Older Houseboats with Steel Hulls - Repair and Replacement Costs?

by Spike
(Maryville, TN)

A typical older Steel Hull Sumerset Houseboat

A typical older Steel Hull Sumerset Houseboat

We have a question about older steel hull houseboats, when it comes to checking, maintenance, repairing, and or replacement costs?

How do you know when the Hull needs painting, or even checking for rust or corrosion? What clues will tell me if I need to get these things done.

We just bought a 1975 SumerSet Houseboat with a Steel Hull. The house boat was all redone inside, but the previous owner said it's been about 10 years since they had steel hull checked.

Thanks for any info, Spike.



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Reply - Answer
Well Spike, congratulations on your purchase of a 1975 Sumerset Houseboat, they are a great model, with many of them around. If I'm not mistaken, it was around 1975 that Sumerset started to offer customers an aluminum hull version, alongside of their steel hull versions.

Your question is a common one, since all hull materials require different levels of maintenance. When we look at steel, a natural process is the rust, thinness, and pinholes that can occur. Rust & Red Oxide occurs when air and water comes into contact with iron.

In retrospect, years ago, basically all houseboats were made or constructed with steel hulls, and then came about the aluminum and fiberglass models.


Let's look at Proper vs Poor Maintenance, and Average Costs:

=Poor Maintenance
General consensus is that a "poorly maintained" steel hull houseboat is at the "end of it's life" and will cost money to have it disposed of. Eventually costing more to repair and replaced all the rusted steel that it becomes a total loss.

=Proper Maintenance
A yearly maintenance program on a steel hull houseboat is almost an necessity, since this is what will keep the steel from rusting in the first place. You want to keep an eye on the bilge and all the hull interior areas since this is likely where most of it starts. You would to clean or sandblast the areas, and paint with epoxy paint.

=Average Costs
You didn't mention what size of houseboat you purchased, so these will be "ball-park figures".

If the houseboats needs to be hauled out, and launched, you could be looking at anywhere between @ $300 to 1,000 dollars.

If the houseboat needs to stay out on blocks for an extended period of time, you can calculate anywhere from @ 10 - 30 dollars per day for yard storage.

Since I personally am not in the steel hull repair business, I cannot quote precise numbers, but for a complete steel hull plate replacement, you could be looking
at anywhere between $10,000 to 30,000 dollars depending on the length and beam.

Now if you're only looking to have certain areas re-plated or repaired, you're looking at the cost of a welder, steel plates, and anti-fouling or coal tar epoxy.


Some Points to Consider about "steel hull houseboats" are:

1) Many insurance companies are making it very difficult to insure older steel hulled houseboats, and requiring very detailed marine surveys. They are worried about insuring "high risk, and high liability houseboats". Should you have any problems with insurance, have a look at our houseboat insurance page for tips and potential houseboat insurance companies.

2) One of the big advantages of steel houseboats, they take an impact very well, and can be easily repaired, and if the hull thickness becomes thin, new steel plates can be welded in place to completely repair the situation.

3) You can protect the hull (below the waterline) with either "anti-fouling paint", or "coal tar epoxy". Both are a preventative measure and worth the expense since the houseboat is already out of the water. Both can last years if the surface is properly prepared and applied.

4) As simple and easy way to verify and check the condition of the hull without having the expense of a "haul-out", you can consider to hire a diver to inspect it yearly. Many marinas have divers available to inspect, repair, and retrieve items. The prices are reasonable, and can range from @$100 to 300 dollars.

5) When it comes to the exterior maintenance, you can brush away any rust, and paint with with a metal paint of your choice. Some paints are better than others, but that's another big discussion. One of most important steps is once the area is ready for painting, I highly recommend applying a coat or two of Rust Metal Prep.
Rust-Lock Metal Prep Rust-Lock Metal Prep - Gallon
I have personally used Rust Prep, and was amazed at the results. What Metal Rust Prep does is render the surface rust totally chemically inert, thus preventing future rust from starting. One of the additional benefits is it also acts as an excellent primer for whatever topcoat that you apply.

6) There are no "perfect houseboats", they all have pros & cons, so just take it all one step at a time, and eventually the list of things "To Do" are done. Enjoy your houseboat.


Lastly, hopefully some of our readers will share and post comments about their steel hull houseboat experiences.

Thanks for sharing, IAN from all-about-houseboats


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Comments for Older Houseboats with Steel Hulls - Repair and Replacement Costs?

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A word of caution about painting the inside
by: Anonymous

It should be noted that you NEVER paint the steel on the inside of the hull. The coating will trap moisture, and the steel will quietly rust, out of sight.

Leave it bare, keep it dry. Steel boats generally rot from the inside out.

63' steel tunnel hull
by: Ben

I've been looking for a boat for about 4 months now. My wife and I plan on it being a live aboard as well as a business. We are also planning on being in the gulf coast of Florida, with the option of heading to the Keys once a year.

I've read all the opinions on steel hulls, but I somehow cannot get past the strength of steel. Is aluminum a reasonable comparison for steel, considering we plan on traveling with our boat?

I've come across a 63' steel tunnel hull that has been in fresh/brackish water most of its life. Is a steel tunnel hull rare for a houseboat?

Any opinion appreciated, Ben

Just finished steel houseboat repairs
by: Brian

Hello, I just put my '66 38ft. Riverqueen back in the water after a 16 day project. It had a new keel welded on in 1992. It was still in good shape.

I found some thin spots in the rear, right under the engine. The shocker was the electrolysis. She never had anodes.

After grinding, plating, and lots of epoxy and coal tar, she's back in the water. I also installed 3 large anodes. From now on it's going to be a once a year thing.

I did most of the work myself. I haven't sat down and added everything up, but I'm guessing it was around $3k. I'm thinking it's a 5 year fix, maybe longer if maintained properly. We'll see.

