America’s Cup, New York Yacht Club American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson says it’s anyone’s game. "As we've seen in the last week, everyone's gotten faster," said Hutchinson said at the event’s ...read more

Episode1_Thumbnail4_00000_00000_00000_00000

Sailing Docuseries Released Online

Endless Media's Reaching Reality is the story of three friends, a 24-foot sailboat and 1,200 miles. With candor and humor, this series proves that you don't need to be an expert or a millionaire to cast off on the journey of a lifetime. Produced by Emmy-award winner Barry ...read more

01-LEAD-nder-sail-3

Prepping for a Transatlantic

Growing up on the coast of northern England, I dreamed about crossing oceans on my own boat. Like most of us, though, education, a family and a career took precedence, and before I knew it, we had mortgages, young children and endless work obligations. We also became landlocked, ...read more