Kayaking on the Hudson

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Choosing a Kayak: Construction Materials

What your kayak is made of can be just as important as its shape or length.  Each material has advantages and disadvantages.

Roto-molded plastic: These boats are made from plastic pellets that are melted and rolled around in a mold.  Much like the way chocolate is made.
Advantages: Most common and least expensive material.  Plastic is tough and hard to break.
Disadvantages: Heaviest material.  Very pliable which makes it susceptible to dents and deformities.  Must be stored and transported properly to avoid this.  Is damaged by sun exposure.  Plastic kayaks will last much longer if treated with a sun block (303 Protectant) and stored indoors

Thermo-formed plastic: Thermo-formed plastic is made in sheets which are then pressed into shape.  These kayaks are made in two halves, a top and a bottom, then taped together.  This material was pioneered by Eddyline kayaks and they are still the main manufacturer of it.
Advantages: Much lighter and stiffer than roto-molded plastic.
Disadvantages: More expensive than roto-molded.  More fragile.  Not suitable for whitewater and you must be careful around rocks and other sharp objects.

Fiberglass: This material has been around for decades.  It is laid up in a mold (one for the top, one for the bottom) then the two halves are taped together and covered in a gel coat.
Advantages: Very stiff material.  No worry about dents or deformations.  Also the stiffer hull will make the kayak more responsive to the paddler.  Fiberglass is fairly easy to fix if it gets damaged.  Fiberglass kayaks can be lighter than plastic kayaks – they usually are lighter than roto-molded- but is depends on how much fiberglass is used.  Example: Canadian manufacturers tend to make lighter glass boats than British companies.
Disadvantages: More expensive than plastic kayaks.  Can be heavy (my glass kayak weighs 58 pounds).  Must be careful around rocks and sharp objects so you don’t damage the fiberglass.

Carbon Fiber & Kevlar: These materials are not the same but I group them together because their properties tend to be similar.  These are the premium materials.
Advantages: Very light weight.  I’ve seen 17’ sea kayaks that weigh only 35 pounds.  Very stiff like fiberglass.
Disadvantages: Expensive.  Some of these kayaks run $5000.  Also hard to repair if it gets damaged so you need to be careful around rocks etc.

See you on the water,
Don Urmston
Email me directly with questions:

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