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This is a reprint of the paper Aluminium for Yacht Construction written by George Whisstock, and read to the Superyacht Symposium 1991. Though it is now some 20 years old, it is still a good discussion of the use of aluminium alloys for yacht construction. Remember that "today" in this paper is 1991!

Aluminium for Yacht Construction

By: George Whisstock, 11th January 1991

Summary: Boats have been built from aluminium and its alloys for about 100 years but it has only become regularly used for yachts during the last 30 years.

This paper describes the most usual methods of construction for aluminium yachts today and discusses some of the properties of the material that make it ideal for high quality yachtbuilding.

1. Background

1991 could indeed be the centenary year for aluminium as a boat building material, as possibly the first boat to be so constructed was a 5m launch built in Switzerland in 1891.

The early aluminium boats were built from pure aluminium. This has excellent corrosion resistance in sea water but it is not really strong enough for marine service. However some excellent results were obtained.

The first recorded sea-going vessel, the 12m French steam yacht 'Mignon', was built a year later than the Swiss boat, in 1892. The French went on to build an 18m boat for the navy in 1894, reputed to be capable of over 21 knots, and two 12.8m sloops used in the survey of the Niger river in Africa.

The Wellman polar expedition of 1894 used 5.5m aluminium surf boats with a weight about half that of a timber surf boat of the same size. These were extremely successful and apparantly resisted the pressure of ice to a very much greater extent than wooden boats.

New alloys containing magnesium and manganese were developed in the late 1920's and early 1930's, and these combined superior strength with excellent corrosion resistance. Although the first large boat to utilize the new alloys would seem to have been a 16.75m cruiser 'Diana II' built in England in 1931, the widespread development of aluminium boatbuilding seems to have been very much slower in the UK than on the Continent (notably in the Netherlands and France) and in the USA. One consequence of this has been that the UK has, until recently, missed out on much of the Superyacht market.

The use of aluminium has become widespread throughout the world for commercial vessels of many types but particularly fast workboats, fast patrol boats, landing craft, personal carriers and similar vessels where low maintenance, resistance to abrasion and damage and light weight are important, and for superstructures of larger vessels both commercial and naval.

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© George Whisstock.