Royalex & Age

Been looking at a few canoes made from Royalex. Assuming there are not obvious issues, should the Royalex’s age be a concern?

One I’m going to look at is from 1998.

If it was stored out of the sun that is a good sign.

If its brittle, that is a bad sign.

Royalex used to be thicker than in recent years and friends of mine have RX canoes with scars from 1985. Of course we are in Maine where sun is not usually an issue.

So it depends on the care the boat got.

My solo boat is a Blue Hole Sunburst. Those haven’t been made in over 25 years but mine is a tank. It was a barn queen when my buddy found it. He paddled it once and sold it to another buddy. He put it in his back yard under a tarp and didn’t get it out again until I told him I’d buy it. Usually pretty obvious if one has been stored incorrectly, but age in and of itself is not a problem.

Me OT Tripper be 36 years old (1978) an’ still in sound conditoon. It wuz always stored out of de sun.


The vinyl outer layer of Royalex
protects entirely against sun damage to the ABS structural layers. Royalex won’t get brittle from sun unless the vinyl is scraped off, or UV damages the vinyl enough that it chalks and flakes off.

What can make Royalex brittle is age. But the ABS layers get brittle very slowly. I wouldn’t worry about a boat made in 1998. My principal ww cruiser, a Mad River Synergy, was new that same year, and it can still take a hard blow.

If a Royalex canoe is over 20 years old, I might hesitate to use it in difficult whitewater. But it could be serviceable in all other conditions.

I have two trippers from the late 70s. Both stored carefully all their lives. One has become brittle, the other not so much. No idea why. But I would say that if it is stored well you will still see some brittleness creeping in when you get up to the 30 year mark. Still, I use both of them in significant whitewater all the time. Its not like they are going to break apart spontaneously or anything. They are perfectly serviceable and rugged as heck.

I became aware of the brittle-with-time
issue when I was making small hand rehab devices out of plastic sheet. When I made them out of fresh stock, they were flexible and could be bent to various angles without crazing or cracking. But if I went back to one, two or three years later, and tried to modify or change a bend, the plastic had become quite brittle.

I found that if I plunged the plastic in hot water, about 180 degrees, and let it cool slowly, flexibility would be restored. I then found that this annealing procedure, applied to new plastic, would make it easier to bend, and it would retain flexibility longer.

Of course, plastics must differ in their tendency to get brittle with age. You and I must have seen many relatively new Royalex canoes that, if pitoned or bent, will wrinkle or crumple. Or they might tear like leather if really stressed.

But when I saw a 20+ year old Royalex canoe rocket down a slope and piton into a tree, age brittleness was clearly revealed. The bow didn’t crumple or tear, it split in a jagged, ragged fashion right down the stem.

Maybe if Royalex doesn’t join paper mache and varnish as a bygone boat material, we will figure out how to anneal boats without their losing their intended form.

My solution is wood.

– Last Updated: Feb-28-14 6:46 AM EST –

Yikes, maybe I should be retiring these old friends of mine? What is the final resting place of a discarded royalex canoe anyway? Does it end up in the landfill? I wonder what the landfill is going to charge me for that?

My next canoe will be wood canvas. Should be done in time for my spring trip. I'm going "au naturale." I'm done with plastic. Long list of reasons. Among them is the fact that WC is infinitely repairable and when they finally die you can throw them in the burn pile and be done with it. Here is a video of some folks traveling in the Yukon. These people know how to do it right.

I like your solution
I love wood/canvas canoes. I wonder if they were as proportionately expensive back in the day as they are now? A lot of work (and $) goes into making them, but perhaps production on a larger scale and a less-limited supply of quality lumber made them more affordable (I’ve heard amazing stories about lumber which today would be considered furniture grade being so plentiful that it was used for making disposable shipping crates 50 to 60 years ago and more).

As to landfill charges, there’s no need to worry. If you need to throw one away, cut it up and dispose of it bit by bit. Your “environmental sinfulness” won’t be any less but you can dodge that particular sin tax.

