how to copper a boat bottom


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Illustration of British Navy ship with protesting barnaclesHigh-resolution version of this photo.

The British first developed the technique of applying copper sheathing to ship bottoms to improve sailing performance. The first wooden ship to be fully sheathed in copper was the 32-gun English frigate, the HMS Alarm, in 1761.

By 1782, 82 British Navy capital ships had been coppered, along with 115 frigates and 102 sloops and cutters. In the process, the British fleet solved another of its biggest problems — the corrosion of a ship's iron bolts. It discovered that bolts made from an alloy of copper and zinc had the strength and corrosion-resistance to solve the problem.

Using copper sheets below the waterline was an innovative development that helped the British battle its numerous naval opponents in the American Revolution, including France and Spain, who had combined forces to fight against the British in the young colonies' struggle for independence.