Best material for Sea Kayak???

Have had a (Poly) Perception for years and was thinking of getting a new kayak. The question is which material is the best? I like the price point of plastic and the durability, and the speed of composites. This all points to the new Airalite and like materials, but I just don’t know. I would get fiberglass but I don’t want to have to repair it ever time I hit a rock on the shore. I also don’t want a oil can for a boat either. Any help would be great.

Glass Is Pretty Tough, Depending On
the lay up. The thicker (more glass), the tougher and the heavier though not as heavy as plastic. You would have to be surfing on a wave and crashing into a boulder to crack most glass boats open. Scratches and dings do not require repair, unless you see exposed glass. You just have to adjust and accept that scratches on the gelcoat as the inevitability of well used boat. Any exposed glass can be quickly addressed with a dap of epoxy. If you really can’t stand the scratches and dings, save 'em up for a major overhaul with sanding, buffing and a new gelcoat.

Is the performance and lighter weight of composites worth it? Really depends on mindset about any gain in performance and weight against the relative thickness of your wallet.


A tough question…
I have had a poly Eclipse for 12 years and it has served me well on many multi-day paddling trips, and in rough water, and I have dragged it up on and surfed up on many rock strewn beaches as well as paddled and scraped the bottom on many oyster bars.

For the past two years I have had a kevlar one, and have found that the only time I missed the poly yak was paddling over the two and three inch oyster bars.

The trade off for not being able to drag it up on the rock strewn beaches is the fact that it is so much lighter I can carry it up, and ninty percent of the time I can still surf up very close to the shore line.

I still have them both but if I had to choose one or the other right now I would pick the composite and that would only be because it is faster and lighter and sa little more responsive.

Good luck on your decision,



“Best” is another personal choice…
I’d say the best material for a kayak is what suits your needs and likes the best.

I started out with a 14’ Poly kayak that weighed about 60 Lb. It was hard to load on my truck by myself. Back then I used foam blocks, not realizing a rack would make it that much easier.

Now I have a composite kayak weighing about 50 Lb, and it is almost 18’ long. Doing so I have a 4 foot longer kayak, that is 10 Lb lighter. The roof rack also now makes it easier to load.

What I am getting to is the REASON for the change to a longer kayak & different material. I weigh 270 Lb, and need enough hull volume to carry my weight. As my skills increased, I wanted a faster kayak, that had more handling characteristics than the poly Rec kayak. I also wanted a kayak that was two colors, not available in a poly kayak (deck & hull different)

To satisfy my needs and likes, I found the Impex Assateague to be narrower, longer, faster, and with better handling characteristics. So I saved my money all last winter, cleared snow from neighbors driveways, ate lunch in at wotk instead of going out, and bought the carbon/kevlar one. This package satisfied my needs and wants.

So anyone can say the best material for a sea kayak is… But it would be the best for “them”. You have to decide how you want to use the boat, how you want it to look, what handling characteristics you need, and what you want it to look like. Then pick the best material and kayak to fit your needs.

I do believe the stiffer hull of a composite kayak is faster than a poly kayak, but it would not be best for me if I was paddling over Oyster beds, or along Rocky shores. But yet I recently had a young woman in a polly CD Shiraco beat the daylights out of me in a “fun race”. Her lighter weight, in a narrower, shorter poly boat was just a lot faster! “Better for her”!

Sorry if I have been kind of vague, but as “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” Best material for a kayak is the one that best suits the needs of the owner. Over the years I have has 3 composite kayaks. They are strong, but you do need to be aware that composite can chip or crack if hit hard enough. Reasonable care is needed. Poly will normally take what ever you can throw at it, but then is heavier. Thermo formed plastic is in between, but not a lot of performance kayaks are available in it yet. Mostly rec to advanced rec kayaks.

Good luck in your quest!

Speed of composites?
If looking for more speed yes, there is “some” more speed but not a huge amount. By speed, it is is true to some extent that a composite and an carbonlite or airlite boat can be formed with sharper and more efficient hull shape. Also the less you and your boat’s total weight the less water displaced the less energy required to go a given speed.

