How Long Do Boats Last? 17 Facts You Should Know (Complete Guide)

In Boating by Christopher Schopf

We’ve all seen boats that have been around for a couple of generations and these boats are still going strong.  However, we’ve all also seen boats that didn’t seem to last more than a few years before being taken to a boat graveyard.

So how long do boat last?
The average boat is replaced every ten to twenty years.  However, some boat will last much longer than that, but this will be determined by how the boat is used and how well it is maintained.

The three main types of boats are made from:

  1. Aluminum
  2. Fiberglass
  3. Wood

Let’s dive into each type of material and what you should expect when it comes to durability issues.

Aluminum Boats And Durability

Aluminum boats are very popular for a lot of reasons.  For starters, they do not cost as much as fiberglass boats.  Also, these boats do not weigh nearly as much as fiberglass either.

The lower weight means people can tow larger boats with smaller vehicles and can power larger boats with smaller motors.

On the flip side, the lighter weight of these boats means they won’t sit as deep in the water and can be pushed around in rougher waters compared to other types of boats.  For this reason, aluminum boats are extremely popular on smaller boats but less popular on larger boats.

Since aluminum boats are usually of the smaller variety, they aren’t always exposed to salt water or too rough sea conditions that larger boats might be exposed to.

As a result, some aluminum boats might have the advantage of lasting longer simply because they aren’t exposed to as much.

How Are Aluminum Boats Built?

Aluminum boats are made from corrosion resistant high-grade aluminum sheets.

The sheets of aluminum are cut into parts and are put together through the use of rivets.  Foam is then sprayed inside of it so that it will stay afloat even if the boat is punctured.

After this is done, the rest of the components are placed into the boat.  Depending on the boat, this could consist of a control panel, aluminum benches, wooden decking, aluminum decking, or any combination.

Careful consideration needs to be taken as to the other metals that might be placed into the boat as some can conflict with the aluminum.

How Do Aluminum Boats Become Damaged?

An aluminum boat can become dented and scratched.  However, you usually don’t see aluminum boats with large holes in the hull.

This makes fixing an aluminum boat easy as you just need to pull the dent out.

Another issue with aluminum boats could be the rivets.  Over time, the rivets can take on damage and the area around them can begin to leak.  Fixing this is often just a matter of drilling the rivet out and putting a new one in.

It can be more difficult if there is also a dent at the site of the rivet leak as that might need to be fixed as well.

How Long Do Aluminum Boats Really Last?

An aluminum boat can and often does last a lifetime.  I personally own a small aluminum boat that I bought over 25 years ago and I haven’t had to do anything to keep it afloat.

The key to this boat’s longevity is that it is a small boat that consists purely of aluminum.

Even the benches are aluminum so they’ll never have to be replaced like they might have to on an aluminum boat with wooden benches.

People with larger aluminum boats generally won’t keep their aluminum boats this long.  For this reason, an aluminum boat will often change hands after about ten to fifteen years.

In fact, many people move every 8 years and they end up selling their boats between their moves.

If you do a search for used aluminum boats, you’ll find that there are plenty of them and that their value is usually based more off of the motor and the trailer than it is off of the actual boat.

Fiberglass Boats And Durability

Fiberglass boats can be found in smaller boat models and larger boat models.  These boats cost more to build and to buy than aluminum boats.  They also weigh more than aluminum boats.

A fiberglass boat often looks better than an aluminum boat when it is new as it has a more finished look to it.  It can also take paint better than aluminum can and a fiberglass boat with a nice gel coat on it is easy to spot.

Fiberglass boats are often used in saltwater and they can be built to withstand ocean voyages and rough seas.

Because of this, fiberglass boats can often be exposed to elements that might reduce their lifespan.

How Are Fiberglass Boats Made?

A fiberglass boat can be made from a fiberglass mold or from a frame with fiberglass laid on top of it.  Smaller boats might be built at a factory with mold while custom boats and many larger boats are built by hand.

The material that is used underneath the fiberglass is often balsam wood but it can also be a foam core.  Foam core is quite expensive as is the fiberglass cloth that is used over the foam.  This is all bonded together with a resin that increases the strength of the boat.

Polyester resin is the cheapest resin that can be used and usually, epoxy resin is the most expensive that can be used.

After everything is complete, a gel coat is applied to the boat.  The inside of the boat might have a fiberglass deck but it can also have a wooden deck as well.  Fiberglass decks are more expensive but they lost much better than wood as they are waterproof.

How Do Fiberglass Boats Become Damaged?

A fiberglass boat can have its gel coat scraped and the fiberglass itself can eventually delaminate.  However, the biggest threat with a fiberglass boat is that it can take damage that could result in a hole or a crack.

Once this happens, the fiberglass boat will need to be patched. 

Unfortunately, a crack could lead to water infiltration of the wood core material.  This material can then rot out and the core material will then need to be replaced as well.

How Long Do Fiberglass Boats Really Last?

This is a tough question to answer as it really does depend on how well the owner takes care of it.

While an aluminum boat will still be serviceable with some dents and scrapes in it, a fiberglass boat with a hole in it will not be.

I’ve seen many fiberglass boats being given away for free on Craigslist because the owner didn’t want to have to repair the boat.  Fixing a fiberglass boat takes skill and money as the resin and fiberglass used to make repairs is expensive and it takes some knowledge of fiberglass to do so.

Also, the person will need a respirator when working with some resins and if measured incorrectly, the resin will not work.

For this reason, fiberglass boats that are used often and not taken care of might last less than 10 years.  However, a fiberglass boat that is well-taken care of will last just as long as an aluminum boat.

Wooden Boats And Durability

You won’t find any new large boats or mass-produced boats being built out of wood these days.

