Revealing the limits of fiberglass

Published on March 22nd, 2021

Practical Sailor dusted off this report from 2007 to explain why storm damaged boats can be a good thing:


Contrary to the testing-oriented automotive industry, sailboat builders seldom willingly destroy boats to validate construction quality. High per-unit cost and limited R&D budgets cause destructive evaluations of new sailboats to be relegated to laminate samples, test coupons, and small subsections of new models, rather than experimenting with the sacrifice of a complete vessel. Just the thought of taking a brand-new, marketable sailboat and subjecting it to an intentional grounding, dismasting, or capsize is enough to give most yacht brokers chest pains.

Instead, baseline scantlings, laminate schedules, and building practices, such as those promulgated by the American Bureau of Ships (ABS), help to guide pre-construction engineering. Some companies voluntarily comply with the International Standards Organization (ISO) system of certification, while others use finite element analysis to digitally analyze the structural features of a new vessel. Past production results and owner feedback also help a builder define just how “strong” a new boat should be. The goal is to create a vessel for a specific type of use that is capable of withstanding the associated natural forces, and some degree of operator error. The wear and tear associated with time is also factored into the equation, as are the designers and builders usually unstated views of the lifespan of the boat.

Because real-world destructive testing goes beyond the scope of most builders R&D efforts, the results of storm damage and operator error have become the next best alternative to controlled destructive testing. Insurance companies, standards bodies, and others involved in the big question of just how strong a recreational vessel should be made, look carefully at broken boats. Such after-the-fact analysis provides valid engineering feedback. A close inspection of critical failures and the factors that lead to their occurrence can explain how a boat should be built and what should be changed or maintained. – Full report

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