Fiberglass kayak in rapids?

So I have been looking for a 12-14 foot boat for mostly flat water with some rapids thrown in on creeks and streams. I found a Current Designs Pachena, fiberglass, for $750 which is a bit higher than I was hoping to pay but it looks like a nice boat.

I was curious how fiberglass handles on rapids compared to plastic? I wouldn’t be dragging but if I get going down a rapid and accidentally slam into a rock, is that going to bust the fiberglass or is it stronger than plastic? I have a plastic boat now and while I am rough I managed to put a dent in the front by hitting a rock and I had to pop it back out with a rubber mallet from the inside.

If it was me, I would opt for plastic
If you get fiberglass, you will not only be taking a chance of punching a hole in it, but you will end up scraping the gel coat off.

Jack L

at the least lots of maintenance compared to a plastic boat if rocks are in your paddling.

Just tacking on to this thread…

– Last Updated: Oct-21-14 9:26 AM EST –

This is something I've been wondering about myself. Not necessarily specifically about FG boats in rapids, but how anyone with a boat made of these fancy-schmancy materials (FG, CF, Kevlar, polished wood, etc.) with a highly-polished looking finish actually uses their boat in real-life practice?! Do you just baby the heck out of your boats? How do you put in/take out without getting any scratches? Do you always carry your boat out into the water until you're at least knee-deep before you even consider putting it down and getting in? Do you always stay far away from shore, shallow water, gravelly bottoms? How do you get any enjoyment from paddling your boat if you constantly have to worry about the slightest damage? Or do you simply NOT worry about it and have fun and just fix it when it needs fixin'?

Or are fancy-schmancy boats like that not nearly as delicate as I imagine and can actually take some abuse?

Now that the kayaking bug has bit me, I often dream of the day when I can move up to a really good boat. I like to imagine myself someday being able to slide my butt into one of those beautiful polished boats that seem to just glide through the water with ease. But then I think, how would I actually use this boat? If I'm constantly worried about getting nicks, scratches, dents, etc. in the boat, how would that be any fun?

FG isn’t fragile
If I was to acquire a composite boat of any kind it would be for the lighter weight, and in the case of fiberglass. the ability to patch it easily. Appearance would be far down my list. The only FG boat I’ve owned was a home-built 13’ classic whitewater kayak which got the heck beat out of it in class III to V rapids for 30 years by several owners and borrowers. Sure it was scratched and had multiple patches (which, by the way, is not really an option for plastic boats), but it was a tough little beast even though it weighed only 26 pounds.

Fiberglass is strong stuff and it can be mended almost indefinitely. Back in the '70’s and '80’s my outdoor club had molds and the whitewater fanatics used to all build these boats for themselves, taking them on such storied rapids as the Cheat Canyon, and the Gauley and New Rivers. Many were built in two halves with a break-away side seam that would separate under severe load, like if a paddler became pinned under a ledge or against a rock. allowing escape.

I think anyone who really frets about their boat getting scratched or dinged either needs to get over it or find another form of recreation. Though one option would be a urethane coated ballistic nylon skin-on-frame kayak – I’ve got one and its the only craft I’ve ever owned that seems impervious to any surface damage. I’ve gouged the wooden keel strip by sliding it down concrete ramps and over gravel bars, but the skin even on the hull remains as smooth as the day it was coated. (It’s funny how so many people view SOF’s as “fragile”.)

Just to be clear…
I’m not trying to bash anyone with a composite or wood boat (aka fancy-schmancy material). I’m truly intrigued about the amount of care it takes to own and use such boats. I’ve admired some absolutely gorgeous boats online and would love to own one. However, my apprehensive about any special handling that would be required prevents me from owning one. Well, that and the fact that I don’t have the spare change to fund such a nice boat!

In general on FG boats
No, my fg sea kayaks do not get babied. when wear gets bad enough it is time for a keel strip, then you beat the hell of the keel strip for a while. Kayak in Maine - forget ducking rocks.

I agree about the repair of fiberglass - it is just time and a few basic materials to lay in a solid patch. It is a bit more time and more fussiness than I have to sand the patch down to being really pretty. Colored hulls add a color match issue - which is why I would never have a colored hull. If you want to keep the decks relatively scratch-free, you can put on sheets of protective plastic like they use to protect auto finishes. It is deceptively difficult to get those things to lay flat though - I bothered on one boat and the other has a quite scratched up deck.

All that said, for a steady diet of banging into rocks on moving water or coming in on surf the hard way, I’d probably just destroy a plastic boat then go get another after some years.

There was a time when most whitewater kayaks were composite/fiberglass. They were used in big water and on rocky rivers. Complete punctures were rare, but cracks were not, and most paddlers knew at least the basics of putting on a patch. Everyone carried duct tape.

Paddling technique put more emphasis on avoiding rocks than is often done in modern plastic boats.

A glancing hit on a rock with a composite kayak will probably just scratch the gelcoat.

You’re not going to be ready for rapids
unless you get some training, and they will tell you to not run rapids in rec kayaks, plastic or composite.

