Composite Durability

I’d appreciate any input on the durability of some of the “tougher” composite layups, and on how appropriate they are for paddling in rocky, shallow rivers. I’d previously been only considering royalex, but several people in the last thread (here: suggested I look into a good composite, and now I’m strongly considering it. They are much nicer boats to paddle, I know–again, I’d been focusing on plastic mostly because I was under the impression that composites couldn’t take the same kind of abuse.

How does the long-term durability of royalex compare to layups like Wenonah’s Tuf-weave, Clipper’s Kevlar/Duraflex (or Blue Basalt?), Nova Craft’s Blue Steel, Bell’s Black Gold, or really just a plain kevlar inside/S-glass outside hull? Again, a lot of the use will be in shallow, rocky rivers. I’d prefer one of the composites, but if dragging it on rocks is going to ruin it, then I don’t think I should even be considering it.

All input is greatly appreciated.

I didn’t see…

– Last Updated: Oct-20-10 11:44 PM EST –

I didn't see any mention in the "previous" thread that you referred to that said you would be doing a "lot" of traveling on shallow, rocky rivers. But truthfully, I didn't read every post in that thread or every sentence in every response.

I can't offer you any technical/expert advise. I am not a technical expert. I am a canoe paddler with many years of paddling experience; a lot of it on shallow,rocky river in the Ozarks.I own multiple canoes of Royalex, kevlar, and other composites.

To me, using a high dollar, composite canoe on a shallow,rocky river would be similiar to using a Shelby Cobra, or a new Corvette on gravel roads.
Can you do it? Sure you can. Will you regret it.
Probably. I wouldn't do it; unless I had "very deep pockets", and "didn't give a hoot" about the damage that will "surely" occur.

I'll take my Royalex boats on the shallow, rocky rivers. I'll take the high dollar, composite boats elsewhere.

If you're physically fit, you're not racing the boat, or doing lengthy portages; what difference does a few extra pounds on the Royalex boat matter? How far do you carry your boat from the vehicle to the river? I rarely have to carry mine more than a couple of boat lengths.

Your decision in the final analysis.


Agree with theBob
I also have many years of paddling and owned a toughweave Rendezvous from Wenonah, a well made composite Malecite from Mad River as well as

many royalex boats. Although the composite boats have their advantages,…boating shallow rocky rivers IS NOT one of them. Stick with royalex,…its proven itself many times where ANY composite would have failed.


Dragging on rocks will eventually ruin a royalex boat too. But at least it doesn’t cost as much as Black Gold. But neither does Kev/glass from the likes of Millbrook Boats.

The question is - why do you drag? Is it because the boat is too heavy to carry, or because your river has hidden rocks you can’t avoid. If the first - dropping the weight down to ~45lbs would fix that.

dragging canoes on rocks will wear out most Royalex canoes faster than it will most composites. Royalex is really not very abrasion resistant. That is why you see all the “canoe paint” on rocks in shallow streams. Every time you slide over a rock, a little bit of plastic comes off the boat.

A composite canoe will get a lot of scratches in the gel coat, but the epoxy-impregnated fabric is a lot more abrasion resistant than is Royalex. A lot of whitewater open boaters have become disenchanted with Royalex as it is quite possible to wear out a boat made of this material in a relatively short time, sometimes in a year, if one paddles a lot of rocky, technical creeks. That is one reason that the short, partially-decked polyethylene boats like the Spanish Fly have gained popularity.

Dragging on rocks is one thing. Hitting a rock very hard is another. Royalex has more give and is less likely to crack on hard impact with a rock. Most composite boats can be repaired (especially simple cracks) by anyone with basic fiberglass and epoxy skills.

The Kevlar/Duraflex layup made by Marlin Bayes at Clipper seems very tough. The weight savings over Royalex is not very much, but stiffness is of course, much better. I just bought a Clipper Viper in this layup but haven’t used it enough to judge long-term durability. I do know of a paddling instructor in the southeast who has had this boat for more than 8 years who had been wearing out a Royalex version every couple of years.

Thanks for the responses.

“To me, using a high dollar, composite canoe on a shallow,rocky river would be similiar to using a Shelby Cobra, or a new Corvette on gravel roads.

Can you do it? Sure you can. Will you regret it. Probably.”

This is my instinct, and is basically exactly why I’d only been looking at plastic. But then I read responses like pblanc’s, and I think maybe I’m mistaken. (There were similar responses in the previous thread, and in other threads I’ve read in the archives.)

