Choosing The Right Boat – Hull Materials & Used vs NewWhich Hull Material is Best?

Choosing The Right Boat – Hull Materials & Used vs NewWhich Hull Material is Best?

Again, there is no single answer, but there are definitely some factors to consider. The boats afloat these days are primarily fiberglass, some form of metal, or wood. Ferro-cement, carbon fiber, and other exotic compounds are in use, but they make up a small percentage of boats out there today so we will not be covering them here for practicality’s sake.

For those who really think they need a Kevlar hull or some other exotic synthetic be aware that the manufacture of these compounds involves boiling a type of plastic composite in a vat of sulphuric acid.

Not a very green process.

  FIBERGLASS 

NEW FIBERGLASS BOATS

Fiberglass is the most popular hull material out there for good reason. When laid up correctly fiberglass has a long lifespan and is relatively easy to maintain. From a green perspective, the interior of a fiberglass boat factory is about as environmentally unfriendly as any place you can find. Advances are being made all the time, but to this day most fiberglass workers still wear respirators on the job. Most, if not all of the chemicals used in laying up fiberglass are carcinogenic.

If you choose to get a new fiberglass boat the environmental impact of its production will vary from manufacturer. Making anything from fiberglass involves applying a chemical mixture of liquid resins and hardeners to woven sheets of soft fiberglass matting. Once the liquids are applied, the saturated fabric is allowed to dry, solidifying into a hard, durable surface.  The ability to mold the fabric into almost any shape, and the nearly impenetrable nature of the finished product make fiberglass an ideal material for boat building.
The potential for environmental damage in this process arises from the toxic chemicals that go into the liquids involved, and the noxious fumes that are released when they are being used. Unfortunately, the degree of sophistication you will find from boat maker to boat maker can vary a great deal.
The use of fiberglass materials is regulated by numerous government agencies, primarily the Environmental Protection Agency. Like most EPA standards, however, what the law allows and what is good for the planet are two very different things.
On the most offensive end there are boat-yards that play fast and loose with the rules, meeting the minimum requirements for both environmental and worker safety. An unannounced visit to these careless facilities may reveal open containers of resin, storage and work areas that allow fumes to escape to the open air,  workers wearing cheap dust masks instead of respirators, and a general disregard for containing toxic material.  If you are having a boat built by a custom yard, or live near a manufacturing facility for a mass-produced line, take the time to drop in and check the place out. The impressions you get from a half hour physical inspection will be immensely more valuable than any marketing brochure.
If a visit is impossible, some quick questions asked of the manufacturer, in writing, with the replies requested in writing as well, will provide some valuable clues as to how green your prospective shipwright really is. The reason for asking for answers in writing is two-fold.
First, when dealing with potentially toxic substances, manufacturers are usually quite aware of the liability they face if they exaggerate or fabricate their claims. It is all too easy for a good salesman to tell you his boats are made in an environmentally friendly shop. It is another thing all together to have him put it in writing.
The second reason for asking for a written response is that it usually raises the level of awareness among upper management.  Most letters or emails from customers end up on the desk of someone in a position to influence company policy. When a smart business owner gets a dozen requests a month, in writing, from customers inquiring about his company’s environmental practices something good is likely to happen.  
Examples of the type of questions to ask are shown below.

What measure does your company take in the production process to minimize the exposure of your workers and the environment to toxic materials?
 

-A good answer will list specific tools and techniques used.
-A bad answer will lack specifics, sound fluffy but lack substance.

What type of application process do you use when applying the hull’s initial gel coat?

 
 
 

 

The gel-coat is your boat’s exterior surface that comes in contact with the air or water. Like your body’s skin, gel coat is designed to protect the structural layers beneath.

-A good answer will involve the latest technology being used to make sure the lamination process is done to exacting standards of thickness using low pressure, airless-assist equipment. These systems reduce airborne emissions significantly.
–A bad answer will be that the company relies on traditional, i.e. outdated, completely hand applied techniques where the workers eyeball how much material to apply. This approach usually results in more chemicals being used than necessary and an uneven gel coat thickness.

 What type of lamination process does your facility employ?

Lamination involves laying out the flexible glass fabric and saturating it with resins and hardeners to form your boat’s structural core.

