End-of-life composite boats

During the 1950s, glass fibre reinforced polyester (GRP/FRP/fibreglass) composites displaced wood as the material of choice for boats as it permitted easier manufacture, smoother hydrodynamic surfaces and significantly reduced the maintenance costs. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) established that, after 24 years of service against a planned operational lifespan of 25 years, the Severn lifeboat composite hulls can continue operational service for another 25 years. The life extension programme includes new shock-mitigating seats for the crew, new survivor space seating for casualties, and a new daughter craft that can be launched quickly for rescuing casualties in shallow waters or close to rocks [1]. The Royal Navy GRP mine counter-measures vessel (MCMV) HMS Brecon (launched 1978, decommissioned in 2005, repurposed 2008) is now a static training ship attached to HMS Raleigh and moored off Jupiter Point on the River Lynher.

However, the durability of the composite materials is now becoming an issue given that many boats are no longer required and disposal is not trivial. Unwanted vessels may occupy berths in marina (without contributing mooring fees) or be distributed throughout the coastal region with negative effects on tourism [2].

University of Plymouth has reviewed the disposal of composite boats and other marine composites [3] but that text reveals there is considerable scope for the development of new technologies to minimise the environmental burdens which arise.

Ruadan Geraghty is undertaking a research project to establish the extent of the problem, and the environmental consequences, and develop an appropriate route for handling abandoned, discarded or unwanted fibreglass vessels. The solution should be transferrable to the problem of end-of-life wind turbine blades and other large composite structures.

<p>The Royal Navy GRP mine counter-measures vessel HMS Brecon<br></p>
The repurposed GRP mine counter-measures vessel at Jupiter Point
<p>A view of the harbour in New Zealand</p>
A view of the harbour in New Zealand


[1] The magnificent Severn set to save lives for another 25 years, RNLI LIfeboats website, accessed 24 May 2021.

[2] ICF in association with Deloitte, Marine South East, Sea Teach and IEEP, Assessment of the Impact of Business Development Improvements around Nautical Tourism final report Annex 7, European Commission, Brussels, November 2016.

[3] J Summerscales, M Singh and K Wittamore, Disposal of composite boats and other marine composites, Chapter 8 in J Graham-Jones and J Summerscales (editors), Marine Applications of Advanced Fibre-reinforced Composites, Woodhead/Elsevier, Cambridge, 2015, 185-213. ISBN 978-1-78242-250-1, September 2015.