The stuff boats are made of
If Noah could have picked a time to build his Ark now would be
a great time to start. Today, boat designers and builders use wood,
fiberglass, aluminum, steel and combinations of these materials
and others to build bass boats, speedboats, sailboats and houseboats
some of which could pass for an Ark. On Lake Tahoe wood and fiberglass
boats are the most common.
Wood, once the choice of the small boat builders, is used less
frequently today. This is not because wood is an undesirable construction
material. Some of the most beautiful wooden boats call Lake Tahoe
home. The Concours d’ Elegance exhibits the best in wooden boat
artisan and craftsmanship. Those people would never trade a wooden
boat for a Clorox bottle (affectionate term for a fiberglass boat).
Wood is absolutely gorgeous if properly maintained and it can last
a long time, but wood demands considerable attention. Wood boats
are in constant need of scraping, sanding, varnishing, and painting.
The seams of wooden boats need periodic caulking to keep them watertight.
For many people, fiberglass is the boat building material of choice.
Fiberglass boats account, in large part, for the rapidly growing
popularity of recreational boating. The material is relatively inexpensive
and can easily be formed into complex shapes. It is easily repaired
when damaged and most importantly for the average boat owner fiberglass
is easily maintained. Most fiberglass boats have some wooden parts
for structural support such as longitudinal stringers and the transom
contains wood for reinforcement.
A serious disadvantage of fiberglass boats is the ease with which
shoddy workmanship can be masked. Air bubbles in fiberglass laminates
weaken the hull yet they are almost impossible to see. There are
so many layers of fiberglass in the hull that air bubbles in the
innermost layers are undetectable. When complete, it is impossible
to inspect most fiberglass hulls, as decks and other structures
cover them. If the boat sits in the water for long periods of time
these air bubbles can appear as blisters on the bottom of the hull.
If the blisters are left unchecked they can destroy your boat. Usually
an expensive bottom job is needed to repair the damage and there
is no guarantee the blisters won’t return. So much for the maintenance
Another disadvantage of a fiberglass boat, especially if it lives
on a trailer, is its weight; strong fiberglass boats are heavy.
In fiberglass hulls strength and weight are related. A rule of thumb
is that a well constructed, hand laid fiberglass hull weighs about
100 pounds per foot. Because fiberglass and its resin coating is
heavier than water a fiberglass boat filled with water will sink
unless it has built-in flotation. Styrofoam most often provides
the flotation for boats less than 20 feet.
The aluminum boats I can think of on The Lake belong to the US
Coast Guard, Placer County Sheriff’s office, and the UC Davis research
boat, so aluminum hulls must be good. Aluminum hulls are lightweight
and they cost less than hulls made of other materials, and they
can take the hard knocks of running into docks, buoys, and rocks.
Canoes, skiffs, jon boats, runabouts, sailboats, and small cruisers
among others use aluminum. Aluminum has the disadvantage of being
noisy; all water noises are heard through the hull. Noises inside
the hull are transmitted to the water; that is important consideration
for those who fish in the shallow parts of the lake. Aluminum is
also a good transmitter of heat, so hulls made of it tend to sweat
considerably. Although not a big consideration up here aluminum
boats are prone to galvanic corrosion, which is the loss of metal
by means of electric current, found in water. This is more a disadvantage
for boats navigating salt water. If you use your aluminum boat here
in the summer and in San Francisco Bay in the winter months there
are two ways to protect your hull. One is to use a layer of non-metallic
paint between the hull and anti-fouling bottom paint. This works
fine unless a scratch exposes the aluminum hull. The other alternative
is to use a polymer, anti-fouling paint. This paint is expensive
and very difficult to apply.
Steel is a great material for battleships. Unfortunately, steel-hulled
boats under 30 feet tend to sink.