End of Life Boats

The problem of dealing with fibreglass boat hulls is increasing in importance as those built in the 1970s and 80s reach the end of their useful lives. The boating industry is just starting to address this.

The question of how to address the end of life of boats has been an issue for many years. The RYA is engaging with a range of groups to represent the interests of boaters as solutions are sought. The issue is becoming pressing due to the rapid increase in the manufacture of fibreglass boats in the 1970s and 1980s, which are now reaching the end of their useful lives.

Most of our policy work in this area is undertaken through the European Boating Association (EBA). We are active on a European Commission panel whose objective is to introduce a directive for disposal of boats, similar to that already in place for cars.

Key technical issues:

The Wider Problem

This is a composites industry problem, not just a boating one. Estimates for 2025 from the European Composites Industry Association suggest that between 10 and 15% of the composites waste stream will be from marine industry sources.

The Legacy Fleet

Exciting new materials will eventually enable new boats to be fully recycled but, given the longevity of vessels, we need to address the boats built in the ‘70s and ‘80s now.


Contamination of hulls by antifoul, oils, some gelcoats etc. makes preparation for recycling or re-use more challenging for our sector.

Disposal Routes

We need to find a solution that represents a true circular economy, rather than burning old hulls for energy recovery or cement manufacture, two of the current disposal routes. Current options reduce impact but do not represent truly sustainable solutions.

Who pays?

  • The last owner of the boat is the person least likely to be able to afford proper disposal.
  • A significant element of cost is transport of the boat to the recycling or disposal plant.
  • Suggestions that boat registration schemes would address the issue would not solve these fundamental problems for the legacy fleet, and may well reduce the useful life of a boat due to the liability for disposal costs.
  • An Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system run by APER in France applies a levy on new boats to fund a disposal network. As of June 2021 they had processed over 2,000 boats and have 20+ registered disposal sites.
  • The RYA, aligned with the EBA, supports such an EPR approach and it is the focus of our work with the Commission. A key advantage is that is doesn’t require a vessel registration scheme, as a levy on new boats goes into a central fund for disposal of old boats regardless of their ownership.

Potential Technical Solutions and Current Research

  • Regulation on the use of recycled content would be a good way to encourage innovation and to give a value to end-of-life hulls.
  • Strathclyde University researchers have demonstrated re-using fibres once a thermal process has removed the resins. Their work favourably compares re-used materials’ performance characteristics compared to new and the lower energy required to manufacture.
  • A Finnish company, Conenor, has patented a process for the re-use of GRP as building materials.
  • Delft University of Technology is using flaked waste GRP to re-make new products, i.e. without separating fibre and resin. Removing all gelcoat, antifoul, oil etc. is not necessary for their process.
  • Cement kiln firing. While this is a combustion process, there is some reduction in CO2 emissions through the energy input from the resins, as compared to low grade fuels in use at many sites. The fibre component is also useful to the process. 
Sustainable Boating

Take a look at The Green Blue for advice and options to dispose of your boat in a responsible manner.