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Are you the sort of adventurer who’s forever craving a wild journey down uncharted waterways?
If yes, you’ve likely pondered over the age-old canoe conundrum: aluminum or fiberglass?
Aluminium canoes offer durability and strength, perfect for rugged adventures.
On the other hand, fiberglass boasts a lighter weight, providing better maneuverability and speed.
Different canoe materials bring their own unique benefits, catering to different paddling preferences.
So, ready to dive into the great aluminum vs fiberglass debate? Let’s paddle on!
Advantages Of An Aluminum Canoe
One of the main benefits of an aluminum canoe is that it has an extremely high level of durability. Aluminum canoes are crafted for strength and longevity – ideal for a recreational vessel. And because they last for a long time, you’ll often find they are passed on from one generation to the next.
One of the greatest advantages of aluminum canoes is their ability to withstand just about anything that life throws at them. This means you can leave them out in the hot sun or in freezing temperatures and they shouldn’t suffer any damage.
Fiberglass boats, on the other hand, are susceptible to damage from UV light and extreme temperatures.
Aluminum canoes are typically the only type of canoe that can be safely left outside for storage all year round. Others are susceptible to UV damage and temperature fluctuations.
Easy To Maintain
Aluminum canoes require very little maintenance. This can make them more suitable for families and paddlers who don’t want to spend a lot of extra time taking care of their boat.
However, we advise that you clean your canoe regularly with mild soap (dish soap) and water to prevent dirt and grime from building up. It’s also important to rinse off your canoe with clean, fresh water after padding in saltwater so that your boat doesn’t corrode.
It is possible to wax an aluminum canoe to keep it in tip-top shape. But there are concerns that this could slow down your canoe on the water. And waxing is generally not required for aluminum boats.
But you could polish it up with aluminum boat cleaner if you want to make it shine after you’ve cleaned it.
Video: Aluminum Cleaner Use On A Canoe
While the properly galvanized metal material is extremely durable and needs very little maintenance, if you do happen to damage the canoe, it can be expensive to repair these boats.
Great For Beginners
Aluminum crafts are ideal for beginners. This is because they tend to be wide and very stable. If you already have a bit of experience, you might remember getting in a canoe for the first time and how unstable it felt.
While many canoes will still feel like this for most first-timers, a canoe with aluminum construction can feel less tippy. This could help your confidence if you ever want to get back in a canoe again.
Another great thing about these types of canoes is they are extremely tough. So if you happen to hit a rock on your paddles or crash into the dock on the way back, your canoe should be able to handle it.
Many rental outfitters and camps still use aluminum canoes because of their ease of use, stability, and suitability for new paddlers of all skill levels.
Because aluminum canoes tend to be slower, this can make them easier to paddle for beginners as they can allow you to get to grips with your paddle stroke at a more relaxed pace.
Aluminum canoes will generally be cheaper than fiberglass canoes. However, aluminum crafts are not particularly cheap.
They can be pretty expensive compared to polyethylene ones. But on the whole, they cost less than fiberglass ones of a similar size and purpose.
An aluminum boat will also typically cost less in the long run, as they are less expensive to maintain and will last a long time. So, these types of canoes are often seen as investments. And we would agree.
Disadvantages Of An Aluminum Canoe
While aluminum canoes are much lighter than plastic canoes of a comparable size, aluminum canoes are indeed heavier than fiberglass canoes.
For comparison, and as just one example, a 15-foot Osagian aluminum canoe weighs 73 pounds while a similarly-sized Nova Craft 15-foot fiberglass canoe weighs just 58 pounds.
This means it can be a little more difficult to lift an aluminum canoe compared to a fiberglass canoe, especially if you’re on your own. It might also be more difficult to load an aluminum canoe onto a roof rack because of the extra weight.
However, aluminum canoes will be easier to car-top and carry than heavier polyethylene canoes.
So, when compared to plastic and wooden canoes, aluminum canoes are the lighter option. But fiberglass and composite canoes are much lighter than comparable aluminum canoes.
Aluminum canoes are not known for their speed, unlike fiberglass canoes. Aluminum canoes are generally slower on the water, as they lack the smooth gel coat.
This generally means there is less glide with each stroke of your paddle, so it could mean it takes more effort to paddle.
You might also find that the tough aluminum material is louder on the water than fiberglass. It can be a little noisy if your paddle hits the gunwales or you drop something on the floor.
They Get Extremely Hot In The Sun
A downside to aluminum boats is that they get very hot in the sun. If you’ve ever sat on aluminum bleachers on a hot Floridian summer day, then you get the idea.
However, with an aluminum vessel, it’s not just a hot seat you’ll have to deal with: you’ll also be surrounded by a hot aluminum boat radiating heat all around you.
As well as being hot to touch and hot for you to sit on, this could also be a problem if you plan to take your dog with you.
Yes, you could put down mats for your dog (and cushions for yourself). But dogs are more sensitive to hot temperatures than we are, so it could still be extremely uncomfortable for your dog to ride in a hot aluminum canoe.