-A good answer will be that the builder uses pressure fed rollers to apply controlled amounts of material to the fabric. Vacuum tools that completely draw the liquids into the glass mesh  also ensure that only those chemicals that are necessary get used.
-A bad answer involves workers applying material with nothing more than fancy paint rollers.

What type of ventilation systems do you use when working with fiberglass compounds?

 
 
 

 

-A good answer will be that the company uses high speed fans and filtration devices in enclosed work areas to capture toxic fumes and ensure worker safety.
-A bad answer will be that everything is done in a big open area with open doors and windows as the primary means of ventilation.

What type of warranty do you offer on your hulls?

 
 
 

 

-A good answer is ten years or more. These guys are using the best equipment and can back it up.

-A bad answer is three years or less. Often these guys are hoping that by the time their construction defects become apparent it will be too late for you to come back to them for compensation.
 

This list of questions could go on and on. The general idea is to ask specific questions in search of specific answers. Softballs like “Is your company environmentally friendly?” won’t tell you anything of real value. The polluting boatyard that recycles worker’s soda cans can answer “Yes” to the previous question.
          I don’t mean to hammer on small boat yards that employ traditional techniques. Most of them do exceptional work. Unfortunately, however, the original procedures for working with fiberglass were developed 40 years or so ago, about the same time Big Tobacco was telling us smoking was good for us. As the times have changed, so has the need to use the latest technology when dealing with toxic materials. Today’s forward looking boatyards, whether small or large, need to recognize this fact by employing the newest technologies to minimize the toxins they release. Patronize those who do and avoid those who don’t. 

 
 
 

 

USED FIBERGLASS BOATS

If you go with a used fiberglass boat most of the environmental impact that went into your boat has already been felt.  Not only will you save a lot of money buying a used fiberglass boat, you can feel good knowing you are not adding any new toxic fumes to the world as well.
Many of the original fiberglass boats are floating fine today with no expiration date in sight. Unless you buy a used boat with a defect in the fiberglass, or unless you hit something, you can usually count on decades of useful service from a glass hull.
 When buying a used fiberglass boat your greatest enemy will be osmotic blistering. Numerous reasons exist for this boat-pox, but in every case it is bad news. Blistering, like the name implies, occurs when bubbles appear in your boat’s gel coat. These bubbles usually break, allowing water to penetrate into your boat’s core. If your boat has a wood or metal core this moisture can be especially deadly, causing rot, rust, and ultimately hull failure, i.e. your boat sinks.
Many boat owners accept blister repair as a necessary evil, and if you wake up one day with the problem you must fix it. For the prospective buyer, however, the best boat deal in the world is a bad deal if it involves blisters. These little demons have an evil habit of reforming every few years, forcing the responsible boater to keep sanding down gel coat and applying sealants and epoxies to try and heal the hull. Every time this process is performed fiberglass dust, and an assortment of bad stuff gets released in even the most careful facilities.
Keep life simple, if the boat you are thinking of buying has blisters, or if the surveyor thinks it’s only a matter of time, find yourself another boat.

THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT FIBERGLASS

Once you get past the trouble of making a fiberglass boat and conducting major repairs, the ongoing maintenance can be done with some of the greenest materials available.
We will cover this in depth later, but compared to metal, or wood, fiberglass is the easiest hull material to maintain by far. If you take the big picture view of what it costs the environment to responsibly construct and maintain a fiberglass boat over twenty years or so I believe you would find the impact to be less than that produced by either wood or metal craft.

METAL BOATS

 NEW METAL BOATS

Serious offshore sailors and hardcore fisherman often prefer metal boats to other hull options. If you end up grounded on a distant coral reef there  is nothing better than a thick piece of steel between you and the rocks. Boaters who plan on chasing fish through the shallows, or running their boats up on the beach for a barbecue will appreciate a metal hull that can handle stumps, rocks, and other obstacles that might crack a fiberglass or wood boat.
Metal boats are usually made from either steel or aluminum.

STEEL BOATS

Steel is the stronger than aluminum, but it is a maintenance nightmare, especially in salt water. Sooner or later a steel hull will begin to oxidize, or rust. Once this cycle begins it will be an ongoing fact of your boating life.
Paints and coatings exist which can slow the rust cycle, and we will cover them later, but the simple fact is a steel boat will require a lifelong commitment of time, work, and chemicals to keep it from sinking. Priming, painting, grinding and sanding your boat’s exterior will be a part of your life, or at least an expense you will pay for if you choose steel.
 On top of everything you must do to fight rust on the outside of a steel vessel, the interior of most steel boats  is usually treated with some pretty nasty anti-corrosive coatings. The resulting vapors that will be off-gassing into your boat’s cabin do not belong in the human body.

