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More Than Skin Deep

What makes a boat “ruggedly built”?

March 1, 2001
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It’s one of the most misleading catch phrases in the industry. “Sure, my boat is ruggedly built,” the man says. “Just take a look at it.” The truth is, the elements that you can’t see are the most important indicators of how stout a boat is. To us, a rugged boat can withstand use, abuse, and time offshore. Look for the following features to determine the life expectancy of that new boat you have your eye on.

Hullsides That Don’t Flex. Place one palm on the hull above the waterline, then hit the hull about three feet away with the side of your other hand’s fist. The more vibrations you feel with the palm of the hand resting against the hull, the flimsier the construction. Weight is not an indication of strength. Modern coring techniques can produce strong, lightweight boats.

A Bonded Hull-To-Deck Joint. The toughest hull-to-deck joints are through-bolted with nylock backing nuts and bonded on the inside with fiberglass. Some manufacturers use bonding adhesive instead of fiberglass, which may be even stronger. Check the hull-to-deck joint from inside the anchor locker.

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Fiberglass Stringers and Bulkheads. Stringers and bulkheads formed out of foam-filled fiberglass are not susceptible to rot. For maximum strength, preformed stringers are primary bonded to the hull, or stringers and bulkheads are formed in a one-piece grid outside the hull and bonded in place. Tap a stringer. Fiberglass makes a thin, sharp sound; wood booms. Stringers that are primary bonded, fully fiberglassed, or bonded along their full length with adhesive are superior to those merely tabbed in place. Scuff marks in the hull around the tabs indicate the substrate was properly prepared for a good, strong secondary bond.

Molded Liners. The best cockpits and cabins are constructed as single-piece cored-fiberglass liners. Open a hatch and feel the sole from underneath or look at the edges to tell what you’ve got. Heads, consoles, seats, dash, and livewells should also be molded as single units. Because assembled pieces have more seams and joints, they are less rigid.

L-Bracket or U-Channel Engine Mounts. The most durable mounting system is bolting the engine through metal channels or L-brackets that, in turn, are bolted through the engine bearers. The backing nuts should be locking nylocks and supported with aluminum or steel backing plates. Lag-bolted engines tend to vibrate off their mounts over time.

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Strap-Down Fuel Tanks. Each corner of a fuel tank should be held in place with a bracket and metal straps placed over the tank. The straps should have turnbuckles for tightening. Every place where the tank comes in contact with the boat should be cushioned by rubber. Air should circulate all around the tank.

Bronze Seacocks. Any boat designed for ocean use must have a bronze ball-valve seacock (a combination through-hull and valve) on each opening below the waterline. Seacocks should have glassed-in backing plates where they pass through the hull to prevent leaks from unequal flex. Hoses connected to seacocks should be double clamped.

Heavy-Gauge Wiring. Wiring should be stranded, tinned copper covered by vinyl – not rubber – insulation rated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Preferably, the wire will be a higher gauge than required by the American Boat and Yacht Council. Wires should be secured in cushioned aluminum or stainless-steel clamps and run along the gunwales and bulkheads in PVC or plastic channels.

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Secure Batteries. The best battery installation is in a fiberglass box with a latched lid and a vent hose to rid the area of gases created while charging. Offshore go-fasts need aluminum brackets that bolt the battery in place. For others, having each battery in its own strapped-down plastic box with vent holes on top will do just fine.

Hardware Backing Plates. All deck hardware should be fastened with through-bolts and backing plates. With rails, wall thickness counts as much as diameter. Thick-walled stainless steel won’t wobble.

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