Vinyl vs. Aluminum Gunwales

Ok, what’s everyone’s preferences and why…Vinyl or Aluminum gunwales. I’m about to buy my Bell and cant decide. This is a recreation, utility, and light tripping boat all in one. I’ll fish, day trip with family, trap, explore, and duck hunt from it. Help me decide.

To me it is six of one and a half dozen
of the other.

I have boats with aluminum, boats with vinyl, and boats with wood.

I dislike the wood because of the maintenance and the sliding them up on the roof cross bars. The “bride” likes the wood because of the asthetics

My Jensen 17 out of kevlar has aluminum, and my OT disco and Pennobscot have vinyl.

I have a susquehanna with carbon which are delicate, but the lightest

If I were buying a new boat it would be based on weight and I would get the aluminum. why? -because I like them.

jack L

I owned…
two Penobscots, one vinyl and one aluminum gunwale, and I believe there was about 2 pounds difference in weight between the two. I prefered vinyl, even though it was slightly heavier, because it was quieter.

I like my vinyl gunnels …
… I like their box shape as opposed to a round aluminum . Also like them because I think they’re softer and quieter … but my canoes are plastic HDPE and RX .

On a Royalex hull…
my preference would be vinyl; on a composite boat the first choice would go to wood then aluminum. Some manufactures are offering integrated composite rails with clams of even greater weight savings. An issue that I see with the newest integrated systems is the difficulty of repair and the ability to make modifications, given my current set of skills; I have a tendency to tinker with my boats.

This article contains a lot of good information and may help with your decision.


– Last Updated: Feb-13-11 12:24 PM EST –

My complaint with Vinyl is the "one size fits all" approach and the weight. They are pretty overpowering on a solo boat.

Most aluminum rail systems have a different issue. As they are bent to follow the hull's curvature, the inner vertical compresses and gets wavey - contacting and supporting the hull less well than we'd like. Bell and Swift have two piece aluminum rail systems that eliminate this issue, but at the cost of some additional weight. These two builders have the advantages that the shaped outer rail fits both composite and RX hulls, the pop rivets hide inside the "D", and thwart and seat attachment is straightforward through the flat[er] inner part of the outer part nd the horizontal on the inner unit.

Wood is a more beautiful option but has the additional requirement of annual maintenance and the need to run screws out before winter.

Integral, foam cored, composite rails certainly would save weight on a RX hull. They save 20% compared to wood on aero-space composite hulls, but can't be infused integrally with the RX. [Another benefit is that they reduce after-market fiddling around with the boat]

One could infuse SnakeSkin/CobraSox and foam rails by themselves, then Plexus them to RX hulls. The weight saving percentage would plummet below 10% and the cost, with shaping foam, infusing it, assembly to the hull and more problematical thwart, seat, deck attachment would be significant.

With RX boat margins so thin and priced so low it's not worth the cost per rail set plus capitalizing vacuum gear and attendant SKUs in a shop dedicated to handling ABS sheets and then hiring additional staff with infusion skills. There's a reason foam cored rails are seen in ~$3000 composite canoes.

It'd be a fun project but might double the price of the boat!

Oh, by the bye, my Bell YS tandem with aluminum rails just survived -38dg F a few days ago with no cold cracks. [For which I am grateful!] t weighs in at 63#, about the weight of a FG Malecite in mid 70s. C/K foam rails would save ~ 5 lbs at a retail cost of ~$1K; the boat would still weigh about what a FG Malecite did back in the day.