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A case for recycling fibreglass boat hulls

March 27, 2019

In today’s world where giving something a second chance at life is just as fashionable as buying brand new, there may be a case for getting a new life out of our fibreglass hulls.


Generally speaking, GRP hulls don’t wear out. While they may get rot in the transoms or stringers, the actual material itself does not rot. It is, after all, another form of plastic.


Disposing of or recycling fibreglass isn’t easy. I remember on a trip to Bimini in the Bahamas once, every second house seemed to have boat hull sitting in the front yard. A quick Google search reveals only one company in the United States claims to be able to recycle it. Disposing of fibreglass in the landfill not only releases toxins such as formaldehyde into the surrounding soil, but it’s also likely that the shards of material will outlive everything.


It’s staying power is what is both good and bad about fibreglass. It’s bad because once it’s made we’ll never get rid of it. But that’s what also makes it good. Unlike other popular boat building materials such as wood and metal, salt water and sea air have little effect on a fibreglass hull. Yes, you need to maintain it and treat it well to keep it in good shape, but generally speaking, a fibreglass hull will outlast a wooden or metal hull with much less upkeep.


So what is the answer? Repower and refit your existing hull. Most of us in the industry believe an outboard motor’s usable life is around 10 years, regardless of hours. Electrics and electronics are far less, but the fibreglass hull generally remains as strong and safe as the day it was popped out of the mould for decades to come.


GRP does have some problems. It is hygroscopic, meaning it will absorb water, but this mostly happens on boats that live in the water and have damaged gel coat. The gel coat can fade, and crack, certain areas can develop stress cracks, and wood or foam cores can fail due to water absorption. However, in most circumstances, these can be and are fixed by anyone with a knowledge of GRP repairs. If the hull is in reasonable shape, to begin with, then all that may be needed is a good cut and polish to make it shine.


While working for Bertram Yachts in the US, my production manager told me that the boat manufacturing industry is about 10 years behind the automotive industry in it’s thinking regarding production and marketing. Just look at the automotive industry today and see the number of retro models that are available. Why not the same for boats. I don’t think there is anyone who does not appreciate the lines or sea keeping ability of classic Bertrams /Caribbeans, Haines, or Cruise Crafts.


Take the bare hull, give it a new finish using modern 2 pack paints, fit it out with the latest electronics, upholstery and canvas then hang a new efficient 2- or 4-stroke outboard on the back, and you will have a classic that will stand out from the crowd, at a price well below that of a new boat, and have done something to help the planet.


For a no-obligation quote on repairing your existing hull, or fixing up an old classic you’ve had your eye on for some time, contact Springwood Marine today.


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