Canoe Materials & Manufacturing Processes
“Composite” is a generic manufacturing term meaning “not plastic.” Composite canoes can be Fiberglass, Kevlar, Carbon Fiber or a combination of any or all of these materials. Let’s discuss the different materials & manufacturing processes briefly.
Fiberglass Canoes – low to moderate cost & moderate care
Fiberglass is the most common material used in canoe manufacturing. Canoe quality can vary widely from cheapest to medium to excellent, as 3- basic quality & price point levels exist:
i) Chop Fiberglass: Avg. 16’ – Weight +70 to 80 lbs
Cheap fiberglass canoes are made by spraying small pieces of fiberglass called ‘chopped fiber’ mixed with cheap polyester resin into a gel-coated mold. Chop fiber provides little structural integrity, thus canoe hulls tend to flop up & down as you paddle. The canoe industry refers this movement as ‘oil-canning’ and its repeated action quickly destroys the hull. To minimize oil-canning some manufacturers use lots of resin to bulk up and stiffen the hull, which adds significant weight.
Inexpensive chop fiber canoes tend to be sold at marinas and low-service outlets where folks buy without ever test-paddling prior to purchase.
Note: We will NOT sell ‘Chop Fiber’ made canoes.
ii) Standard Fiberglass: Avg. 16’ – Weight 68 to 70 lbs
Standard quality fiberglass canoes are made by hand laying long strips of fiberglass cloth & resin into a gel-coated mold. Cross-linear ribs are added at intervals to stiffen the hull and minimize hull flex. Excess Polyester resin is then removed using a hand tool, while the gelcoat finish provides colour choice.
Standard Fiberglass canoes provide good value to day paddlers, cottagers, and anglers where carry weight is of minimal concern.
iii) Premium Fiberglass: Avg. 16’ – Weight 58 to 62 lbs
Premium fiberglass canoes are laid up in a similar fashion to ‘Standard Fiberglass’ boats with a few significant differences. Impact areas receive additional Kevlar reinforcement. A stronger and more expensive Vinylester resin is used instead of polyester resin. Instead of using ribs in the hull, a superior ‘diamond shaped core’ is placed in the hull. This rigid core aids efficiency. More importantly the core disperses stress equally throughout the entire length of the hull. Lastly, a dry-infusion pressure process is used to rid the boat of excess resin, which further maximizes strength and reduces weight.
Premium fiberglass boats cost a few hundred bucks more but are significantly stronger & lighter than standard fiberglass canoes.
i) H2O Canoes are North America’s only ‘Premium Fiberglass’ build.
ii) Although fiberglass canoes weigh more than Kevlar canoes, fiberglass’s wider, denser fabric actually provides greater abrasion resistance than the more expensive, tight knit Kevlar material.
Kevlar Canoes – Moderate to High cost & moderate care
Canada’s aging population is increasingly demanding quality lightweight canoes. The paddlesports industry has responded with new lightweight & ultra lightweight Kevlar canoes made with modern high-tech manufacturing processes. Kevlar canoe quality ranges from good to great to exceptional, and 3- main quality & price point levels exist:
i) Standard Kevlar: Avg. 16’ – Weight 55 lbs
Standard Kevlar Canoes are hand-laid in a similar fashion to ‘Standard’ fiberglass canoes, except a stronger, more expensive Vinylester resin is used in the production process. A gelcoat finish provides further protection while offering colour choices.
Note: Standard Kevlar canoes are the least expensive but weigh more and are the most fragile of the composite Kevlar choices.
ii) Moderate Weight Kevlar: Avg. 16’ – Weight 44 to 46 lbs
Moderate Kevlar weights are achieved by eliminating excess resins using a wet vacuum bagging or infusion pressure processes to remove excess resin, while ensuring a perfect resin to cloth saturation ratio. The addition of a diamond shaped foam core bottom provides a clean, rigid, more efficient hull. A gelcoat finish provides an additional layer of impact protection while still offering colour choice.
