As you have probably worked out from the title, today will be a short article talking about the likelihood of someone ever making a narrowboat out of stainless steel. This is a material that is becoming increasingly popular as a steel replacement in some household and industrial products. But can it take on the job of a narrowboat hull? Let’s find out together.
A disclaimer to begin with. I am simply a narrowboat enthusiast and am approaching this article as such. If you are an engineer or material based scientist and want to correct me on anything, please feel free to do so in the comments section below. Think of this article like a conversation you might have with your mates down the pub 🙂
What are Narrowboats Made out of?
Typically, narrowboats are made out of steel known as mild steel. Mild steel is a metal that has a low carbon content. It is great for building structures like narrowboat hulls because it is strong and relatively lightweight as far as steel goes 🙂 Mild steel is also a good material to use for a narrowboat because it does not corrode or rust as quickly as other metal types when in contact with water.
Of course, mild steel does steel rust and there has been an ongoing quest to make a narrowboat hull that will never rust. This is why the question often gets asked about stainless steel and narrowboats. This would be the ultimate rust free solution.
In terms of commercially produced narrowboats, there are not many other materials used for their hulls other than mild steel. One major exception was Sea Otter narrowboats. They made all aluminium narrowboats for a while before going out of business in the early 2000s. These have been very popular in the used narrowboat market, still commanding high prices. It makes you wonder why other companies haven’t jumped on the idea of an all aluminium narrow boat. Below is a Sea Otter example currently on sale over at Apollo Duck (click the image to look at it over there yourself).
Other than this, the other other material narrowboats have been made out of commercially has been fibreglass. Yachts and river cruisers are commonly made out of fibreglass, but this hasn’t become a popular material for narrowboaters. Some people worry about the fibreglass getting punctured when out in the Winter on frozen canals. Others worry about the possible threat of osmosis and the resulting blisters compromising the boat’s hull. For whatever reason, it is pretty rare to find a fibreglass narrowboat out on the cut.
Advantages of Having a Narrowboat Made from Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is a lot less likely to rust than regular steel, although it might still corrode a little when underwater. Some attention may still be necessary, but nowhere near the amount of worry and care that often goes into looking after a steel narrowboat’s hull. Ever seen a narrowboat owner just before their boat is getting its hull surveyed? Most are in a state of blind panic, especially if their boat is over 10 years old 🙂
No Need to Paint
Stainless steel is a thing of beauty as it is, all metal looking and shiny. Although it can be painted, it is a realistic choice to leave it as bare metal. As stated above, it will be pretty much rust free even when left out on the cut for a lifetime!
No Need to Black
As a stainless steel hull would be less likely to rust than a typical narrowboat hull, it won’t need to be blacked on a regular basis like such boats. This will save a lot of money on maintenance costs. You would probably just want to coat your stainless steel hull with a two pack epoxy resin at the start. This would protect it for many, many years to come!
Disadvantages of Having a Narrowboat Made from Stainless Steel
Stainless steel can be around 20-30% more expensive than its mild steel counterpart, so the initial cost of owning a stainless steel shell would be quite a bit more expensive than a regular narrowboat shell.
Harder to Work With
One of the reasons mild steel has become so popular for these type of applications is it is pretty easy to work with and weld. This is pretty much the opposite when it comes to stainless steel.It just isn’t quite as malleable as our old favourite mild steel 🙂
Harder to Repair
Mild steel is pretty solid and hard to damage all being said, and even if you do manage to damage it terminally, you could also repair with over-plating. All in all, it’s pretty simple and straightforward. However, stainless steel could be a pain to maintain as it gets scratched and dented. Anything that penetrates the outer coating could start to corrode and not be an easy fix.
Has Anyone Ever Tried Making a Narrowboat out of Stainless Steel?
As far as I know, stainless steel narrowboats have never been officially made commercially by any known boat makers. This has more been enthusiasts that like the idea of a stainless steel boat and want to experiment. These are more one-off enthusiast projects.
Should I Build a Narrowboat out of Stainless Steel?
I think it is pretty clear that stainless steel is not ideal for a narrowboat. Mainly for the cost, which can make it a lot more expensive than a regular steel boat. It may seem attractive to go for something with the potential to be rust free, but the fact it would be more expensive and harder to work on than mild steel pretty much make it a no go for me.
If you want to try a different material, you could seek out an aluminum boat as an alternative, which would beat out stainless steel every time for me. I personally wouldn’t recommend fibreglass unless you are a fair weather cruiser or on a very low budget 🙂