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Aluminium vs. Timber boats

Blog | 15 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 favour of aluminium. Below, we will discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of aluminium versus timber as a boat material.

Weight is the first issue to compare. In extremely small boats suitable for one or two people to row, the weight could be a wash. Virtually all cultures with access to bodies of water have fashioned small watercraft of timber with weight comparable to aluminium. The problem is that in doing so, they have created something that is far more fragile than a comparably sized aluminium vessel. To create a timber boat with the strength to weather the same water hazards that an aluminium craft can handle, the wood must be so much thicker that its weight will inevitably be greater. Aluminium has a pretty clear advantage in this realm.

The other real consideration when choosing between aluminium and timber is durability. This is a complicated issue because the materials have such different properties.

First, let us look at how timber can be more durable. A well-built watercraft of timber can weather impacts far better than most similar aluminium boats. The average aluminium boat is sheathed in a thin skin of aluminium. Striking a sharp rock can put a tear in this thin material. Striking the same rock that could sink an aluminium boat could result in the timber craft floating away with nothing more than a small scratch to show for the impact. Keep in mind, this issue can be alleviated by choosing an aluminium boat with a thicker hull.

Next, we need to look at durability in terms of time. In this realm, aluminium wins hands down. There are no animals on the planet that eat aluminium or will seek to burrow into it for a home. Wood, on the other hand, must be kept away from burrowing insects. A timber boat left sitting on soil for two years will likely need serious repair, while an aluminium boat may need a little washing. Additionally, aluminium is essentially element proof. Heat, cold, humidity, corrosive salts and bases – none of these have the slightest effect on aluminium. While a timber boat can last lifetimes, it can only do so through maintenance as opposed to an innate resistance.

Traditional boats were crafted from timber. While fibreglass had a brief heyday because it took little skill and inexpensive materials to churn out many boats, the long term successor to timber as the primary material from which to build boats is clearly aluminium.

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