In 1960, when Aluminum Cruisers Incorporated of Louisville, KY, began building boats, aluminum was, by no means, a new material to boat builders. In fact, the first aluminum boat, a 17’ launch named Zephyr, was built in Switzerland 70 years before way back in 1890. It was not until 1931, however, that aluminum alloys were developed that were sufficiently resistant to salt water corrosion. In the years following WW II a number of aluminum boats were built with war surplus aluminum. The alloys were not suited to marine applications and the results were disastrous, dampening the enthusiasm for this new boat building material. By the mid-1950s, marine-grade aluminum was again making a splash in the recreational marine marketplace with riveted aluminum car top boats and runabouts on one end of the scale and large, one off power cruisers and sailing yachts on the other.
Aluminum Cruisers Incorporated was the first American builder to mass-produce welded aluminum yachts. Other builders tried aluminum construction from time to time but none was as successful. Aluminum Cruisers Inc. continued to build 28’ to 41’ cruising boats for the next 30 years.
The Marinette 32 was introduced in 1976 and remained in production until the company’s demise in 1990. In 14 years, over 1,800 boats were built making it the most successful model in the company’s history. It’s probably safe to say this has been the most successful aluminum yacht ever.
For ease of construction and cost control, the shape of the Marinette 32 was kept simple with no sweeping curves or highly radiused corners. The result is a rather conservative look common to late 1960s through late 1970s sedan cruiser models. The Marinette 32 is a bit boxier in appearance than fiberglass models of the same vintage but all in all has a clean, pleasant looking.
The hull of the Marinette 32 is constructed of welded marine-grade aluminum with three-sixteenths-inch plate on the bottom and one-eighth-inch plate on the sides. Frames and longitudinal stringers are bar stock marine-grade aluminum and are stitch rather than continuously welded. At the chine, the hull sides and bottom are fit into an extruded aluminum channel that is continuously welded on the outside. The decks and superstructure are also welded aluminum plate with aluminum deck beams and carlings. With all the components welded together it becomes a monocoque structure with excellent weight to strength properties.
Over the years, the Marinette 32 was offered in three different models all with the same overall length of 32’ 6", beam of 12’ and a 2’ draft. The 32 sedan, which we are looking at here, was the most popular model. The Express and Fisherman models offered slightly different accommodations and layouts.
The relatively wide 12’ beam of the 32 Sedan allows for a good deal of living space below. There is a v-berth cabin forward, large enough for an adult couple. Proceeding aft, there is a starboard side head with hanging locker opposite. On the same level, further aft there is a port side dinette and starboard side galley. The dinette is large enough to comfortably seat four adults and converts to a rather snug double berth. The galley is small but features the basics with an under counter, front-loading refrigerator, stainless steel sink and counter top two-burner stove. There is no oven but many 32 Sedans I have seen have been retrofit with microwave ovens for less than a few hundred dollars. This may be more practical than an oven in any event. Up three steps and you’re into the main saloon with a lower helm on the port side and convertible couch/settee along the starboard side. The after cockpit is small, about 45 to 50 square feet. There is just enough space for a couple of deck chairs or it could accommodate two fishermen comfortably. Another nice feature of this design is a full width bench seat across the forward end of the cabin house.
The flybridge is accessed by a port side ladder from the cockpit and is larger than most found on boats in this size range.
One negative worth mentioning is the fresh water capacity. There is a 35-gallon tank installed with an additional 6 to 12 gallons available depending on the size of the water heater installed. This is quite limited capacity for this size and class boat. Retrofitting a second tank is possible and could be done at a cost of $300 to $500 depending on the size and location chosen.
Until the advent of high-tech fiberglass composites, aluminum was tough to beat when weight was a primary concern in a design. For a given strength, aluminum is lighter than conventional solid fiberglass construction. With a displacement of 10,500 lbs., the Marinette 32 is a good 15% lighter than comparably sized fiberglass boats of this vintage. This kind of weight savings pays off in performance. Earlier model Marinette 32s were equipped with twin 225 Hp Chrysler marine engines and later models were offered with a variety of engine options ranging from twin 240 Hp to twin 318 Hp engines. With twin 275 Hp Chrysler engines she will cruise comfortably and efficiently at about 25 mph and top out at over 30. Her handling is lively and she is quick to respond to throttle and helm adjustments. The down side to this impressive performance is that the hull dead rise angle is not very great and as the water gets choppy, it may be necessary to reduce speed to avoid excessive pounding. Because this is a light boat with shallow draft and considerable exposed cabin area, she can be a bit tricky to handle in tight places with windy conditions.
As boats age things wear out; there is no getting around it. In the marine environment it is more common for things to wear out due to exposure rather than use. Often, hours of operation are not a good indicator of when replacement is necessary. Engine exhaust manifolds and risers of the Marinette 32’s engines are prone to the deteriorating effects of salt water. Setting for long periods full of salt water can be just as destructive on these parts as use. An early warning sign may by a rise in engine temperature. When replacement becomes necessary, the cost of repair ranges from $600 to $1,000 per engine depending on the extent of repair necessary and the labor rate of the repairer.
Another significant concern with the Marinette 32, in fact all aluminum boats, is their susceptibility to galvanic corrosion that occurs when dissimilar metals are brought in contact in an electrolyte (salt water is one of the best). Properly protected boats should have no problem but, if the protection breaks down, the resulting damage can be catastrophic in only a few days of exposure to the wrong conditions. All Marinette 32s were equipped with a galvanic corrosion monitoring system. However these are not foolproof and are subject to failure. They must be checked from time to time by a knowledgeable technician. If necessary, the cost of replacement is usually less than $500. This is money very well invested.
Another problem unique to aluminum boats is that bottom paints containing cuprous oxide must never be used because they can cause severe galvanic corrosion. Bottom paints that contain TBT rather than cuprous oxide have come under strict control due to their danger to the environment and now can only be applied by licensed applicators. It can be a problem to find licensed applicators and those with licenses and experience can be very expensive. The solution is copper thiocyonate paints that have been developed for use on aluminum boats. However, the application of these finishes requires removal of existing finishes and proper priming of the surface. This process can cost $2,500 or more for the first application but should then resume a normal annual maintenance cost.
As you might expect with over 1,800 boats built, there is generally no shortage of Marinette 32s available on the market. In preparation for this review I was able to quite quickly locate five boats offered for sale in the Chesapeake area. Prices range from the low teens for a mid-1970 vintage mode to $54,000 for a 1990 model.
The Marinette 32 is a proven enduring design that offers practical family accommodations, solid construction, good performance and agile handling for most conditions encountered on rivers, bays and protected waters. Probably because some people are uncomfortable with boats built of aluminum, prices average 10 to 15 percent below comparably sized and serviced fiberglass boats. The Marinette 32 offers good value and it’s tough to find an owner who would say that the little extra care necessary to ensure the sound condition of these boats isn’t worth it.