How To Tell Acid Or Base From Chemical Formula Fibre Glass Yacht Construction

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Fibre Glass Yacht Construction

What is fiberglass made of?

For the purposes of this article, it is helpful to understand a few basic facts about how fiberglass boats are built, their typical strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, what are the visible signs that show itself to the owner such as stress cracks, lamination. , osmosis etc.

How does it treat?

In short, most polyester resins are composed of glycol, organic acid, and reactive diluents (styrene is one). When the catalyst is added, [MEKP usually] a chain reaction is started. The mixture creates a series of “cross-linking” reactions that allow the styrene to form “bridges” connecting all the chemicals. Chain reactions work faster and faster until the glycol/acid chains start to gel into a solid mass.

Eventually, all these “cross-linked” bridges form a solid plastic mass that holds the fiberglass fabric (or matrix) firmly in place. In this reaction, heat is given off as the chemicals are cross-linked to each other (Exothermic Reaction). Isn’t it great?

Basic Structure

Fiberglass hulls are usually composed of various laminations (or layers) of fiberglass fabrics impregnated with polyester, vinylester or epoxy resin. This is usually done by creating a “female” mold and forming the fiberglass body in a series of subsequent steps:

1. The “female” mold is made according to the required body shape.

2. A waxy release agent is applied to the mold surface.

3. First, a “gel coat” containing polyester resin pigment (color) is applied to the mold (10-25 ml thick). This gives the body a smooth colored appearance.

4. The “gel coat” is then backed with a thinner fiberglass cloth and then several layers of heavier fabric are added to form the base body.

The hull is then reinforced with more layers of glass and resin, usually in the stressed areas, and the entire body is sealed with a final layer of clear resin. Other interior hardware such as the roof, deck, bulkheads and keel are added when the finished hull is removed from the mold. (This is not always the case! Different builders change this).

wooden components

Often in fiberglass hulls, wooden components are used to reinforce kitchens and similar areas. Often times, wood is exposed to water and swells, eventually causing rot and weathering.


Many modern boats are made using internal fillings with resins. These can be polyurethane foam, fine-grained balsa hubs, and many lightweight racing boats use a variety of lightweight “honeycomb” materials.

These materials generally reduce the weight of the hull with little loss of strength. Also, the use of “closed-cell” foam cores combined with epoxy resins has protected many of these “composite structures” from premature failure, but all must be subject to high quality and standards, especially when it comes to deck installations and rigging. repeated high loading.


Just because the hull is underwater doesn’t mean it will deteriorate faster, but in case of poor maintenance, hidden factors may be at work. The absence of antifouling procedures allows growths in the sea to multiply. Barnacles are a definite gel coat killer if they’re allowed to stay undisturbed at work!

Naturally, a weed-covered body will hide the dreaded “osmosis bubbles” and, if the right conditions are present, underwater metal fittings will be subject to damage from galvanic electrical corrosion. for a quick anti-foul.

scary monsters

A rudder repair I did recently involved the complete destruction of the soft inner core by the dreaded “teredo” worm. The rudder was covered in fiberglass and the worm had entered through a pinhole and chewed through the core like hell! Don’t take anything lightly. !

Word of warning!

If you are considering purchasing an old-fashioned fiberglass yacht, hire a qualified marine professional. They, unlike you, are fully trained and experienced to identify areas that are flawed or likely to cause problems in the near future.

If you skimp on those dollars, you will only blame yourself!


There are many and varied types of fiberglass fabrics available, from the simple “chopped fiber mat” to the more exotic (and more expensive) Kevlar Aramids and Carbon Fibers. All these fibers offer different properties such as stiffness, strength and can be combined in use. Examples of these fabrics are woven fabric; chopped strand mat (CSM) fabrics with unidirectional, bi- and triaxial stitching. E-glass is probably the most commonly used for general repair work.

How does it work?

