One last basic question: Pros and Cons of Plastic and Composite?

SWriverstone

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Jun 22, 2021
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I know, I'm on a roll with pot-stirring basic questions. :) (It's because I've found this great forum with a wealth of experienced paddlers!)

My current boat is plastic; I've been happy with it, and it's served me very well in the water. My only complaint (no surprise) is the weight. I can still clean-and-jerk it over my head to put on top of the car...but just barely, and it won't be long before that's impossible without seriously hurting myself, LOL.

That alone might be a good reason to aim for a lighter composite boat...but there are alternatives, such as spending $1K on one of the fancy "load assist" rack systems from Thule or Yakima.

I paddled state-of-the-art, vacuum-bagged composite whitewater slalom boats for years (my slalom boat weighed a whopping 22 pounds!) and have even built my own composite whitewater boats—so I'm pretty familiar with them (and repairing them).

I'm just curious if there are any experienced paddlers here who still see any advantages to plastic sea kayaks? Or are they universally detested by advanced paddlers as heavy, slow pigs?

The most obvious advantage I can think for plastic is the same in whitewater: plastic boats can handle a LOT of abuse and shake it all off. I keep thinking I wouldn't like having a composite boat that I'd feel terrible about dragging over a gravel beach...but maybe someone here will tell me they drag their composite boat around all the time? :)

The other obvious advantage is cost: I spent $800 (second-hand) on my mint-condition Wilderness Systems Tsunami 165 ten years ago and it's still going strong today. I've kept it outside for a decade, in mostly shade, and only applied 303 UV protectant to it and it's still in great shape.

Scott

EDITED TO ADD: I know nothing about how composite sea kayaks are built. But I can say that the ultra-lightweight composite whitewater boats I used to paddle were amazingly tough. A typical layup would be a couple layers of kevlar/carbon under a couple layers of glass in the hull, and I routinely bashed those "potato chip" boats on rocks, and dragged and dropped them on the ground for years and—while pretty scratched up—they held up pretty well. (It took a SERIOUS collision with a rock to actually inflict damage that needed a patch job.)
 
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chodups

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I wish I had a good plastic touring boat but I don't. Just glass and I don't worry about breakage but I am hesitant to drag either of them over rocky, sharp beaches. I like both of my boats for their purposes and have no room for another boat in my life.

I don't see paddlers dissing plastic boats. Folks may prefer one or the other for whatever reason. Weight is one thing, yeah, but just drag the Mother. You certainly will never hear a discouraging word spoken about plastic among paddlers launching under the ferry dock at Klemtu.
 

kayakwriter

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My first-ever sea kayak was a plastic (roto-molded) Puffin. I did hundreds of miles in it. Super tough. A bit heavy for my now decades-older bones, but an option well worthy of consideration for them as can lift'em. Upsides: the aforementioned near indestructability and the far less outrageous cost. Downsides: heavy, prone to flex more in heavy seas, and will grow drag-creating hairy scuffs on the underside when pulled over rocks and barnacles. Though if you're braver and/or more competent than I am, I'm told you can smooth/refuse these scars with gentle application of a blow torch.
 

SWriverstone

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Jun 22, 2021
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@Philip.AK - Ha—great video! That looked like a pretty epic trip (with plenty of boat dragging!) I need to come up there someday and duplicate that trip.

BTW—are you the same Philip who made the great mountain bike videos on Kodiak with GoPros on string ziplines? (Back in the pre-drone, pre-gimbal days, LOL)
 

cougarmeat

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To clarify, when you say “plastic” you mean roto-molded (A.K.A., RubberMaid)? Because there is also Carbonite 2000 as used by EddieLine. So you have those and composite (Fiberglass). And then there are the exotics and their blends of Kevlar and CF.

For me, in the around the 16 ft size, the Carbonite 2000 and composite weight about the same. The only weight benefit that really shows itself is my Kevlar boat. But even then, the amount of time actually feel the weight of the boat is so minimal. The Jeep has rollers on the back and cradles in the front. I can put the bow on the back bar, lift the stern, and push the boat on. If I have to move it some distance (alone), I can a little two wheel cart.

I tried those side loading lifts and they didn’t work for me. The problem was, they each move independently, so I have to raise/lower both at the same time. They can be a little shorter than my “wing span” apart. Though I was assured my boats would be okay with supports only 4 feet or so apart, I want the support more like 1/3rd from the bow and 1/3rd from the stern.

Depending upon your interests, there are “take-apart” and inflatable craft that would be lake worthy.

Think your focus should be investigating different ways to get your boat on the car. I’m guessing there are ways to do it where you only lift part of the boat at one time and don’t have to clear the whole thing off the ground at once - though it would make a great Wheaties box graphic.
 

CPS

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Oct 27, 2020
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One other thing about plastic boats, either rotomolded or thermoformed (as in Delta kayaks or Eddyline) is that there are for material limitations which dictate shape somewhat.
Really pointy plumb bows just don't work well with current plastic technology. Does it really matter for most boat designs? Probably not, although for the few designs where a knife like entry is demanded, plastics aren't a great option.
Really only an issue in high performance, niche applications.

One drawback of rotomolded boats is that the bulkheads are made of a fairly thick piece of foam. You lose a decent amount of storage space just in the volume occupied by the bulkheads.
If you're someone who likes to add bits and bobs to your kayak, rotomolded boats are also a challenge to work with, given the general incompatibility between polyethylene and most (all?) adhesives.
 

kayakwriter

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To clarify, when you say “plastic” you mean roto-molded (A.K.A., RubberMaid)? Because there is also Carbonite 2000 as used by EddieLine. So you have those and composite (Fiberglass). And then there are the exotics and their blends of Kevlar and CF.
Good point about clarifying what plastics we're talking about. Eddyline and Delta both make boats of stiff, specialty ABS plastic. (AFAIK, Carbonlite 2000 is Eddyline's proprietary name for the particular formula of ABS they use.)

ABS does have some advantages: lighter than polyethene, stiffer, less prone to drag-producing scuffs, and basic cracks are much easier to repair both in the field and at home than either poly or composites. (Damage in complexly shaped areas such as the bow or stern tips is probably a factory job.) Plus, it's priced in the sweet spot between poly and composites.

That said, I have one bit of anecdata - a story I heard a couple of years back about an ABS boat simply folding in half during a surf landing in the Tofino area. As I understand it, this was on a multiday advanced sea kayaking course, so the boat had presumably been hammered with previous surf landings and launching while fully loaded for touring. And it's a single story, not a statistical analysis, so...
 
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red kite

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Feb 1, 2009
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comox valley
ABS does have some advantages: lighter than polyethene, stiffer, less prone to drag-producing scuffs, and basic cracks are much easier to repair both in the field and at home than either poly or composites. (Damage in complexly shaped areas such as the bow or stern tips is probably a factory job.)
Care to share what you use for thermoform crack repair in the field?
 

kayakwriter

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Care to share what you use for thermoform crack repair in the field?
The official Delta repair kit (scroll down at this link) contains fibreglass cloth and Devcon adhesive. I've never used it myself, but I can remember reading the directions in the kit when I worked for the late Ecomarine. As I recall, they said things would set in about a hour, so you could fix a crack before lunch and be ready to launch after lunch. If I was doing it, I'd trim the patch to be round or oval, as one does with repairs in fibreglass boats and with First Aid bandages, to avoid lift-prone corners in the patch.
 
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