Composite boats are they worth it?

Places, technique, kayaks, safety, the sea...
Post Reply
Posts: 26
Joined: Sat Jun 04, 2011 8:06 pm

Composite boats are they worth it?

Post by Dean »

Hi all,
I'm an intermediate paddler who's owned a plastic perception essence 17 for several years now and it's served me well on loads of trips, including skomer and ramsey island and the skerries but I'm thinking of taking on some bigger crossings such as the scillies, lundy, maybe even the isle of man and some circumnavigations (anglesey, isle of Wight etc). Everyone who does these long open crossings seems to use composite boats but are they worth the extra cost or could I realistically tackle long open crossings in my plastic boat?

Any advice would be much appreciated.

User avatar
Posts: 13964
Joined: Sun Apr 21, 2002 2:14 pm
Location: Dumbarton
Has thanked: 8 times
Been thanked: 48 times

Re: Composite boats are they worth it?

Post by Jim »

I don't know the Perception Essence so can't comment on its suitablility for open crossings, but there are quite a few polythene boats on the market that are perfectly good for that kind of thing.

The question about whether composite boats are worth it is difficult because it depends so much on the individual outlook. Generally composite boats are a bit stiffer than polythene so over a long distance you should waste less energy, but whether you can tell in practice is another question, besides which some polythene boats are quite stiff. Weight saving is a better thing to look at, but if you are looking at old second hand composites some of those were built like tanks - the designs date back either before rotomoulding, or at least to before there was a big enough market to make the more expensive moulds for polythene boats viable for sea kayaks. You will probably find that a lot of glass boats weight much the same as some polythene boats. Carbon or Carbon/Kevlar kayaks should be noticeably lighter if weight saving is your goal, personally I was so fed up with lifting and carrying a boat that I estimate had probably reached over 40kg with repairs, that I felt it was worth spending on a carbon/kevlar boat that came in just under 20kg - it is much easier to load on and off the car, carry to the water etc. It's also pretty fast, but that's more about the design than the construction, there are plenty of people capable of making the glass versions go faster.

I should probably admit that I have 5 carbon/kevlar boats now (only 1 is a sea kayak), and 3 glass fibre boats (only 1 is a sea kayak) :)

User avatar
Posts: 137
Joined: Mon Oct 06, 2008 12:54 pm
Location: Warrington, NW, UK
Been thanked: 4 times

Re: Composite boats are they worth it?

Post by GrahamC »

I paddle a Cetus LV and a Scorpio LV and the Cetus is possibly a bit quicker (but this is marginal); I think technique is more important on a long paddle than the boat. Good catch and rotation are going to help you eat up the miles. Trimming the boat and proper use of the skeg (trimming it to balance the weather cocking rather than simple up/down/halfway) is also vital if you are not going to waste energy. Modern plastic boats are very rigid, but a composite is easier to repair so maybe that is a factor?

Dimitri used a Scorpio for his crossing from Belgium to the UK


Posts: 78
Joined: Mon Oct 12, 2009 9:36 pm
Location: Finland

Re: Composite boats are they worth it?

Post by M-J-B »

Having compared poly to comparable composite models both in Valley and P&H ranges composite definitely has the advantage of being more easy driven on the water. Partially due to material flex, surface finish and weight but no poly kayak I have seen has been an identical replica of the composite counterpart in terms of shape and dimensions. Small changes here and there add up to noticeable changes both in behaviour and performance. I'd go as lightweight as I can afford but I consider diolene as best bang for bucks. However, there is nothing with composite boats that can't be done with poly in terms of seaworthiness. They just need slightly more effort and if you are used to it there's no problem to be expected.

Posts: 647
Joined: Wed Oct 19, 2011 5:14 pm
Been thanked: 1 time

Re: Composite boats are they worth it?

Post by ruralweb »

I had an Esscence for a few years and it's a great kayak which is easily capable of doing long crossings etc I even did a few races in it. I moved to a composite boat - Epic V6 mainly because of weight, with the V6 I can get all my camping kit etc into it and it still weighs less than the Essence empty. This makes a big difference if touring on your own as all up my Essence was well over 60kg to drag up and down beaches. Also the weight affects paddling speed as does the rough surface you end up with on a plastic boat so my V6 tours at about 2 mph average faster - yes it's a very different boat but you would get a similar improvement with a fast sea kayak like a Taran.

If your considering a composite boat then I would buy the fastest you can get - from paddling loads if kayaks similar design boats in plastic or composite travel at about the same speeds - yes the composite will be slightly faster but is it £1500 different.

Posts: 26
Joined: Sat Jun 04, 2011 8:06 pm

Re: Composite boats are they worth it?

Post by Dean »

Thanks for the advice. I'm leaning towards sticking with my plastic boat as composite boats, although great, are pushing it a bit financiallly for me.

Conor Buckboy
Posts: 55
Joined: Fri Aug 19, 2016 1:59 am

Re: Composite boats are they worth it?

Post by Conor Buckboy »

I know someone with an essence 17 and a 16, I myself was going to get one originally. However at a local race I attended someone was selling a P&H Icefloe for £100, just to be clear the Icefloe is literally described above very well, it's from a time before proper rotomoukded plastic boats in the late 60s early 70s (73 I think). It's fibreglass and was built like a tank, literally a cargo ship. It's huge and designed for open water crossings with a huge carry load (just search the boat on google and you will be quite impressed for its age).
Anyway as these boats paddle together I can tell you some stuff comparing a poly boat to a cheap old compo sea kayak. First, the compo feels to cut better than the essence, it's just a fact that fibreglass with a gelcoat has less friction than plastic (you won't notice this on short trips but on circumnavigation and very long distance it helps. Also as stated weight, usually compo boats weigh less (however depends on boat as my Icefloe still weighs a tonne) and saying that there are some very light plastic boats.

The main difference I see however. Is durability. Plastic is harder to fix but harder to damage. Compo is easier to break but far easier to fix. I'm nit taking about little scratches but full breaking the hull. Plastic will take a massive beating on rocks and landing (something that could happen a lot when trying to land on a beach, when you are tired and the swell and surf is high when navigating a coast line over numerous days) and a hole in a boat really can ruin a long trip XD.

And of course compos are usually stiffer do they deal with rough water better and long distance less energy lost, however if they are very old and were stored badly the fibreglass may have gone soft.
Hope this helps.

Post Reply