NauticExpo e-Magazine - #9 – Vessel RecyclingNauticExpo e-Magazine

The Online Boating and Maritime Exhibition

Hard Times for Boat Recycling

Everybody knows that a boat has a history rich with many memories. It’s not like a telephone—you don’t just toss it aside and replace it. Given the sentimental and economic hurdles, as well as problems reusing fiberglass, the obstacles to vessel recycling are numerous. In this edition, you’ll read about the different steps required for end-of-life boat dismantling and examples of best practices in France and Holland. We also visited the Alfa Laval test and training center in Denmark and attended the International Multihull Boat Show in southern France.

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There had been a lot of discussion in Europe about this problem. We said we could either go on talking, or step up to do something about it.
Recycling end-of-life yachts in Holland (Courtesy of: Droits réservés)


With so many yachts made of glass fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP) since the 1960’s, end-of-life disposal is far from plain sailing. In the Netherlands, Stichting Jacht Recycling was created two and a half years ago to find safe ways to dispose of old yachts.   Many vessel parts pose a risk to the environment when...

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We’re now at the end of the useful life of boats built in the 1970s. That’s why the question of recycling has arisen only recently.
Abandoned boat at Llandanwg, Wales (Courtesy of William Warby)

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France is one of the few countries with regulations governing the dismantling and recycling of recreational vessels. But with economic and psychological hurdles, and problems reusing fiberglass, the obstacles are numerous. We spoke to Benoît Ribeil, project officer at APER, the French network overseeing the dismantling of boats up to 24 meters.


NE e-mag: Today, there are no global or EU regulations governing boat recycling. France finally passed a law in 2015. Why has the problem been ignored for so long?

Benoît Ribeil: The tragedy of the planned obsolescence of electrical and electronic devices we face every day doesn’t exist for recreational craft. These vessels can last for 40 or 50 years if they’re well maintained and if certain conditions are met. We’re now at the end of the useful life of boats built in the 1970s, when composites—fiberglass and resin—first entered recreational boating and the sector developed. That’s why the question of recycling has arisen only recently.

NE e-mag: What’s hindering boat recycling?

Benoît Ribeil: Several things. First, there’s a significant sentimental aspect. A boat has a history rich with many memories. It’s not like a lightbulb, a telephone or even a car. You don’t just toss it aside.

Then there’s the learning curve. Until now, no one thought about how to dismantle or recycle a boat, even the first generation of buyers, because, as I said, these are products that last 40 or 50 years. That means that today there’s a real need to address the psychological aspects and explain why it’s important to recycle boats the same way we recycle other things.

Boat Graveyard (Courtesy of Kat Schneider)

Boat Graveyard (Courtesy of Kat Schneider)

Last, there are economic and regulatory aspects. Judging the end of a boat’s useful life is subjective. There’s no technical inspection like the one for automobiles. In addition, the law doesn’t compel a boat owner to dismantle the vessel, though this is changing in France. Since dismantling costs money, the owner prefers to stick the boat in the back yard, sink it, burn it, abandon it or sell it cheaply to get rid of the problem. That’s today’s mindset.

NE e-mag: How much does it cost to dismantle a boat?

Benoît Ribeil: We estimate that the average cost for an eight-meter recreational vessel is about 1000 euros, payable entirely by the owner. It’s not a lot compared to a year’s operating expenses, but combined with the sentimental factor and the lack of mandatory recycling, it’s hard to convince boat owners to dismantle their craft.

NE e-mag: What are the steps in boat dismantling?

Benoît Ribeil: The first step is to take stock. The dismantling company evaluates the boat’s location and the lifting and transportation requirements for everything on the boat—air conditioning, refrigerators, pyrotechnic materials, etc. Then there’s logistics—lifting and transporting the boat to the dismantling site. Once there, the company carefully disassembles and sorts the different elements. The boat winds up in pieces stored in crates.

Boat dismantling (Courtesy of Hamill Machine Company)

Boat dismantling (Courtesy of Hamill Machine Company)

The other possibility is more industrial, requiring a much larger investment. The boat will be put into an enormous crusher. Then, machines will sort the debris, separating ferrous from non-ferrous materials, for example. The result is the same. You end up with small piles of sorted waste.

The final step is to make some use of the materials. The aluminum goes to a suitable waste stream, the ferrous metal to a foundry and the wood to a sawmill. That leaves the composites—fiberglass and resin.

The average cost for an eight-meter vessel is about 1000 euros.

