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Aluminium vs. fibreglass boats

Blog | 01 October 2013

Today’s small boats are almost exclusively comprised of three materials: aluminium, fibreglass, and timber. Of the three, aluminium has become the most popular, a trend that is continuing to grow in the overwhelming favor of aluminium. Below, we will discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of aluminium versus fibreglass as a boat material.

The first comparison of the two materials is the weight. A fibreglass boat will weigh far more than a comparable aluminium boat. This fact makes moving and storing the aluminium version far easier. The lower weight can also be seen as a disadvantage. For the smallest boats, a canoe or two person skiff, for example, the low weight translates into low stability. In other words, for very small aluminium boats, the rocking of a passenger moving about has a magnified effect. In boats larger than tiny vessels suitable for hand rowing, this is not a factor. Ease of handling or increased stability, which represents the most clear advantage is a personal choice when dealing with very small boats. For larger crafts, the lower weight is invariably an overwhelming advantage.

The other pressing concern when choosing a boat’s material is durability. In this realm, aluminium is simply a better material on every front. Fibreglass cracks, so a minor impact in the right spot could cause the boat to spring a leak. The same small impact on an aluminium craft could result in nothing more than a minor dent. Additionally, fibreglass is degraded by weather. Excessive heat or cold can cause the material to degrade. It is bad enough that this phenomenon will eventually compromise the integrity of the boat, but long before reaching that point, the degrading fibreglass will become a horrible splinter hazard that makes using the boat much like floating on a cactus.

Fans of fibreglass will point out that this damage from elements can be repaired and the fibreglass refinished and sealed, all of which is true, but far better that such problems never occur in the first place.

It is not difficult to understand why fibreglass boats are rapidly losing favor as a boat material. Compared to the virtually maintenance free aluminium, why deal with something that forces a constant cycle of good -> degrading and filling all passengers with splinters -> spend money and time refinishing the vessel? In short, the only advantage fibreglass boats could have over aluminium versions is the extra stability in the smallest crafts, and the value of this advantage is very debatable.

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