In the last article we discussed the pros and cons of fiberglass as a construction material for your first cruising sailboat. Aluminum and steel are also very popular choices, and each has it’s own benefits and drawbacks.
Aluminum hulls aren’t nearly as common as fiberglass but an aluminum hull is near the top of my list of things I’d like for my next, and final sailboat. Aluminum hulls are great because of their combination of light weight and strength. An aluminum hull has a very high strength to weight ratio which provides great safety. Aluminum hulls are harder to fabricate and require highly skilled metal workers and welders to build. Because of the skill level required and the additional work involved in building an aluminum boat versus a fiberglass boat, they are generally more expensive.
Some aluminum boats are left unpainted which cuts down on the upkeep. An unpainted aluminum hull will need very little upkeep as opposed to a painted or gel coated hull. If you don’t like the look of an unpainted hull then you’ll need to paint the boat and keep up with the ongoing care required, such as frequent waxing and repairing scratches.
Another consideration when considering aluminum hulls is the fact that they’re susceptible to corrosion from saltwater where as fiberglass isn’t. Aluminum hulls also require special bottom paint since the copper in most anti fouling bottom paints will react with the aluminum and corrode it. Even with these drawbacks I consider aluminum a great hull material due to it’s strength to weight ratio.
Steel hulls have many of the same drawbacks as aluminum with the additional drawback of being very heavy. The main benefit of a steel hull is it’s incredibly strong. Steel has the additional drawback of being very susceptible to corrosion and must be painted. The paint must be well maintained to avoid rapid deterioration. I wouldn’t personally consider a steel hull for cruising due to its weight and need for upkeep but it does fill a niche if you plan to cruise in areas where you’re likely to have collisions or run aground.
I think fiberglass or aluminum are both great choices for your first cruising boat as they’re both light and strong. Aluminum has exceptional strength but is generally a little more expensive and will require more maintenance than fiberglass. Fiberglass is far and away the most common hull material as well as the cheapest and easiest to maintain. I’d recommend staying away from steel unless you have specific reasons for needing an extra heavy strong hull.
In the next article I’ll discuss wood boats. Wood boats have been around the longest but aren’t commonly built for cruising anymore.
Photo By Lance Gettler – All Rights Reserved
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