Polished Stainless Steel vs. Powder Coated Aluminum Boat Radar Towers
The differences between polished stainless and powder coated aluminum go far beyond cost. Choice of material and manufacturing process has a profound impact on the longevity and appearance of your marine radar mount in the long run. Most manufacturers produce a high quality mount and have implemented strict processes to minimize any potential issues with their product. It is, however, my intention to illustrate the differences in material and manufacturing between stainless steel and powder coated aluminum.
The primary, and most obvious difference is the fact that powder coating is simply a coating that is applied to a raw aluminum fabrication which is then baked at a very specific temperature that seals and bonds it to the aluminum. The advantages to this process are numerous including a choice of many colors, UV protective additives, reduced labor cost, a glossy finish, and a lightweight product. There are also some disadvantages to powder coating which are primarily focused on the adhesion of the powder coat to the aluminum radar mount. If there is any contamination whatsoever in the process, be it particulate, grease, oil, etc there is the opportunity for the powder coat to blister and peel over time. In the case of a marine radar mount with its lifetime of exposure to UV rays and saltwater the chance for any defect to result in a peeling is greatly enhanced. The other issue is that the manufacturer can provide a perfect product, but if during installation or use a nick or scratch occurs, the result is a compromised coating and ultimately peeling or blistering over time. With powder coating, the bottom line is that the aluminum is covered with a coating which cannot be repaired should any peeling or blistering occur.
Polished stainless steel differs from powder coating primarily in that the base material is not covered with a coating and the materials are substantially different. Grade 316 stainless steel is specified for all marine use and also within 25 miles of salt water in coastal areas. The material has a higher percentage of chromium which makes it more corrosion resistant. Stainless steel also polishes to a beautiful shine which can rival a mirror in appearance. The disadvantages of stainless steel when used to fabricate a marine radar mast center around labor and the higher cost of material. To achieve a mirror finish a great deal of time must be invested by a craftsman using a multitude of tools, wheels, and compounds.
Grade 316 stainless steel is substantially more expensive than aluminum as is the welding rod, which also must be of grade 316 stainless. The result, however, is a stunning mount that requires minimal maintenance (regular rinsing and an occasional coat of wax) and will last as long as the boat it is mounted on. Please view the Youtube video on our home page of one of our mounts being welded. This is an instructor at the Lincoln Electric Welding School explaining the process as well as the metallurgy of grade 316 stainless. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANFXXKMRhfc
This is in no way a criticism of the companies that produce powder coated aluminum mounts. Many offer outstanding warranties and excellent products. We believe in providing the consumer with enough information to make an educated buying decision. We also believe that BattleWagon Mounts are the best in the world for appearance and durability, which is why we offer a 2 year warranty which is the strongest on the market.
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