Be cautious when taking expensive boats on trade

Water sports can be great fun. But not when the water is where you don’t want it to be, like in the wood cores of transoms, stringers and decks of fiberglass boats. I have recently heard that dealers are encountering moisture problems in wood cores of used boats taken in on trade. Why is this now becoming more of an issue? Apparently because many marine surveyors are now using “moisture meters,” which identify moisture in wood cores used in many fiberglass boats.
I asked Phil Keeter, president of the MRAA, if he had heard much about the problem. He said that several dealers have complained about it. Even he had experienced the problem.
“I have a 30-foot, twin-screw fiberglass boat,” he explained, “and four years ago I discovered it had a ‘rotten’ transom. I was getting water in the stern of the boat and finally discovered that it was coming in around the holes where the transom plates were installed. When we tightened these bolts, the transom just squeezed down or crushed. The transom core was full of moisture. We had to pull the engines out and replace the transom and part of the stringers.”
I decided that the topic needed a little more research. As it turns out, many of the dealers I know have been affected by wood core moisture in one way or another.
“We certainly are encountering moisture problems,” said Lowell Joy, Lakeside Marine, a successful dealer in Ohio. “Some are serious and some are not. A lot of marine surveyors are now using moisture meters, which has been sort of a ‘good news — bad news’ situation. Good news in that they discover problems but bad news because in many cases boat prospects or owners get upset over what might be very minor moisture problems that only need some resealing to solve.”
Moisture problems in wood core boats, it turns out, can be caused from a variety of issues. Whether the seal on the original fittings has been broken or it was never sealed correctly in the first place, moisture can cause some serious problems.
“Boats need to be sealed better at many factories,” Joy added, “and then more maintenance needs to be done to make sure boats stay properly sealed.”
We talked with some of the boat builders, and it seems as though careful manufacturing, along with new technologies are erasing the concern over moisture having an effect.
“We have not had a moisture problem with Parker Boats,” said Linwood Parker, president, Parker Boats, Beaufort, N.C. “We use special, pressure-treated marine plywood that resists rot, fungal attack and deterioration. Our cores are then fully encased in fiberglass.
“With wood cores, the application, technique and dedication to doing it right in the manufacturing process and making sure everything is completely sealed is very important. Any holes that we drill are completely sealed.”
“Our VEC boats have no wood in them,” explained Jeff Olson, president of Larson/Glastron Boats. “We use a composite, high-density foam transom and fiberglass stringers. In our conventional cruisers and deck boats, we use pressure treated plywood encapsulated in resin. We really haven’t had a moisture problem with any of our Larson and Glastron boats.”
The marine surveyors have had their say, though, and their moisture meters continue to prove that there is, indeed, an issue with used boats. If what we’re hearing from the manufacturers now is true, the future and its technological advances just may eliminate the concern for future models.
In the meantime, however, there is a concern, according to those surveyors we spoke with.
“Yes, there are moisture problems in several areas caused by cored wood transoms, stringers, frames, and bilge floors not being properly sealed,” said Captain Norm Leblanc, a professional marine surveyor in the Boston, Mass., area. “This allows water to migrate into cores of stringers, frames and floors, which can cause core rot and delaminating. These problems stem from boat builders not soaking resins into the cores, transoms, stringers, frames and floors. When holes are drilled into floors, stringers and transoms to mount fittings, drains, engines, etc., without sealing the holes, moisture can get in and cause damage.”
“Improper use of cores can cause moisture problems,” said Greg Group, a marine surveyor in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. “This is especially a problem when holes are drilled in the transom, stringers or deck. In the north, when moisture gets in the core, it can freeze, expand and cause major damage to the laminate.”
It’s obvious that moisture is something to be aware of and watch out for. My advice to dealers is to thoroughly inspect expensive used boats for moisture before taking them in on trade. Buy a moisture meter and do it yourself, or hire a professional marine surveyor. Just don’t put a lot of money into a boat that has a problem like Phil Keeter encountered. And boat builders, be aware that moisture meters are putting your boats under a “microscope.” Make sure that any wood cores in your boats are sealed properly!

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