Depends on conditions
Taking care of a “fancy” composite boat is no problem at all if you use it where there is little chance of running into rocks. I always get in and out of my boats in the water, but not knee deep; ankle deep is fine.

Everyone will have their own priorities when it comes to taking care of their stuff. For me, keeping my things in perfect condition is part of the enjoyment. I am lucky to have a myriad of choices for paddling environments. If for some strange reason I wanted to paddle where pushing rocks was likely, I would use an inflatable.

fiberglass is going to catch on rocks
more than poly. Ergo more scratches through the gel coat layer.

Hope you like playing with patches and epoxy and gel coat. It will get old after a while.

Wood boats aren’t necessarily expensive. I built a plywood/glass stitch & glue canoe without spending a lot – if I count my labor as free.

As for care, yes, I do wince when I hit rocks, but so far the damage has all been cosmetic. They’re tougher than they look. I do reserve the wood boat primarily for lake use, and I use plastic when I know rocks will be more than occasional hazards.

FG and wood boats are not going to hold up as well as poly if you drag them through the parking lot.

Having had mostly wood or composites I use them but do not abuse them and treat them as family members.

I’d go plastic

– Last Updated: Oct-21-14 12:40 PM EST –

As with most of the others here, if you are going to be in rapids, I'd go plastic. That hit that punched in the nose on your plastic boat would have very likely cracked or totally broken the nose on a fiberglass boat. Where you were able to go home and then pop out the dent at a later point, a cracked or broken fiberglass boat would have required on site repairs to be able to continue the paddle.

Side note - on pushing out dents in plastic boats - most people use heat and some light pressure. not extreme pressure (as a mallet would do). Plastic wants to return to its original shape, so even just leaving in the sun on a warm day it likely would have popped much of the dent out on its own. This can be sped up by heating up by pouring hot water on it.

There will be scratches, no matter what
True for both plastic and “fancy” materials. True even if you do a good job of avoiding rocks, shells, sharp gravel, submerged trees, concrete, etc. Avoiding does not equal “none whatsoever” if you use the boat frequently in a variety of places. If you only paddle in places that have no launch/land/smack hazards you might be able to keep the boat shiny and pristine-looking. That’s a severe restriction of use, though.

Still, for use in rapids, stay with plastic unless you enjoy repairing things. A bop that makes a plastic boat bounces off with no more than a scratch or maybe a dent that can be popped back out might crack stiffer composites, or at least crack the gel coat.

Found a six-year-old rec kayak (Carbonlite 2000) on Craig’s List and bought it. Beautiful crimson red highly polished deck. Don’t know if that constitutes fancy-schmancy since it’s thermoformed plastic, but it sure looks better than RM. The kayak had been originally used in a rental fleet, then sold to a guy who paddled it on Lake Michigan and local rivers. There were some light scuff marks on the deck and a few scratches on the hull, but nothing to bother trying to buff out. Weighs 41# so it’s easy to carry. While I’ll set it with the stern still on shore while I’m getting organized or loading it, I move it into the water (maybe six inches deep) before entering. Liked everything about that kayak so much I recently bought a new one. Longer and narrower; but weighing only 43#. And very shiny.

Care? For a dirty boat, I’ll add a few drops of Meyers soap to a bucket of warm water, sponge it down, then rinse. I paddle fresh water lakes (avoiding rocky shores), so most of the time I just rinse the hull, wipe out the cockpit, then put on the cockpit cover and move the boat to stands. An application of 303 on the hull for additional UV protection.

No special handling, just a believer that if you take good care of your stuff, it will take good care of you.

Not all composite kayaks . . .

– Last Updated: Oct-21-14 4:22 PM EST –

. . . are created equal -- in terms of handling rocks and current together.

I've been paddling the same 30 lb., 17 foot kevlar/carbon racing kayak in Class 1 - 3 whitewater for 8 years now and have never needed to do more than minor gelcoat repairs on it. That said, I will say:
(1) this boat is designed for white water in that it primarily kevlar (not fiberglass) and in that the hull is designed to flex over rocks.
(2) additionally, this boat has no bulkheads, which tend to create areas of rigidity, making those areas more susceptible to stress cracks.

I would paddle a conventional fiberglass or thermoform boat in Class 1 - 3 only if I knew the river and if I knew the water level was adequate.

Fiberglass boats can handle rocks fairly well, but the combination of rocks and strong river currents can do a lot of damage very quickly.

I have a carbon/kevlar QCC-700
and I use it almost daily in the winter months in the Florida Keys, the florida West coast and the Florida Springs area . Many times we are paddling over oyster bars or other impediments, and I just read the water and take care of it.

During the rest of the year I am racing it and Kevlar canoes all over the east coast in rivers, some of which are class I and there again, I use care and don’t worry about it.

I have done my share of patching and all my boats keep on ticking.

Jack L

Thanks everyone
Thanks everyone for the replies, gave me all the information I needed!

Honestly… I put ZERO care into my boat
I have a 9 year old NDK Explorer that is still going strong. It has thousands of days on the water, including many rough water days.

I don’t run it up on oysters or rocks (unless I have to), but I don’t baby it at all. If I break it in half it can be fixed, it will be a bit heavier, but no worse off after the repair.