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Comparing Sailboat Hull Materials And How Long They Last

How Long Can A Sailboat Last?

A sailboat can last anywhere from 10 to 50 years. As a sailboat owner, I know how affectionate we can get about our boats. We give them a name, spend a lot of time maintaining them, and share beautiful moments and experiences.

It is almost like a family member, and you know this when someone refers to their boat as “She is a good lady” or “I took her out in a breeze today, and we had an excellent trip.”

We love our boats, and we want them to last forever. Luckily, sailboats last pretty long, but as with many other things, some last longer than others. Since I have been asking myself this question for a while, I decided to research the topic and share what I found with you.

The table below indicates how many years a sailboat is estimated to survive depending on production material and level of maintenance.

No Maintenance
Some Maintenance
Well Maintained
Meticulously Maintained
Aluminum<2020-3030-4040-5050 +
GRP<1515-3030-4040-5050 +
Steel<1010-1515-2520-3535 +
Wood<1010-1515-2020-2525 +
The table shows how long a sailboat is estimated to last depending on production material and maintenance level.

The most common hull materials for sailboats

If you have been researching sailboats, you probably know that their hulls can be made of various materials and sometimes even a combination. They all last for a long time when properly cared for, but some materials need more attention than others to withstand their harsh and salty environment.
The most common hull materials for sailboats are:

  1. GRP
  2. Steel
  3. Aluminum
  4. Wood

Let us look at each to understand how a sailboat’s lifespan depends on its material strength and weaknesses.

1. GRP/Fiberglass

GRP stands for glass reinforced plastic and is made with a mixture of polyester resin and glass fibers. It is by far the most used material in sailboat production, and the hull is typically made of solid fiberglass or a combination of fiberglass and balsa core. Some manufacturers also combine fiberglass with other materials like composite or kevlar to reinforce the underwater sections of the hull.

GRP Hull
Ellidah is from 1988 and is made of GRP. After many years of service, a new epoxy barrier bottom job and a fresh paint job were necessary.


  • Relatively strong and durable
  • Low maintenance
  • Easy to repair
  • Materials available worldwide


  • Delamination and osmosis, especially earlier molds
  • Weaker than steel and aluminum
  • Heavier than aluminum

2. Steel

Sailboats made of steel are incredibly strong and durable and can easily take a grounding or bump into a rock or log without a problem. Their heavy weight is a drawback, and so is the fact that steel requires more maintenance than other common materials to ensure structural integrity. Steel is a good choice if you plan a high or low-latitude sailing adventure where you might encounter ice.

Steel Hull


  • Exceptionally strong and durable
  • Relatively easy to repair
  • Materials available worldwide


  • Heavy
  • Prone to rust
  • High maintenance

3. Aluminum

Aluminum has become an increasingly popular material to use in sailboat production. The material is not as strong as steel but more robust than GRP and wood. A sailboat made of aluminum is also lightweight and requires minimal maintenance but comes at a higher price tag. Galvanic corrosion can also be a concern.

Aluminum Hull


  • Strong and extremely durable
  • Lightweight
  • Low maintenance
  • Doesn’t require paint
  • No osmosis or rust


  • Expensive to build
  • Expensive and difficult to repair
  • Require special paint and antifouling
  • Galvanic corrosion
  • Can be noisy in a seaway

4. Wood

The most traditional material used for building sailboats is wood. It is easy to work with and has been available worldwide for centuries. We don’t see many boats built in wood these days, and the ones on the market are typically older. Wooden boats require high maintenance attention, which can be very expensive and time-consuming.

Wood Hull


  • Relatively inexpensive to buy
  • Traditional symbolism
  • Looks good when adequately maintained
  • Good for DIY


  • Limited selection
  • Prone to rot
  • Expensive and time-consuming to maintain
  • In many cases weaker than other materials

How to make your sailboat last longer

Proper care and maintenance are essential in making a sailboat last as long as possible. With enough attention, your boat can even outlive you as long as it doesn’t get neglected. The hull usually isn’t what sends sailboats to their grave.

Equipment such as the engine, mast, rigging, and sails will eventually have to be repaired or replaced and can be costly and time-consuming. You have electronics such as autopilot, wind instruments, chart plotter, VHF radio, anchor winch, batteries, chargers, and more. As the boat ages, these things start to break and become outdated.

Most of the older boats still out sailing have likely had at least one or even several refits over the years to keep them ship shape.

I also wrote an article about the expected lifespan of sails and how to make them last longer that you may be interested in!

The best strategy for making the sailboat last is to find and address issues and problems as they come and before they start to pile up. Here are a few tips to get you started. Remember that there may be additional points to address depending on the condition and age of the boat:

  • Have a detailed maintenance schedule for all systems onboard.
  • Preventive care will go a long way to reduce equipment failure and breakdown.
  • Please don’t leave the boat to itself for too long. Abandoned boats often end up getting scraped.
  • Keep the boat ventilated to prevent mold and rot. Wash textiles and varnish the wood.
  • Service the engine regularly. If the boat is more than 20 years, the original engine is probably due for a replacement.
  • Wash and inspect the sails after each season. Dacron sails can last as long as 15 years, but they will probably need a replacement sooner.
  • Inspect the standing rigging regularly. It is recommended to replace the standing rigging every 15 years, but for coastal sailing in calm waters, it might be fine for longer as long as it is taken care of.
  • Service the rudder bearing and steering mechanism.
  • Open, clean, and grease the windlass and winches.
  • Bilge and water pumps need service, cleaning, and eventually replacement.
  • Plumbing and pipes should be inspected, cleaned, and replaced, respectively.
  • Spot and seal all leaks to prevent seawater and rain from entering the boat. Especially salt water will damage the interior and equipment.


Lucky for us sailboat lovers, our proud ladies can last incredibly long if they are cared for and maintained regularly. Whether the boat is made of GRP, steel, aluminum, or wood, it can continue to bring us excellent sailing experiences for a lifetime. Maintaining a sailboat in ship-shape condition is a costly affair, but in the end, we can probably agree that it is well worth it.

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  1. Hey Robin,
    Thanks for the tips on boat maintenance. My family is in the process of purchasing a sailboat and this will help us. Give me some links to your adventures. Where in the world are you at now?

  2. Hello Mike, I’m glad the article was helpful to you. What boat are you buying?
    You can find the posts from my adventures here:

    I’m also on Facebook and Instagram; the links are readily available throughout this website!

    We are currently in the Northern San Blas islands in Panama and about to set course to Bocas del Toro to park up through the rainy season. Don’t hesitate to send me a mail at [email protected] if you want to have a chat. 🙂

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