Kayak Upgrade - Plastic vs. Glass

I own a plastic (RM) recreational kayak (12 ft), have been paddling for about a year and am considering an upgrade to a sea kayak in the 16-17 ft. range. I often kayak in areas where the river and lake bottoms are rocky and have caused significant abrasion on the RM hull which has not been a problem since the plastic is very damage tolerant. However, I am considering a glass boat and would appreciate any advice from more experienced paddlers as to whether abrasion of this type would be a significant problem? I am also open to any other advice regarding the purchase.

go glass for performance
In my experience, a plastic hull gets much deeper scratches in everyday use than a glass hull. And I’m not someone who babies his glass boat. I’m in the rocks whenever I can. I have tons of scratches on my glass boat, but none of them are deep enough to catch your fingernail. On my plastic sea kayak, which wasn’t used as rigorously as this glass one, there are many scratches that are 1/16" deep and wide. A few that are deeper than that.

The fact is that polyethylene is much much softer than polyester resin. So given the same abrasion, the plastic will scratch much worse than the glass boat.

glass vs. plastic
Any recommendations on glass boats? I have been looking at P&H, Valley and Impex.

Glass can be easily repaired
It is a strange reversal of thinking that says you can beat the sh*t out of a plastic boat but you have to be careful of a glass boat. You should be careful of both but a glass boat can almost always be restored to like new condition while a plastic boat cannot. Go with glass.

What kind of paddling do you want to do, and how big are you?

All 3 manufacturers have a good reputation. There’s no “best” – just what fits and works for you.

all good
find one that fits you and the paddling you want to do.

P&H, Valley and Impex.
All three make good boats. Play in models from each.

Composite boats are resilient and easy to maintain and repair.

abrasion resistance
Composite boats are considerably more abrasion-resistant than plastic boats. Composites, being much more rigid than plastic, are more prone to cracking if you hit a rock really hard. This would probably only be an issue if you were running whitewater on rocky streams, however.

Keep the plastic boat for shallow rivers
Nothing better than a plastic boat for exploring small, windy, shallow streams. But go with glass or composite for your sea kayak, if you can afford it. You might also consider building a glass/wood boat from a kit. They are significantly lighter and a little bit cheaper than fiberglass hulls, and significantly cheaper and a little bit lighter than high end composites.

so what?..
…few people are good enough paddlers to notice the difference that the scratches can make.

Don’d know where you paddle in Montgomery Co, MD, but consider visiting cpakayaker.com for some ideas or to meet other locals - you can try their kayaks and listen to them why their particular model is the best (mine included) -:wink:

I’m gonna get drilled for this, but here

– Last Updated: Mar-13-10 8:44 AM EST –

goes. You said you were looking for a "Sea Kayak", yet you are paddling shallow rocky streams. Sea kayaks get scratched all the time when launching, landing, playing around rocks, etc. If I am in a shallow river (almost never) I am in my Aquanaut RM, the same for surfing, and shallow bays in Lake Huron. I like to keep my boats looking decent. Unless you don't care about your boats appearance, stay away from composite if you are going to be banging around in shallow water. If you are heading out for open water (Sea Kayaking), composite is the way to go. Thermalformed boats are awesome (Eddyline), but it is a roll of the dice as friendlyfire mentions. They take a real beating, right up to the point where they crack apart. . I like the advice you were given on talking to people who paddle where you plan on paddling, they will have the best advice for you. Good luck. Bill

I have not used this message board before and your posts have been incredibly helpful. I agree that “sea kayak” is a misnomer for how I am using my boat, but I was using it as a generic term. In Mont. Co. MD, I routinely paddle several small lakes and the potomac river. I occasionally get out to the Cheseapeake Bay.

Composite prone to cracking?
Thermoform is much more prone to cracking than composite. There’s no structure to contain the impact. A composite might hole, but the fabric contains the damage.

Fiberglass and kevlar are lighter
And they cost a lot more. They can be repaired easily and you can keep repairing them for ever. But my new to me Kevlar boat isn’t any faster than a similar polyethylene boat.

If I was paddling in shallow water with rocks I’d want a poly boat and just expect to replace it in 7 to 15 years depending on its use.

For places that are deeper and have few rocks and logs I’d prefer a composite boat because it is lighter, cost a lot more so it is usually made better.

Personally I’d recommend that if you’re upgrading from a rec boat, that you first go to a poly sea kayak in the size range you’re interested in. Then in a couple years you’ll have more experience in these sizes of boats and will likely have a much better idea of what features you’d like in a much more costly composite (glass) boat.

Bill H.

Where this is your first upgrade from a 12 foot rec boat, i would stick with poly for price reasons. You can buy poly boats used cheaper, try out a few different models, maybe paddle one for the summer, see how it feels, and maybe find a few more things you don’t like or do like about the brand/size/shape or whatever. Then once you know exactly what you are looking for start looking at the more high end boats.

Huge poly fan here!

– Last Updated: Jun-20-09 9:25 AM EST –

I own plastics, fiberglasses, and a carb Kevlar.

Valley poly is triple thick and does not deform and paddles well. Take a hard hit well. No gel and fiberglass repairs. 1/2 price of composite. Equally as fast. 5 lbs more weight--negligible; 150 lb paddler plus a 55 lb boat = 205 lbs versus 150 lb paddler and a 49 lb composite boat = 199 lbs, or 2.5% weight savings overall on the water. Negligible. If you really look at the weights of the poly versus glass boats, you will be shocked at how the glass boats truly save very little in weight.

I adore poly. Much of the price of 'glass boats, of which I own four (I own about 6 plastic boats) is in the labor intensive hand-manufacturing process. As you state, oh wise original poster, we paddle in stinky stumpwaters--not pristine beaches--and recycleable plastic, in a word, rules. Why pay for a hand made boat only to go rock gardening in it?

Bottom line: modern plastics are tough, strong, minimal "deflection" (try a Valley boat on for size--you'd be amazed at the plastc quality compared to even what you paddle now) and are modern marvels. I contend that 15 years from now fiberglass boats will be largely a thing of the past in paddling due to increasing costs of hand-produced items, increasing cost of fiberglass, continued refinements in plastics, the easily recycleable nature of plastics, a growing popularity of our sport in non-ocean (i.e. less hospitable) waters, and a more cost-conscious buyer. Bye bye fiberglass.

Valley Boat
I don’t want to sidetrack this thread, but what is a Valley boat, is it a brand name of boat or type of construction used by various manufacturers? I cant seem to find any info on it.

a brand name of boat…and more
Valley refers to Valley Sea Kayaks aka VCP or Valley Canoe Products. http://www.valleyseakayaks.com/

Valley boats are legendary. The Valley Nordkapp maybe the most famous of sea kayaks. The Valley Anas Acuta is the origin kayak of many if not most Brit boats.

Valley boats are known for their quality of design and build.

The common aphorism regarding Valley boats is “There’s nothing like a Valley.”