Fiberglass canoe and whitewater

I did a search and didn’t come up with an answer.

I picked up an older Mohawk 16’ fiberglass canoe recently. It is going to be used by a friend so he can see if he wants to get into the sport. It is in great shape and very solid. The previous owner used in on a lake so it hasn’t been abused.

It will be used on rivers with some class 1 and 2 rapids with the occasional big rock thrown in for fun. It won’t be used for overnight tripping and it won’t carry much weight.

I have never paddled a fiberglass boat so I don’t know if this was a wise purchase. With the conditions that we will paddle, should I have found something else? Should it be able to stand up to a minor beating? Any advice would be appreciated.

Minor Yes - Major NO!
All the whitewater slalom boats are composite.

If you do enough you will get good at repairs. Not a bad thing.


Can you miss the rocks?
That’s the question that a maker of Kevlar hulls asked me when I asked him your question. Every time you touch a rock, a little bit of gelcoat (the outer, non-fabric, colored layer of most fiberglass boats) will go away. The rock might make just a surface scratch, or it might create a spiderweb of cracks with little loss of material, or it might cause chunks of gelcoat to fall off. So if I wanted to keep my boat pretty, I’d steer clear of all but very easy whitewater (class 1 and low class 2), at water levels high enough to avoid scraping. That would eliminate a lot of fun whitewater runs.

On the other hand, gelcoat doesn’t provide the structural strength of the canoe; it’s there for aesthetics and ultraviolet protection and abrasion protection. A fiberglass tripping boat is structurally strong enough for a lot of rapid running. If you just whack a rock and bounce off, you might crack, but will probably not break, the fiberglass. If you get the boat pinned in class 3 whitewater, it is entirely possible the force of the water will fold the boat in half, which would probably make you scrap the boat or spend a lot of time repairing it.

So the answer depends on how sensitive you are to scraping your boat up and on how your skill compares to the level of rapids you will run. I wouldn’t call a fiberglass boat a great choice for learning to run class 3, but it could be done. I’ve repaired enough gelcoat that I would prefer plastic boats on runs above class 2 or on scrapy runs, no matter how easy. If you already know how to paddle in whitewater, I think you’d be fine in the water you described; if you’re just learning, I recommend that you go ahead and buy a gelcoat repair kit now, plus maybe some fiberglass cloth and epoxy for bigger repairs, depending on how far you’ll be from civilization.

– Mark

An advanced (over 50) gal paddler
friend of mine paddled a Mohawk fiberglass canoe, partly chopper-gun layup, on all the easier N. Georgia rivers (Etowah, Broad, Talking Rock, middle Chestatee, etc.) for a number of years, and she never did any serious damage to the boat. I borrowed the boat to take a friend down Chattooga Section II, and we did no damage other than scrapes.

I wouldn’t guess perfect gelcoat would be an issue on a used Mohawk. Certainly any Royalex boat will show as many scrapes, and more dents, on a similar river.

It really will depend on whether your friend can develop that “composite” mentality. I have it, because I have always paddled composite boats on serious whitewater. You don’t have to be obsessive compulsive, but you can’t go splatting and boofing over every rock in the river.

“splatting and boofing…”
…are such wonderfully descriptive words, sounding like something from a Vachel Lindsay poem!

I always wondered what it was we were doing out there in those rocks; now I know the names for it! This is, of course, how one actually develops the invaluable “composite mentality” encouraged in the above missive. G2D clearly knows of what he or she speaks!

No, made it all up. }:wink:

fiberglass boats are good
I own a 1978 Mohawk fiberglass WWIII which I bought in 1985 for $50. It is a mat and chopper gun layup. I’ve been paddling it on mostly class I and II rivers at least a couple of trips a year since I bought it. It had been wrapped and repaired prior to my purchase. No surprise as stickers on the boat indicated it had been used as a downriver racing boat. It’s one of my most favorite boats which has produced more pleasure per dollar than just about any purchase in my life.