Most of us are familiar with the way basic fiberglass and resins work. Separately, glass cloth is soft, bendable and can be shaped into almost any shape. Polyester resin (or anyone else for that matter) is a clear, viscous liquid that, once mixed with a catalyst (peroxide catalyst, usually MEKP), generates heat (an exothermic reaction) and eventually solidifies. Individually, these extrusion components have limited uses, but when used together they form a formidable alliance and produce a fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP).

How does he do this?

This incredible physical partnership allows great stress and loads to be transferred through the “hardened” plastic, enabling the construction of hulls, or hulls, with enormous load-carrying capacity.


Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and while “fiberglass boats” herald a major revolution in long-lasting boatbuilding, time has shown that fiberglass boats are absolutely maintenance-free. With years of use, boat hulls are subject to bending, flexing, fatigue, sudden impacts, etc. -lamination of glass-impregnated cloths from internal components.

Chemical Equation

In addition to the physical degradation of the glass/resin bond due to the foregoing, there are also some interesting chemical reactions that cause the once-solid “power chains” to break apart. Usually, if a body is made in adverse conditions such as high humidity and the fiberglass fabric is exposed to excessive moisture, the water contained therein will react with the polyester resin/glass mixture to form a third undesirable “joint”.

This takes the form of a yellowish, highly acidic mixture that then attacks its environment and severely weakens the chemical “building blocks” of resin and glass. This causes a downward spiral chain of destruction that will eventually be disastrous for trunk strength.

How can you tell?

This chemical and physical deterioration manifests itself in many and various ways. Handrails, struts, wedges, etc. Areas of high load stress, exposed to high sudden impact loads such as These, in turn, allow the entry of external water. The pattern of destruction is then allowed to increase slowly but surely.


Gel-coated blisters can take the form of small “pimples” or blisters. There may be one or two or even dozens. Often, when immersed, there is a fragrant yellow acid substance lurking in it. This phenomenon is also called “osmosis”. Caution: Do not let this substance get close to your eyes! Wear glasses!

hard spots

A ‘hard spot’ on the stem due to a stretched partition or poor furniture assembly can cause a ‘hard spot’ on the stem that can be seen as a hard ‘line’ on the stem. Often the gel coat may crack finely around the area (star cracks).


I think this is the worst possible scenario. The water was freely absorbed by one or more of the methods previously described, and the damage increased by such a significant amount that the glass cloth was completely separated from the resin and the area was completely compromised. This can occur during construction in areas that were initially deficient in resin or even in areas that were “crushed” by excessive tightening of the deck bolts. These areas will be soft to the touch or may visibly stretch and swell when pushed. with internal water.

Other areas to consider:

DECK COVERS – These are subject to sudden, cyclic loads. Stress cracking followed by complete failure may occur.

POLE/DECK REGULATIONS – Cracks, warping, discoloration of gel coat around area (note chain plate areas).

CRANES, HAWSE PIPES – check for hairline cracks.

POP RIVETED AREAS – check for leaks and crushing.

Fading – Unfortunately we have some of the most intense Ultraviolet activity to be found anywhere in the world in our own region of the world and fiberglass pigmentation is extremely sensitive to it. The result is fading, especially in dark colours, and although waxing can help, often the only solution is to completely repaint using two-part or polyurethane paint systems.

Last word

Previous episodes were half scared; common sense must prevail. What has been written may only be partially fulfilled, or perhaps not at all. Much depends on your boat’s age, location, and how it was built and maintained. It’s just plain stupid not to lift a finger when it comes to maintenance and expect your boat to be perfect. Among all the other wonders of today’s technology, we unfortunately did not invent the self-healing boat!

A regular maintenance program is highly recommended, and most, if not all, repairs can be done effectively by the average mechanic, provided you have acquired the right teaching techniques. There is a wealth of information out there that you can obtain from most of your glass and resin suppliers. So, turn off that TV and pick up that phone! Once again, if you are in doubt about the condition of your own boat or the boat you are considering buying, take no guesswork, get yourself a Marine Surveyor and leave all the research to them, It’s worth it, I assure you. joyful!

If you liked this article, you can find a lot more about boat building and building your own boat if you visit the website in the resource box below.

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