Repair or Sell Steel House Boat?

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by SteelyDylan, Jul 2, 2018.

  1. SteelyDylan
    Joined: Jul 2018
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    Location: Killarney, Ontario

    SteelyDylan New Member

    Absolute newbie here who could use some expertise.

    A bit of background, my friend was moving and was in a pinch to sell his old steel house boat, so I helped him out and took it off his hands for a very reasonable $500.

    I was pretty excited initially because of the great patio space above the cabin and the interior was quite nice too. This was quickly overshadowed though when I put it in the water and within 24 hours the hull was half full of water. Fortunately, it was still in the lift, otherwise I would have been retrieving it from the bottom of the marina.

    The marina owner was persistent on keeping it in the water, as he had no room to dry dock it, so I put it in a slip close to the lift and popped a pump in there which I now run once in the morning and then again in the evening. Seems to be keeping up alright but definitely a pain.

    Anyway, I am at a crossroad...not sure if I should find somewhere to dry dock/ store for the rest of the summer and then try and fix the hull or whether I should cut my ties with it completely. There definitely is some major rust in the hull (pictures attached) and I'm not sure what kind of repair would need to be done in order to restore it. Everybody I talk to seems to have a different opinion. Some are saying fiberglass over the steel, but I've heard horror stories of the glass splitting when the steel expands. Others are saying to re-plate it, but I'm imagining this being quite costly, as I have absolutely zero welding experience (other than an introductory class in highschool I took 10 years ago).

    Wondering if anyone has any thoughts as to whether a repair job is worth it and if so what would be the best way to go about it without costing me a small fortune? Thanks in advance :)

    IMG_20180702_133938.jpg IMG_20180702_133514.jpg
    IMG_20180702_133327.jpg IMG_20180702_133433.jpg
  2. bajansailor
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    I can see the quandary that you are in.
    From the photos of your rusty bilges above, showing pretty severe wastage and thick sheets of rust, I think one can assume that the plate thickness on the hull bottom is minimal - and re the leaks, in some areas maybe it is just bottom paint and rust holding hands.
    It would be a VERY BIG job to replace all of the hull bottom. You would probably also have to replace most of the hull framing as well - although the photo with the ropes looks like a fairly new section of angle bar has been added to the transverse frame in the foreground.
    However in the top photo she looks immaculate. That's the problem with steel boats - they rust from the inside out.
    And from your location I am guessing that the boat is in fresh water? Fresh is much kinder generally on boats than salt water.
    You bought her for a $500 song - is it worthwhile now to spend many times that on what might amount to a new hull?
    It might even be easier to build a new hull, and then transfer all the good bits from the old hull over to it? Rather than trying to 're-build' the existing hull?
    Is all of the accommodation in good condition generally?
    Re the hatches in the aft deck, has she got an inboard motor (or two even) lurking underneath, perhaps with an outdrive leg(s)?
    Be aware that outdrive legs can also be demanding on maintenance dollars. Similarly old gasoline engines - or is she diesel?
  3. SteelyDylan
    Joined: Jul 2018
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    Location: Killarney, Ontario

    SteelyDylan New Member

    Thanks for the advice!

    Yes, that's correct, it has never touched salt water.
    For the most part it's not bad. There is a leak in a portion of the ceiling in the cabin, but nothing that wouldn't be easily fixed. About 2 years ago the floors were redone too, so that's a plus.

    Unfortunately, the motors are shot. So she wouldn't be moving too much. If I decided to keep her, I'd be living on her full-time from May - October, but she'd be stationary.
  4. SamSam
    Joined: Feb 2005
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    Location: Coastal Georgia

    SamSam Senior Member

    I had a friend that acquired one like that as part of a waterfront lot deal. Everything under the cabin floor being inaccessible, sweeping up the debris of what we could access, it was a worry that the broom would sweep through the hull, water come through and sink the boat. It was sort of amazing.

    If the boat is not in your name already, do not put it in your name and then consult with your friend about HIS problem.

    Don't do anything to the hull until it is on land. Don't even clean it. The steel is only 10 or 12 gauge, 1/8" more or less, and in that rotten condition you can easily drive a screwdriver through it by hand in any number of spots.

    If it sinks, you might have a very big expensive problem with environmental authorities, plus an expensive salvage operation. At least in most areas. Where my friends boat was, the DNR fined the boat owner $1,500 a day after 2 days on the bottom. If they didn't do that, most people would abandon them. You're at the mercy of environmental protection companies, a marina here was charged by Sea Tow or it's equivalent $2,000 for the emergency oil absorbent boom that they had to put around an abandoned boat that sunk at their docks, and then had to pay to get it raised and removed. Divers, flotation bags and barge mounted cranes were involved for that.

    So get it out of the water as soon as possible, preferably with the least amount of movement as possible, like to the lift where you are as opposed to towing it somewhere else.

