composite kayaks

Does anyone know how many years composite kayaks last before the material starts to break down. Under normal paddling conditions and reasonable care?

Many variables
I’m happily sailing a fiberglass Sunfish built in the 70s. The hull structure seems fine.

On the other hand, racers who specify ultralight construction can complain that hulls a “getting soft” after a season or two.

A bad rack can put more load on a hull during transport than it’ll ever see on the water.

Gelcoat can chalk and crack with time and use, but the basic structure of a good composite hull should last for decades with normal use and care.

I have a composite kayak going back to
1982, and it shows very little wear.

Remember, composite hulls can be repaired and renewed to an extent not possible with “poly” hulls. But there’s no doubt that poly stands up to abuse better.

duribility of composite kayak
I recently bought two composite Bart Hauthaway Rob Roy decked canoes (think rec kayak, but with better lines). At 28 lbs they are also much lighter.

One is 34 years old and the other is 35 years old. While they have had regular use, they were well taken care of and both look fine. My Granddaughter and I will continue that good care after we paddle them in Long Island Sound.


Composite Kestrel sit on top
My Kestrel was pretty light in the beginning. It might have been Kevlar, but that did not stop the angler before me from putting it up on the rocks after some stripers. So I made his repairs a little nicer and started using it. But is was already a beater boat and I holed it again basing small rocks in the surf and bumping over ledges in the rivers, so one summer I added a lot of glass to the bottom. I think with the glass reinforcement, hatches, and accessories I’ve added a total of ten pounds. It is still going really strong, but it looks like the most experienced boat on the beach every place I have been.

It could outlive me.

I am biggering the day hatch and changing the foot rests this winter. Heck I may even add a skeg or two.

they last forever
In the sailing world, which I know better, the strongest glass boats are the oldest ones. Heavy layups, less laminating, they last forever. The ones that have problems, later, are mostly due to laminating (balsa or plywood cores, which can become saturated and rot).

I’ve read some stuff here about glass kayaks growing “brittle” or something. Although I defer to the pros, my experience is that fiberglass hulls are practically timeless. I recently restored a 15 year old CD Caribou, and try as I might I can’t find any structural concerns. And I’ve owned glass sailboats made in the 1960’s that were strong as the day they were born.

Fiberglass is an awesome materials for boat building. And if you have even basic repair skills, you can make a glass boat last forever.

Early sailboats will last forever…
They were grossly overbuilt as they didn’t know how long FG would last. All depends on the builder, design and materials. Later foam and honeycomb construction for high performance boats would absorb water get soft and delaminate, basically disposable boats but buyers knew that in advance. A well built cared for boat will last a long long time.

You’re correct, J-A-G, composite resins
show much less change with time than ABS, and probably less than poly, especially when in use in water and sun.

Two provisos. Polyester resin can be damaged (micro delamination and blistering of gelcoat) from infiltration of water. And all composite resins are susceptible to UV damage, epoxy more than the others.

i’ve heard that

– Last Updated: Oct-03-14 9:23 PM EST –

about water and fiberglass. But countless thousands of fiberglass boats have spent literally decades just sitting in the water (often year round), and are still fine. I'm guessing maybe the gelcoat provides sufficient protection?

Same about the sun. Sun beats down on these boats for many thousands of hours... and no discernible effect. Gelcoat?

If I'm right, then it would only matter if the water sat inside such a boat (directly on the exposed glass matt and resin), or sunlight was on such surfaces for long periods of time...?

A friend in Florida
still paddles a CD Solstice he bought 26 years ago. A few years ago he had the boat professionally refinished and that cost him as much as a used late model CD Solstice GTS would have. I guess he just likes that boat. I’m beginning to feel that way about my CD Caribou but It’s only eight years old.

I recently confronted the question of whether to ditch the old Caribou (1998) and get a new boat, or “restore” the Caribou. Elected to do the latter. I guess I could afford anything out there… but I love this boat so much, I just don’t see ever replacing it.

Spider cracks in canoe gelcoat are one
entry, but you’re right, water sitting inside the boat can sneak into microscopic laminate faults and start interacting.

I don’t recall if they gave statistics, but Gougeon Brothers of West provide extensive info on hydrolysis blisters and repair thereof.

Vinylester is much less susceptible to the chemical process of hydrolysis, and epoxy is near immune.

I’ve owned only two gelcoated canoes.
One, a Mad River with “isopthalmic resin”, developed many hydrolysis blisters on the gelcoat. However, overall the layup remained strong.

My Moore tandem, also made in '73, never developed hydrolysis blister.

good point
But spider cracks are not common on the hulls… they are mostly found on the decks and cockpits, where there are localized stress points. Plus, the hulls (below water line) are generally coated with something (paint, usually), which helps.

I think it’s largely a non-issue, this thing about water seeping into fiberglass.

But yeah, I agree … in over three decades of extensive work on fiberglass (and wood) boats, I have NEVER seen a West System joint, repair or surface fail. Never. The stuff is incredible.

For a very long time
After your sick of paddling it. Tim

mine is 1996

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it and you will be fine

Hubby paddles a 1993 Wilderness Systems Shenai. He loves the boat even with the pink and turquoise color scheme.