There are countless struggles living on a boat. On the surface, it seems so serene, picturesque, adventurous yet this image is blown to pieces with the simplest scrutinizing eye. I’ve found the lifestyle to be chiefly about maintenance, maintenance, and maintenance. Maintaining the rigging, the engine, the woodwork, the deck, the dinghy, the interior, the toilet, the shower pump, the bilge pump, the bilge pump float switch, the food onboard, the water, the batteries, the gaskets to the tank water, the gaskets on everything really…. need I go on?

When we left Boston for our year of cruising, we left with jackets, sweaters, pants, even wool socks until we managed to sail to a latitude where shorts and swimsuits were more appropriate. Once our dreams of coconuts and palm trees were realized we threw the bulky warm layers into ‘the depths’, aka storage lockers that require muscle sweat and perseverance to reach. In one excursion to retrieve a random item, I saw our jackets and took notice to the zipper. The friggin ZIPPER!

In a panic, I unearthed all jackets and sweaters wth zippers. All of our jackets had metal zippers… CORRODED metal zippers. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen this. I’ve  had perfectly well working duffel bags & coats trashed because they were sealed shut by the evils of corrosion. Only the slash of a knife or if you’re lucky pliers could open it.

“Corrosion is a natural process, …the gradual destruction of materials (usually metals) by chemical and/or electrochemical reaction with their environment.” Commonly it is seen in the form of electrochemical oxidation.

Here are some ways to combat corroding zippers….

  1.  Chip away/remove the surrounding, what I call, “corrosion-dust”.
  2. Use pliers to gently move the zipper
  3. Apply lubricant to the zipper & teeth of the zipper – WD40, Zip Tech Zipper Lubricant, candle, beeswax, & a last ditch idea – bar of soap…

Mike and I were able to salvage most of our coats, but there are a number of pocket zippers that no longer have zippers and are permanently open… :(  But if you’re really desperate to get the zippers working again… try Coca Cola – corrodes everything else…….

For me, living on the water, I find zipped pockets to be invaluable in keeping my wallet, keys, and phone safe inside my jacket as opposed to inside the ocean.


This could be the end of the post… but I have a curious mind…. I’m an econ-nerd by virtue and finance major on paper and over the past 5 years on boats…. I’ve become more of an engineer and learning how things work has become a cost and a joy of ‘liveaboard life’.

Disclaimer: The below is explained from a business major (if my memory serves me right I think I got a C+ in High School Chemistry).

Corrosion is the chemical change that can undermine the functionality of a metal (anchor chain/shackles/stays & shrouds etc).

Very Brief & Basic Overview:

If we take a closer look at steel, the main component is Iron (Fe). In iron’s corrosion process, electrons are lost and it becomes positively charged bonding to other atoms. This is where oxygen plays a key roll. In the example of water, where oxygen is abundant and easily shared, Fe (iron) takes on a new name…. Iron Hydroxide. The process of electrons being passed around in a soup of iron hydroxide, water, and oxygen provides the fuel for brown rust, hydrated iron oxide.

I found a great website that goes into depth about the different types of corrosion

But for simplicity I’ll briefly underline them here (the first 4 being the more common forms on boats)

  1. Uniform Attack – most common – “chemical or electrochemical reaction which proceeds uniformly over the entire exposed surface or over a large area”
  2. Galvanic – where two dissimilar metals in contact with one another – don’t play nice together ” The less resistant metal becomes anodic and the more resistant metal cathodic” – cathode side  tends to deteriorate less. For example stainless steel screw in an aluminum mast – be sure to use anti-corrosive lubricant or the stainless steel screw will be moderately effected. Whereas an aluminum screw in a stainless steel fitting in water will corrode the screw faster.
  3. Crevice – Localized corrosion, think stainless steel in a small confined area.
  4. Pitting – extremely localized that leaves holes
  5. Intergranular – “Grain boundary effects are of little or no consequence in most applications or uses of metals. If a metal corrodes, uniform attack results since grain boundaries are usually only slightly more reactive than the matrix.”
  6. Selective Leaching – “Selective leaching is the removal of one element from a solid alloy by corrosion processes. The most common example is the selective removal of zinc in brass alloys (dezincification).”
  7. Erosion – “Erosion corrosion is the acceleration or increase in rate of deterioration or attack on a metal because of relative movement between a corrosive fluid and the metal surface.”
  8. Stress Corrosion Cracking – “Stress-corrosion cracking refers to cracking caused by the simultaneous presence of tensile stress and a specific corrosive medium. “

On a related tangent, we’ve both recently noticed light rusting on our anchor chain… so I’m currently looking into the corrosion of the anchor chains. Mike has heard its expensive to re-galvanize the chain and easier to submit to buying a completely new chain… but we bought our anchor chain about 2 maybe 3 years ago which seems disturbingly soon to see corrosion. But then again… we’ve been anchored almost every day since… last September (& the ICW water is brown heavy with tannic acid). Anyway…. that’ll be another post for another time and hopefully an inexpensive fix – fingers crossed.