At Boatbreakers we were recently contacted by someone studying for his masters who thesis is based on the issue of boat disposal in the UK and the current End of Life processes in place to deal with old boats. The Boatbreakers were more than happy to talk about what we do and we feel that the answers we provided may make an interesting blog post, so here it is! We hope to feature an article written by the student once his work is completed so stay tuned.

Not including ships, how many recreational craft are broken on average in your yard each year?

At Boatbreakers across a typical year we scrap an average of 3 boats a week, so that would mean around 156 boats a year but this number can always change and has steadily increased over the last few years. We receive hundreds of enquiries every month from boat owners, marina managers, insurance companies etc. that have boats they want to dispose of. Not all enquiries lead to a boat being scrapped with us as people will often look to offload the problem to someone else.

Due to the UK having an extensive network of inland waterways as well as being an island there are plenty of boats for us to deal with both on the rivers/lakes and on the coast. We are usually quieter during the summer season as this is when most people will be using their boats or have just bitten the bullet and renewed their mooring fees.

What would be the sort of standard size of these craft?

The standard size would probably be around 24ft as this is the standard length of the yachts and motorboats we have in. Up to this sort of length are also the easiest to scrap as we can transport them ourselves by road and therefore we discount the price. But we deal with boats of all sizes from rowing boats up to big Dutch barges. The largest barge we have dealt with is 150ft long which presented several logistical challenges just to even move.

We never really have a specific length that is the most common as we are totally dependent on who calls us and asks us to take their boats, so we never know what will come in next. There have been a fair few 30 foot yachts coming into the yard recently.

And is there more of a bias towards Yachts or Motorboats?

I would say we probably scrap more yachts at the moment as people see to hold onto their motorboats longer as they can be sold as cheap fishing boats or as a project. Plus if the engine is still good people will carry on using them. Whereas once a yacht’s engine goes and it can only be sailed people seem to lose interest. They also have to put up with harsher conditions on coastal moorings as appose to the shelter of the inland water ways.

One thing I can definitely say is that around 80% of the boats we have in to dispose of are Fibreglass (GRP). Then it would be Wood, Steel and Ferro-cement. It seems that the GRP boats that were built in the 70s are now coming to the end of their life cycle and if they haven’t been maintained they should be scrapped. We think this is the beginning of wave after wave of boats that will need scrapping each year.

What End of life processes are involved in breaking a boat? For example would you do the reconditioning of the engine and sell it? Or sell it as is?

Our end of life process is as follows. People will contact us looking to get rid of their end of life boat. We will give them a price for us to collect the boat and dispose of it at our yard in Portsmouth. We will always appraise the boat first. This will either be prior to collection or once it reaches our yard. Our team will check the boat over and identify items that we think still have value e.g. the engine, mast, and electronics. All the interior fittings will be moved, for example any wood inside will be removed and recycled the same goes for the metal.

If the boat is a particular brand like a Westerly or a Twister there is usually an owners club with members who are looking for spare or replacement parts for their own boats. We contact the clubs to let them know we have a boat to strip and their members are then free to come and see us and purchase items. Sometimes a boat will come to us which we will see is in full working order so we will offer them for sale. This scenario is rare as many boats we have in would be unsafe to keep on the water. Some owners simply want to be rid of the boat for financial reasons especially because of high mooring fees for a boat they never use.

If the boat is chopped up, once the other materials are gone and the GRP is left the rest will be crushed by our heavy machinery. We crush it down as small as we can and usually have a large skip on site that we try and fit as many boats into as possible. This sadly then goes to landfill as there is no other realistic or financially viable alternative at the moment. Which is an issue we have been trying help raise awareness for, for a number of years.

What becomes of the components?

The components we strip from boats are stored at our yard and are listed for sale online on our Boatscrapyard Store. If we accumulate too many masts we will eventually strip them down and weigh them in. We have sold plenty of engines over the years and they go on to be refitted in other boats. We have also sold items in the past to Movie and TV companies who use them as props. If an item can be reused in some way we will try and do that to stop it becoming waste.

Are the hulls recycled or land filled?

More GRP hulls will be crushed and sent to landfill. Wooden hulls will be chopped up and eventually end up in products like chipboard. Steel/Metal hulls are weighed in and we imagine shipped off around the world to be re-forged. Some hulls go on to be featured in art projects, gardens, or as a prop in movies or TV.

Are many restored and sold on?

