Comparing Fiberglass Kayaks and Plastic Kayaks: Durability, Cost, Weight

Kayaks are a great way to enjoy the water and take in the beauty of nature. Whether you’re fishing, exploring, or just having fun, kayaking is an activity that can bring joy to anyone.

However, there are many different types of kayaks on the market with varying features and characteristics.

This article will discuss fiberglass kayaks vs. plastic kayaks so that you can make an informed decision about which type of boat best suits your needs.

Red plastic kayak in the open ocean

Fiberglass kayaks vs. plastic kayaks

Kayaks can cost a few hundred dollars to thousands. Beginners often wonder what the difference is between them. Two main things go into setting this amount of cost: accessories and materials used.

The more expensive kayak will have better quality material such as fiberglass, while plastic is cheaper but not sturdy enough for rougher use.

If you are new to sailing and don’t know if it is worth it, get a kayak with only basic features. These kayaks do not cost too much money. You can upgrade later when you know more.

The type of material depends on your kayaking style

When it comes to recreational kayaking and whitewater kayaking, the answer is simply plastic. They are more durable than composite boats and less expensive as well. There’s not much of choice in these two genres when it comes down to materials: you have either a plastic boat or nothing at all.

Sea kayakers have a variety of options available to them, including fiberglass and carbon fiber. These materials are more expensive than other types, such as plastic, but they can be lighter and faster with less durability in the long run.

Sea kayaking is light. The designers cut weight by using materials like Kevlar and wood instead of plastics. That makes the kayak light and easy to move around in the water.

Where will you be kayaking?

When you decide what material to use for your kayak, besides the weight and durability of the hull, consider where you will be paddling. If your adventure is in a rocky beach or location with elements that can bang on your boat, composite may not work well as it can chip or scratch.

A plastic kayak is much stronger and can withstand rougher conditions than a fiberglass model. A whitewater kayak or recreational paddle boat will spend the entire day bouncing off rough rocks and objects with barely any damage.

Despite the materials of your kayak, it’s important to invest in a roof rack for transportation and ensure you make arrangements before launching out.

A good kayak roof rack is necessary to get your boat from the house, out of storage, and onto a lake. Investing in one will save you time and help protect your kayak as well.

Red plastic kayak and the beautiful nature around it


A majority of kayakers choose plastic because it is more cost-efficient than fiberglass or other materials. As a result, the material that boaters use can impact their choice in which features to prioritize. Plastic boats are often chosen for their low price and benefits, such as durability (having the ability to withstand collisions with rocks).

You can choose a plastic or composite kayak. A plastic kayak is cheaper than a composite one. Plastic ones are not as lightweight, but they can last longer than fiberglass ones, and they give you good service.

If the hull of your composite boat hits a rock hard enough to break it, it will be very expensive to fix. That is why some people might choose to buy a plastic kayak instead. But this is not the best idea because the fiberglass kayaks are not as weak as we might have made them seem.

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Some parts can be broken and then fixed easily, like the Gelcoat (the layer that protects the fiberglass and gives it a smooth finish).

However, apart from the scratches and cracks on the kayak, it is still worth it. Yes, you will have to do more maintenance so that your boat stays in good shape. But gelcoat is easy to repair.

And as for hull damage, if you are skilled at kayaking, you will unlikely breakthrough fiberglass unless you are drunk or not paying attention. Let our earlier praise of plastic kayaks not mislead you; fiberglass kayaks are tough too.

When you compare fiberglass kayaks to plastic kayaks, it can be hard to know which one is the right choice. Fiberglass boats are more expensive, but they will give you a better kayaking experience if taken care of.

Plastic may be good for people who want an easy-to-carry boat.

My recommendation

Until you know more about kayaking, start with plastic. You don’t know what you want until you start kayaking. It is a shame that beginners buy boats and then sell them because they do not suit their type of paddling. Or they have damaged the kayak. But if you are someone who researches and has tested out your dream boat, it might be worth buying it new.

When a person starts kayaking, they might want to buy a used one. You can keep the cost low and know what you’re looking for in a kayak. When you’re ready to buy another one, you can usually sell your old one for more than what it costs new.

