Sailboat Hulls: Steel Vs Fiberglass

Sailboat Hulls: Steel Vs Fiberglass | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Jacob Collier

August 30, 2022

For decades, sailors and boat owners have been having hotly contested debates about the merits of steel hulls vs fiberglass hulls in sailboats.

The major benefits of boats with steel hulls are that they are very strong, durable, and can be repaired easily. On the other hand, a fiberglass hull offers your boat a smooth and sleek look that is very pleasing. They are also lighter, faster, and require less maintenance than steel boats.

Whether you are building your own sailboat or thinking of buying one, getting the right material for the hull is of paramount importance. Your choice of material should depend on consideration of multiple factors, including its durability, stability, maintenance, repairs, weight, comfort, safety, and cost.

We have a team of sailing experts who have spent decades on the water and have set sail on boats built of all types of materials available. So who better to walk you through the pros and cons of steel and fiberglass hulls?


Table of contents

Steel Hull vs Fiberglass Hull: Top 10 Factors to Consider

Let us take a look at some of the major factors that can help you determine whether a boat with a steel hull or fiberglass hull will be a better choice for you.


Sailboats with steel hulls are much more durable and stronger than those with fiberglass hulls. Steel sailboats have a more rigid structure and are quite robust so they can better understand grazes, rubs, and bumps when out in the open water.

In case of impact, a steel hull will bend and may become dented; however, a fiberglass hull has a higher possibility of breaking. That’s because steel is more ductile and can withstand strong blows without losing its toughness.


Fiberglass is a lighter material than steel, making fiberglass boats lighter. Many people prefer this quality since it means that the boat will travel faster on water and will require less power and wind energy to move than a boat with a steel hull. This means lower fuel consumption and more savings. However, a fiberglass boat will be more prone to be buffeted by the winds since it is lighter.

Anti-Corrosion Properties

The sailboat manufacturing industry now uses state-of-the-art technology and makes use of the best quality materials to make the hull. Steel corrodes when exposed to the atmosphere. However, if the right alloy is used for making the hull, it will resist saltwater corrosion, without even needing special paint.

Steel boats also experience electrolytic or galvanic corrosion, but they can be avoided with the use of insulated electrical connections and sacrificial anodes.

Fiberglass does not corrode. However, it can still suffer from osmosis if the fiberglass had air bubbles at the time of lamination. This can cause water to collect in the void, forming blisters that can weaken the hull. Fiberglass may also become damaged from ultraviolet radiation.


Since steel boats are heavier than fiberglass boats, it means they are more stable on the sea, particularly if you experience choppy waters. A fiberglass boat, on the other hand, is lighter, and hence sailors may experience a rougher journey on choppy waters.

In addition, due to its extra weight, steel boats drift slower and more predictably, which is particularly useful for anglers.


Many steel boats require greater maintenance since they are more prone to corrosion. Galvanic corrosion can occur when two different metals are placed together. Hence, it is important that you ensure that high-quality materials, joints, and screws are used on the hull. It is important to rinse the hull with fresh water once it is out of the sea.

Fiberglass boat hulls do not have welds and rivets and you do not need to worry about the hull rusting. However, it can experience osmosis issues, which can cause serious problems if they are not treated in time.

Both fiberglass and steel boats require antifouling application to prevent barnacles, algae, and other sea organisms from sticking to the hull. However, antifouling can be more expensive for steel boats.


It is easy to repair small dents in steel boats. However, if the damage is extensive, it can be more complicated and costly to repair or replace large sections of steel hulls. Welding a boat hull is a specialized job that requires trained professionals.

It is easier to repair a broken fiberglass hull, but it may never have the same strength and durability as the original hull since the structural tension will not be equal at all points.


Fiberglass boats are made of petroleum-based products that are flammable. Hence, in case of a fire, they will burn easily and quickly. A steel boat is much safer since it cannot burn. In addition, a significant impact from an unidentified floating object can result in a breach in a fiberglass hull easily and open up a waterway into the boat that can cause it to sink. Steel, on the other hand, can withstand larger impacts without compromising the integrity of the boat.


Steel boats operate much louder than fiberglass boats, especially in turbulent seas at high speed. Steel is also a good conductor of heat and if it is not well-insulated during construction, it can become uncomfortably warm in the summer and cold in the winter. On the other hand, boats with fiberglass hulls do not transmit heat well and are more comfortable.


When it comes to aesthetic appeal, fiberglass hulls have a sleeker, shinier, and more polished look. Steel hulls often have marks of reinforcements on their hulls and they need to get a nice paint to look good. In most cases, steel hulls are covered with putty to hide any construction defects. This putty should be polished so that the boat has a nice finish and is done in a controlled environment to keep out dust.

As you can imagine, this process is complex, costly, and drives up the price of the boat.


It is easier to manufacture fiberglass hulls and mold them into more complex shapes. This can lead to faster production and lower construction costs. Sailboats with steel hulls are more expensive, as we mentioned before because they require welding, heavy-duty grinding, and specialized cutting tools and are more labor-intensive.

When Should You Choose a Steel Boat?

Steel hulls are stronger, durable, and more impact-resistant than their fiberglass counterparts. Dents in steel hulls can be repaired easily and although steel is prone to corrosion, this can be managed by special paints, insulation, and some regular maintenance.

If you are deciding on a circumnavigation or want to go out on a long spree in the water, you need a solid and dependable boat that you can rely on when you venture into new territories.

A well-maintained sailboat gives you the confidence to enter into unfamiliar rocky coasts and reduce your worries about hitting UFOs. However, keep in mind that steel boats may be slower than fiberglass boats, particularly if they are smaller vessels.

When Should You Choose a Fiberglass Boat?

Fiberglass boats are generally prettier than steel boats since they have a smooth and polished hull. They also do not require protective paint on their hull since they are corrosion-free and hence quite low maintenance. In addition, they are lighter and faster than their steel counterparts and do not cost as much.

However, one big concern of a fiberglass hull is that it is not as strong as a steel hull. If the boat hits a hard object, the fiberglass may break, which can be dangerous on the open seas, particularly in choppy waters.

Still, fiberglass boats are an excellent option for racing and even long-distance cruising in areas that do not have sharp rocks.

The type of sailboat you choose depends on your sailing style and your needs. So make sure you consider all the factors before you invest in a steel or fiberglass boat.

Sailboat Hulls: Steel Vs Fiberglass
Jacob Collier

Jacob Collier

Born into a family of sailing enthusiasts, words like “ballast” and “jibing” were often a part of dinner conversations. These days Jacob sails a Hallberg-Rassy 44, having covered almost 6000 NM. While he’s made several voyages, his favorite one is the trip from California to Hawaii as it was his first fully independent voyage.

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