plastic vs fiberglass

+Just wondering what are the advantages of materials used to make kayaks. Do plastic kayaks degrade over time. Soom say yes others say no. What about fiberglass. Soom say it is more durable soom say no. What is the truth. Can you really feel the difference in paddling? Thanks to everyone on this sight for the help. jaws

it’s a matter of money and use
if you expect to bump on rocks a lot or want to save $1000 then plastic makes sense. If you have an extra $1000 and want to reduce the weight 10lbs or more then glass makes sense. Also plastic starts having structural issues for the weight as the kayak gets longer/skinnier/bigger that make composite prefereable.

I have 20 and 30 year old "glass"
boats which are in good condition. I would never expect a poly kayak to last that long, though I have one over ten years old which has lasted because it is kept out of the sun as much as possible.

You could look for an aluminum kayak.

plastic vs fiberglass
the age-old beaten to death question that people still disagree on.

Like said previously, it depends on use.

It also depends on climate. If you live where it gets really hot in the summer, a generic rotomolded kayak will develop oil canning issues and deform on roofracks.

Sun/heat are the enemy when it comes to plastic, it degrades it over years and fades the colors.

Rocks are the biggest enemy of fiberglass, if you think you will subject your kayak to a lot of banging around, you may want to go plastic. Fiberglass is actually very tough if quality built-some boats built much better than others-and it is pretty easily repairable-permanently and as strong as it was originally.

Longevity of plastic…really, depends who you listen to. I heard as short as 5 years, but i strongly believe that is complete bs. i owned an O.K. Scrambler sit-on-top that was at least 15 years old and the plastic was fine, faded but by no means brittle, and it spent at least 8 years of its life as a rental and abused the rest till i bought it for next to nothing.,stored in the shade will definetely last longer than stored in the sun but should be fine for 10 years at least, regardless.

Plastic- not all created equal. most of Rotomolded single layers are the same, but there’s also triple layer P&H kayaks that are more rigid and less prone to oil canning than roto, and single layer blow-molded Prijon kayaks that are also very rigid for plastic boats. I think triple layer P&H plastic and blow molded Prijon plastic may just be the best compromise of all, if you find one in good shape for decent price or buy new.

Budget, Usage, Performance, Life
are the factors to consider between plastic or glass.


Pro - cheaper, less worry in hard usage in bumpy situations, i.e. rivers with rocks.

Con - heavier (too much so for some) in the longer boat categories, flex which translate into performance loss in speed and crisp handling, not easily repairable, deformation if not careful, degradation over time by UV exposure.


Pro - better performance with speed and crispness of turns, lighter by as much a 1/3 compare to plastic in similar dimensions, holds its shape, repairable and restorable (to new look), longer life and thus higher resale value.

Con - higher initial cost, gets seriously dinged (usually cosmetic) in rock situations, not great for those who don’t like to DIY repairs.

For me, if initial cost is not a factor, I would go with composite every time. The only trump card for plastic is situations that involve a lot of serious bumping and grinding, i.e. higher class ww runs.


Also most of the best designs come in composite layup only. Also plastic tends to fuzz up in time when dragged up on rocks and beaches thus compromizing performance.

Composites are almost infinitely repairable and easy to modify,glue foam inside cockpit etc.

I’m not a fan of plastic boats but I do own one just for running rivers that have rapids and rocks.

If you really like paddling you will end up with more than one boat,one model does not fit all.



Plastic is the best
Plastic is the best for rock bashing, surf crashing and boulder wrapping. Other composites are better for most everything else except maybe the price.

What LeeG Said
Since my baby girl graduated from $college$ my next boat will be composite.

Can anyone quantify an approximate
difference in performance and speed between a plastic and composite Tempest, Nordkapp, Capella, etc. for an average paddler?

I am researching a new boat. Composite is affordable for me. However, I launch off of rough spots occasionally and do not want to deal with boat repairs. On the other hand, I like to move reasonably quick.

I can’t “quantify” the difference in speed between the plastic and composite versions of the models you listed. I think the “engine” makes the most difference usually.

But there is definitely a difference in speed and other performance characteristics between plastic and composite. At least in reference to surf boats. I know I can make sections of waveface before closeouts in my glass boats that I wouldn’t had thought possible were I still surfing with my pastic Boogie. The difference of split second is the difference between ripping on, or taking a wicked pounding on the head from a collapsing lip or tube.

In terms of launching, a glass boat from a rough beach, that really is not a big deal unless you’re really finicky about the glossy finish of your hull bottom. But scratches on the gelcoat, in my opinion, is better than the fuzzy bottom of a plastic boat. Where you may be concerned about is if you were to run serious current, tidal races, or rock gardens where a run in with a boulder can be a high impact affair.


Thanks Sing- I’m also very much
interested in the speed difference e.g. will it take five hours to go 20 miles in a glass boat and five and half hours in plastic (all other factors equal)?

no free lunch
if you use your kayak a lot you’ll repair it eventually. If you anticipate dropping or throwing your kayak then get plastic.

You’re getting into “try it out” territory once you start asking about specific models.

If you do want advice on a specific model then you need to be specific about your size, experience and paddling envirnonment…and then realize all the answers come from different sized people, skill levels and paddling environments.

