Modern 'Glass Boats: Can't Take A Punch?

Interesting article… was curious to see if ppl generally concurred with it:


I know my modern fiberglass boat takes a pounding. It’s 17’ and 23" and weighs about 55-57lbs. A bit heavy but it survives a lot.

Ryan L.

Depends on the layup, of course
It is kind of ironic that as Americans in general have gotten bigger, and heavier, they have been increasingly reluctant to buy “heavy” boats. Given the same materials, the lighter the layup and the heavier the load it is expected to carry, the more likely the boat is to crack, or suffer more catastrophic failure.

Old whitewater Royalex canoes used to be incredibly tough, but the sheet was quite thick, gunwales were often heavy duty aluminum, and the boats were heavy as sin. Then buyers (apparently) wanted lighter boats so manufacturers started specing thinner sheet and added less reinforcement, gunwales became vinyl covering a thin strip of aluminum, or just plastic with no metal reinforcement at all, and the boats started to wear out within a season or two of hard use such as rocky creeking.

I recall when a 55 lb tandem canoe or kayak was considered quite light. Now many would consider a boat of that weight unacceptably heavy.

Durability always comes down to how much you are willing to pay and how heavy you are willing to lift. If you use all expensive materials like carbon, aramid, S 'glass, and epoxy resin along with the most modern construction methods you can build a boat that is stiff, strong, and pretty light, but you will pay through the nose. If you want something light that doesn’t cost too much, you have to leave something out, and the boat is going to be more fragile.

Skin boats

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I've seen a guy wailing on a skin boat with a screwdriver
and it simply would not puncture the boat, it bounced.

A nylon fabric properly bonded with waterproof sealant
is amazingly tough and puncture resistant.

To some degree I agree
The old Necky boats made with no core material but solid Kevlar and strips of carbon with half round dowel were pretty durable even if gel coat cracks showed up everywhere. But the present Cobra made Necky boats are stiff and tough. The all core Chinese made Perception kayaks need more glass on the inside.

Again With the Bicycles
Good bicycle frames continue to get lighter and lighter. They’ve had their growing pains but manufacturers keep at it. Yeah, you pay extra for the light stuff but go check out your local group ride. Most all carbon fiber. I think kayak makers who want to compete need to emulate bike frame makers.

I’d be perfectly happy with an S glass layup with painted finish.

I Respect That
Some folks still ride steel frames. But the numbers keep dropping.

Well, actually…
…I am told by my hardcore bike-riding friends that steel has been achieving a mini-resurgence in bicycles in recent years. Though it’s in no danger of unseating carbon fiber as the ‘coveted’ material, especially in high-end racing bikes.

But if you want a commuter or ‘practical’ bike, there’s lots of choices in steel these days.

I have an old Impex Susquehanna

– Last Updated: Dec-15-12 10:58 PM EST –

that is the same as the Formula Diamante they currently build. Those boats are not known for being particularly heavily built but they are pretty tough.

In the six years I have had mine, I have had a few mishaps. Once I ran it fully loaded with camping gear up onto a submerged stump with a pointed end where a tree had been knawed off by a beaver. When I got the boat off and once I saw what I had hit, I was amazed that it hadn't punch a hole through the hull. I also got caught by a wave once and slammed broadside into a piling and it only put a small crack in the gelcoat.

Pay through the nose unless you buy
from Kaz. Millbrook prices are hundreds of dollars below similar layups.

A Gabby Hayes who never read
Wallbridges “Boatbuilders Manual” and never paid real attention to how composite ww boats hold up with abuse that sea kayaks need ten years to accumulate. (Tsunami Rangers and heedless klutzes excepted.)

He brings out the old water soaking into the laminate baloney. I’ve owned a bunch of ww composite boats, FG, S-glass, carbon, Nylon, Kevlar, and I’ve never had a boat gain water weight.

It is hard to find a copy of the Boatbuilders Manual, so let me just say that quantitative tests were done on a variety of layups available in the 80s, and the best four layer layup was SS/KK, where S = S-glass and K = Kevlar. The S-glass goes on the outside of the boat. Kevlar is not an outside cloth.

My first c-1 was made with multiple layers of FG, and a single layer of polypropylene. It weighed over 50 pounds, and it broke repeatedly, especially underneath the stern where it thumped going over ledges. Now I have an SS/KK Millbrook C-1, weighs only about 28 pounds, and it doesn’t break.

