Misconseptions about gelcoat

Some things need to be cleared up about gelcoat cracks or spider cracks in both canoes and kayaks.

First I’ll say that at present I own 5 composite boats from several different makers and almost all different layups from glass to kevlar and everything mixed in between. Every one of them has at least one gel crack and some have many and even a chunk missing from one that has since been easily fixed.

Spider cracks and gel cracks are normal in any composite. Boats flex in normal use or things go bump in the river or kayaks are put under undue stress buy praticing re-entry, rolling or just tieing them down to the rack.

It can be pretty upsetting to see a fresh crack in your new boat and for people who like things to be perfect I know it’s just about unbearable.

Keep one thing in mind unless the fabric is damaged or compromised the cracks are only cosmetic. Composite boats do not soak up water, become soft or weak because the gel it cracked.

I hear people say things like “I won’t buy another such and such boat because the thing cracked” well I’ve got news…they all crack. You can put significant cracks in a brand new boat just by strapping it down too tight. especially if it’s a superlight lay-up. You can even do structual damage. I hate it when I see someone using the cheapo ratchet type straps that you by at home depot. These things can be cranked down so tight that they will ruin a brand new boat.

Anyway I just wanted to bring this up for discussion. good night.

Spider cracks cold weather paddling
and refreezing? Cracks growing wider? What do you see?

A Story fron one of my boats:

I took delivery of a new boat that had taken an impact and had the thinnest spider cracking. Could barely see it, could barely feel it. In two years those cracks felt very uneven. I’d like to think we could do better. I see companies that do.

I guess it’s a choice between harder-but-crack-prone gel coat on a glass or Kevlar boat


easily-scratched-but-flexible varnish on a wood-epoxy-glass boat.

Wonder why gel coat on a wood boat is not done, or at least not mentioned? I’ve heard of using 2-part LPU on them.

OK there is an easy fix
When I see a fresh spider crack I fill it with crazy glue, this really works and will fill and seal the crack and fix any lose chips. The capillary effect will draw the glue into the crack. Work the area by flexing it with your hand before the glue sets. But it must be dry, I use a hair dryer to heat and dry any moisture out of the area. if you are careful there is no mess to clean up. Jagged cracks can then be wet sanded smooth and buffed out.

Yep it works and will even stiffen up soft spots in the fabric.

I am glad
you brought this up because as nice as the composite boats look I keep thinking they are too much maintanence with the gel coat and all. But I really do not know enough about them to decide. So sometimes I rule them out completely, like I will NEVER own a composite boat. Other times I think well they must not be to bad because lots of people own them. I look forward to more responses and discussion about this, I am sure I will learn something.


I agree that spider cracks in gelcoat
MAY not be a cause for concern, because by now, reputable manufacturers are using epoxy of vinylester so that hydrolysis of the resin is not a problem.

But just for historical interest, I had a '73 Mad River Compatriot, custom made for me, laid up with quality glass, “isopthalmic” polyester resin, and with good quality white gelcoat. Eventually small amounts of water got under the gelcoat and reacted with the resin, causing thousands of blisters in the gelcoat.

If anyone doubts that this occurs, go to the West Epoxy website and read their document on the tedious procedure for digging out hydrolysis blisters and filling them in with epoxy.

As for gelcoat, my question is, WHY? I have several composite boats without gelcoat. They weigh less, they have hard surfaces and don’t scratch easily, and they are easier to repair if damaged. They also cost less to produce. Isn’t gelcoat really just a cosmetic phenomenon? Does anyone still prefer women with heavy facial makeup?

What composite
boats do you have that do not have gelcoat? I thought they all had it. I have a lot to learn, I know.

Off the top of my head…Souris River
is one. http://www.redrockstore.com/canoerepair/touchup/varnish/index.htm

Trust me a well built Kevlar or glass
canoe can take unbeleavable abuse, look like hell and still paddle just fine.

that is very cool
But I do not paddle canoes just kayaks. Does anyone make kayaks without gel coat? The ones that do have gel coat, are they as easy as the canoe to fix if they get scratched up?

Fix, yes but harder to work on
just because you have a deck to deal with too and getting inside a kayak to patch can be a logistical problem. But typically the gel on a kayak is much the same as a canoe.

I deal with gel problems the same way on both.

Repairing gelcoat is not that difficult but getting an exact color match is always hit or miss to say the least.

I don’t know of any composite production kayaks that don’t use gelcoat. Maybe someone here will. Some carbon hulls use clear gel.

epic doesn’t have gel coat
Imagine this, take your average 50lb glass kayak that has six lbs of gel coat (making up the numbers) and instead of gel coat you have layers of s-glass as needed. Then paint for aesthetics or UV protection. The gel coat is nonstructural,the s-glass is structural and provides greater abrasion resistance for the same thickness.

You know how your car has hard metal and a thin layer of paint? Wouldn’t make much sense to put a gel coat on a car. If you make the hull tough enough gel coat isn’t needed,but it looks homogenous and “boat like”.

You can get many ultralights…

– Last Updated: Apr-07-06 7:45 AM EST –

without it.
I have three different models of Wenonah canoes that don't have it.
All that the gel-coat does is add a third layer of color some stiffness and a few pounds.
Next time you are on the water watch for some canoes that look like a yellowish tan, and odds are they are ultralights without gel-coat.

No gelcoat--


Poke Boats
Here’s what they look like:


near impossible to ‘crack’ rotomolded plastic.



Boats I have without gelcoat:
Bluewater Chippewa tandem 48 lbs (constr. details unknown.)

Dagger Zealot slalom c-1 22 lbs S-glass/carbon

Phoenix Seewun c-1 38 lbs (“Fiberlastic”)

Noah Magma k-1 32 lbs CAP/Kevlar

Millbrook WideRide c-1 28 lbs S-glass/Kevlar

"I see someone using the cheapo ratchet type straps that you by at home depot."

What kind of straps should you use then? Any recommendations?


25 year old MR Explorer
one of my canoes is a 25 year old Mad River Explorer which has seen some rocky rivers in the NW Territories and northern Quebec, less hairy rivers and lakes throughout Ontario and Manitoba and now resides on my dock for evening trips down the river with the dogs.

the boat looks like hell, the gel coat is cracked in many places and has faded gracefully over the years. i’ve replaced the ash trim only once in 25 years. i’ve filled some significant cracks with polyester, covered some minor ones with duck tape and used crazy glue for some hairline spiders.

throughout it all, while it may look like hell, it has never leaked a drop and still paddles like new. though i’ve added a glass MR Independence solo and a carbon Wenonah Minn 18 to my stable, i still love my old MR. she’ll probably outlast me.

no straps at all …
get you some 3mm ‘rope’ and learn the truckers knot.

Production epoxy boats sans gelcoat