NE e-mag: So, what do you do with fiberglass-resin composites?

Benoît Ribeil: They could be buried in specific sites. It’s not an ideal solution because such waste will take millions of years to disappear. But it’s legal and, unfortunately, necessary.

Another possibility is to transform it into a solid recovered fuel by mixing it with other types of waste. It’s then used to fire cement plants in place of fossil fuel. There’s also research and development underway with the goal of converting it into a new raw material.

NE e-mag: Can it be used to build new boats?

Benoît Ribeil: No, because the composites are degraded. After 50 years of use, they don’t have the same properties as when they were new. And after crushing the fibers are much shorter and don’t retain their initial properties. That means they can’t be used to build new boats. On the other hand, they might be suitable for certain elements aboard the boat that don’t require specific mechanical properties, for example the shower tray, cupboard doors, shelves or a mattress support.

Today’s primary challenge is to reuse and recycle fiberglass (Courtesy of Trade Only Today)

Today’s primary challenge is to reuse and recycle fiberglass (Courtesy of Trade Only Today)

We already have the techniques for that, but there are parameters to manage. These are primarily logistic and technical, because we’re talking about low volumes. The nautical sector consumes only 4% of composites. We won’t find solutions by ourselves, but will have to work with other industries.

Today’s primary challenge is to reuse and recycle fiberglass.

In addition, our worn out composites are not just fiberglass and resin. There’s also paint of unknown composition, wood, plastics, etc. That makes it difficult to characterize vessel composites.

We’re also facing economic constraints. New fiberglass is extremely cheap. That leaves us offering recycled fiberglass that is more expensive because of the all the operations we’ve been discussing, and whose properties are inferior to those of the new product. Try selling that to a businessperson. Today, the numbers don’t add up. But that’s part of tomorrow’s challenges for the nautical industry.

NE e-mag: Could biocomposites be a solution?

Benoît Ribeil: We shouldn’t play one against the other. We need to move forward on both fronts because the two sectors are totally different. Today, biocomposites are at the experimental stage. We’re not ready for industrial-scale production and there’s a lack of real-life data. Moreover, the use of biocomposites will only deliver results 40 or 50 years from now, if they last that long. Thus, we’re forced to find solutions for the stock of existing material and all the composites used in boats being manufactured today. They currently represent 98% of boat manufacturing. That means that today’s primary challenge is to reuse and recycle fiberglass.

Alang ship breaking yard in India (Courtesy of: Droits réservés )

Alang ship breaking yard in India (Courtesy of: Droits réservés )

NE e-mag: It’s not really your field, but what about recycling large vessels like trawlers?

Benoît Ribeil: Big boats are different because they’re made of different materials—steel hulls, for example. The shipowner considering dismantling will look at scrap metal prices and the laws of the country where the work might be done. The social and environmental constraints differ from country to country. It’s in the owner’s interest to do the work in a country with minimal restrictions. But things are changing. European directives now force owners to dismantle their vessels in Europe using government-authorized companies.

Ship breaking in Alang is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in India (Courtesy of)

Ship breaking in Alang is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in India (Courtesy of: Droits réservés)


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  • Gas combustion unit in the Alfa Laval Test Centre (Courtesy of Alfa Laval)

    Swedish maritime equipment producer Alfa Laval recently announced expansion of its test and training center in Aalborg, Denmark. The facility is now equipped for gas testing. NauticExpo e-mag was there.

    The company claims the expansion makes the plant, inaugurated in 2014, the most advanced test center for environmental and combustion technologies in the world.

    The original 250 m3  space is a full-sized machine room housing Alfa Laval products integrated with a 2 MW marine engine. The additional 1100 m3  will allow the company to test combustion technologies for liquified natural gas (LNG) and other potential future fuels. Recent installations include inert gas systems and an Alfa Laval Gas Combustion Unit (GCU). The GCU measures 23 meters from top to bottom and burns up to 4.5 tons of LNG per hour.

    Alfa Laval foresees changes in the fuel market in coming years, but further testing of new types of fuel will be necessary. Lars Skytte Jørgensen, vice president of product center boilers at Alfa Laval, explained:

    Within 15 years, it is expected that thousands of vessels will be sailing with LNG as fuel, compared to the hundreds using gas today.

    “We can clearly see emission regulation driving the trend. But the success of the transition will depend in large part on advanced technology, much of which has yet to be developed.”



