Construction and Cost. People ask us all the time, "How much does a kayak cost?" And the answer always depends on how it's made. The cheapest sea kayaks are made of rotomolded plastic. They're injection molded, like Clorox bottles, and range in cost from about $1000 to $1800. Fiberglass kayaks run from about $2,000 to $3,000. A boat made with Kevlar and/or carbon fiber instead of glass fibers will trim weight by up to 25%, and beef up the price by as much as 50%. As with everything else, it's all about trade-offs, but a big clue is that most of our fleet boats - and all the staff's personal sea kayaks - are fiberglass.
Plastic boats are cheap and they are rugged. You've seen plastic bottles washed up on the beach: How many are broken? It's no accident that all whitewater kayaks are made of plastic. Whitewater paddlers bang off rocks all the time. Collisions that would send a glass boat home for repairs are just another battle scar on a plastic boat. So what's not to like? Plastic boats aren't tough because they're hard; they stand up to beatings because plastic is soft. Which makes for a less rigid boat. You can hang a glass boat in the garage by its toggles for a month and it'll paddle like the day it came from the factory. Hang up a plastic boat and inside a week it'll bend like a banana. Okay, nobody hangs up plastic boats like that, but over time the hull will nonetheless bend in and out here and there, deforming slightly.
Given equal care, a fiberglass boat will have a longer life at its best performance than a plastic boat, about as long as a car. Is it worth spending the extra money? Not if the difference means having no boat at all. But in that case, most of our staff would still recommend a good used fiberglass boat over a new plastic boat.
Kevlar is another story. The primary benefit of Kevlar and/or carbon construction is weight savings. Which puts a big smile on the face of Kevlar boat owners during the five minutes a day we're lugging our boats between the cars and the beach. On the water, there's no particular advantage to a lighter boat. And although Kevlar is used in bulletproof vests, that doesn't mean it makes a bulletproof boat. Kevlar kayaks are actually somewhat less rugged than most fiberglass boats, and when they do sustain damage, repairs require more extensive (and expensive) work. A construction issue with some Kevlar boats is that the Kevlar fibers have more "give" than the hard gel-coat that covers them. An insult to the boat - some oaf sits on it, say - can flex the Kevlar with no harm done - but crack the stiffer gel-coat. The damage is usually cosmetic, but if you've just spent $3,200 on a Kevlar boat it tends to make you unhappy.
If you have the money and use your boat gently, Kevlar may be a good option. Our staff guides like to paddle rock gardens on their own time and we do a lot of rescues on client time. We like a tougher boat and, so far, that means fiberglass.
Atlantic Kayak Tours, Expert Center
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