    Re-plating houseboats was a fairly common practice around there (a lot of houseboats) and was around $3 or $4,000 twenty years ago. I kind of doubt a small roof leak is the extant of the problems with that boat, but at the moment the best thing would be to get it out of the water.
  5. fallguy
    Joined: Dec 2016
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    fallguy Senior Member

    Pull it out and assess; get bids, etc.
  6. Ike
    Joined: Apr 2006
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    Location: Washington

    Ike Senior Member

    Pull it out. Have a marine surveyor look at it and estimate the damage and repair cost. (yes that will probably cost more than the boat did, but will save you bucks in the long run.) Once you know what needs to be done and how much it will cost then you can make some reasoned decisions. It's just the old repair or replace decision. If you decided to repair, do it right. Replate it. Do not fiberglass over it. It will just keep right on rusting inside and soon you will have a thin fiberglass shell and buckets of rust.
    fallguy likes this.
  7. BlueBell
    Joined: May 2017
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    Location: Victoria BC Canada

    BlueBell . . . _ _ _ . . . _ _ _

    Best advice of the day right there!
    Send more pictures!
    Just out of curiosity, how much you willing to spend?
    What's the budget?
  8. SamSam
    Joined: Feb 2005
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    Location: Coastal Georgia

    SamSam Senior Member

    The rubber bellows of the inboard/outboard drives where they pass through the transom are another good cause for sinking when they get stiff and crack. All through hulls are suspect to begin with and especially after ageing and non use. Plastic fittings get brittle and break, metal fittings, including hose clamps, rust, corrode and break or fall off.

    Make sure to keep the pump discharge hose (the one tied to the railing) out of the water, as when the pump shuts off it can then act as a siphon, reverse the flow and sink the boat.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
  9. SamSam
    Joined: Feb 2005
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    Location: Coastal Georgia

    SamSam Senior Member

    I suggested to my friend, as an alternative to re-plating his boat, was to affix a layer of pressure treated plywood to the outside of the boat and then a covering of fiberglass over that. That never happened but it still seems to me a viable fix. Instead of resins and stuff, copious amounts of asphalt roofing cement could work.

    With your boat being stationary it seems even more viable. If you look at the boat as just a float that pretty much isn't going anywhere, which it is in reality unless you want to spend $5,000??? for a new hull and $??,??? for new inboard/outboards (or a new outboard), any sort of fix seems reasonable.

    You could make an assemblage of these styrofoam dockfloats and just set the boat on top of them and forget about the rusted hull. An assemblage could mean something as simple as a 2"x4" band around the outside to keep them from floating away and then setting the boat on top, afterwards driving a few long screws or pins into the foam from the inside of the hull. If you got rid of the boat you would still have the usable dock floats.

    If your inside floor is above the water line, you could just fill the hull with expanding foam and pretty much sort of kind of forget about the hull, but it would keep rusting and you couldn't save the foam if you got rid of the boat.

    Thinking of the thing as a float instead of a boat seems to me to be a much better approach to the problem and might turn a mass of massive aggravation into an interesting project.

  10. gonzo
    Joined: Aug 2002
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    gonzo Senior Member

    I think that the approach to the repair depends on whether this will be operated as a boat or a floating cottage that doesn't leave the dock. If you are leaving it at the dock, plywood screwed to the plating and bedded in roofing tar will keep the boat afloat for years. Make sure you add battens over the seams.
  11. bajansailor
    Joined: Oct 2007
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    Location: Barbados

    bajansailor Marine Surveyor

    I would agree with all the suggestions above - every one is a possibility.
    Especially the suggestion re getting her out of the water ASAP, before she sinks on you.

    Another suggestion, a bit 'left field' perhaps - rather than trying to sheath the existing hull in anything, how about building a raft to sit the 'good' section on?
    I am thinking that the rusty steel is probably only in the bilges (?) where water has collected - the hull topsides look immaculate on the outside, and hopefully they are not too bad on the inside.
    Once you have her hauled out, how about 'cutting the top off', using the waterline as a useful reference line for cutting?
    Prop the top up, and then build a raft underneath - if you can get hold of a good number of plastic barrels (perhaps a few dollars each?) then the buoyancy will not cost an awful lot.
    Lots of good ideas for using barrels to make pontoons here -
    You could use timber 2" x 4" sections instead of ally or steel sections to build the framework for enclosing the barrels.
    waikikin likes this.

  12. Wavewacker
    Joined: Aug 2010
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    Wavewacker Senior Member

    Now is a great time to start building those pontoons, in the mean time fill it with tractor inner tubes. Ike is right, get a pro to check it out, you most likely have other issues you haven't found yet. If it is worth it, rebuild it for the intended purpose, cruising or a dock Queen.
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