However, many DIYers still like to make their boats out of wood.

This is because wood is easy to work with and it doesn’t cost that much to buy.

A wooden boat will need frequent paint and repair jobs and the boards might need to be replaced often.  Wood is prone to rotting and the hardware that is placed on the wooden boat can accelerate any rot damage that does occur.

How Are Wooden Boats Built?

Wooden boats are built slightly different based on the type of wooden boat being built.  However, the basic premise is that the frame is built first.  Once the frame of the boat is built, sheets of wood or wooden planks can be used on the exterior.

A wood boat can be built from different types of wood to help keep the boat light or to make the boat stronger and more impact resistant.  Wooden boats are also typically made from wood that will resist rotting.

The construction of wooden boats has changed over time and so has the way lumber is created.

In fact, there have been so many changes that people look to maritime archeologists to study the way boats have been built over the course of time.

How Do Wooden Boats Become Damaged?

A wooden boat can crack and holes can form in it.  It can also rot on the inside and the outside.

People who own wooden boats need to constantly be on the lookout for places where the wood may be starting to rot.  If a wooden boat has water penetrating its boards it can quickly lose its durability.

How Long Do Wooden Boats Last?

Whenever I hear anyone mention a wooden boat, I can’t help but think of the stories of the old boats that had several boards replaced every year.  After about ten years of doing this, every single board on the boat was replaced.

In this case, was it still the same boat?

There are still large wooden boats for sale on the used market that are well over 30 years old.  Just keep in mind that this isn’t typical and you shouldn’t expect to get more than a few years out of a wooden boat without doing a lot of upkeep.

How Long Do Boat Motors Last?

Often-times a boat’s motor will determine how long a boat lives.  This is because some people will not want to spend the time or the money fixing a boat that does not have a functional motor.

A gasoline-powered motor might last around 1,200-1,800 hours before needing a lot of work and a diesel engine might last 5,000 hours before needing a lot of work. 

This might not seem like a lot of hours but many boat owners might only run their boats for 50 hours a year.

This being said, the time that an engine runs or doesn’t run isn’t the only factor that might reduce the lifespan of a motor.  Boat motors need regular maintenance.  This is especially true after they are run and before they are put into storage.

After a boat motor is run, it should thoroughly cleaned.

The motor should also be checked for any leaks, electrical issues, or damaged hoses.

Before the boat is put away in storage, the salt water should be washed off of it and it should be winterized.  A failure to winterize a boat’s motor can lead to it dying an early death.

Regular Maintenance To Consider

In addition to the large processes that must take place, there are some other steps a person should take to make their boat’s motor last longer.  A boat owner should make sure that the fuel lines are in good order as well as the battery.

They should also check the motor as well as the clamps holding the motor for any signs of corrosion.

To make sure the boat’s motor is safe and secure, the boat owner may want to check the transom as well.  If the transom is in bad shape, the motor could literally fall into the water.

Once the motor falls to the bottom of the sea, you won’t be able to do any maintenance on it anymore.

How Long Do The Sails Last?

Sails will wear down with each and every use and just like boat motors, they live and die by their use.

QuantumSails.com believes a well-treated and maintained woven polyester sail will last about 3,500 to 4,000 hours.  This means that people who sail often will need to replace their sails more often.

New sails can be extremely expensive.

This is especially true on large sailing yachts or racing sailboats.  Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong with a sail.

Sails are constantly being assaulted by the wind, the sea, and the sun.  As a result, they will constantly need to be washed, inspected, and repaired.

Inspections To Expect

Before each use, a sail should be inspected for any rips, tears, or holes in the sail.

The rigging and the hardware will also need to be inspected for damage. 

Even the decking around the chainplates should be inspected as a soft deck around this area could end with the chainplates coming off and the sails becoming damaged.

During and After Use:

While the boat is being used with a motor, it’s a good idea to take the sails down.  This will reduce wear and tear on the sail.  Also, when the sails aren’t being used, it’s a good idea to take them down.  This will reduce the amount of time the sails are left out in the sun.

UV damage can really harm a boat’s sails so keeping it out of the sun will help to increase the sail’s lifespan.

Once you’re done boating for the day, it’s a good idea to wash the sails off with fresh water.

Saltwater can become corrosive to the sails and will eventually wear them down.  Rinsing them with fresh water will help you to avoid this.

Storage Issues

It’s important that the sails are stored properly as well.

Store the sails out of the heat and out of direct sunlight and they’ll last much longer.

How Long Do Boat Trailers Last?

This is a really tough question to answer as all boat trailers are not made equal.

Galvanized trailers usually last longer than other types as they avoid corrosion better.  Also, trailers that are subject to salt water won’t last nearly as long as ones that are only used in freshwater.

The maintenance of the trailer will also play a big role in how long the trailer will last as well.

For example, simply rinsing the salt water off of the boat’s trailer after each use can go a long way towards prolonging the trailer’s life.

Trailers will also need their consumables replaced from time-to-time as well.  Items like brake pads and tires will need to be replaced as they wear out.  In fact, tires may need to be replaced before they wear out.  This is because tires dry out over time and once dry-rot sets in they should be replaced.

Luckily, most items on a boat trailer can be replaced or repaired.

If you’re willing to replace items and do some welding in extreme cases, you can make a trailer last forever.  Again though, is it still the same trailer if you’ve had to replace every single part on the trailer?

In Summary

The average boat will last much longer than the average person will keep a boat.  If you’re wondering how long a boat will last because you’re looking at buying a used one, you’ll want to take everything into consideration.

Check the boat for damage, check the number of miles on the motor and the sails and check to see how everything was maintained. 

A well-maintained boat will last much longer than one that was not well-maintained.  In fact, maintain a boat properly and it could easily last a lifetime.