Patrick Willey of Garland, TX asks:

I recently read an article comparing Fiberglass and Steel in reference to use in Ocean passages for Trawlers. In summary, it really did not sound very positive for fiberglass especially for the possibility of hitting something offshore. Also, it mentioned that the fiberglass could bubble and absorb water. I currently own a fiberglass boat and have never had any problem with blistering. Is it a concern in crossing oceans?

Dan Streech responds:

Thank you for your question regarding the comparison of fiberglass and steel in reference to the strength of a trawler. I would like to know which article you read so that I could answer specifically to it.

The subject of steel vs. fiberglass is of course a long running and very emotional subject which can't be properly answered in this forum. The general process seems to be that builders of or proponents of steel vessels will emphatically claim that steel is stronger than fiberglass. In fact, the strength of a vessel (weather steel or fiberglass) is a very complicated subject that depends on the design and quality of the vessel in question.

A well designed and heavily built fiberglass boat can be extremely strong. A full displacement boat is not sensitive to weight, so the hull can be quite thick and rugged. Put a heavy and thick hull together with generous interior stringers and well-placed and heavy bulkheads you have a tank ready for battle.

We now have about 300,000 cumulative hours on our various Nordhavn models. There have been two circumnavigations and countless crossings of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. There have been several accidents including an N62 that hit a submerged jetty at full speed in Hong Kong, an N46 that ended up high and dry on a rocky beach in Mexico as well as other groundings and collisions with buoys, docks and other boats. To date, there has never been a structural failure or structural damage either from the above mentioned accidents or from any of the sea conditions ever encountered.

There is the often asked question about hitting a floating container. Many containers are reported lost from ships at sea, but to date, I have never seen a container at sea nor have any of our Nordhavn owners or anyone that I have ever talked to seen a container floating at sea.

If a Nordhavn did indeed somehow hit a floating container at cruising speed, I think that there is a only a small chance that the accident would hole the hull.

The greater fear is the possibility of hitting something (much more likely a log in Alaska than a container) with a stabilizer fin. The fin is a 3 foot moment arm trying to rip the actuator out of the hull at its attachment point. Thus, an extremely strong foundation is needed for the stabilizer actuators so that the hull does not flex or become distressed in an accident with the stabilizers. In the 12 years that we have been producing Nordhavns, there have been 5 or 6 accidents in which a stabilizer fin has been ripped off without damage to the structure of the hull.

So, statistically, well-built fiberglass boats (not just Nordhavns) have a very good track record.

As for water absorption and blistering; yes, that can and has been a problem on fiberglass boats, but it has been effectively eliminated with the use of Vinylester resins and epoxy barrier coats. Now as for rustů Oh wait, we don't have rust problems with fiberglass boats.


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