What I’ve Seen…
in my corner of the world is old steel frames put back into service. For quite a while it was popular to get an old steel Centurion or Fuji and turn it into a single speed or fixed gear. A couple weeks back I saw a Centurion on a car that had really weird handlebars; like someone had turned it into a track bike.

Not just the material for bikes
Some of it is the ride. For example, when I went looking for my last bike there was still no aluminum ride that had the feeling I liked from steel, and the carbon fiber bikes were all over the ball park in that area. I got steel, the only change I would have made a couple of years later would have been to go for titanium.

Racers would not have any use for the bike I got - frame angles all wrong for a sprint and too heavy. But compared to what it replaced, a decent bike in its own right that the local bike rescue group has made good use of, it was super light and responsive. It took me a few rides before I was no longer veering towards a tree at every turn because the balance was lighter towards the front end.

AS to kayaks - the balance point is between time to repair and material. Someone who regularly beats the heck out of their boat on rocks is going to tolerate a different choice in materials than someone who paddles areas that are easy on the boat to start with.

There are manufacturers that stuck to the old ways of making boats while cutting down on resin and gelcoat. That did not have good effect on hull resistance, since in the good old days resin and gelcoat were an essential part of boat’s construction.

And then there are some, such as Necky, TideRace, that actually know what they are doing and minimizing amount of resin without sacrificing rigidity and impact resistance of their hulls.

Steel is still queen in bikes
King is titanium for weight to strength, and both are very good at absorbing shock. They can be made stiffer where you want power to drive, and flexier where you want vibration absorption. Both of them wear long and hard, unlike aluminum, which isn’t too shock absorbant and doesn’t last all that long if run hard.

Carbon fiber can be made to do all that and can be laid up more creatively, but manufacturers are still afraid of liability, so they overbuild them making them weigh more than the have to. And as to CF, I would not want it in my bike in the fork. Many manufacturers include warning labels on CF forks that would scare the shit out of you - and they should, IMHO.

As to glass, CF and kevlar in kayaks, I’m reading that the kevlar, lightest of all and usually damn tough, is not as strong in this use as CF, and CF is not as strong as regular fiberglass. But if you watch the guys who do some of the toughest kayaking - whitewater and rock gardening - they almost always go for poly, because it’s that much tougher and withstands damages well.

I know well why weight is such a factor (not the only important one, BTW) in bikes. Other than for carrying, I’m not at all sure it’s so critical in kayaks, even for long distances. I do understand why it could be for canoes, but that’s the same carrying/portaging issue.

Segment of the Market
Among road bikers who race or ride for fitness (rat-racers / club riders) steel is not queen… at least not in my corner of the world. By far the material of choice is carbon fiber. Distant 2nd would be aluminum (mostly Cannondales). I see a smattering of titanium and steel bikes. In my group steel is more like a duchess. I ride a steel frame that can’t be had anymore. The maker switched to carbon because of demand.

I agree with SS/KK
Best combination for weight, impact resistance and scrape resistance.

Carbon is good as the outer layer instead of the S glass for lightweight lake paddling with heavy wallets.

Necky and Tiderace…
…aren’t both their boats produced in Thailand, by Cobra?

And yet, steel keeps hanging around…
There’s been a number of smaller companies springing up over the past decade or two - names like Surly, SOMA, Rivendell, Jamis, Kona, Velo-Orange, Handsome, All-City, etc- and older names such as Raleigh that have been doing well with their steel bike lines.

They don’t seem to be going away. And these are new bikes, not used steel bikes being re-purposed as fixies by the hipsters.

There’s definitely a steel segment out there, and while most of the really big bike companies (Trek, Cannondale, Giant) aren’t serving it beyond a rare steel model or two (i.e. Trek 520), a number of smaller ones are catering to it successfully.

And why shouldn’t they? Not everyone digs carbon’s ride, price, or aesthetics, or they read about a ‘stupid-light’ carbon fork snapping on someone and they get nervous.

Probably the only frame material that could potentially make everyone happy is titanium, but Ti requires a lot of skilled labor to work it, and thus will probably never be cheap enough to be mass-popular.

It’s largely a carbon-fiber market (at least above a certain price point) because CF isn’t all that expensive to produce yet the big bike companies can charge more for it (i.e. nice margins), and because all the racing teams are paid to ride it (marketing). But that doesn’t mean that CF is going to be the only frame material going forward.

Alas, alack, and despite the hype.