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Is it worth replacing the wooden top of my narrow boat with a steel one and if so could you recommend anybody?

I currently own a 59ft narrowboat built in 1984 by the Uxbridge Boat Centre with a steel hull and a wood and fibreglass top. The wood and fibre glass has significantly deteriorated and I am looking at replacing it with a steel top. I have virtually no experience of narrow boat building and was hoping someone could advise me on best course of action.
I have recently had the boat surveyed and it does require some overplating (the report states that "potentially the immersed hull side plating and counterplate should be overplated as it is anticipated that the internal surfaces of this plating will be significantly corroded" but this could only be fully determined with a full internal inspection which could not be carried out. Also the top of the starboard swim plating needs overplating otherwise the rest of the hull seems in reasonable condition).
Is it worth putting a steel top on this hull? And if so could anybody make any recommendations. The boat is currently on the Kennet and Avon but is heading toward London although I would happily head up to the Midlands if a reasonably priced steel fabricator was recommended.
Thanks in advance for any replies.

Asked by: gareth939  | 5.45pm, Monday 16 August


WW says:

It is difficult to give an answer without seeing the boat but my gut reaction would be that it is probably not worth the expense. If the hull is in the condition described in the report, (when you look at what needs overplating, there is not much left) the remedial work could run into several thousands. You would also have to cope with the additional weight of the overplating.
The cabin can also be overplated in steel which means that the interior is not disrupted as much as it would be if you removed the timber top and replaced it with a steel one. However, this job needs to be done with great skill and care to avoid the heat from the welding operation igniting the existing timber superstructure. It is therefore likely to carry a considerable price tag. Also, you would not only be adding to the weight further but you would be raising the centre of gravity of the boat which might make it less stable.
The boat's value would be increased by the remedial work but I suspect it would be by much less than what it would cost to do.
It is always hard to condemn a boat that may have become part of the family but, looking at it from a purely economic viewpoint, now might be a good time to say goodbye.

Graham Booth  | 7.03PM, Monday 16 August

As I said before, it is difficult to make these sorts of judgements without seeing the boat. Your best bet would be to employ a marine surveyor with the appropriate experience and a realistic attitude, and let him advise you on the best course of action. It sounds as if you have one already lined up but, if not, there is a list of surveyors in the current Waterways World annual, available through this website.
If the answer is that it is not economically feasible to repair/restore the boat, you could try to sell it as it is - you can sell anything at the right price. Alternatively, you could patch up the superstructure, get some more years of use out of the boat and sell it for scrap when it becomes impossible to license or insure it.

Graham Booth  | 10.07AM, Thursday 19 August


Readers say:

Hi Graham, thanks for your response. I'm going to get the internal steel work inspected once I've made it accessible so will hopefully get an idea of exactly how much over plating is required, its likely cost and therefore the influence it bears on final pricing and consequently the viability of the project. Overplating the cabin would be nice but there is already such a large amalgamation of wood and fibreglass, all in quite a bad state, that I fear adding anything else would cause the cabin to actually protrude beyond the hull !!
If the overplating proves uneconomic what options are there for a boat in this condition, could I sell it?
Thanks again for your advice.

gareth939  | 4.18PM, Wednesday 18 August

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