Brian...

Steel Houseboat Repairs - tips and trick for steel hulls
by: Ray

Susan, I had a '72 RQ. A great vessel. Everything is simple to work on. Not sure what your problem is with yours. If it is the bottom or hull you are concerned about, have the rascal pulled and if the boat does not have the sacrificial anodes, it would be in your best interest to have it sand blasted.

You or someone will have to be there to wipe it down with a prep wash immediately or it will start to rust in no time. Don't be stingy with it either. It may take you 10 gallons for the entire hull below the water line.

To do a bare metal inspection, I would recommend any "paint thinner" but not "laquer thinner". This comes later. The paint thinner will leave a thin coating for a while to prevent rusting.

If you find any pin holes or "dimples" in the hull where electrolysis had been eating away at the steel, a good marine grade two part steel epoxy will take care of this. But, just before you apply the epoxy, wipe that area with Laquer thinner, Acetone or the like. Removes the film left by the paint thinner for best adhesion.

Some 100 grit sandpaper will smooth the epoxy nicely. After this is all done, and the epoxy setting time is over, have the bottom primer paint ready, wash the bottom with Laquer thinner or Acetone or the like, but NOT paint thinner. This should only take about 5 gallons as it is not really a wash. Just removing the paint thinner and any light surface rust.

This stuff dries pretty fast so two or more people are an asset here. Doing one side at a time, starting at the bow, after the washer has gone about 10 feet, start applying the primer coat. Work from the keel center up to the water line. (keeps from getting the primer in your hair)

Work your way around the stern and back towards the bow staying about 10 to 15 feet behind the washer. Then the bottom paint. The Queen I did is still running stong after almost 20 years.

Let me know if you have other problems. I do know a little about Queens. I hope this helps, Ray.


Reply - Answer
Well Ray, I would to thank you for sharing all of this great and thorough information on redoing a steel hull houseboat.

I can see that you're speaking from experience, and this will help my many folks.

Thanks, IAN from www.all-about-houseboats.com

That Houseboat Won't Float
by: Cindy

I'm an owner of a 1972 Riverqueen houseboat. First time buyer and I got scammed...I didn't know to have it inspected, etc. Currently renovating on lakefront retirement lots. Stay tuned.

Sand and repaint a steel houseboat hull - How often?
by: Ian in Atlanta

I have a 1971 Stardust Cruiser (50') steel hull houseboat that I purchased on Lake Lanier in Atlanta, GA in 1997. I had a certified marine inspection done before I purchased it and the inspector said the hull was in excellent condition. He said a new "beaching plate" had also been welded on the front end by a previous owner.

I heard you are supposed to sand and paint the hull on these steel boats every 4 - 5 years so I have had it out of the water and painted twice, once in 2000 and again in 2004. It is a very expensive proceess and I suppose I am overdue to do it again.

My question is, is it really necessary to paint the entire hull that often? Is there any point in having a diver inspect it at this point or should I just go ahead and haul it out and paint again?

Also, I am a diver so I could certainly inspect the underside of the boat myself but would I know what to look for or does it require a trained eye?

Thanks for any feedback you can provide, Ian in Atlanta

Steel houseboat floor construction
by: Lawrence

I am busy building a steel houseboat in South Africa to be used on a fresh water lake. It is going to be 24m X 9m and will weigh 60 tons or more.

The pontoons are complete and I now have to apply the floor. There are so many different materials one can use for the floor construction that it has totally confused me.

Please give me advice on how to construct and the material to use for the two floors.

It will be gratefully appreciated. Regards, Lawrence

Building steel houseboat pontoons
by: charles

I am slowly building pontoons for a houseboat from steel, and would appreciate information on sacrificial rods used to prevent corrosion.

Reply - Answer
Hi Charles, the keywords you're looking for sacrificial rods, would be magnesium and zinc anodes.

Hope this helps, IAN from www.all-about-houseboats.com

Converting to Positive Floatation Shell
by: DirkGidney

My houseboat project has a steel hull too long neglected to be easily or cheaply repaired. But the upper structure is worth saving, as it has oak floors, and 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms and 2 floors etc.

Built in 1990 as a Float Home on a steel hull style barge, with a pointed bow, but no motors, 40 feet x 16 feet, 2 stories with 3rd story patio deck, flat bottom, hard chine steel, displacing apps 30,000 pounds.

No Motors, but full onboard tankage, plumbing, wiring and shore power setups. I can get it very cheap, maybe just for the cost of towing it away (before it sinks!)

My IDEA is to haul out and cleanup the hull with sandblasting, epoxy seal and patch the worst spots, and paint it. But to not refloat it as a boat.

Instead, the IDEA is to then attach along both its sides 40 feet of Positive Foam Styrofoam Floatation blocks either by welding on L shaped brackets every 3 feet along both sides,

/or/

by nesting the hull by crane down into a pre built cradle like framework which holds the foam blocks, which will support, float and attach securely to the hull, making it an unsinkable, permanent float home.

With a new 3 foot wide walkway running along both sides of the 40 foot hull, on top of the new foam blocks beneath. (3'W x 3' deep x 40 feet of foam x 2 sides) should support 39,000 pounds.

Based on styrofoam's ability to support 50-55 lbs per sq foot). The added width and extra 9,000 lbs margin is for extreme snow load events, excessive people on board and for lateral stability during possible moments off center loading).

Can you comment on this IDEA, and any alternative suggestions or similar known conversions of a Houseboat to a Float Home, Or other Steel Hull conversion to a positive floatation shell?

It seems like a good way to salvage a nice little 2 bedroom float-home out of a leaky old steel hull.

Thanks! Dirk. Ladner BC.

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