Steel or Alloy

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Steel or Alloy

Perhaps no question raises more debate among metal boat builders.  Which is better, steel or alloy?  In truth both are fine building materials with their own specific advantages.

We can design and build in either alloy or steel to suit your preferences.  You will get a great result either way.

Technically, both steel and marine grade aluminum are alloys.  For convenience, marine grade aluminum is usually referred to as "alloy".

The world demand for steel has begun to price steel out of the small boat building market.  This analysis shows why.

Consider a 36 foot sailing yacht.


Weight budget in steel:

steel -                           10,000 lbs               cost $1/lb = $10,000

lead -                             5,000 lbs

machinery and fittings-     5,000 lbs               cost $5/lb = $25,000

total                              20,000 lbs               ballast ratio = 25%

resale value                    $50,000


Weight budget in alloy:

alloy -                              5,000 lbs               cost $3/lb = $15,000

lead -                               5,000 lbs

machinery and fittings  -    4,000 lbs               cost $5/lb = $20,000

total                               14,000 lbs               ballast ratio = 36%

resale value                    $100,000 


Both boats cost about the same to build.  Steel is initially cheaper to buy, but because of the added weight of steel the mast, rigging, sails, winches, ground tackle, fuel tanks, engine, etc. must be bigger to carry this weight, making the boat heavier still. 

The steel boat, with a ballast displacement ration of 25% would generally not be regarded as having sufficient stability for offshore.  Offshore stability being a recognized problem in small steel boats. The alloy boat, with a ballast displacement ratio of 36% would generally be regarded as having sufficient stability for offshore. 

Alloy boats generally have the best long term resale value of any boat building material.   Because of the high resale value it is difficult to find alloy boats for sale for less than the cost of building.  This is the economic attraction of building in alloy.

Because of the relatively low resale value of steel in many cases it is better to buy a used steel boat than to build one.  In many markets steel boats can be found for a fraction of their replacement value, making it difficult to build a boat for less than the cost of buying one of similar quality.

Economically, you should only build if you cannot buy a boat of similar quality for less.  Otherwise you are financially better off to buy and use the difference to feed your cruising kitty.