    Alfa Laval Aalborg OS-TCi with gas burner (Courtesy of Alfa Laval)

    Anne Henningsen, marketing communications manager at Alfa Laval, told us:

    The GCU will be used for tests with LNG only. Additionally, we will analyze and improve, if feasible, the combustion quality and efficiency on the GCU.

    One of Alfa Laval’s latest projects is a new dual-fuel burner for gas-diesel applications in smaller boilers. The company plans to develop this into a multi-fuel solution in partnership with the Technical University of Denmark.

    Henningsen says that the dual-fuel system will be tested in both large and small scale versions. The burner initially will be used with marine gas oil and natural gas. Later, small-scale testing will include methanol and other fuels.

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    The wind is free. Add two engines and you have a formula that makes sailing catamarans appealing by combining safety and comfort. That’s the new Catana 53, showcased at the International Multihull Boat Show, April 19-23 in La Grande Motte on the French Mediterranean.


    Given the competitive market and the number of new models at La Grande Motte 2017, finding a standout boat was difficult. But the new Catana 53 is a worthy candidate. The French company’s yachts have a long tradition of innovation and performance. Focusing on the market sweet spot—comfortable cruisers that can be handled by two people—led them to launch the Catana 53.

    The Catana 53 slots into the builder’s line between the 47 and the 62. This new boat is an in-house design, whereas the previous models were created by the well-known French designer Christophe Barreau. Catana is known for its performance models, built near Perpignan in southwest France since 1984. Their fast bluewater cruisers were characterized by slender hulls with great freeboard, unusual bulbous plumb, bows and long dagger boards. Beginning with the Catana 59, the design became more angular, also true of the new 53.

    Why a Cat?

    Catamaran sales continue their strong growth in the recreational cruising market. Vast deck space and stability at sea endear them to a wide range of buyers, including first-timers and former powerboat owners. The global market for cruising multihulls counts more than 1000 units annually—80% sail and 20% motor. Production is worth about 450 million euros.

    La Grande Motte 2017 was the debut place chosen by the French builder for the Catana 53 (Courtesy of Kevin Green)

    La Grande Motte 2017 was the debut place chosen by the French builder for the Catana 53 (Courtesy of Kevin Green)

    France leads the market, with major producers such as Lagoon, Fountaine Pajot and Catana. The other major region is South Africa, where Robertson & Caine manufactures largely for the charter market and its Leopard brand. Asian production is on the rise across a vast area, where niche brands such as McConaghy, Seawind and HH are emerging.

    The Catana 53 accommodations layout has the owner’s hull to starboard side, where a forward entryway offers good privacy. The port hull holds twin double cabins. The hull is partly carbon for rigidity, lightness and, of course, speed. A common bane of cat sailing is going to windward in a choppy sea. The 53’s daggerboards are designed to offer upwind power, even when the boat is fully loaded with cruising equipment.

    The new Catana 53 uses daggerboards to boost windward performance (Courtesy of Catana)

    The new Catana 53 uses daggerboards to boost windward performance (Courtesy of Catana)

    The polar diagram shows impressive speed to match the wind at 16 knots, making the craft suitable for occasional racing. The cockpit has twin wheels outboard, giving the performance sailor a clear view and feel at the cost of exposure to the elements. Sail control gear is around both binnacles, and the mainsheet runs across the transom, away from guests sitting beside the saloon bulkhead.

    These features combine to make an ideal performance cruising boat that will take you safely along the coast or around the world.


    Michael Halpern

    Michael Halpern is a US-born and bred writer with experience in radio. He has lived in southern France for 15 years. Michael is the copy editor of NauticExpo e-magazine.

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    Abigail Saltmarsh

    Abigail Saltmarsh is a freelance journalist with 25 years’ experience for national magazines (The New York Times, International Herald Tribune).

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    Øyvind Bordal

    Øyvind Bordal is a norwegian writer and sailor, based in Denmark and Caribbean.


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    Kevin Green

    Kevin Green is a Sydney-based yachting journalist who contributes to international boating publications.


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    Celia Sampol

    Celia Sampol has been a journalist for more than 15 years. She worked in Brussels and Washington for national medias (Agence France Presse, Liberation, Europolitics). She’s the editor-in-chief of NauticExpo e-magazine and MedicalExpo e-magazine.

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    Tony Slinn

    Formerly editor-in-chief of IHS Maritime, Tony Slinn is an independent maritime journalist.

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    Samantha Fisk

    Samantha Fisk worked at RINA for 7 years and has now gone into freelance for European magazines.

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