Polly's may be bomb proof, but....

Most aspire to composite boats. Why? Often those new to paddle sports think that ALL composite boats are both extremely expensive and fragile, and therefore not worth the added expense.

That’s the very condensed version. The longer version started very innocently. I started looking for some way to protect the keel of my Tsunami that had taken a beating being dragged up on shore. While plying the P-net archives I kept stumbling over instances where references were made to the durability of composite boats.

Those of you who have made the leap to glass, carbon, or Kevlar boats, (yes folks, all the composites) was it worth the extra cost? Why? (In some instances, there isn’t even much weight saved by going to a fiberglass boat from a plastic one.) What advice would you give those sitting on the edge of their Polly’s?

(Maybe those sitting on the edge…waiting for Santa…to take to heart your advice.)

Do you really have a question, or are
you wanting a discussion? If the latter, we have a good discussion forum with lots of smart people on it.

My take, owning both kinds. There are reasons to paddle poly and reasons to paddle composite. And I think you know them already.

Not all boats we wanted come in poly
At least two of the sea kayaks in the house were not available in poly for quite a bit after the composite version came out, a couple of them never have been. One eventually became available in poly but there were some not-good experiences about the durability of the weld of the coaming to the poly. Not the usual construction so it was a different piece.

I love the poly boats for what they do. I love the composite boats for what they do. It is the boat, not the material. You just learn to live with the latter, though frankly our fiberglass boats have all been very tough.

That said, I want a hunk of thick plastic for the WW boats.

I just re-read your post, very carefully
and it is shot full of contradictions and changes in direction. I can see that you want us to do all the work by listing reasons for buying composite boats, but I can’t tell why you want to know. Do you want lightness? Speed? Stiffness? Repairability? Ease of modification? Is paddling a composite classier in the eyes of others? You say you’ve read lots of pnet references to durability (or lack thereof?) of composite boats, but you don’t say what opinion you have formed on the matter. Why should we tell you what to think? Facts we can provide, but personal decisions on value are yours alone.

poly here…
Mine is poly. It weighs 80 lbs. Weight isnt an issue for me. The lakes i paddle have easy accesses. I can usually park right up to the waters edge. No reason for me to spend extra $$$ on a lightweight canoe. The rivers that i paddle dont have dams or blockages, so no portaging.

I’ll bite
Here are some of the pros of each


  • stiffer, so slightly (very slightly) more efficient in water
  • can be repaired in field (where plastics, particularly those that have aged, can be almost impossible to fix)
  • lighter
  • easier for manufacturers to make small runs (so more models available)

  • cheaper
  • more rugged

    More rugged versions of composites (heavier layups, with strategic extra material, etc.)can be made for those who are doing expeditions or are hard on boats

I have both
I have both a plastic and fiberglass, different brand and model. If I could ONLY have one I would have the plastic. Some places I would just not want to scratch up the gelcoat to holy hell. Maybe a Thermoform material would be a compromise for lightness.

If I could have only one
Some designs are simply not available in polyethylene. At least on one of my boats, I wouldn’t want it to be plastic and yes, partially because composites are classier. I do not intentionally treat my poly boats any different than the fiberglass; they’re all pampered.

My take
First, there is no reason to abuse any boat whatever the construction. I don’t drag my WW boats across rocks and you shouldn’t either. So the real question is the difference between constructions while paddling. So when are you going to paddle your sea kayak where there is significant likelihood of serious impact that could do serious damage to the hull? Be honest. For most of us the answer is almost never. Even if you allow for the possibility of unforeseen circumstances both kinds of boats will survive and get you back. There are differences. Composite boats are easier to repair, poly boats are difficult. A composite boat can fly off your vehicle and lie smashed on the side of the road and still be repaired. There are more models made in composite. If you want to spend the money, composite boats are lighter. However if you just want to paddle around your local pond in good weather get a cheap plastic boat.

Why do you drag it onto shore?

– Last Updated: Dec-17-14 2:56 PM EST –

I can imagine that if you are traveling with a load of gear and beach the boat where waves start knocking it around on rocks as soon as you reach the shore, dragging might be a way to get it out of danger quickly. Other than a situation like that, I'm not aware of a reason for dragging your boat on an abrasive surface.

For typical landings, you could lift one end and walk it up on shore while the other end floats. If the boat is loaded and too heavy to lift in its entirety, you can unload it at this point, while it's only 50 to 80 percent of the way onto shore, then once it's empty, pick up the whole boat from the coaming and carry it the rest of the way. No need to drag. Reverse the process for launching, but don't do what some do, which is pick up the end which should be floating and drag the end that's farther onto shore. Let the water carry "its" end of the boat while you carry "yours".