ALUMINUM BOATS

Aluminum, on the other hand is considered by many to be an ideal material for boat building. Unlike steel, aluminum does not usually corrode when exposed to salt water alone. All metals, however, including aluminum, can fall prey to corrosion caused by electrolysis. The essence of this problem is that under the right conditions, any metal can decompose if electrical currents from your boat, marina, or a stray power supply react with the metal in your boat and the water surrounding it. Electrolysis is particularly aggressive in salt water, but it can eat a freshwater boat too if conditions are right. Plenty of great work has been written on how to avoid, or at least minimize the effects of electrolysis. Get your hands on some of this info and take it to heart.

Aluminum is lightweight, strong, and flexible; all great qualities for a boat. Numerous tales have been told of aluminum boats surviving for days aground under circumstances that would have devoured most boats.

Aluminum needs very little maintenance. In fact, many aluminum boats are not painted at all above the waterline because the aluminum looks great unfinished and paint would require more maintenance than leaving the surface unfinished.
 The bad thing about aluminum boats is the damage caused by the creation of the alloy itself. Assembling the vessel itself is not the real problem from an environmental perspective, but the process of actually making aluminum is one of the most energy intensive procedures known to man. In addition to requiring an enormous amount of electrical power to make this stuff, the main component of aluminum, bauxite, must be dug out of the ground. Some of the Mother Earth’s worst scars have been inflicted by bauxite miners.
 In the Pacific Northwest alone, the aluminum industry consumes about one fifth of all the power generated by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). In addition to operating a nuclear power plant, BPA generates hydroelectric power from almost 30 massive dams that collectively have decimated the population of salmon and other aquatic life.

If you want to compare the impact of aluminum production vs. steel you might be able to argue that steel production does not produce quite the side effects of its lighter weight cousin, but it is a pretty hollow argument in my book. Take a tour through the Pennsylvania countryside if you need confirmation.
Prospective green boat buyers who do not want to support these industries should keep such issues in mind when considering a metal boat.

NEW METAL BOATS VS. USED

The same issues we discussed about new vs. used fiberglass carry over to metal boats.
If you are must have a new metal boat, either steel or aluminum, ask the hard questions, in writing.
If you go with a used model you are making a much smaller impact than buying new, but beware of the maintenance nightmare you are unleashing.

WOODEN BOATS

Wooden boats are in a class all by themselves. Who can resist the appeal of these traditional craft? The alluring glow of the wood, the soft creak as you walk the decks, and the obvious pride most wooden boat owners have for their vessels  make it easy to want to join the club.
At first glance wood would seem to be an ideal material for boat construction, and in fact for most of history it has been the obvious choice. Wood can be sustainably harvested, it is fairly easy to work with, and several varieties are particularly suited to marine work. Unfortunately, the benefits of using wood come to an end once a new vessel hits the water. I write this next section knowing full well it will incur the wrath of the wooden boat purists.
 The beauty and charm of a nice wooden boat has lured many an unsuspecting victim into buying these maintenance monsters. Wood and water do not mix, plain and simple.  It is ironic that the creation of such a remarkable substance as wood is absolutely dependant on water, while water, can get along quite nicely without wood. Once you put the two together, in constant contact, however the end is inevitable, water will win the battle every time.  The only way you can keep a wooden boat afloat is with perpetual maintenance and an active checkbook.
With the same appetite that She has for steel, Mother Nature is literally eating your wooden boat every day it is in the water. In temperate climates this destruction is caused primarily by the constant attack of fungi and bacteria. Left untreated, almost any wood exposed to water will be destroyed by these unseen invaders. In tropical climates, these beasties’ big brothers –  barnacles, bugs, and borers, will finish off an untreated boat much faster.
Through the centuries, boaters have devised various means to prevent this destruction, but in almost every case the treatment is not at all green. Heavy metal shields, chemical treatments, varnish, and toxic paint are just a few of the tools used to combat the wooden boat destroyers. Several exotic wood species show remarkable resistance to marine pests, Ironwood, Teak, and Mahogany to name a few. The endangered status of these remarkable trees is a sad testament to how little value previous and present generations have assigned to them.
If you are seduced by the allure of a wooden boat, good luck to you. There is currently no inexpensive, effective, green way to maintain these vessels unless you are willing to devote your life to them. About the only hope you have of maintaining a wooden boat in an environmentally friendly manner is if it is small enough to routinely remove it from the water. Obvious examples are wood canoes and rowboats that live out their years upside down on blocks or in a boathouse.  
Small inboard and outboard vessels can be hauled out with electric boat lifts you can install right on your dock. Expect to spend at least a few thousand dollars for a good lift, and then plan on maintaining it through the years. If you do go this route be very careful with the wiring. It should go without saying that electricity and water don’t mix. As obvious as this wisdom is, tragic examples abound of people, especially children, getting electrocuted because a fitting shook loose and wires hit the water. I don’t mean to discourage those of you looking to keep your boat out of the water, just realize it will require time, maintenance, and money.
 For big wooden sailboats and cruisers, however, the picture is grim. Unless money is no object and you are willing to haul your boat out of the water each season to perform expensive friendly maintenance you should avoid a wooden boat. The sad reality for most green boaters is that without a constant regimen of applying something toxic to prevent your boat from being devoured, the most you can hope for is a few years of enjoyment followed by the slow death of your dream.
Recent advancements in non-toxic epoxy coatings show some promise in helping to preserve these classic treasures. It is my sincere hope that future editions of this blog will be rewritten with a new section on eco-friendly solutions to the age old death rot that claims so many wooden boats. As I Type these words, however, there are not any widely available options that I can endorse.

