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Copper, together with copper nickel alloys have high natural resistance to bio-fouling. Copper has a proven performance over many centuries as an antifoul. Sheets of copper were nailed to wooden ships as long ago as the 18th Century as it was discivered that by fitting copper to the hull below the waterline, fouling was significantly reduced. This made British ships much faster and more manouvreable than those of the enemy.  This article explains why copper was and remains today an effective the best anti foul solution.


With the American war behind them, the Royal Navy set about coppering the bottoms of the entire fleet. This would not have been possible but for the declarations of war from France (1778), Spain (1779) and the Netherlands (1780). Britain was now expected to face her three greatest rivals, and coppering allowed the navy to keep at sea for much longer periods of time without the need for cleaning and repairs to the underwater hull, making it a very attractive, if expensive, proposition. The cost of coppering a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line was £1500, compared to just £262 for wood.


The benefits of increased speed and time at sea were deemed by the Admiralty to outweigh the costs involved, and in May 1779, all ships up to and including 32-guns were ordered to be coppered when next they entered dry dock. In July this order was expanded to

include ships of 44 guns and fewer. It was decided that the entire fleet should be coppered, due to the difficulties in maintaining a mixed fleet of coppered and non-coppered ships. 82 ships of the line had been coppered by 1781, along with fourteen 50-gun ships, 115 frigates, and 182 unrated vessels.


By the time the war ended in 1783 problems with the hull bolts were once more becoming apparent. Finally a suitable alloy for the hull bolts was found, that of copper and zinc. At great cost, the Admiralty decided in 1786 to go ahead with the re-bolting of every ship in the navy, thus finally eliminating the bolt corrosion problem. This process lasted several years, after which no significant changes to the coppering system were required, and copper plating remained the standard method of

protecting a ship’s underwater hull for many years. The British Navy (at that time the most powerful in the world), had discovered the true benefits of copper nickel. Unfortunately, while copper sheets could be fitted to wooden ships, attaching them to a modern ship, oil rig or pipeline, was not until the introduction of Cuprotect®, a viable option.



Left: HMS Victory.


Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship is the oldest commissioned warship in the world and is still manned by Officers and Ratings of the Royal Navy. The Victory is the only surviving warship that fought in the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars. HMS Victory is now the flagship of the Second sea Lord and Commander in Chief Naval Home Command. She now lies in No 2 Dry Dock at Portsmouth Naval Base in Hampshire UK, where she has a permanent berth.




 

HISTORY OF COPPER AS AN ANTIFOUL