The origingal response I had hoped
To elicit…

Was a very reasoned, thoughtful, yet subjective account of your first real “ah ha” or “eureka” moment when you decided that the extra money you would spend for a glass, or Kevlar, or carbon boat was WORTH IT! Was it really thought out, from demoing or paddling the boats, or was it totally impulsive? Was it for weight saving, or just because the dog gone thing was “just so purdy”? Many of you have a wealth of experience in this area, and without making you work too hard, I’m sure others without your experience might gain from your reflexions.

It does sound as if you think I drag my Tsunami behind an ATV at 50 mph. I don’t. I do paddle and use it A LOT. But, like any kayak that gets used, it gets scuffed and scratched. (That’s part of the wonder of Polly boats. They can be beached, and pulled up on shore and take being used in a way that would mar the gel coat of composites.)

For me, it was for weight savings.
Couldn’t load the over 60 lb kayaks onto the car, so looked for lighter.

no single thing
More of a combination:


rigidity (big difference)

ease of field repair

long-term durability

intangibles like “it doesn’t scuff”.

Part of your post said …

– Last Updated: Dec-18-14 8:28 PM EST –

... "What advice would you give ...", and since you'd managed to seriously wear a plastic boat from dragging it (it was not from paddling it a lot as you say now - lots of boats get heavily used for decades without being abusively dragged on shore). I thought it was worth pointing out that that's a form of wear and tear which most people can easily avoid if they chose to.

As to "aha moments", I'm an open boater and some aspects of comparing a composite open boat to cheaper models are not the same as they are with kayaks. For example, plastic kayaks can and do have sharp entry lines, while the equivalent cheaper material in canoes, Royalex, always has blunt entries (sometimes extremely blunt), and on the broader bottoms of canoes Royalex tends to be flexy. So composite models perform better in the water, and the difference can be very noticeable.

This might be an "aha" realization too. Not all composite boats are gel coated. I have three which are not (I personally think gel coat is useless weight). With or without gel coat, composite boats don't get scratched as easily or as deeply as plastic (or in the case of canoes, Royalex) ones do. The scratches may look more unsightly on a composite boat than on a plastic (or Royalex) one (and the scraping sounds worse when it happens), but in the absence of severe impact the actual damage is less. If you can get over the aesthetics of how bad it sounds to scrunch over rocks, and if that's all you are doing is scrunching over them, the clearly desirable attributes of composite boats will have less weighing against them.

To repeat the above
"Not all boats we wanted come in poly"

I don’t know what is unclear about that. By the way, that was especially true for smaller paddlers when we started sea kayaking.

You are overshooting looking for an aha moment. When/if you have performance or weight demands that drive you towards a composite boat, you’ll try and find the money. Until then you won’t. I don’t know why you see it as such a big deal. It wasn’t for most of us who have composites.

Here was my aha moment:

light touring and exploring:

I have on a few occasions scuffed the hell out of my boat based on shallow water partially submerged rocks or oyster reefs. I like taking my boat anywhere and not worrying about these occasional “mistakes”. For me, it enhances the experience. Also, weight is not a concern as I have a shorter boat which further helps with the kind of exploring I do and speed is not a primary issue.

Racing and fitness:

Speed and technique is everything here. Weight and stiffness is critical. Every second counts. In this category, exploring and banging around is of little concern.

So I have two boats. One for each. For awhile I had one boat. Then I diversified.

If you like your boat, I’d stay with it. No point in spending hard earned money otherwise. I agree with Celia, you will have a natural aha moment when the time is right. Maybe you will need something lighter due to an injury or you want something faster to keep up with a club you’ve just joined.

The Tsunami has some great qualities, don’t get sucked in to what everyone else is paddling. Have a blast with your boat and move on when your aha moment comes.

to add to what celia wrote
Some very accomplished kayakers will use poly boats. It probably matters most what the switch means to you, not to us.

Am I reading this correctly?
It’s not so much a question of price, but of availability? So…(just hypothetically, and engineering aside) if all boats were also available in Polly, would that change any choice?

Not for me, unless it was light enough
and performed the way I want it to.

I always buy used boats.

Most poly kayaks are heavier than I’ll tolerate.

Many composite boats are also heavier than I’ll tolerate.

depends on what is important to paddler
It all depends on what is important to the paddler.

If they want light weight, then they likely are going to stick with composites.

If they want lower price, then plastic.

Bumping into rocks, probably plastic.

Field repairable, then composites.

If they want a touring boat they can more easily ship, the 3-piece composite or folding boat (which are neither composite now plastic).



I play in rocks a lot, so stick to plastic.