 NEW WOOD BOATS vs USED

See the previous comments on metal and fiberglass for the gist of what type of environmental impact you can expect when asking the new vs used question about wooden boats.

If by some miracle you have a few thousand board feet of cured teak, oak, mahogany, ironwood, or something similar that grandpa left you out in the barn, I can’t think of a better use for this treasure than turning it into a boat if your heart is set on  a wooden craft.

If, on the other hand, you plan to be the agent of destruction for an endangered species of tree just so you can have a shiny new toy, well, that’s an easy one.

Choosing The Right Boat – Hull Materials & Used vs New

Which Hull Material is Best?
Again, there is no single answer, but there are definitely some factors to consider. The boats afloat these days are primarily fiberglass, some form of metal, or wood. Ferro-cement, carbon fiber, and other exotic compounds are in use, but they make up a small percentage of boats out there today so we will not be covering them here for practicality’s sake.

For those who really think they need a Kevlar hull or some other exotic synthetic be aware that the manufacture of these compounds involves boiling a type of plastic composite in a vat of sulphuric acid.

Not a very green process.
 

 
  FIBERGLASS 

NEW FIBERGLASS BOATS
Fiberglass is the most popular hull material out there for good reason. When laid up correctly fiberglass has a long lifespan and is relatively easy to maintain. From a green perspective, the interior of a fiberglass boat factory is about as environmentally unfriendly as any place you can find. Advances are being made all the time, but to this day most fiberglass workers still wear respirators on the job. Most, if not all of the chemicals used in laying up fiberglass are carcinogenic.

If you choose to get a new fiberglass boat the environmental impact of its production will vary from manufacturer. Making anything from fiberglass involves applying a chemical mixture of liquid resins and hardeners to woven sheets of soft fiberglass matting. Once the liquids are applied, the saturated fabric is allowed to dry, solidifying into a hard, durable surface.  The ability to mold the fabric into almost any shape, and the nearly impenetrable nature of the finished product make fiberglass an ideal material for boat building.
The potential for environmental damage in this process arises from the toxic chemicals that go into the liquids involved, and the noxious fumes that are released when they are being used. Unfortunately, the degree of sophistication you will find from boat maker to boat maker can vary a great deal.
The use of fiberglass materials is regulated by numerous government agencies, primarily the Environmental Protection Agency. Like most EPA standards, however, what the law allows and what is good for the planet are two very different things.
On the most offensive end there are boat-yards that play fast and loose with the rules, meeting the minimum requirements for both environmental and worker safety. An unannounced visit to these careless facilities may reveal open containers of resin, storage and work areas that allow fumes to escape to the open air,  workers wearing cheap dust masks instead of respirators, and a general disregard for containing toxic material.  If you are having a boat built by a custom yard, or live near a manufacturing facility for a mass-produced line, take the time to drop in and check the place out. The impressions you get from a half hour physical inspection will be immensely more valuable than any marketing brochure.
If a visit is impossible, some quick questions asked of the manufacturer, in writing, with the replies requested in writing as well, will provide some valuable clues as to how green your prospective shipwright really is. The reason for asking for answers in writing is two-fold.
First, when dealing with potentially toxic substances, manufacturers are usually quite aware of the liability they face if they exaggerate or fabricate their claims. It is all too easy for a good salesman to tell you his boats are made in an environmentally friendly shop. It is another thing all together to have him put it in writing.
The second reason for asking for a written response is that it usually raises the level of awareness among upper management.  Most letters or emails from customers end up on the desk of someone in a position to influence company policy. When a smart business owner gets a dozen requests a month, in writing, from customers inquiring about his company’s environmental practices something good is likely to happen.  
Examples of the type of questions to ask are shown below.
What measure does your company take in the production process to minimize the exposure of your workers and the environment to toxic materials?
 