Not many, we don’t restore too many ourselves as we quite simply don’t have the time or space in the yard to hold on to too many boats. Some we get in have just been neglected and require a bit of a clean so we will try and avoid chopping these as it’s a waste of a good boat. The usual process for a nice boat would be to try and sell as a project, if there’s no interest we will then begin the process of stripping components and then scrapping the hull. Sometimes we have people contact us saying they would like to purchase a boat as a project from us so a boat that was destined for landfill may be taken restored and back on the water. But we never let boat we sold that we know would be a danger to the owner or the environment.

So as I’m sure you are aware the French have their APER scheme which, as of January 1st 2018 will levy a tax on boat owners to cover the cost boat disposal, which is performed by dedicated, trained centers across their coastlines. I am curious to know:

Whether or not you agree that UK should adopt a similar practice? Such as building a network across the UK?

Yes, at the moment it seems that we are largely going it alone as we are offered boats from the highlands of Scotland down to Cornwall and everywhere in between. We see this as evidence that there just aren’t local options for end of life boat owners. If there was a centrally funded option that a network of boat breakers could offer it would be a massive benefit to the marine industry in the UK, the environment in the long term and mainly to the customers as costs would be reduced.

We were due to take part in an EU funded study into GRP disposal options but sadly Brexit put an end to the study before it began. It was going to look at building relations between breakers like us both in the UK and France. As many boats in the channel from the UK end up being abandoned in French marinas.

Adding in a tax to cover the costs? Should there be a tax, how should it be done? Like an mot or road tax, so the cost is covered throughout the life of the boat? Or one tax upon the purchase of the craft, shared by both the producer and consumer?

Anything that covers the cost of the boat’s disposal across its whole life span is a good idea. Currently it’s the last owner of the boat who foot the bill but across a boat’s life it could have had up to ten different owners. We think that there could be some form of organisation formed that collects and saves the money for end of life boat disposal. There could be a tax added to the boat when it is first sold and this would be put aside for when the boat comes to the end of it’s life cycle. We also think there could be an insurance option that people pay into and this money eventually goes to covering the disposal cost. If the end of life boats are insured they are less likely to be abandoned like many are as the owners won’t feel they have to foot such a large bill.

Any options that spread the costs across the boat’s life and reduce the cost for the last owners are a good thing in our eyes. Other countries like Sweden, Japan, France, America, and Canada all seem to be further down the line in getting plans in place to deal with the growing problem of end of life boats.

What standard you use in accordance to the best practice of breaking a boat?

This is a slightly difficult question to answer as because there isn’t really any standards in boat disposal in currently we just try and do what we think is right. That is recycling as much as we can, re-using as many parts as possible and doing our best to send very little to landfill.

It’s also difficult to stick to a standard as every boat is different and they all represent different challenges. To give you an idea here are some of the different variables we regularly face, they could be sunken, semi-sunk, burnt out, beached, floating (but on a swing mooring nowhere near any slipways or lifting facilities), full of asbestos, seized engine, could be leaking oil/diesel, and the list goes on.

Do you believe there should be a British Standard created for this industry? In particular if there is projected to be a increase in the number of end of life boats.

We don’t necessarily think the first thing should be to create a British Standard. It would be nice to have some sort of structure but it would be a start for the industry to acknowledge the problem that is end of life boats. There is no doubt that end of life boats are a problem that can’t be ignored we are just reaching a period where boats built in the 60s/70s will be reaching the end of their life and losing any value they have, therefore making them floating scrap. And with it so easy to just abandon a boat, systems need to be put in place for us to be able to deal with them. It would also be beneficial to have closer links with other boat breaking companies across the world so we could all learn from each other about useful techniques and innovations in the industry of boat disposal.

Boatbreakers would anticipate that in every boat yard, marina or harbour there will be lots of boats that should be scrapped and many more that are well on their way to being write offs. Quite simply many people don’t spend the time of money on their boat that it needs to be kept properly. Whilst they are still happy to cough up the mooring fees marinas and boatyard don’t really care but when the boat goes beyond economical repair they can be left with a costly problem to deal with.

Before a British Standard could be developed there would have to be a better network of British companies across the country who are set up like we are. When we were featured in the Boat Digest study into boat disposal we were the only company in the UK compared a much larger number across France, Spain and Italy. So again it would be easier to create a British standard after a better network of breakers is developed and this can only really happen when there is more central funding from the government/boat tax/Insurance to make it a more viable business model.