Fiberglass lasts a long, long time. With a lifespan averaging 50 years, boats made from fiberglass will give you the highest return on investment versus any other vessel on the market. But hey, nothing lasts forever, and that’s probably why you’re here.
A fiberglass boat that’s reached the end of its lifespan won’t just dissolve into the ground. On the contrary, these boats can stick around for centuries when improperly disposed of. So to help you do the right thing, here are some tips on how to get rid of a fiberglass boat the responsible way.
Different Ways to Get Rid of a Fiberglass Boat
For the record - there are strict laws that prevent boat owners from simply discarding a fiberglass boat however they want to. That means that when it’s time to give that boat up, you can’t just toss it out and be done with it.
Here are some of the better ways to get rid of a fiberglass boat:
As the old saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You might be able to donate your boat to a boat donation program if there are any in your area. Places like Florida, Rhode Island, and Maryland are usually where you’d find such programs.
BoatUS has a boat donation program which refurbishes old boats to make them water-worthy again. Of course, that also means that your boat should have to be a certain condition to fit their program.
Other programs like the Rhode Island Fiberglass Vessel Recycling (RIFVR) Pilot Project uses fiberglass boats as an alternate source of fuel for the cement industry. The program was brought to life as a response to the growing issue of the disposal of end-of-life fiberglass hulls.
Maybe your boat hasn’t exhausted its usable lifespan just yet, but you’re ready to let it go anyway. You might still be able to sell it for a handsome price. Don’t expect to turn a profit though, and don’t think you’d be able to get back the full price you paid for it.
But even then, it still better than having to let it go at no value. If you’re in a rush, you could probably sell it for a fraction of its original price. But if you want to sell it for more than just spare change, you could try to restore it (by painting it for example) first to increase its market value and make it more appealing to your buyers.
Take It to a Landfill
Unfortunately for most of the United States, the best and most common way of getting rid of a fiberglass boat would be to take it to a landfill. But they won’t take it off of your hands just like that. They’re interested in just the fiberglass part, so anything that isn’t will have to be stripped away.
That entails getting rid of any hazardous fluids taken out. That also means you’d have to remove all of its other parts like the engine, motor, and basically anything else that isn’t made of fiberglass. Unless your local landfill has the capacity to process those as well, you might have to look into finding a suitable disposal method for those extra parts.
There are some people and organizations that will buy electronics taken from your boat at a very low cost. You can also check local boat shops that might be able to use them, since they’re almost always the only ones willing to buy these components off of boat owners’ hands.
If you’ve got a bit of creativity flowing through your veins, then you might be able to upcycle your boat. This involves taking the hull and turning it into something entirely new. Pinterest is just overflowing with ideas for upcycling an old boat hull, so you shouldn’t run out of inspiration.
Some noteworthy projects include turning the boat into an outdoor lounge sofa or wicker, a flower bed, a sandbox for kids, or even a standing shelving unit. Other honorable mentions include a center table, a bed frame, or a play boat for kids.
Remember, even if your boat is no longer water-worthy, that fiberglass material is going to last several more decades, or even centuries with proper care. Turning it into something completely different can breathe new life into the boat and make it a functional piece around your home.
The difference between upcycling and recycling is that the former turns the boat into something different, whereas recycling breaks the boat down into smaller pieces so it can be manufactured into something new. There are some boat salvage yards that will do the chore for you, but they’re not always available throughout the United States.
That said, most boat owners find that they’d have to do the dirty work themselves if they want to get rid of their fiberglass boat. Keep in mind though that it can take quite a bit of time and effort, so it helps to make sure you’ve cleared up your weekend before you tackle the project.
How to Recycle a Fiberglass Boat
So you’ve decided to recycle your boat on your own for a low-cost disposal. Well, there are a few steps you’re going to have to follow so that your efforts aren’t wasted. Here’s the low-down on how to get rid of an old boat by recycling it:
Drain It of All Fluids
That includes everything like fuel, oil, coolant, and whatever else that your boat has inside. These toxic fluids need to be disposed of separately, and will not be accepted with the rest of the boat if you’re eyeing to recycle the fiberglass material.
One thing to keep in mind when draining the fluids is that you shouldn’t mix them together. This could produce dangerous fumes that could be potentially toxic. What’s more, this could earn you a well-deserved reprimand from the folks at the hazardous waste disposal facility.
For bigger boats, it’s also possible that you might have a sewage system on board. For the love of your own health and wellness, avoid draining the sewage on your own. Hire a professional to get the job done and make sure you dispose of the waste properly.