-A good answer will list specific tools and techniques used.
-A bad answer will lack specifics, sound fluffy but lack substance.
What type of application process do you use when applying the hull’s initial gel coat?

 

 

  

 

The gel-coat is your boat’s exterior surface that comes in contact with the air or water. Like your body’s skin, gel coat is designed to protect the structural layers beneath.
-A good answer will involve the latest technology being used to make sure the lamination process is done to exacting standards of thickness using low pressure, airless-assist equipment. These systems reduce airborne emissions significantly.
–A bad answer will be that the company relies on traditional, i.e. outdated, completely hand applied techniques where the workers eyeball how much material to apply. This approach usually results in more chemicals being used than necessary and an uneven gel coat thickness.

 What type of lamination process does your facility employ?

 

Lamination involves laying out the flexible glass fabric and saturating it with resins and hardeners to form your boat’s structural core.
-A good answer will be that the builder uses pressure fed rollers to apply controlled amounts of material to the fabric. Vacuum tools that completely draw the liquids into the glass mesh  also ensure that only those chemicals that are necessary get used.
-A bad answer involves workers applying material with nothing more than fancy paint rollers.

What type of ventilation systems do you use when working with fiberglass compounds?

 

 

  

 

-A good answer will be that the company uses high speed fans and filtration devices in enclosed work areas to capture toxic fumes and ensure worker safety.
-A bad answer will be that everything is done in a big open area with open doors and windows as the primary means of ventilation.
What type of warranty do you offer on your hulls?

 

 

 

  

 

-A good answer is ten years or more. These guys are using the best equipment and can back it up.

-A bad answer is three years or less. Often these guys are hoping that by the time their construction defects become apparent it will be too late for you to come back to them for compensation.
 

This list of questions could go on and on. The general idea is to ask specific questions in search of specific answers. Softballs like “Is your company environmentally friendly?” won’t tell you anything of real value. The polluting boatyard that recycles worker’s soda cans can answer “Yes” to the previous question.
          I don’t mean to hammer on small boat yards that employ traditional techniques. Most of them do exceptional work. Unfortunately, however, the original procedures for working with fiberglass were developed 40 years or so ago, about the same time Big Tobacco was telling us smoking was good for us. As the times have changed, so has the need to use the latest technology when dealing with toxic materials. Today’s forward looking boatyards, whether small or large, need to recognize this fact by employing the newest technologies to minimize the toxins they release. Patronize those who do and avoid those who don’t. 

 

 

  

 

USED FIBERGLASS BOATS

 