Similarly, if you paddle in cold winter weather, an aluminum boat will be very cold to sit in. So you might want to bring a couple of cushions to line your seat.
Advantages Of A Fiberglass Canoe
Not to be confused with heavy plastic or polyethylene canoes, fiberglass canoes are very lightweight. A fiberglass canoe will weigh a lot less than an equivalent aluminum canoe.
While the weight of a fiberglass canoe won’t be as low as some of the lightweight composite canoes on the market, fiberglass is typically among the lightest materials used in canoe construction.
Some composite canoes feature fiberglass in the construction to help with strength and durability. This helps to create a tough vessel while minimizing additional weight.
Some fiberglass canoes can look very similar in appearance to plastic canoes, which could mislead people into thinking that fiberglass canoes are heavy. Plastic canoes often weigh over 100 pounds (sometimes significantly more, depending on the size of the canoe).
But fiberglass canoes will generally weigh around 60 pounds for a two-person 15-foot canoe. More expensive fiberglass canoes will often weigh less than that and cheaper fiberglass vessels will generally weigh more.
Lower priced fiberglass canoes are often made using chopped pieces of fiberglass material, which can be heavier than better-quality ones.
Better-quality fiberglass canoes tend to be made using long strips of expensive fiberglass cloth that are hand laid into the gel coating mold to reduce weight.
We know that we’d definitely prefer to load a fiberglass canoe onto the roof of a car than a heavier aluminum one.
Fiberglass canoes have a special gel coat on the exterior of the vessel. This makes for more efficient paddling, as the smooth gel coat helps to improve speed and glide over the water, as there is less friction and reduced drag.
As well as the benefit of the gel coating, fiberglass canoes also tend to have hulls that are designed for performance, which can often explain the extra cost.
Fiberglass crafts are made using a mold. The cloth fibers become fiberglass sheets and these sheets are then molded to form the shape of the canoe, coating it with gel at the same time.
Molded canoes have an advantage in that they can essentially be molded to any specifications, for example, for aesthetic purposes or to maximize performance.
Easy To Customize
A nice bonus of a fiberglass craft is that it can be customized to suit just about any hull design you want. This is because fiberglass canoes are made in a mold.
These canoes can also be made in a wide range of colors with a variety of different trim options, even using other durable materials or mixing fibers to increase strength and performance.
An aluminum craft, on the other hand, is made using two sheets of durable metal canoe material which is cut to size and molded to form the shape of the hull. Both sheets are symmetrical. The two sheets are then welded with rivets to secure the keel and guards.
Easy To Repair
Fiberglass is one of the most durable materials to use in canoe manufacturing. However, it is prone to damage and cracking.
Scuffs and scrapes tend to show up more on these types of vessels. If the scrapes or cracks go deep enough to expose the fiberglass cloth, the canoe will need a repair job.
But the good thing is, it can be easy to fix cracking fiberglass canoes using a patch repair kit. Patch repairs can cover small areas of damage, using the piece of fiberglass cloth in the patch repair kit and mixing a polyester resin to cover the crack.
Check out our guide on how to repair a fiberglass canoe to find out more.
Disadvantages Of A Fiberglass Canoe
Fiberglass crafts tend to cost a lot more than aluminum ones. Fiberglass canoe manufacturing is often done on a smaller scale than some of the mass-produced canoes on the market.
Combine that with the expensive fiberglass cloth that’s used in the construction, you can understand why these canoes are not cheap.
However, while they are more expensive than comparable aluminum boats, they are cheaper than some of the other alternatives, such as Kevlar and other composite canoe materials.
Some Maintenance Required
Fiberglass crafts will generally require a little more upkeep than aluminum ones. As well as keeping the canoe stored indoors, you should also keep it clean.
Cleaning it regularly with mild soap and water can be good maintenance for a fiberglass canoe. You may also want to use marine protective products or waxes to keep the exterior of the hull in good shape.
Not Weather Resistant
One of the downsides to fiberglass is that it doesn’t hold up well in the heat or extreme cold. It also can become easily damaged by UV light from the sun. Because the fiberglass material is so rigid, it tends not to flex with temperature changes,
For this reason, we wouldn’t recommend storing a fiberglass boat outdoors. And you might want to make sure the gel coating on the hull is UV-resistant to give your canoe as much protection as possible while you’re out enjoying it.
Conclusion: Is A Fiberglass Or Aluminum Canoe Better For You?
Aluminum and fiberglass each have their advantages and disadvantages. But is one better than the other? That really depends on what you’re after in a canoe.
If you ask us, if durability and low maintenance is the most important thing you’re after in a canoe, then an aluminum boat can be the better option. These boats are great for beginners and families.
On the flip side, if you’d prefer a lightweight vessel with increased performance, a fiberglass canoe can be much more suitable.
Remember, there are other options out there. These two canoe materials may not provide the best choice of craft for you.
Both of these materials tend to be in the middle of the road weight-wise compared to other materials out there.
In my opinion, they’re also both roughly in the middle of the price scale when it comes to canoes as there are cheaper and more expensive canoes available.