Get Rid of Equipment, Gear, and Electronics
The first thing you’ll want to remove is the battery. This just prevents any potential shocks and short circuits that might happen while your dismantling the rest of your boat. Get rid of all metal parts, motors, and anything else that isn’t made of fiberglass.
To some extent, you might be able to sell the reusable parts for a small price. But if your boat is older, then a lot of the electrical items might be obsolete. That said, the best way to dispose of them would be to send them off to a scrap yard.
Chop Up the Boat
Now, here’s the tricky part. You’re going to want to start slowly, unless you end up injuring yourself along the way. That means wearing the proper protective gear as you chop up the boat. Make sure you’ve got a suitable pair of work gloves, a pair of protective goggles, and maybe even work overalls.
Most importantly, you’re going to want to wear a dust mask or even a full-face respirator since fiberglass can produce little shards that could irritate your respiratory system.
Hack away at the boat from the top, removing any structural elements that could make it tougher to chop up the bottom. Once all of that is out of the way, you can start cutting up the hull. You don’t want the pieces to be too big or too small. Think the size of a dinner plate.
Dispose of the Pieces
Even small boats will produce quite a lot of fiberglass material. So your average garbage bag might not be big enough to keep all of those pieces inside. Instead, you can contact your local refuse removal company and ask if you can hire a skip. They’ll deliver the thing to your doorstep and you can start filling it up with your fiberglass material.
Once you’re done, the refuse removal company should come around and pick up the skip - fiberglass included. They’ll also be responsible for finding the proper place to dispose of what’s left of your fiberglass boat.
Where Can You Dispose a Fiberglass Boat?
In states and cities where boating is common, you should be able to find a vessel turn-in program that offers to take your boat off of your hands if you find that it no longer serves its purpose.
Again, these services are pretty limited since there’s no market for them in some places. But if you’re in these areas, then you should be able to access the service:
The California Division of Boating and Waterways offers a turn-in program, and recycling, dismantling, and disposal services for boat owners who want to get rid of their vessel.
Monroe County in Florida also offers similar services to those of California. Their Derelict Vessel Removal Program aims to help boat owners find a suitable way to get rid of a boat that might end up becoming an environmental hazard.
The Texas General Land Office offers a turn-in program for boat owners who want to voluntarily surrender their boat. Their aim is to provide boat owners an eco-conscious alternative to sinking or burning their boat.
The Department of Natural Resources in Washington State has a vessel turn-in program that hopes to give boat owners a variety of options when it comes to getting rid of an old boat.
How NOT to Get Rid of a Fiberglass Boat
You might be tempted to do things your way, but there are some pretty serious consequences and steep fines lined up for boat owners who fail to properly dispose of a fiberglass boat. So what are some of the disposal methods you should avoid? Here are the most common:
For the record - fiberglass doesn’t burn. You might be able to melt it though if you reach temperatures exceeding 212°F. As the boat smolders in the flames, it will release fumes made of formaldehyde and a concoction of other toxic chemicals that can irritate the eyes, skin, and the respiratory system. And even after all of that irritation and the hazards to your health, your boat is still going to be around. So burning is going to be a no.
Some clever cats thought that it would be a good idea to drill a few holes in the boat’s hull and just leave it to sink. Others even suggest that boats can provide the scaffolding for corals and other marine ecosystems to develop. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are lots of toxic substances on your boat aside from the fiberglass itself. As it degrades at the bottom of the water, it contaminates the ecosystem and causes a threat to marine wildlife that dwell there. Not to mention the fact that sinking a boat can cost steep fines and even jail time.
What if you just… leave it there? Well, that might sound like a good idea. But there are loads of identifiers on a boat that could help law enforcement trace it back to you. And when they find out who owns that boat, you could face serious jail time and expensive penalties.
Remember that in some states, there are government groups and organizations that are dedicated to just ID’ing derelict boats. There are others that even go as far as informing boat owners when it seems that their boat is at risk of becoming derelict. Just do the right thing and dispose of it properly.
Bye, Bye, Boatie
When you first buy a fiberglass boat, the fact that the material lasts almost forever might be one of its best qualities. But that very same high point might be the pivotal point of your pain as you try to find a way to get rid of it. While it’s not obvious how to get rid of a fiberglass boat at the start, you should be able to find an agency, organization, or a service to help you out. Otherwise, you could always just visit your local landfill or start hacking away.