The only choice is not fiberglass or kevlar, kevlar/carbon OR soft rotomolded plastic however.

My preference for a middle category is the Eddyline boats with Carbonlite material. Those who know the physics and chemistry of it tell me (I am no expert) that it is stronger, more resistant to cracking, and punctures than Airalite. I find the Eddyline hull designs to be pretty efficient for hull speed and the value for the buck, maintenance, and repair ease make it a good value when trying to save a chunk of money over fiberglass, kevlar, etc. The carbonlite boats are significantly lighter than many boats so worth a look when considering whether to go with fiberglass or kevlar.

How about a composite made of
mahogany marine plywood and 'glass? Extremely light and strong. Easily refinished (as compared to gelcoat). And you get the added satisfaction of assembling it yourself (unless you have the $$$$$ to buy one preassembled).

While looking

– Last Updated: Jul-07-05 8:27 AM EST –

at boats I was told more than once that a poly boat would be best for the rocky places I would be paddling. Then I met some folks who paddled composite boats and they had a different take. Once you get used to getting in and out of your boat in knee deep water, it really isn't a big deal, and that is all you have to do to avoid a lot of scratches. (Although I have had some, and I've already repaired a chip right throught the gel coat.) Repair isn't all that tough, and in the long run a fiberglass or composite boat is supposed to have a longer life span, so durability isn't really a rotomolded exclusive. What really sold me on the composite boat was the rigidity when I paddled one right after a poly boat, I just really liked the feel. So it probably boils down to a matter of personal preference, but don't be spooked by the fragility of fiberglass boats, so far it doesn't seem to be a real issue for me. Get what you like!

Performance needs?
Before thinking about what material - decide what you want this new kayak to do that’s different from you current boat, if anything. Go longer distances? Maintain higher speeds? Lighter to load and carry? More suited to learning more advanced skills? Handle different conditions? Where? Sea, lake, river, pond?

Usually, when you know what you want the boat to do and factor in you personal size and gear carrying needs the choices narrow down quickly. Then you try them and get down to a short list of maybe 2-3 top choices. Often there will not even be a roto vs. composite choice to make at that point.

Wood is stronger than composite, lighter, and cheaper if you build it yourself.

Plastic is heavier, more resistant to initial impact, cheaper, but difficult to repair.

Glass is lighter than plastic, not as resistant to initial impact, more expensive, but extremely easy to repair.

Carbon/Kevlar is lighter than glass, as resistant to initial impact as glass, really expensive, but more difficult to repair than glass.

Airalite is about as slightly heavier than glass but lighter than normal poly kayaks. It’s initial impact resistance is more than glass but less than poly. It is supposedly repairable with super glue for small cracks, but I have yet to see any large puncture repairs being done for Airalite to gauge difficulty of repairs.

I’ve had Airalite, poly, and glass kayaks and someday hope to add a wood and SOF to the mix as well. Different materials serve different purposes so there really isn’t a “best” material.

Carbon/Kevlar glass repair?
schizopak wrote:


Carbon/Kevlar is lighter than glass, as resistant to initial impact

as glass, really expensive, but more difficult to repair than glass.

Why is Carbon/Kevlar more difficult to repair than glass?

Speaking from very limited experience…
Speaking from very limited experience…, kevlar and carbon fiber cloth are harder to work with, over fiberglass cloth.

Fiberglass cloth is easy to cut with a scissors, but kevlar is very tough to cut, and carbon fibers are very hard… period.

Kevlar cloth is flexible like fiberglass cloth, but Carbon fibers can break if bent too sharply.

Again, I speak from VERY limited experience.

same limited experience
kevlar is a little more dificult to finish cosmetically compared to glass. Basically the kevlar fuzzes and is dificult to cut.

Most kevlar/carbon constructions are very light layups so there isn’t a lot of material to screwup the repair with. By the time you actually have to repair a crunched glass or kevlar,carbon hull it’s not a big deal.