I’m not asking for advice on

– Last Updated: Feb-24-06 4:36 PM EST –

models Lee. I'll decide that myself. I just want to find out the differences in speed and performance between plastic and glass yaks of the same make. The three I listed above come in both glass and plastic with dimensions and weights being somewhat comparable between the materials.

Are the differences that large in those areas or is it more a function of marketing. Or-are very experienced paddlers more attuned to the differences than someone who has been paddling a few years.

Wow- two new questions.

all things being equal

– Last Updated: Feb-24-06 6:05 PM EST –

I don't think a glass capella with extra weight to equal a plastic one will be appreciably different over a distance at average speeds. The thing I'd wonder is if the plastic version paddles the same to begin with,,not because it's plastic but because the hull is different. Even though the manufacturer says they're the same they may not be.
Now if we took that plastic Capella and scratched the living hell out of it with hairy scratches and let the hull distort on a rack it won't glide as far as a similar glass one beat to hell.

plastic vs composite

i’ve had both - and would not go back to plastic. the plastic oilcans/gets a fuzzy bottom in time… my yak would not go straight without the rudder even in non-windy conditions due to the bottom deformities. i did like not having to ‘baby’ the plastic one - i’d get in the boat halfway in the water and skooch it forward so my feet didn’t get wet. i can’t do that in my composite! i can’t comment on the speed difference because the composite one is almost 2 feet longer - it’s quite a bit faster. the plastic one was much heavier too - a lot more of a hassle to chuck up on the car rack - i don’t miss that! good luck

will get you to the 20 mile distance in the same amount of time…but if your in the plastic ones…you will not arrive there with as much energy left. and will feel a bit more worn out…

Best of luck

there is a differance


Clarification please- fadedred

– Last Updated: Feb-25-06 2:20 AM EST –

Are you saying that if I do, for example, 15,000 strokes in a plastic yak and then 15,000 strokes in the same model glass yak, that I will cover the same distance; just more tired in plastic? If so, why- if I'm doing the same number of strokes for the same distance?

However, if I do the same distance with fewer strokes in a glass yak wouldn't the glass yak then be faster?

You Are Not Going See Significant

– Last Updated: Feb-25-06 5:41 AM EST –

difference but a difference nevertheless. How important is it? Well, if you are a racer, after all the training, then the split second difference counts in winning, placing or not. Likewise, as a surf kayaker, the split second can make a difference in whether I get an awesome tube, or get an awesome trashing in a tube because the boat wasn't fast enough.

For a recreational paddler, the split second differences in speed may not make that much sense for the extra money. The other factors have to come into play. For example weight can be important. I personally like the ease of loading my composite boat more than that involved with the plastic boat. But, I like the even lighter SOF even more. At the same time, the composite boat is a far tougher boat than my SOF.

Ultimately, if you are really focused on speed differences of plastic vs composite in the same model, you need to do what Sanjay did. Strap on a heart monitor, get a speed measuring device, and paddle as fast you can with both boats in similar conditions. This will quantifiable data specific to you and the models in questions. Other than that, it all becomes unquantified conjecture.



– Last Updated: Feb-25-06 10:27 AM EST –

glass kayak has more will be able to do the same amount of distance in eather, But will use more energy in the plastic one (if the hull configuration is the same) The plastic models stated in the posters original message are however not the same....there are small differances. But that doesn't matter for discussion of glass vs plastic. The glass feels more surgical on the water and glides much much better. with the used boats being so availiable, I see no reason for anyone to buy a plastic boat other than for WW. Glass can land on trash and bolders just like plastic can. and the cost of a used glass boat gets real close to the cost of a used plastic boat, if you have patience and wait for the right deal.
If the plan for the day is to travel 20 miles, it can be acomplished in any boat. Even in a plastic WW boat. If the 2 boats being tested are radically differant , such as a QCC 700 or a Nordkapp or an Edyline Falcon 18 being compared to a WW plastic boat than their will be huge differances in the time you arrive at your destination. If however it is a comparison between a plastic Capella and a glass one, then you will be able to arrive at the same time. but the person paddling the glass boat will have used less energy getting there.

Best Wishes

It can also be done with the same 15,000 strokes. the person in the plastic boat just has to pull harder on each stroke. not all strokes have the same force....anyone who had paddled a canoe or a double with a lillydipper knows that frequency means frequency, not power.

mentioned this thread to my wife and she said....when calculating speed factors, you must calculate the "Pee" factor. meaning that If we are paddling together and are planning on paddling to a paticular island that is 20 miles out. one of us is in a plastic kayak and the other is in a glass boat....The one that has to Pee will get there first.

Hull speed is not really as determined by materal as much as design and trim of the boat....Thus for any given design , there is an optimal hull speed, beyond the hulls designed speed , you work harder untill you hit the speed at which you are not able to drive it any faster , unless you get on a wave. The higher preformance the boat, the touchier it becomes as to how you trim (load) the boat. Too much weight forward and it will plough,you must balance the weight so that as you lean forward or to the stern, you can effect the balance point to eather ride a wave or ride up and over, depending on where you are going and what your plans are. Materal does affect eficiency and glide.

Sorry I got windy and slightly off topic

Thank you Roy