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Electrolysis has plagued metal boats for years, but what can you do about it?

If you face this issue with your aluminum boat, you are not alone. Many boaters struggle with electrolysis and the problems that it causes.

So, if you have ever asked how to stop electrolysis on aluminum boats, know that many other boaters have this question, too.

In this article, we’ll take a look at how you can solve this problem.

What is electrolysis?

Before you can truly tackle the issue of electrolysis on your aluminum boat, you must first understand the problem and diagnose your situation. 

The term “electrolysis” is actually a very specific definition, but boaters often use it interchangeably with several other terms.

According to PC Marine Surveys, electrolysis is defined as, “chemical changes in a solution or electrolyte due to the passage of an electric current.”

During this process on a boat, an electric current passes through water to separate this natural liquid into hydrogen and oxygen, its chemical components.

However, many people mistake this phenomenon for other occurrences on a boat.

While many types of corrosion look similar, their processes are actually very different.

For example, electrolysis and galvanic corrosion are often used interchangeably, but they are far from the same process.

In fact, they are opposites!

Galvanic corrosion may look similar to electrolysis, but let’s see how they are different. 

Galvanic corrosion is the process in which electrons flow between two metals, an anode and a cathode, in the presence of an electrolyte.

As electrons transfer from one metal to the other, the first metal begins to look plated onto the surface of the second metal.

This often occurs when you place dissimilar metals near each other in the presence of water, and you may think that it looks like electrolysis.

Another type of corrosion that frequently occurs on boats is stray current corrosion. 

As the name suggests, this type of corrosion is caused by stray current that leaks from electronic equipment aboard your boat – most commonly, the bilge pump.

This is probably a minimal problem on aluminum boats, but if you house electronic equipment and conductive metal on your boat, it’s a possibility.

How to stop electrolysis on aluminum boats

Aluminum boats are corrosion resistant, but they are not corrosion proof. 

So, as long as you have an aluminum boat, corrosion will likely be a concern.

However, do not despair! As a boat owner, you can take several steps to protect your aluminum boat from the effects of electrolysis and corrosion.

Here’s how to get started.

Store your boat in a dry location

To protect your boat from electrolysis and other types of corrosion that involve the presence of an electrolyte, removing the electrolyte (water) is one of the easiest preventative steps to take.

If your boat is not in use, store it in a dry location away from water. 

While it’s tempting to leave your boat in the water all year long, this is extremely detrimental to the structural integrity of your aluminum boat.

If possible, remove your boat from the water whenever you are not actively using it. 

This will help protect the aluminum in your boat, allowing it to last for many years.

However, moving your boat is often difficult, and it usually requires special equipment.

Many boat owners leave their craft in the water to avoid the fees and hassle that come with boat trailers, lifts, power sources, and other necessary tools.

Invest in a boat lift

If you want to keep your boat near the water without submerging it, a boat lift can be a good option. 

Many lifts are coated in plastic rather than metal, which makes them an ideal storage location for your boat.

However, boat lifts are not cheap, so many boaters prefer to simply leave their aluminum boats in the water.

Clean the exterior of your aluminum boat

Another solution to preventing corrosion is to simply wash your boat. When you take your boat out of the water for the season, wash it!

Cleaning your boat is especially important if you spend time in salt water.

Salt and minerals found in the sea drive corrosion and degradation, so it’s important that you remove them from your aluminum boat as quickly as possible.

Washing the exterior of your boat helps preserve its integrity and the coatings that offer protection against corrosion.

So, be sure to properly clean the outside of your aluminum boat before you store it for the season.

Use sacrificial anodes

Aluminum is a fairly active metal, so you can use sacrificial anodes in order to protect your aluminum boat.

Anodes like zinc are more likely to degrade than aluminum, so they will take the brunt of corrosion issues.

When you notice your zinc anodes beginning to corrode, you can simply replace them, protecting your aluminum hull. 

However, while this protects your boat from galvanic corrosion, it’s not likely to significantly improve electrolysis issues.

Apply a protective coating

Finally, apply a protective coating to the exterior of your aluminum boat. 

Use paints and coatings that are engineered specifically for aquatic, aluminum applications, and promptly cover any scratches that sink into the aluminu’s surface.

Repair any electrolysis damage as soon as you notice the degradation.

Cover bare aluminum with a quality coating to minimize the effects of electrolysis and corrosion. 

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