For kayakers who are just starting and want to try rougher water or debris, a plastic boat is for you. If your goal is paddling through calmer waters that require more maneuverability than strength, then composite boats may be better suited for you.

If you love kayaking and don’t mind spending more money on upkeep, go with a composite. At the end of the day, what type your kayak is made from might not significantly affect how much fun you can enjoy paddling it in different areas.

Pros and cons of plastic kayaks

A plastic kayak is stronger than a fiberglass one. It is also cheaper, which means that it is a good choice for someone who wants to use the kayak recreationally and not every day.

Plastic is tougher than composite kayaks. A good example of this is that they are less likely to have air bubbles trapped inside them, which can cause you to wobble or sink as some composites do.

Plastic kayaks are also the best for people who paddle in rough water and land on rocks because they will take more damage than other kinds of boats if they start leaking water through holes.

Plastic kayaks are significantly heavier than composite ones, making them much more difficult to transport. But this is not the only downside. Plastic boats don’t have a rigid hull like other materials, and they make for uncomfortable rides in choppy water.

Thus, plastic kayaks are more difficult to maneuver and propel on the water when compared to a composite kayak.

Advantages of plastic kayak

  1. This design will be less expensive than a comparable fiberglass kayak.
  2. These kayaks are more durable if they contact a firm surface, such as rocky beaches or paved parking lots.
  3. Those made of plastic are easier to repair if damaged, as you can use a bonding compound or putty.

Disadvantages of plastic kayak

  1. Surface imperfections, such as “canning,” “warping,” and even a little more widespread problem called “mis-shaping,” can occur when items are not stored properly.
  2. Plastic starts to degrade in the sun, oxidizing and getting brittle.
  3. Plastic kayaks may not track as well in rough sea conditions (3 foot+).
  4. When other boats, like ferries, are coming toward your kayak on a “quartering sea” (45 degrees from bow or stern), they tend to deflect instead of crashing into each other.
A lot of colorful fiberglass kayaks

Pros and cons of fiberglass (composite) kayaks

Composite kayaks are different than plastic ones. Plastic ones are cheaper, but composite is more expensive. That is because of the way the material is made and how much it costs.

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Composite kayaks are made of a woven fabric with hard materials added for durability and to maintain their shape.

The process of making a composite kayak is hard. First, you need to cut the fabric and shape it into the right shape. Then it would help if you put it in a mold coated with epoxy resin that will fit tightly against curves and edges.

You can’t do this all at once, so you have to do them separately before joining them together by hand after painting a gel coat overtop for protection from daily wear and tear. Lastly, you can outfit your new boat with whatever gear suits your needs most, depending on what type of activities you plan on using it for.

To make a kayak, you first put the beads into the metal mold. You join the two parts of the kayak by heating them and melting them together. The finished product is pushed out of its container. Then you paint or trim it to make it unique.

Plastic kayaks are heavy. They are slow and hard to carry on land. Composite kayaks are lighter in weight so that they can be carried easier. They also go faster in water, so they are faster too. Composite kayaks can also be loaded into your car easier because they weigh less than plastic ones do.

Composite kayaks are made of more rigid material. They do not bend as much on the water because they are built this way. That means that the boat moves faster because less energy is wasted with bending.

Composite kayaks are much more expensive than plastic tarps, but they’re better suited to traveling over long seas and carrying camping gear.

Advantages of fiberglass kayaks

  1. Fiberglass boats are strong for their weight, regardless of being “lightweight.”
  2. Fiberglass kayaks typically have excellent performance in most ocean conditions.
  3. Fiberglass boats are durable when cared for correctly.
  4. Visually stunning.

Disadvantages of fiberglass kayaks

  1. Fiberglass boats cost more than similarly-sized plastic boats.
  2. Fiberglass boats are more likely to spider in turbulent conditions.
  3. Repairing a kayak is difficult and should only be performed by an expert.
  4. Fiberglass boats must be dried thoroughly after use to prevent mold growth.

What is the best material for a kayak?

Is there really such a thing as the best kayak material? 

My immediate answer would be “no.” Different materials are made for various purposes. Some boats use metal and plastic. You have to find out how these materials will make your experience better or worse before deciding what type of boat you want.

