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I'm an intermediate level kayaker but have only paddled plastic boats. I'm looking for a kayak to do multi-day trips in on the ocean. What are the differences between plastic and fiberglass?

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The differences between a "roto-molded" plastic and a hand made fiberglass boat are quite substantial.

Plastic Kayaks

Advantages

  1. Will be much less expensive than a comparable fiber boat.
  2. Will be more durable if put in contact with a hard surface such as a rocky beach or parking lot.
  3. Are easier to repair if damaged, using plastic putty and some adhesive compounds.

Disadvantages

  1. Are prone to "canning", "warping", and "mis-shaping" when not stored properly.
  2. Can be more easily damaged by UV radiation, making the plastic brittle.
  3. Do not track as well in "rough" ocean conditions (3 ft+).
  4. They tend to deflect from the ferry angle when approaching waves in a "quartering sea" (45 degrees from bow or stern).

Fiberglass kayaks

Advantages

  1. Are very strong for their weight, although "lightweights" must have fragile treatment.
  2. Have excellent performance in most ocean conditions.
  3. Last a long time when properly cared for.
  4. Look amazing.

Disadvantages

  1. Price is 30-50% higher than comparable plastic boat.
  2. Are more prone to spidering when put in contact with rocky shores.
  3. Repair is difficult and should be performed by a trained expert.
  4. Must be be dried thoroughly after use to prevent mold growing in the fiberglass.

Overall

If you are looking at a high end plastic boat from the likes of Current Designs, Nigel Dennis, Valley, or similar you will likely be happy with the performance unless you are a very high end paddler. Many of the lower priced plastic boats however don't perform well in rougher conditions.

If you are a true performance boater you probably already know that you want a fiberglass boat. Just be prepared to take care of it, and it will serve you well for a long time.

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A plastic craft can collapse and trap a paddler in rough water. A properly built fiberglass craft is much more likely to allow a paddler to escape.

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