To clarify: I wouldn’t be deliberately dragging the boat over lots of rocks. My experience has been that it’s tough to avoid scraping against at least a few, though. And while I don’t plan on ramming into anything with speed, I don’t want to be overly worried about my boat if I accidentally do. I’ve seen both of those things literally ruin (cheap) fiberglass boats, and I want nothing to do with anything that fragile.

Basically, I’d like the boat to be as carefree as possible with respect to occasional bumps and scrapes. That’s why I was initially looking at royalex. But if the “tougher” composite boats are equally as carefree–or even moreso–that’s something I’d like to know. That was my question. It sounds like we’ve got a split opinion so far…

Thanks again.

Not mentioned…

– Last Updated: Oct-21-10 11:24 AM EST –

Not mentioned:
What are "your" skills in the repair of composite canoes, and how interested are "you" in doing those repairs? If you have no skills, or do not want to do such repairs; who will do the repairs for you & how much will they charge?

Not mentioned: How "deep" are your pockets?
A quick check of pricing (Piragis online) revealed this:
Bell Rockstar(used strictly as an example of pricing)I have no idea which canoe you want?
Black Gold $2,766.00
Kevlight $2,310.00
Royalex $1,192.00
My limited mathematical skills tell me I could buy a Royalex Rockstar, wear it out, go buy another new one, and still have a couple of hundred bucks sitting in the bank........for the cost of a Black Gold Rockstar. Yes, the Black Gold "is" pretty, light, abrasion resistant, and probably handles better than the Royalex version.

Not mentioned: When you decide on the canoe & the layup you want; consider a used one, no matter what the layup.You can likely save yourself big bucks. Could likely find one in Kevlight for the Royalex price.
I will offer my Hemlock SRT as an example.
I purchased it used/in like new condition(composite layup) for about $800.00.
I love the boat; loved the price I paid too.
Check out the price of a new one!
The damage bothers me a "lot less" paddling my $800.00 version.

There are a lot of good canoes available in varied layups. Royalex is not the "must have" layup for every venue; neither is kevlar, in my opinion.
One thing we "do" know for sure; you're gonna pay for it, take care of it, and be the one using it.

I'm sure you'll get more input to assist you.
Good luck.


P.S. If you "need" one; the Royalex/Composite layup argument is a "great" rationalization, justification, excuse for having multiple canoes.

"Not mentioned:

What are “your” skills in the repair of composite canoes, and how interested are “you” in doing those repairs?"

Not much, and little to none. Part of my question is whether the “tougher” composites I’m asking about need the same sort of continual maintenance as the fiberglass hulls I’m more used to. If the answer is yes, then I’m probably not interested in owning one.

“Not mentioned: How “deep” are your pockets?”

Cheaper is better, of course, but my pockets are deep enough to buy the boat I want, if I became convinced that a tough composite was a better fit for me.

“Not mentioned: When you decide on the canoe & the layup you want; look for a used one.”

Of course. I’d be pretty flexible in buying a used boat at the right price–it wouldn’t need to be exactly the canoe or layup I was looking for. I don’t think I’ll be able to find one, but I’d certainly take one if I saw it available.

Wenonah Tuffweave

– Last Updated: Oct-21-10 11:19 AM EST –

I paddle mostly shallow, rocky, Ozark streams. First two "Nice" boats I ever owned were both tuffweave Wenonah canoes. The first scratches "Hurt" me more than the boats. They got broached on rocks and logs a few times without damage. When Wenonah got into royalex, I bought a royalex Wenonah Adirondack. Didn't paddle nearly as nicely, but the bumps and scrapes didn't bother ME as much. If I had it to do over again, I'd buy the tuffweave and forget the royalex.

Fast forward to now. I paddle two composite boats on those same streams. Bob's analogy is absolutely correct, BUT I'd rather "Drive" that "Classic" on the "Gravel road" and enjoy the boat, than paddle a boat I didn't particularly care for. Not to say good royalex boats don't exhist. Mohawk, Bell, et al make some darn nice royalex boats. But if you really want a composite, good layups will take the abuse. Wenonah's Tuffweave certainly can handle the job. I know Millbrook boats are made to withstand tough, WW paddling. Older Mad River kevlar boats (I paddle one now) are also made to withstand a lot of abuse.

Sure, I still cringe a bit when I scrape a nice, composite boat through a shallow area on the river. But not as much as I did in the '80's, before I learned good composites can withstand that abuse. Plus, Wenonah's Tuffweave is about the same price as their royalex boats. WW

Just for fun…totally off topic

– Last Updated: Oct-21-10 11:44 AM EST –

You are going to be stranded on a desert island for 5 years.
After 5 years you will be rescued.
Your only companion during the 5 years on the island will be one of two different women.
Your options: (A) Ginger (B) Mary Ann

A real decision I have to make today:
The weather is pretty here. This afternoon I plan on going for a bike ride. Bike options:(A)Yamaha V Max (B) Suzuki Katana.

