What are zinc anodes, and what is their purpose on a boat?
In this article, we will go over zinc anodes, what they are, what their purpose is on a boat, and several other boating questions that you may not have even known you had.
Without further ado, let’s dive into those boating questions!
What Are Zinc Anodes?
Zinc anodes are essentially a type of metal that is used to break itself down under the water.
Basically, a zinc anode is a type of metal that deteriorates itself to protect your boat metal, preventing corrosion and damage to the metals on your boat.
Why would you want the metal to do this?
You want to prevent a process called Galvanic Corrosion.
What is Galvanic Corrosion?
When two different metals physically connect in seawater, an electrical current flows between them like a battery.
For this current to exist, one of the metals has to give up pieces of itself.
The reason one metal has to give up pieces of itself is so that electrons can be created and continue to feed the current between the two metals.
This deterioration of metals is what’s known as Galvanic Corrosion.
Let’s go over why you put zinc anodes on boats.
What is the Purpose of a Zinc Anode on a Boat?
As we mentioned, zinc anodes aid in keeping the electric current flowing between two metals.
Your boat will automatically have at least two metals built within it, but zinc is a third metal added as a sacrifice. Basically, the zinc will break itself down instead of the other two boat metals.
Zinc anodes are the unsung hero of protecting your boat’s exterior under the water.
Since your boat will be on the water often, having a zinc anode is a necessity to keep your boat’s exterior lasting for a long time.
What Are the Different Types of Anodes?
Now that you have an idea of what zinc anodes are, it’s important to have a working knowledge of the other types of anodes you can put on a boat since all boats are not created equal.
Knowing what kind of metals are on your boat will help you know what kind of anode is adaptable for your boat and can protect your boat.
Let’s go through the different kinds of anodes so you have an idea of what anode would be a good fit for your boat:
The first anode is zinc, which we have covered.
This is the most common since it is the easiest to attain.
Zinc works pretty well on most types of boats and will hold up your boat’s exterior under saltwater quite well.
However, zinc is also a fairly heavy metal and has been shown to not be entirely beneficial to the environment.
The second anode is aluminum.
Aluminum has recently started to replace zinc as the more commonly used anode on boats these days. Aluminum is a light-weight metal and is versatile in more than just saltwater.
In addition to being a more versatile anode, aluminum also lasts longer than zinc.
Research has shown that aluminum will last 50% longer in saltwater than will zinc.
Magnesium is the third anode.
Magnesium is the most active anode, meaning that it has the shortest lifespan of the three anodes.
However, magnesium has been shown to be very non-toxic and harmful to the environment and aquatic sea life.
Which Anode Should I Choose?
The type of anode you choose will depend on which type of water your boat is going to be in.
There are three different types of water for anodes: saltwater, freshwater, and brackish water.
Let’s go over which anode is the most ideal for each water type:
In saltwater, aluminum and zinc will be great choices.
Aluminum will last a fairly long time in saltwater and will provide your boat with excellent protection.
Zinc won’t last quite as long but is much easier to attain, so it may be the more practical anode to use in saltwater.
In brackish water, aluminum anodes will be the ideal anode to use.
Aluminum doesn’t corrode nearly as fast as magnesium and will protect your boat against brackish water much better than zinc.
In freshwater, magnesium is your best anode to use for boat protection.
The fluid is low conductive in freshwater, so magnesium is ideally suited to protect your boat in fresh water.
Since you will more than likely be driving your boat in saltwater, zinc, or aluminum will be your ideal anode choice to ensure your boat’s exterior is properly protected.
How Many Zinc Anodes Do You Need?
This number won’t be the same for every boat operator and driver, as different boats come in different sizes and materials, such as steel vs. aluminum hulls.
To find out how many zinc anodes you need for your boat, you will need to have an idea of your boat’s size, particularly its weight.
Then you need to calculate the amount of hull surface area that will be touching water, as well as the density and energy content.
This is a formula that was pulled from www.boatzincs.com, which illustrates the complexity of this formula.
Anode Weight (lbs) = [(Wetted Surface Area) x (Current Density) x (Immersion)]
[(Energy Content) x (1000 mA/Amp)]
If you are a beginner, it is probably better to contact your manufacturer or provider who can walk you through the process or calculate it for you.
Can You “Over Zinc” a Boat?
You can over zinc your boat, which will lead to significant damage if left on the hull of your boat over a long period of time.
If your boat is made of fiberglass or has material made of fiberglass, then over zincing won’t be as big of an issue.
However, if your boat is made of more traditional wood and metal material, then over zincing is something you’ll want to keep an eye out for.
Can Zinc Rust in Water?
Zinc can rust in water, but it rusts a lot slower than other metals.
This is why it’s an ideal anode for protecting your boat’s exterior and all of the other metals on your boat.
Zinc truly acts as a silent protector for your boat.
When Should You Replace Zinc on a Boat?
Zinc won’t last forever, and you will need to eventually replace it.
When exactly do you need to replace zinc to optimize your boat’s protection?
Since the heavier zinc anode will garner more protection, you’ll need to monitor the weight of your zinc anodes.
When the zinc anode has dropped in about half of its original weight, it’s time to replace the zinc with new anodes.
Ideally, you want the zinc anode to last about a year.
This will be impacted by a variety of factors, including driving time, water conditions, and much more.
Do Zinc Anodes Work in Freshwater?
In the battle of which anode works best in different water, it was concluded that magnesium was the winner of the best anode for freshwater.
Unfortunately, zinc is far less useful in freshwater than in saltwater.
Due to the low-current structure of freshwater, zinc will just be unable to provide adequate protection to your boat’s exterior.
However, if you find yourself driving your boat in freshwater, magnesium is the best choice.
How Long Do Boat Anodes Last?
This is not an exact answer as the number will be affected by a number of differing factors:
- We determined that zinc should last on your boat about a year or more.
- If you the boat anodes don’t last at least a year, you may need to get new or heavier anodes.
- Ideally, boat anodes last as long as they take to get down to about half of their weight.
- Whenever your anode is this size, you’ll want to replace the anode as promptly as you can.
A few things that affect how long your anodes last include the type of water in which you drive, the type of boat you have, and the frequency at which you drive your boat.
Do I Need an Anode on My Boat?
Even if you drive a small boat, protection from corrosion is essential to maintaining a long lifespan.
Using an anode is crucial, and your boat should have anodes, no matter what kind they are.
As long as they are best suited for your boat and the water type, anodes should definitely be on your boat.
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.