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How to prevent marine corrosion

Corrosion is a significant concern in the marine industry. The combination of saltwater, oxygen, and various corrosive agents poses a set of challenges that can lead to surface corrosion and, in the worst cases, to extensive damage and compromised safety. Implementing effective prevention strategies is crucial for ensuring the integrity and longevity of marine assets. This article provides insights into marine corrosion, its specific factors, common types, and preventive measures.
The biggest factor contributing to marine corrosion obviously is saltwater: Seawater is a highly corrosive medium due to its high salt content, primarily sodium chloride. Saltwater acts as an electrolyte, facilitating electrochemical reactions and accelerating the corrosion process.
Additionally to that, oxygen dissolved in seawater plays a vital role in corrosion. It participates in the cathodic reaction, where it combines with electrons to form hydroxyl ions. The availability of dissolved oxygen influences the rate of corrosion in marine environments.
The corrosion rate usually is enhanced by elevated temperatures and high humidity levels prevalent in marine environments. These two factors increase the aggressiveness of the electrolyte and promote faster chemical reactions.

Last but not least, marine organisms, such as algae, barnacles, and mollusks, can attach themselves to submerged surfaces and create biofouling. Biofouling enhances localized corrosion by trapping moisture and corrosive agents against the metal surface.

Common types of marine corrosion

Generally speaking, there are four common types of marine corrosion: 

1. Uniform Corrosion, a type that occurs evenly over a large area of the metal surface exposed to seawater. It results in general thinning of the material and is typically influenced by factors such as temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen levels.

2. Galvanic corrosion, which arises when two dissimilar metals or alloys come into contact in the presence of an electrolyte. The more active metal (anode) corrodes, while the less active metal (cathode) remains protected. 

3. Pitting corrosion, characterized by localized damage in the form of small pits or holes on the metal surface. It occurs when protective films or coatings break down, allowing aggressive agents to attack specific areas. Pitting corrosion can be particularly destructive and difficult to detect, as it often remains hidden beneath intact surfaces.

4. Crevice corrosion occurs in confined spaces or crevices, such as gaps between metal components or under deposits. Crevice corrosion can cause significant damage, especially in structures with overlapping or tightly fitted parts.

Effective preventive measures for marine corrosion

A good start for preventing corrosion on your boat is applying protective coatings, such as marine-grade paints, epoxy coatings, or corrosion-resistant films. Those provide a barrier between the metal surface and corrosive seawater. Additionally, cathodic protection techniques, including sacrificial anode systems and impressed current systems, can be employed to protect submerged structures.

Choosing corrosion-resistant materials suitable for marine environments is crucial. Examples here are stainless steel (e.g. on bow eyes, lift handles and handrails), aluminum alloys, and certain non-ferrous metals with high corrosion resistance.

Don't forget regular maintenance and inspection as a vital for early detection of corrosion and prompt remedial actions. Periodic rinsing with fresh water, removal of marine biofouling, and routine surface inspections can prevent localized corrosion and structural deterioration.

Last but not least do proper design practices play a significant role in minimizing corrosion risks. Electropolished surfaces (e.g. on latches or on wire handles) are one example. Another one is avoiding stagnant water traps, using corrosion-resistant fasteners and welds, and incorporating effective drainage systems can reduce the likelihood of corrosion-related issues.


Marine corrosion presents unique challenges due to the aggressive nature of seawater environments. For boat owners and boat builders it is important to understand the factors contributing to corrosion, to recognize different corrosion types, and to implement effective preventive measures. Everyone can minimize the impact of marine corrosion by employing a combination of proper material selection, protective coatings, cathodic protection, regular maintenance, and advanced monitoring systems. This ensures a prolonged service life and safety in the maritime industry.
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