If you go with a used fiberglass boat most of the environmental impact that went into your boat has already been felt.  Not only will you save a lot of money buying a used fiberglass boat, you can feel good knowing you are not adding any new toxic fumes to the world as well.
Many of the original fiberglass boats are floating fine today with no expiration date in sight. Unless you buy a used boat with a defect in the fiberglass, or unless you hit something, you can usually count on decades of useful service from a glass hull.
 When buying a used fiberglass boat your greatest enemy will be osmotic blistering. Numerous reasons exist for this boat-pox, but in every case it is bad news. Blistering, like the name implies, occurs when bubbles appear in your boat’s gel coat. These bubbles usually break, allowing water to penetrate into your boat’s core. If your boat has a wood or metal core this moisture can be especially deadly, causing rot, rust, and ultimately hull failure, i.e. your boat sinks.
Many boat owners accept blister repair as a necessary evil, and if you wake up one day with the problem you must fix it. For the prospective buyer, however, the best boat deal in the world is a bad deal if it involves blisters. These little demons have an evil habit of reforming every few years, forcing the responsible boater to keep sanding down gel coat and applying sealants and epoxies to try and heal the hull. Every time this process is performed fiberglass dust, and an assortment of bad stuff gets released in even the most careful facilities.
Keep life simple, if the boat you are thinking of buying has blisters, or if the surveyor thinks it’s only a matter of time, find yourself another boat.
THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT FIBERGLASS
Once you get past the trouble of making a fiberglass boat and conducting major repairs, the ongoing maintenance can be done with some of the greenest materials available.
We will cover this in depth later, but compared to metal, or wood, fiberglass is the easiest hull material to maintain by far. If you take the big picture view of what it costs the environment to responsibly construct and maintain a fiberglass boat over twenty years or so I believe you would find the impact to be less than that produced by either wood or metal craft.
 

 

 
METAL BOATS
 NEW METAL BOATS

Serious offshore sailors and hardcore fisherman often prefer metal boats to other hull options. If you end up grounded on a distant coral reef there  is nothing better than a thick piece of steel between you and the rocks. Boaters who plan on chasing fish through the shallows, or running their boats up on the beach for a barbecue will appreciate a metal hull that can handle stumps, rocks, and other obstacles that might crack a fiberglass or wood boat.
Metal boats are usually made from either steel or aluminum.

STEEL BOATS
Steel is the stronger than aluminum, but it is a maintenance nightmare, especially in salt water. Sooner or later a steel hull will begin to oxidize, or rust. Once this cycle begins it will be an ongoing fact of your boating life.
Paints and coatings exist which can slow the rust cycle, and we will cover them later, but the simple fact is a steel boat will require a lifelong commitment of time, work, and chemicals to keep it from sinking. Priming, painting, grinding and sanding your boat’s exterior will be a part of your life, or at least an expense you will pay for if you choose steel.
 On top of everything you must do to fight rust on the outside of a steel vessel, the interior of most steel boats  is usually treated with some pretty nasty anti-corrosive coatings. The resulting vapors that will be off-gassing into your boat’s cabin do not belong in the human body.
ALUMINUM BOATS

Aluminum, on the other hand is considered by many to be an ideal material for boat building. Unlike steel, aluminum does not usually corrode when exposed to salt water alone. All metals, however, including aluminum, can fall prey to corrosion caused by electrolysis. The essence of this problem is that under the right conditions, any metal can decompose if electrical currents from your boat, marina, or a stray power supply react with the metal in your boat and the water surrounding it. Electrolysis is particularly aggressive in salt water, but it can eat a freshwater boat too if conditions are right. Plenty of great work has been written on how to avoid, or at least minimize the effects of electrolysis. Get your hands on some of this info and take it to heart.

Aluminum is lightweight, strong, and flexible; all great qualities for a boat. Numerous tales have been told of aluminum boats surviving for days aground under circumstances that would have devoured most boats.
Aluminum needs very little maintenance. In fact, many aluminum boats are not painted at all above the waterline because the aluminum looks great unfinished and paint would require more maintenance than leaving the surface unfinished.


 The bad thing about aluminum boats is the damage caused by the creation of the alloy itself. Assembling the vessel itself is not the real problem from an environmental perspective, but the process of actually making aluminum is one of the most energy intensive procedures known to man. In addition to requiring an enormous amount of electrical power to make this stuff, the main component of aluminum, bauxite, must be dug out of the ground. Some of the Mother Earth’s worst scars have been inflicted by bauxite miners.
 In the Pacific Northwest alone, the aluminum industry consumes about one fifth of all the power generated by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). In addition to operating a nuclear power plant, BPA generates hydroelectric power from almost 30 massive dams that collectively have decimated the population of salmon and other aquatic life.
If you want to compare the impact of aluminum production vs. steel you might be able to argue that steel production does not produce quite the side effects of its lighter weight cousin, but it is a pretty hollow argument in my book. Take a tour through the Pennsylvania countryside if you need confirmation.
Prospective green boat buyers who do not want to support these industries should keep such issues in mind when considering a metal boat.

