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Boat building was the first industry that started to use composites and to assemble it by bonding, starting

in the fifties and sixties in USA. These composites were at that time only glass reinforced plastics, and the
plastic matrixes were only based on polyester resins, and GRP is still today by far the largest composite
used for leisure boats.
GRP boats market developed very fast in the sixties because many fishermen wanted to have a simple,
small fishing boat. The hulls and decks were molded separately by contact, the resin was cured at room
temperature, and later the deck was bonded to the hull by using polyester putties or adhesives, because
the compatibility was obvious. Stringers, stiffeners, foam cores and later bulkheads were also bonded to
the hull and to the deck. Later larger sailing boats and racing boats were also made of GRP with some
Polyester putties are 2 components system based on polyester resin plus methyl ethyl ketone peroxide
MEKP which is used as a catalyst. They are cheap and excellent to fill large gaps between deck and hull.
But polyester adhesives are hard and rigid, the bond was quite strong but could be damaged after years
when submitted to the repeated shocks of the waves on the hull, creating fatigue effects. Anyway these
polyester putties and adhesives worked very well during 30 years, for GRP boats.
Later, high tech racing yatchs started to use carbon-epoxy composites which were bonded only with high
performances epoxy adhesives of high modulus as the composite itself. Of course when the parts were
not hollow, co-curing of the various prepregs was used, but when parts are hollow, it is mandatory to
assemble by bonding.

Assembly techniques
There are 2 ways of assembly for GRP naval parts:

wet tabbing: refer to figure 1

Figure 1: Closing-up schematic of tabbed stringer, with

average dimensions for a 30ft boat.

In this case, several layers of glass cloth are wetted with polyester adhesive and placed over the 2 parts
to be bonded, thereby creating a flange. After tabbing parts were allowed to cure for some 24 hours at

Figure 2: Design of wet tabbing of the bulkhead

Figures 2 and 3 show the design of the bonds made by wet tabbing. In wet tabbing there is a
concentration of stresses at the angle as shown on figure 4.

Figure 3: Wet tabbing, other designs

true bonding: refer to figure4 and 5

Figure 4: Comparison of stress distribution for the bonded stringer (left) and the
wet-tabbed stringer(right). The wet tabbed section may break easily.

True bonding may be made with polyester putties for thick layers, polyester adhesives, epoxy adhesives,
and now with methacrylate adhesives, polyurethanes, or urethane-acrylates. We have discussed these
adhesives in former chapters.
We will compare later the properties of these different adhesives, and show now some typical

Figure 5: Bonded stringer with typical dimensions

All these adhesives have excellent adhesion to reinforced plastics such as glass-polyester, but for
carbon-epoxy composites it is mandatory to use epoxy adhesives. These various adhesives differ in
mechanical resistance, they have different modulus, different flexibility and peel or cleavage resistance,
and therefore they differ a lot as far as shock and fatigue resistance are concerned. some require surface
preparation while other do not. Their prices per kg or liter also differ widely. All are 2 components, room
temperature curing.

Bonding stringers and stiffeners to the hull

This is the first assembly job after molding the hull. Figure 6 shows the different applications. As
discussed previously, stiffeners were mostly wet tabbed in the past, but now several adhesives are used:

polyester adhesives, several suppliers: SCOTT BADER, REICHHOLD, ASHLAND and several
polyurethane adhesives: 2 types may be used, the 2 components PU ( from SIKA, BOSTIK,
ASHLAND Pliogrip, and others ) which require mixing, or the one component PU used with an
accelerator called booster ( for example the Sikaflex 254 ), in order to reduce the curing time,
epoxy adhesives, are used only to bond carbon-epoxy high performance composites, because for
glass fiber-polyester composites it is enough to use polyester or polyurethane adhesives,
Urethane-acrylate adhesives, such as the CRYSTIC Crestomer adhesives from SCOTT BADER,
Methacrylate adhesives, let us mention those from PLEXUS, WELD-ON USA and others.

Figure 7: Joints between ribs and the hull

Figures 7 to 9 show several designs.

Figure 8: Schematic of stringers to be

assembled onto the boat hull

Figure 9: Stringer to bulkhead connection


Adhesives performances
PLEXUS has compared the performances of different types of adhesives for the bond of stringers and

Figure 10: Static lap-shear data comparision (indicating the modes of failure)
MA556 is a methaeylate structural adhesive from PLEXUS Co. USA, B-39 and
B-60 are polyester putties
Source: PLEXUS

Figure 11: Cleavage-Peel results and mode of failure

Figures 10 to 13 provides these comparisons, and shows the advantages of methacrylates adhesives
over polyester adhesives and putties.

