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?
The differences between a "roto-molded" plastic and a hand made fiberglass boat are quite substantial.
- Will be much less expensive than a comparable fiber boat.
- Will be more durable if put in contact with a hard surface such as a rocky beach or parking lot.
- Are easier to repair if damaged, using plastic putty and some adhesive compounds.
- Are prone to "canning", "warping", and "mis-shaping" when not stored properly.
- Can be more easily damaged by UV radiation, making the plastic brittle.
- Do not track as well in "rough" ocean conditions (3 ft+).
- They tend to deflect from the ferry angle when approaching waves in a "quartering sea" (45 degrees from bow or stern).
- Are very strong for their weight, although "lightweights" must have fragile treatment.
- Have excellent performance in most ocean conditions.
- Last a long time when properly cared for.
- Look amazing.
- Price is 30-50% higher than comparable plastic boat.
- Are more prone to spidering when put in contact with rocky shores.
- Repair is difficult and should be performed by a trained expert.
- Must be be dried thoroughly after use to prevent mold growing in the fiberglass.
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.