NEW METAL BOATS VS. USED

The same issues we discussed about new vs. used fiberglass carry over to metal boats.
If you are must have a new metal boat, either steel or aluminum, ask the hard questions, in writing.
If you go with a used model you are making a much smaller impact than buying new, but beware of the maintenance nightmare you are unleashing.

WOODEN BOATS
Wooden boats are in a class all by themselves. Who can resist the appeal of these traditional craft? The alluring glow of the wood, the soft creak as you walk the decks, and the obvious pride most wooden boat owners have for their vessels  make it easy to want to join the club.
At first glance wood would seem to be an ideal material for boat construction, and in fact for most of history it has been the obvious choice. Wood can be sustainably harvested, it is fairly easy to work with, and several varieties are particularly suited to marine work. Unfortunately, the benefits of using wood come to an end once a new vessel hits the water. I write this next section knowing full well it will incur the wrath of the wooden boat purists.
 The beauty and charm of a nice wooden boat has lured many an unsuspecting victim into buying these maintenance monsters. Wood and water do not mix, plain and simple.  It is ironic that the creation of such a remarkable substance as wood is absolutely dependant on water, while water, can get along quite nicely without wood. Once you put the two together, in constant contact, however the end is inevitable, water will win the battle every time.  The only way you can keep a wooden boat afloat is with perpetual maintenance and an active checkbook.
With the same appetite that She has for steel, Mother Nature is literally eating your wooden boat every day it is in the water. In temperate climates this destruction is caused primarily by the constant attack of fungi and bacteria. Left untreated, almost any wood exposed to water will be destroyed by these unseen invaders. In tropical climates, these beasties’ big brothers –  barnacles, bugs, and borers, will finish off an untreated boat much faster.
Through the centuries, boaters have devised various means to prevent this destruction, but in almost every case the treatment is not at all green. Heavy metal shields, chemical treatments, varnish, and toxic paint are just a few of the tools used to combat the wooden boat destroyers. Several exotic wood species show remarkable resistance to marine pests, Ironwood, Teak, and Mahogany to name a few. The endangered status of these remarkable trees is a sad testament to how little value previous and present generations have assigned to them.
If you are seduced by the allure of a wooden boat, good luck to you. There is currently no inexpensive, effective, green way to maintain these vessels unless you are willing to devote your life to them. About the only hope you have of maintaining a wooden boat in an environmentally friendly manner is if it is small enough to routinely remove it from the water. Obvious examples are wood canoes and rowboats that live out their years upside down on blocks or in a boathouse.  
Small inboard and outboard vessels can be hauled out with electric boat lifts you can install right on your dock. Expect to spend at least a few thousand dollars for a good lift, and then plan on maintaining it through the years. If you do go this route be very careful with the wiring. It should go without saying that electricity and water don’t mix. As obvious as this wisdom is, tragic examples abound of people, especially children, getting electrocuted because a fitting shook loose and wires hit the water. I don’t mean to discourage those of you looking to keep your boat out of the water, just realize it will require time, maintenance, and money.
 For big wooden sailboats and cruisers, however, the picture is grim. Unless money is no object and you are willing to haul your boat out of the water each season to perform expensive friendly maintenance you should avoid a wooden boat. The sad reality for most green boaters is that without a constant regimen of applying something toxic to prevent your boat from being devoured, the most you can hope for is a few years of enjoyment followed by the slow death of your dream.
Recent advancements in non-toxic epoxy coatings show some promise in helping to preserve these classic treasures. It is my sincere hope that future editions of this blog will be rewritten with a new section on eco-friendly solutions to the age old death rot that claims so many wooden boats. As I Type these words, however, there are not any widely available options that I can endorse.
 NEW WOOD BOATS vs USED

 

See the previous comments on metal and fiberglass for the gist of what type of environmental impact you can expect when asking the new vs used question about wooden boats.
If by some miracle you have a few thousand board feet of cured teak, oak, mahogany, ironwood, or something similar that grandpa left you out in the barn, I can’t think of a better use for this treasure than turning it into a boat if your heart is set on  a wooden craft.
If, on the other hand, you plan to be the agent of destruction for an endangered species of tree just so you can have a shiny new toy, well, that’s an easy one.

 

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One Response to Choosing The Right Boat – Hull Materials & Used vs NewWhich Hull Material is Best?

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