A gripping tale of pontoon performance

The RNLI installation has been almost unaffected by weather and heavy use The RNLI installation has been almost unaffected by weather and heavy use
Industry Database

A pontoon deck made of fibreglass grating serves the RNLI well. It has been almost unaffected by a decade and a half of weather and heavy use on sites such as Weymouth, East Dunmore and Fenit in the UK.

Tom Bowman, commercial director of Dura Composites explained it is all the more pleasing as the RNLI chose what was at the time an innovative solution. He explained that Dura, with a boatbuilding background, sent a piece of fibreglass grating to a marina by accident, which then got really interested, “and it all started from there.”

It is gripping stuff, both as a substance and a story. When Dura was trying for a BS standard, the normal ‘pendulum’ test simply wasn’t demanding enough.

“To get a fair measure, the test had to try to push the limits of the decking, so an inclined framework was used. This went up to 35° but even this wasn’t extreme enough so it was raised at one end. We added oil and grease as an extra measure, in the end giving a total incline of 47° before any slip occurred.” It is now certified to the highest level of anti-slip, BS 4592 Class 0, a standard Dura helped develop.

The company also started out by making the fibreglass decking in standard 22mm thickness and 600mm spans so it could simply drop into place for refurbishment works, but the fabrication of new pontoons is not necessarily limited to conventional proportions. “While we often cut to standard widths, we can also provide customised shapes and if there’s a need we will plan out the pattern for clients to maximise use of the material with as little waste as possible. However, in some cases it’s actually just as cost effective to manufacture the decking to the right dimensions from scratch, it doesn’t cost any more, just adds lead time”, said Mr Bowman.

The strength of fibreglass grating is its biggest strength. “Generally the standard we get asked for is 250 UDL kg per square metre but we come in at 6.15kg per metre square. So on point load, it’s about 2.5 times the strength of what’s needed.”

He added that what is important, however, is fibreglass’ ability to survive its environment. “You can’t guarantee the load capacity of wood very far down the line because although it is all to spec when it goes in, it’s a natural substance so it will deteriorate. This happens even quicker in warmer climates as wood simply dries out, splits and then rots.”

It is not just size. The company can easily manufacture decking to any colour required. Although one of the most striking was purely aesthetic, a bright peach colour for a Dubai client, it can also be made to ‘sink into’ the background in places where local residents might not want a particularly conspicuous pontoon.

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