Wed, Feb 15, 2023 at 2:00PM

How Are Saltwater Boats Designed Differently than Freshwater Boats?

While some boats are happy to power their way through either saltwater or freshwater, many are designed to work in one or the other. If you plan on sticking to one type of water for the rest of your boating life, you can get a boat for your choice and never have to worry about what the other type of water will do to your vessel. 

But perhaps the question lingers in the back of your mind. What are the differences between saltwater boats and freshwater boats?

The Biggest Factor Is Corrosion

Saltwater is far more corrosive than freshwater. Boats designed to live in the harshness of saltwater have closed cooling systems to keep harmful impurities from reaching sensitive components. Freshwater boats generally use water from the environment for their open cooling systems. 

Each system works fine in its intended environment, and closed systems are comfortable in either type of water. However, using an open cooling system in saltwater will expose the engine to corrosive materials and shorten its lifespan.

Hull Differences

Boats that live in saltwater are more likely to experience a buildup of marine organisms, such as barnacles. This buildup is why saltwater boats need to experience a deep cleaning at regular intervals to avoid damage from sea life. 

Additionally, it’s not only the salt and impurities in the water that cause problems for boat hulls; it’s how rough the water can be.

Freshwater boats don’t have to withstand the force of constant high waves and dramatically choppy conditions. They can have shallower Vs and remain stable. 

Saltwater boats are generally much deeper and have stronger hulls, which allows them to ride on top of the water and slice through rough water. However, this also means that saltwater boats can run the risk of bottoming out in freshwater due to shallower depths.

Another way that saltwater boats can be damaged in freshwater is by absorbing water, which results in blisters. These blisters usually occur because the boat lives in the water full-time, and blisters generally develop in the 5 to 10-year range. It is more of a problem in freshwater than saltwater.

Protecting Electronics

Water and electronics don’t mix, but saltwater and electronics are mortal enemies. Freshwater boats don’t have the same level of protection for their electronics that saltwater boats do. 

If your freshwater boat needs to enter saltwater for any reason, it’s essential to clean the electronics thoroughly afterward. It’s also possible to upgrade the electronics to withstand the effects of saltwater, but this can sometimes be a lengthy and costly project.

Resale Value for Saltwater vs. Freshwater Boats

When selling used boats, mentioning “saltwater” can be disastrous to the resale value, regardless of whether they are saltwater-specific top center console boats, freshwater pontoon boats, or any other type of boat. 

Many buyers believe that saltwater is so corrosive and damaging that any boat that’s been in saltwater must necessarily be in worse shape than a strictly freshwater boat. In reality, if a saltwater boat has been well cared for and properly maintained, there’s no reason it should be in any worse condition than any other boat.

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