What Causes Rust to Form on Boats?


If you own a boat, you know that there is much more at stake than aesthetics when rust begins to form, it can impact the boat’s overall integrity and value. Knowing how to care for and maintain your steel boat, and its fixtures, is something that every owner should have a vested interest in, especially if you live and sail in a saltwater situation, where the waters are particularly hard on boats and vessels.

What actually causes rust to form on boats? Here’s a few tips to get rust off stainless-steel surfaces, including your boat:

Galvanic Corrosion

When considering the different types of rust that can form on your boat, you should be aware of galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion damages the underwater parts, equipment, or fixtures of your vessel. There is a chemical reaction that occurs when these different types of metallic surfaces come in contact with saltwater, resulting in rust. The speed, frequency, and severity of the corrosion depends upon a few factors, including the type of metal. The quick fix to this scenario to prevent it deteriorating and compromising your boat, is to invest in a sacrificial anode to break the electrical circuit that occurs when metals and saltwater meet. This is often done by bolting an anode made of aluminum, magnesium, or zinc to the prop if you have a brass prop. The dissimilar metals will create a chemical reaction that makes it immune to the corrosive qualities of the saltwater. You can use this technique with your engine, hull, propeller, condenser, or rudder effectively and easily, protecting them from the rust and degradation that galvanic corrosion leads to.

Atmospheric Corrosion

When it comes to atmospheric corrosion, it is more difficult to control the circumstances causing the rust. When stainless steel comes in contact with airborne particles, moisture, or contaminants, corrosion occurs. Some examples may be the saltwater spray, rain, snow, grime, and dirt from nearby traffic. Prolonged exposure to saltwater also causes oxidation that corrodes steel boats. This atmospheric corrosion will also occur in freshwater environments, but much more slowly in comparison.

Chemical Corrosion

For Chemical corrosion to occur, your metal vessel must come in direct, tactile contact with the corrosive substance. For example, cleaning a metal hull with bleach, which will subsequently cause rust to form quite quickly. Much like atmospheric corrosion, it can be difficult to manage environmental influences that cause this type of rust, especially when mooring your vessel in public spaces and places.

Contact Corrosion

Interestingly enough, contact corrosion sounds a lot like chemical corrosion, but actually is the result of tiny, microscopic particles of metal becoming embedded in stainless steel surfaces. This causes, in some instances, very subtle pitting which leads to corrosion and rust. Some of the pieces of metal may include carbon or copper.

Tips to Get Rust Off Stainless Steel

So what to do about rust on your stainless vessel? In addition to preventing corrosion in the first place, you may choose to utilize a chemical solvent like Magica, the best rust remover spray to treat and remove rust after it forms on your metal surfaces. In the case of this product, the rust is converted into salt, which is then easy to wash away. You will want to look for products that do not contain acidic or corrosive ingredients as this can further damage your steel boat.

Never scour or scrub the vessel with wire brushes or harsh, abrasive cleansers. These will scratch and create pits, making your vessel’s surfaces more prone to corrosion and rust. Use gentle cleaners and cloth, like chamois for instance, and always use fresh water. You may use dish detergent for a mild cleaner to help remove dirt or grime from metal surfaces, like your steel boat. Do not use steel wool or you will damage your property.

Always thoroughly rinse and hose-down your vessel after every outing in saltwater- despite how long you were at sea. Use fresh water and concentrate on fittings, fixtures, and the hull. This will significantly reduce the opportunity that rust has to form after your voyage.

When you are adding or altering fixtures or features on your boat, try to avoid using metals that are not the same. Using different types of metals can make cleaning and maintaining these surfaces tricky. For instance, if you have brass fittings and fixtures, stick to brass, and if your vessel has stainless steel parts and equipment, stick to stainless steel throughout. The exception to this being when you are trying to prevent galvanic corrosion by adding dissimilar metals to a part of the boat to create a chemical reaction.

Own a metal boat? Take time and care to learn how to preserve and maintain your vessel and protect it from rust. Rust is far more than an eyesore, when left unaddressed it comprises the overall integrity and sea worthiness of your boat. You can curb and reduce rust, don’t let it impact the pleasure and joy of being a boat owner.

Kelly Passarelly
Kelly Passarelly is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about different topics.

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