Brass fittings and hardware can truly be an asset for nautical applications as it is affordable, durable and resistant to extreme temperatures. It is used for many nautical applications; however, brass does have its weakness. If it goes untreated or is used wrongly for a certain period of time, its characteristics can change for the worst.
Seawater is brass’ worst enemy as it causes the zinc component to corrode. Steve D’Antonio of Cruising World writes:
“Brass alloys come in a wide variety, all with varying percentages of copper, zinc, and other elements. These alloys include red brass, leaded red brass, admiralty brass, naval brass aluminum brass and manganese “bronze”; because of its zinc content, manganese bronze actually resides in the brass family.
While brass works well in the aforementioned above-the-waterline applications, it’s certain to fail when put to work in situations that leave it constantly exposed to seawater. Because of its high zinc content, brass suffers from a peculiar type of corrosion known as dezincification; when this happens, the zinc sacrificially corrodes from the alloy, leaving behind a porous, weak copper structure that deceptively retains its shape yet is devoid of most of its original rigidity. Such fittings are often pinkish, and they can often be easily broken with minimal effort.”
It is important to practice proper care for brass fittings with high zinc content. As the article notes above, brass fittings can be very discreet when it comes to the damage it has already incurred. It may not look it on the outside, but in actuality, they’re no longer fit for the job. This is potentially dangerous as it leads you to believe your pipe fittings are well and good, and so you go on your merry way. In the context of nautical applications, this kind of complacency can put the lives of everyone on board in danger.
Fortunately, bronze is a good alternative to brass. Although it shares similar qualities, it still doesn’t have the same amount of zinc present. It’s more expensive, but still a better option for those looking for a material that handles seawater well.
But if you’re dead-set on using brass fittings for nautical application, search for companies who specialize in brass pipe fittings. Seek recommendations from a distributor that is familiar with the product and its maintenance methods, like Gruner Brass Fittings Corp. A professional can provide you with the right fittings and advise you regarding the ways on how to increase their life expectancy.
(Article Excerpt and Image from Down to Brass Tacks, Cruising World, 13 July 2013)