I would advise you to take one of those rotomolded polyethylene kayaks before buying one because they are the cheapest option. But they also get the job done. And they are more resilient than you might think.

If all else fails when considering which “best” material for your new boat is, consider what size you want (and weight), how often will this vessel go out on trips, what are acceptable distances from the home port? Once these factors have been determined over common materials again: Then decide if any best matches expectations.

Are fiberglass kayaks lighter?

Fiberglass is an excellent choice for those who want a lightweight, fast kayak. Fiberglass boats are the fastest because they weigh less and make it easier to glide through water than other materials such as plastic or aluminum.

However, these advantages come with some disadvantages in terms of durability because fiberglass can be more fragile than its counterparts, like plastics that have impact-defying properties.

Are fiberglass kayaks better than plastic?

If you want a light and fast kayak, fiberglass is a good choice. Fiberglass is stiffer than plastic, but it is still smooth, so it feels like butter on the water.

Fiberglass also has excellent durability because Kevlar is stronger than other materials used in making kayaks, such as polyethylene or carbon fibers.

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How long do fiberglass kayaks last?

Fiberglass kayaks will endure as long as you want them to. I have one that is more than seven years old, and I have only had one instance where I needed repairs, so the durability of my boat speaks for itself. 

The gel coat scratches are nothing major either because they don’t seem to affect performance – just aesthetics. My favorite part about this type of kayak is that even if your life depended on it, a patch couldn’t fix what’s wrong with these boats – problem solved.

plastic kayaks vs fiberglass kayaks

Can you fiberglass a plastic kayak?

I do not think fiberglass will bond to the plastic, but if you have some resin sitting around, drop some on and test it for yourself.

If you could find a scrap piece of plastic from another kayak or any other kind of boat out there that is made with Polyethylene (HDPE), then try cutting your hole in this material first before trying anything else – make sure it’s cut to size too.

You can rivet two pieces together along the inside seam using thin strips, so it has structure and seal them with more resin as well.

Once everything dries up nicely afterward, melt additional resins into place all over again until they are flush against each other completely, outside seams included.

What are cheap kayaks made of?

Rotomolded polyethylene kayaks are the cheapest and most widely used today. They provide an obvious choice for beginners. They are not as easy to destroy. You will not damage them easily with water or other things like a beginner would do.

If you want your investment now so you can enjoy it later, then Thermoform ABS is what you need. You will have a lighter and more durable piece than Polyethylene, and it is better at resisting UV rays.

Does fiberglass break down over time?

The durability of fiberglass is not as strong and resilient to the elements as one may think. With age, it can suffer from wear and tear or even just deterioration due to minor cracks starting on a microscopic level.

These small micro-cracks get bigger over time, eventually separating fibers of resin that hold them together until they break down completely into nothing but dust in the wind.

Does fiberglass deteriorate over time?

Fiberglass is a sturdy material that can withstand the various conditions in which it’s put. However, fiberglass has its limitations and eventually cracks under pressure over time from age or exposure to UV rays.

The fibers of this material are strong and flexible. They stay together for a long time. But they only break up when they are stressed enough times. When these tiny fractures become big enough, the fibers separate and weaken on their own accord- but only if you let them.

Fiberglass resin vs. polyester resin

A long time ago, the original resin that was used for fiberglass was polyester. But the industry evolved, and the name for fiberglass changed but not it’s material. Now it is a composite material made of glass fibers and a binding agent known as resin.

The first type of resin was polyester. You can find it in cars, surfboards, and instruments. As the material got used for more products and needed different properties, they changed some things in the resin.

They improved the composite with additives like vinyl ester. It is also stronger and cheaper if the additive is styrene monomer. Now, fiberglass resin is not pure polyester or epoxy. The cheap stuff has 50/50 polyester and styrene monomers in it.

If you are making your custom mix, you can get a lot of the ingredients. You can get polyester, styrene, and vinylester as pure components and then add the correct amount for your needs.

Epoxy is usually done with additives, but it is more expensive. If you use less costly additives to match its chemistry better, so it has as many of its superior properties as possible, it will be a better choice for your surfboard products.

Last updated on June 19, 2022 by Duncan Barrett

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