Buying a boat: Which Material to choose?

The first question when buying a boat is to choose the right material. Boats on the market are either made of wood, steel, aluminum, ferrocement or fiberglass. The goal is to find a material that is affordable, durable, and easy to repair and maintain. Here are my thoughts on this and why I finally settled for a fiberglass boat:

Wood

I love wooden boats (I once stumbled upon this quote: “If god wanted us to build fiberglass boats, he would have planted fiberglass trees.”). However, as I am currently about as far from the ocean as you can get in Germany, I wont be able to give such a boat the proper care and maintenance it deserves. Also, sailing a wooden boat in the tropics, as I would like to do, is a constant fight with wood-eating worms and deterioration on deck due to heavy UV-exposure. So for now, it is wiser to stick to another material…

Steel

Steel is a good compromise between price (there are plenty of dirt-cheap steel-boats out there) and durability (it is probably your best bet if you happen to hit a floating container or a reef). However, I am not very familiar with the material (i.e. I do not know how to weld), and I have no experience on how to check whether a steal hull is sound or rusted through below the cement in the bilge. So I decided against this option…

Aluminum

Aluminum seems like the perfect material for a boat, especially if you do not care so much for the looks (but even then, there is always the option to paint the raw material…). It is strong as steel, light-weight and does not rust. Even though there are still problems like electrolysis, and welding aluminum is more complicated than steel, I would have probably chosen an aluminum hull, if I could have afforded it. Unfortunately though, such boats are out of my reach for now…

Ferrocement

Ferrocement sounds like an odd material for a boat. Why would you use concrete, a material that sounds like the boat would sink like a stone. Surprisingly, the material has proven to be quite useful for boatbuilding, if weight is not such an important factor. It is rather easy to build a boat in this way, and many home builders in the 70s have done so. The problem with the material is, that it is almost impossible to check its soundness. Water entering through hairline-cracks and corroding the steal-reinforcements does not sound like a safe choice. This is reflected in the price of such boats. It is not uncommon to find 50-60 foot boats for 20,000 Euros. Tempting, but I would not want to take the risk…

Fiberglass

So the remaining logical option is fiberglass. These boats are around for more than half a century now, and the material proved to be much more durable than anybody thought at the beginning. Of course there are problems such as osmosis or water-penetration and delamination on sandwich-cored hulls. But while these problems considerably lower the resale-value of a boat, I have never heard of a boat that sunk because of osmosis.

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  1. […] first decision was the material: wood, steel, aluminum, ferrocement, or fiberglass. Here is the reason why I chose to go with […]

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