There’s a huge variation in composite lay-ups so making categorical statements about repairability can get stretched in the extremes.

carbon/kevlar repair
Easiest way to patch carbon/kevlar (Black/Gold) is to match the resin (or use epoxy) and patch with fiberglass. Fiberglass has better absorbtion of resin, cuts easier, and sands easier than Kevlar.

what IS the answer?
it’s what you can afford and what paddles well. There’s a range of materials within a “carbon” or “glass” kayak that reducing best to specific materials misses the picture.

I’ve got a 12yr old Mariner Express with heavy 24oz glass roving,I like it. Has lots of gel coat cracks and a few cracks in the glass and paddles well. I’ve got a one year old poly Chatham 16 and could see that after awhile scratches in the plastic would be bothersome. Don’t have any wood boats on the rack but it would be easier to keep smooth over the long haul than a plastic kayak.

Glass Chatham 18 is neat,first years production gel coat has problems but I like the various core materials and cloth it’s made out of.

I just saw a new Current Design Extreme in Kevlar and it looks good.

If I was going for “best” it still gets down to what meets my needs. Since I don’t race extremes of strength/weight are academic.

If you were looking for “best” then replacing gel coat with s-glass and paint would be a good start.

Lots of good responses
I like Carbon and s-glass. Not a fan of Kevlar as all past Kevlar boats became soft after a few years. (overrated material) BTW, I’ve busted a few kevlar boats completely apart. Once in the matrix it can shear. Alternately some glass boats have taken bigger hits better. If I had a Kevlar kayak it would be combined heavily with Carbon and perhaps some glass. It’s light so applies in race craft where weight is a major factor over longevity - makes sense here… Plain old e-glass is tough stuff, and any composite is better than poly for me. I really dislike poly boats and would not own one. Various composite materials have favorable and less favorable attributes. There are some terrific lay-ups out there that combine materials to compliment each other. Poly sucks in that it’s heavy, doesn’t hold it’s shape, and tends toward lousy hatches and bulkheads. Valley makes the best poly boats…Id do that if I had to.

I’d be interested (and I’m sure others here as well) in what these chemists/physicists told you about Carbonlite vs. Airlite/other Thermoplastics. Can you give us a link for more info or explain further?

There has been a lot theories/speculation offered on these boards about the differences but no real facts or “expert” opinions offered. (I don’t take what salespeople say as the truth.)

Inquiring (& even “simpleton”)minds want to know.

Plastic vs. Composite
I can’t comment on the merits of glass vs. kevlar vs. carbon, but I can comment on the more general issue of plastic vs. composite (whatever kind I would think).

I paddled plastic boats (as most beginners do) and then I got a composite (first a kevlar then a glass—by circumstances) and to me there was NO COMPARISON between the way that they paddled. I know that some would debate this point with me, but to me the difference was very noticeable.

They feel faster and smoother in the water. I feel that they handle better on leaned turns. They feel better in rough seas, remaining stiff as you crash down over an oncoming wind wave rather than flexing like plastic. They are lighter to carry, and I even just like the “sound” of them in water better.

I miss the durability of plastic, and my get another plastic boat one day for rough use, but for performance paddling I think composite is way better than plastic.


I noticed on the West Side Boat Shop that Spectra is used,I think Eddyline is using other materials than kevlar in their Modulus layups. Are you familiar with Spectra?

Working with Carbon
Lately, I have been working with Carbon, and to me, it is as easy as working with Glass and way easier than working with Kevlar. The best thing of working with Carbon is its weight. Although 5x more expensive than Glass, the final weight of the job is 1/2 of one with glass and many, many times stiffer. Anyway, all depend on what one is looking for…



I know and like the Eddyline folk. Not sure what they are currently using in their modulus lay-ups though? Spectra is tough stuff, and like kevlar is way strong in tension. Don’t know it’s values for compression, but suspect they would be better than kevlar. Kevlar doesn’t like to stick to things and thus inter laminar shear can occur over time. Think that’s why my Kevlar surf yaks got very soft after a couple of years. Carbon glass has held up way better. I wonder if Spectra would be better? Vectran had promising values on paper, but proved lousy in kayak construction. There are so many ccol co-weaves etc., out there, but it seems that plain old e-glass offers great value and durability. Case in point Mariner boats.