Many have asked the question; What is the expected lifespan of my sailboat?. The short answer is it depends on the maintenance put into the boat. In general, how well you take of your sailboat will dictate how long it will live.
A Brief History
The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world’s oldest known boat. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early Mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE.
The HMS Victory (7 May 1765) is the oldest sailboat still in commission with 255 years of service. However, in 1922, she was moved dry dock at Portsmouth, England to serve as a museum.
The oldest sailboat still in the water goes to USS Constitution (21 October 1797) with 222 years of service. On 18 May 2015, the ship entered Dry Dock 1 in Charlestown Navy Yard to begin a two-year restoration program. She sails the seven seas today.
A quick search also located 15 plus pages of fiberglass sailboats. On page one we found a 1959 Ray Green New Horizons 26. We also found a 2013 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409. The average fiberglass sailboat is about 30 years old.
Prices range from just a few thousand dollars to $240,000. The average price is between $10,000 and $20,000.
In a study performed by the marine insurance industry looking at the high cost of claims made on older boats relative to newer boats, it was found that many of these earlier boats have suffered a significant loss of ductility and impact resistance.
Areas of high stress, such as bulkheads, chainplate attachment points, hull to deck joints, cabin to deck lines, engine beds, rudder posts, and other high load hardware positions tend to form stress cracks in the fiberglass. Failure to fix and repair these issues can lead to catastrophic failure.
This problem is especially prevalent in heavier uncored boats constructed even as late as the 1980’s before internal structural framing systems became the norm.
If we take a quick look at SailboatListing.com we see 4 pages of results for wooden sailboats. Just on page 1 is an 1898 20 foot Herbert Crosby Catboat for sale. On the same page is a 50-foot custom-built Ketch built-in 2011. Most of the wooden sailboats are in the middle with an average age of 60 years old.
Prices range from $3,500 to $550,000 with the average price between $20,000 to $40,000.
Like fiberglass boats, wooden boats are pron to stress and decay. For your boat to have a long life you must preform routine maintenance on it. The better you care for her the longer she will live.
Most wood rot is the most common issue with wooden sailboats. Wood rot caused by a fungus in the wood.
Shipworms are notorious for boring into (and eventually destroying) wood that is immersed in sea water.
All boats should be dry docked at regular and frequent intervals to maintain the anti-fouling coating. To guard against shipworms, wooden sailboats should use leach-resistant wood preservatives containing copper arsenates.
Then there is the issue of maintainable vs. durable/low maintenance design concepts. Wooden boats represent a maintainable construction method. A wooden boat can be rebuilt for a nearly infinite period of time until it becomes a sailing equivalent of ‘George Washington’s axe’ (as in “that’s George Washington’s axe. It’s had a few new handles and a few new heads but that is still George Washington’s axe”.)
Fiberglass sailboats have a low maintenance advantage to wooden boats, but once the main hull structure begins to lose strength, it becomes an issue of the cost of repairs vs replacement.
Any boat can be brought back just like any house or car can be restored. I once saw a man cut his 50 foot catamaran in half so he could add 15 foot to his waterline. The next season he was surfing down waves in the roaring 40s on his now 65 foot catamaran.
Joshua Slocum rebuilt the 37 gaff rigged sloop oyster boat and sailed around the world with it. You just have to answer the question; Is it worth it to me. If the answer is yes, then go forth and rebuild.