Rust Bucket! (steel boats)


Our family has been actively searching for the perfect boat to liveaboard and cruise.  A boat that will have plenty of space for 5 kids and at least 2 adults.

We seem to have been leaning towards mostly steel boats.  Lots of folks have said that steel is  maintenance intensive, a labor of love.  They say that you will spend a lot of time chasing rust.  We decided to get some perspective on the rust issue.  What better place to check out steel boats than, Historic Gloucester, America’s oldest fishing port.

We saw several steel fishing boats.  I was surprised by the extensive rust on some of these boats.  Wondered why they were so rusty?  Maybe commercial fisherman just don’t have the time to keep the rust at bay.  Maybe it is a loosing battle?  Maybe they are too busy fishing to constantly fight with rust?  Maybe they are hauled once a year to have the rust addressed? 






Some of the boats that we saw were in very good condition.  I also noticed that the smaller steel boats seemed to be in better condition than larger boats.




This was an interesting pic of a well cared for steel hull, right next to a not so well cared for hull .



We also stopped by Rocky Neck, which layes claim to the “Oldest Working Shipyard in America”.



A guy was there working on his boat;  prepping for paint.  Said it took him two days to sand the bottom.  It was cool to watch and brings the question, “What does it really take to keep a steel boat in good condition and rust free?”  How much rust maintenance is involved with steel PLEASURE boats?

I came across an interesting article in Passagemaker, “Cold Hard Steel“, in which Bill Parlatore explains that he spoke to Teresa and Richard Flowers of Custom Steel Boats in Merritt, North Carolina, in regard to steel boat rust maintenance. The Flowers family have been building steel and aluminum pleasure boats since 1981, although Teresa’s father, Richard Flowers, has been constructing steel tugs, ferries, and barges since 1948.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

When asked about rust, Teresa Flowers told me there are two words that spell the difference between long-lived cruising yachts and those that don’t make it: coatings and technique.

Coatings have come a long way since the early 1960s. Before that time, buying a steel boat was a potluck affair, as technology just did not exist to bond dissimilar metals properly or coat them adequately with durable finishes. Chipping away rust and endless paint schedules insured a solid relationship with the maintenance yard.

As a result, many older steel boats require an inordinate amount of attention to get protected and stay that way.

Steel vessels built in the 1960s and 1970s were coated with zinc primers, products still used today on many commercial and pleasure boats. The top paint coating of protection, however, produced a cosmetic appearance near a workboat finish, or required repainting somewhat frequently.

Around 1975, epoxy coating systems became better understood, and epoxy technology slowly made its way into boat yards. New epoxy coating systems proved to be a vastly superior surface coating if applied properly to a wellprepared surface.

But epoxy coating systems are just one element of the total solution. When I asked the Flowerses about rust and its maintenance, I was informed that a new steel boat, correctly fabricated from precut and pre-primed steel, then properly painted with an epoxy coating system, will offer its owner no more maintenance than a similar-size vessel built in fiberglass. Period.

(I found that last bit very interesting)



We also got a close look at the inner works of a wood hull.

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Only saw one fiberglass boat today.  The rest were either steel or wood.  Love that pilothouse.  I could definitely see myself with a similar style.  This baby is 72′.  Owner said he does the paint himself.  Takes two guys about four days to prep and paint the bottom and hull.



After seeing all that rust, I’m not sure if I will still lean towards steel boats.  But, the well-maintained ones will have a lasting impression.


Would love to hear your thoughts on commercial and pleasure boats and rust?  What do you think?  Leave a comment and add your 2 cents!!!


Rust Bucket! (steel boats) — 10 Comments

  1. I’m sure that trawler looked pretty rotten before that fresh coat of paint, it really depends on the quality of work and materials, being cost prohibitive for time and expertise to properly prepare the steel, rot properly welded and/or filled then primed properly, as paint is porous.. a small fleck of rust can keep oxiding underneath. its easy to sand just the lumps, fill with bog and oil paint for a temporary polish.. cars are in the same boat.. for half a million, i’d buy a scrap hull and build everything up from scratch. that way there are no hidden gremlins..

    • That’s a very good point. I can’t imagine what it would cost commercial fisherman to stay on top of that rust, especially on the larger vessels. I’m sure they are just barely making ends meet with the new restrictions in Gloucester on catch.

  2. I am hunting for and researching liveaboards myself. I guess the more one knows, the less one needs to worry. there are a lot of ways for a localised stop gap fix for any hull. you can imagine a rust blister taking years to eat through, then another few years before the bilge pump gets overwhelmed. I met one fellow who was on a waiting list for years to have the best craftsman in his harbour rebuild his wooden trawler and paid more than it could be sold for. it had broken ribs and leaks but he never hesitated to use his boat. its a long story to tell the benefits of each material, I guess the contingency plan for each forseeable event be important. fair winds 🙂

  3. I have my eye on an older 60′ ferrocement yacht. I’ve to sell the house first. choice is a case by case decision. fibreglass being the popular choice, being the easiest for me to mend repair. steel would be hot to touch in the sun, so lots of timber.. my budget $50,000. income $2000 a month so it would be a great doityourself out on anchor alternative life expedition. I also have eyes on remote private jetties and waterside blocks.. so there you have it.

    • Ferrocement, that’s interesting. I haven’t done much research on that material yet. There are so few out there. I have to sell my house also, but’s on the market now. Keep me posted on your progress. I would be interested in hearing.

  4. I couldn’t trust a home build even if some are very good. I research the reputation of the builder, I like it if they’re famous. I appreciate the interior fitout, and layout. its the costliest to mess with. as they say a roomy galley, shower and headroom makes a huge difference. then its got to handle freak storms. I plan on diving as well. I will adapt to what may and faith shall take care of the rest. happy hunting.

  5. I remember some of your posts on the CF forum. I wondered why you seemed so excited about trawlers. But, in light of your entourage (nice fam, BTW) – I see why you’re leaning that way.

    I like steel, but I’d prefer to have it on the bottom of a 40 or 45 foot sailing yacht (preferably a ketch). Six people on a 40-ish ketch would be real tough. So, I see your point in the trawler. The maintenance would be the killer on one of those, since there is soooo much more steel on a trawler than a ketch yacht. Your trawler would be big and solid, and the “freeboard” might be ten times what one would have on the ketch. Still, it’s hard to suggest another alternative for such a large family.

    A big cat might provide the room, but would be pricey, and IMHO not as weather-hardy. Steel is Real! Good luck hunting!

    – Ronald

    • Ronald, your right, steel is real. That’s why I have been so attracted them. Sturdy and safe. Your right, finding a boat for the 7 of us, is not easy. I would love to get a 35-40′ boat, but with my clan, just not realistic and I refuse to give up my plan because of it. So, guess I’ll have to be a fast learner 🙂 Thanks for the well wishes!