Good for 30+ yrs
In the late twenty-oughts, I rehabbed a '74 Chipywan. At the time, I wondered if the royalex was worth a rehab effort.

I’d been cutting up a tree at the time. I layed the canoe across the log rounds that were scattered in the yard, climbed into the canoe and jumped and stomped around, trying to break the hull. The royalex withstood the challeng and I went ahead with the rebuild. I paddled that boat for a few years before I sold it.

I think you will be fine with a boat made in the nineties.


Go for it

– Last Updated: Mar-01-14 6:26 AM EST –

A boat built in the late 90’s is still a baby in Royalex terms. My oldest boat is a Mohawk Whitewater 16 from 1988. Two years ago I went poling and got the boat in a nasty pin.

With a lot of effort we finally got it unpinned, but it was racked at the bow where it wrapped around the rock. One foot stomp and it popped back into shape. There is a crease where it wrapped, but other than that you would never know. I paddled it just last weekend.

I have two other Royalex boats from 1992. They are both whitewater solos that have had a lot of use. Still, there is no reason people shouldn't be paddling all three of these boats long after I’m gone.

RX and Age
The trouble with Royalex and Age is that, as we age, it gets harder and harder to lift!

The real problem with Royalex and age is that the more we age the harder it will be get :slight_smile:

The older we get the harder it will become to digest Royalex.


The '74 Chipewayn
I ran across the email address of the guy that bought the Chipewayn, five years ago. I wrote to him and asked how the boat was doing. He responded “Awesome!”

That’s 40 years, and counting.

It’s not going to last as well as aluminum, but if that boat had been aluminum, I couldn’t have repaired it as I did and it would have had to go to the scrap heap a long time ago.


Good for a million years
I own a Royalflex Old Town Kayak that I bought in (?) 1973/4 or so. I don’t use it much anymore and keep it stored outside. It’s fine. It looks like it’s good for a million more years.

Back in the day it got used pretty hard. I once had it wrapped on a rock in the middle of the St. Regis.

I prefer wood and canvas boats but my beater is an Old Town Royalflex. It’s the right stuff…

Old Boats In My Quiver
Most of my boats in RX are between 20-30 years old and are still rock solid and I bought them all used. I now store them in my barn but have no idea how they were stored before I bought them. My Courier has taken some serious hits on rocks in WW and has no problems. Unless there are serious visible problems I wouldn’t worry to much. Just my .02


IMO Royalex is not the best material

– Last Updated: Mar-14-14 2:38 PM EST –

for building canoes. This is based on my personal experience of having a Royalex canoe that was only a few years old break all to pieces during a week of sub zero temps about 20 years ago.

This is mainly a problem on canoes with wooden gunnels so I am told. Not only does Royalex become brittle with age, it becomes extremely brittle at below freezing temperatures. Apparently you are supposed to loosen the screws that hold the wooden gunnels to the canoe to prevent it from cracking. I didn't know this and probably wouldn't have thought to do it even if I had, because I stored the canoe in a barn before I went back to college in August, and it rarely gets that cold here in VA anyway.

This is sorta what mine looked like before I hauled it to the landfill.

I replaced with an Old Town poly-link canoe that has proven to be much more durable, and when temps dipped below zero here a few weeks ago(for the first time in two decades) it DID NOT CRACK!

I am sure the lovers of Royalex on here will flame me for saying this but other materials have largely replaced it since the 1970s and one reason it is being discontinued by the manufacturer is the market for Royalex canoes is just too small for it to be profitable for them to continue production.

I don’t imagine there will be much of that, but I do suspect some folks might point out the fact that you’re impuning the suitability of a widely and successfully used material based on one experience you had. While that experience was unfortunate it’s hardly grounds for saying Royalex isn’t the best material for canoes. To each his own for sure though, my friend.

Also not sure
what “materials have largely replaced it”. At least in these parts, it’s pretty rare to see a canoe that isn’t Royalex. Maybe it’s all the rocky rivers around here.