Figure 12: Izod impact results

Figure 13: Cycle fatigue testing

The main point is the fatigue resistance, because the whole boat flexes and must withstand the repeated
shocks of the waves at sea. For this reason, it is better to use an adhesive that displays some flexibility:
PUs, urethane -acrylates and modern methacrylates are all good in this respect, and much better than
Polyester Resin

Tensile Strain to Failure (%) Tensile Strength (ksi) Young's Modulus (E) ksi


ITW Plexus MA425

Table 1: Comparison of tensile properties for plexus MA 425 and polyester resin used for the stringer assembly
MA 425 is a methacrylate adhesive from PLEXUS Co.

SCOTT BADER also compared the performances of its urethane-acrylates and other adhesives figure 14

Crystic Crestomer adhesives are

one of a wide variety of materials
that can be used to bond
substrates. Compared to other
adhesives, Crystic Crestomer
offer the following benefits.
Monomer type identical to
polyester resins
Cured with conventional
Low exotherm during cure
Available in a range of gel and
curing times
Cost effective

High exotherm in an adhesive can

cause the substrate to distort and
give poor aesthetic characteristics
to the parts being bonded.
The Chemistry of Crystic
Crestomer adhesives ensures that
high exotherm temperatures, a
characteristic of adhesives such
as Methacrylates, do not occur.
The graph shows the exotherm
temperatures of Crystic
Crestomer adhesives compared
to methacrylate adhesives over a
range of test temperatures.

As well as strength of the bond,

another important consideration is
the behaviour of the adhesives as
it hardens or cures.
This graph indicates the level of
solvent loss of Crystic Crestomer
Advantage compared to
Methacrylate adhesive.

Figure 14: Comparisions with other adhesives

Our readers will get all information from the various suppliers in order to make up their minds and select
the right adhesive according to their requirements.

Bonding deck to hull

Figure 6 and 15 shows some designs.

Figure 6: Main bonding operations in ship building bonding of stringers, stiffeners,

foam, deck to hull

Figure 15: Examples of designs of deck of full assembles by bonding laminating

or wet tabbing
p = weight of wet tabbing in g/m2
q = weight of the lighter laminate in g/m2
h > 15 to 25 mm, according to the size of boat

Here a very thick coat of adhesive or putty must be applied in order to compensate for the variable gap,
especially for long boats. Here also, some flexibility is required, and fatigue resistance is a must.

Bonding insulating and reinforcing foams

Refer to figure 6. Various foams may be bonded with PU adhesives, epoxies, urethane-acrylates...

Of course foams may also be bonded by direct wet lay up of the glass fiber textile onto the foam.

Sandwich panels
In naval construction, many honeycomb sandwich panels are used for partitions, bulkheads and floors,
sometimes also for the hull, in order to increase modulus. NOMEX or various composite facings are
usually bonded to Nomex cores or foam cores, or sometimes Balsa wood either with epoxy adhesives or
often by direct wet layup. Sandwich panels edges must be protected with epoxy coatings or putties. Refer
to figure 16

Figure 16

Let us mention also the sandwich panels which are used in Liquid natural gas tankers for the thermal
insulation of the hull and the liquid gas tanks see figure 17 showing a general design of the insulation of
tankers developed by the leading French company GTT.

Figure 17: Schematic of GTT cryogenic lines used in LGN tankers

(By company of GTT France)

These sandwich panels are bonded mostly with 2 components RT curing epoxies., and these panels are
also bonded to the hull of these big tankers with special epoxies that resist to the very low temperature of
the liquid gas.

Bonding bulkheads
In modern, high tech racing or leasure yatchs, bulkheads are bonded to the hull and to the deck. For
instance, the marine design company SEAWAY is using carbon prepregs to build its Shipman 50. These
prepregs consist of a precatalysed layer of epoxy resin, sandwiched between 2 layers of reinforcement (
glass, aramid or carbon ). After laminating, epoxy resin infusion is used. These techniques provide a
considerable weight saving: a typical polyester deck for a 50 ft sailing boat weights 1.8 tons while the
Shipman deck weighs only 300 kg. All of the molded components fit precisely together, so that it is
possible to bond together the deck, hull and bulkheads, rather than mechanical fixation.
Bulkheads are not tabbed: right angled flanges fit into precise location on the hull molding, having been
bonded with SP's SPABOND 345 a high strength 2 components epoxy adhesive. Because of these
accurate fittings of parts, only 75 kg of epoxy adhesive are used for the whole boat, while some polyester
boats might use 500 kg.

Bonding dissimilar materials

Some metal or wood fixtures are also bonded to the composite hull and deck: for instance interior
decoration, insulation foams, wood paneling, etc. Metal parts may be bonded to composite parts with the
same adhesives used for composite to composite bonds.

I recommend to our readers to read 2 excellent technical magazines: European Boatbuilder and
Professional Boatbuilder, where they will find many information on Boat design and manufacturing
techniques, and also the technical catalogs from PLEXUS, SCOTT BADER, BOSTIK and WELD-ON.