There it is; decisions, decisions.

Mary Ann
in expedition Kevlar!!!

just don’t use bow and stern lines
…or you will crack the damn kayak in half.


but that’s obvious
Take the kataka because you’re giving me the v-max…remember?

composite maintenance
I’ve got a black gold Bell Magic that’s mostly a deep water boat but has been banged over a few rocks since I’ve got it and looks to have gotten a fair share of rocks in the boundary waters from the previous owner. It’s survived all this with no problem, just a few chips in the gel coat.

All I’ve done as far as maintenance/repairs go is filling in some of the the larger chips and one deep scratch with some epoxy. I try not to bounce my Magic or other composite hulls off hard objects but I don’t worry much if I do.

Keep your eyes open for used boats. You’d be surprised how many really good deals turn up, especially if you’re willing to drive a little ways. I live in a dead zone as far as nice canoes/kayaks go but if I drive a few hours there’s quite a used market. Craigslist is your friend, check it every day because the good deals don’t last long.

All that said I’m picking up two used canoes this weekend (Bell Northwind and Wildfire) and both of them are Royalex. I’d like to have both in a composite layup but beggars can’t be choosers and the price was right. Neither is likely to see a lot of portaging and they’re still fairly light so it’s not a real big deal. There is certainly some peace in mind that goes along with a Royalex hull.

BTW, where are you located and what type of canoe are you looking for?

Happy hunting,


Prospector and Penobscot
OK, I followed the link to your other post and see you’re looking at a Prospector and Penobscot as well as others.

I don’t know if they’re still available but in the last week I’ve seen a 16’ Penobscot listed for $200 and a Bell Prospector in blackgold for around $800. Both in Minnesota.


Pay attention to the composite lay ups
not all are suitable for rivers unless you like origami.

for example if you do have an accident the UL foam flat panel boats can fold along the edge of the panel. Crack a panel and you have a very difficult potentially expensive repair.


– Last Updated: Oct-21-10 4:16 PM EST –

....what are your paddling skills?

Mine aren't so great - so it's probably a good thing (for now, anyway) my NC Prospector is in the heavier "standard" royalex layup.

Last weekend, I cut it too close to the boulder in an attempt to eddy-out in some pretty stiff current on one of our major local rivers (miss-judged the current and blew the correction). Instead of tucking in under the boulder, I rammed the bow into it at speed - sounded like a small explosion from where I stood. Left a petty good scuff on the stem of the boat, but didn't get through the outer layer and there was no other damage. I'm pretty sure a composite boat wouldn't have fared as well.

Then again - I wouldn't have tried to pull that move in that place with my F/G Malecite. It sure wasn't necessary...

"I don’t know if they’re still available but in the last week I’ve seen a 16’ Penobscot listed for $200 and a Bell Prospector in blackgold for around $800. Both in Minnesota."

Tears in my eyes. I’d buy either in a heartbeat. I’ve been looking for a while and haven’t seen anything remotely close to a decent boat for sale.

Yeah, stem impacts can be nasty
A few years ago I was coaching a brand-new kayak paddler about how to do eddy turns behind a bridge pier. As I was explaining something to him, the rather gentle current of the eddy in which I was parked caused me to slowly coast into another part of that bridge pier. I took the impact on the bow of my guide-boat, so I didn’t see it coming. It was just a gentle tap, but about 1.5 inches of the stem was “mushy” afterward. The boat had originally been damaged at the other end during shipping, and the builder fixed it by first creating an access hole into the floatation tank so it could be fixed from the inside (afterward, there was no trace of either the access hole or the repair). I might have to do that someday to the damage from the bridge pier, but in the meantime, I just throroughly worked some epoxy into the cracked fabric and it seems pretty solid. That boat has taken much harder blows as glancing impacts with nothing but cosmetic damage being the result. I suspect most composite boats are vulnerable to straight-on impacts to the stems, but I’m sure the stems CAN be built to take quite a big hit if the builder wants it that way.

Its not the stems
They are pretty strong. But they can transmit the force to more vulnerable parts of the boat.

We hit a rock on a remote river that took a two inch diameter piece out of the kevlar bow plate. The stem underneath was fine…but the shock waves actually fractured the one piece foam core in a dozen places internally.

Externally nothing was wrong with the boat. Oh except the missing aluminum thwart that I took out with my thigh on my ejection trajectory. And the two bent gunwales…

Of course now this UL boat has a little more flexy bottom but still doesnt leak. (and it got a couple more hits on the Buffalo). Just dum luck I guess.