Note: Moderate Weight Kevlar canoes are usually about 8 lbs or 15% lighter than Standard Kevlar canoes.
iii) Ultralight Kevlar: Avg. 16’ – Weight 40 – 44 lbs
Traditionally ,Ultralight canoes have been made with Vinylester or the odd time Epoxy resin but without the exterior gelcoat layer. Eliminating gelcoat reduces the canoe’s weight substantially – by 7 to 8 lbs or about 15% over moderate weight Kevlar canoes. Instead, a thin UV stabilized vinylester skin coat is sprayed into the mold, which still enables the boat to be relieved from the mold. An ultralight canoe’s colour is traditionally the natural ‘yellow hue’ of Kevlar. Increasingly, Co’s are offering some colour choice by dying a portion of the Kevlar cloth.
i) Clearcoat canoes are light but their lack of gel-coat protection sacrifices durability.
ii) Kevlar is a Dupont (TM) product which produces a lightweight canoe with minimal compromise to strength and durability. Kevlar advertises a strength per weight ratio marketed as being “stronger than steel” due to its great impact resistance characteristics. Don’t take these beautiful boats down that whitewater river, though – these boats are made for flatwater & moving waters only!
Carbon Canoes – Avg. 16’ – Weight 36 to 40 lbs
Carbon is only slightly lighter than Kevlar. Its main attribute is its superior tensile strength as it is more rigid than other materials. Accordingly, Carbon tends to hold its shape better, which in turn helps keep lightweight boats from flexing out of shape. Primarily, Carbon is used to build the lightest possible weight canoes. Carbon’s rigid hulls are also the most efficient of all materials as the materials passes through the water with the least amount of resistance. Does Carbon have any negatives? You bet- 100% Carbon lay-ups have a lower shatter point than materials with ‘more flex’.
Note: H2O Canoe Co’s Helium Ultralight lay-up is World’s ONLY Co who offers consumers the very best of both worlds: The canoe’s upper is no-gel Carbon (as this section of canoes receive very little wear). The bottom section of the hull combines 100% Kevlar with 100% epoxy resin, a core material and a dry infusion build process. The lower portion also receives an outer gel-coat layer for greater impact resistance where you need it!
Polyethylene & ABS Canoes – Avg. 16’ – Weight 80 lbs
Plastic, Tupperware and Poly are just some of the terms used to describe Polyethylene canoes. Polyethylene is extremely tough but as a soft material it is not very rigid. Manufacturers have overcome this stiffness problem in different ways. Some companies brace their canoe interior with aluminum tubes or struts. This makes a heavy, clunky, but acceptable cottage canoe. Other companies produce cheap canoes from single layer polyethylene by adding a keel in a largely unsuccessful attempt to increase stiffness. Single layer poly canoe hulls “oil-can” and lose their shape quickly when paddled or left out in the sun to deform. The most successful solution is a triple-layer or “sandwich approach” – in which a thick foam core is sandwiched between an outer and inner layer of polyethylene to attain stiffness at moderate cost. Polyethylene canoes slide off submerged rocks, and pop into shape far better than other materials.
i) Triple Layer Polyethylene is a great choice for those who require toughness or whitewater paddlers – where carry weight is ‘NOT’ a concern.
ii) Beware of Single Layer Poly Canoes as they will fade & very quickly lose shape.
Royalex & Royalite Canoes – Avg. 16’ – Weight 70 to 75 lbs
Important Fact: Sadly, by the end of 2014 Royalex & Royalite material will no longer be produced. While it comes at a mid-ranged price to the customer, the cost to manufacture this material is extremely expensive and its use is limited to the canoe market. To learn more about the demise of Royalex, Click Here!
These canoes are manufactured in a similar fashion to a quality polyethylene canoe using the “sandwich method”. A lighter form core is sandwiched first by thin multiple layers of ABS substrate for stiffness, then finished by adding a vinyl inner and outer skin. Royalex canoes weigh less, are more expensive, but are not as strong as a “sandwich” method polyethylene canoe. Royalex canoes with vinyl gunnels are very difficult to damage, as they tend to pop back into shape better than other materials. Serious whitewater paddlers requiring a canoe, which is lighter than Polyethylene, often choose Royalex. Royalite is simply a thinner, lighter & more fragile version of Royalex.
Note: Royalex is a fantastic choice for serious white water canoeists… but be careful of the compromises associated with Royalite.
Aluminum Canoes – Avg. 16’ – Weight 75 lbs
Aluminum canoes are corrosion-proof, sturdy, require little maintenance, and do not deteriorate when exposed to sunlight. They are the only canoes that can be left outside and ignored all winter. The disadvantages as well as being heavy, aluminum canoes heat up quickly in the sun and cool off in the cold. They are noisy and glare can be a problem. However, the most serious disadvantage of aluminum is the tendency of the soft metal to stick to submerged rocks. Paddlers looking for a tough, maintenance free choice may choose aluminum.
Note: Tough, heavy & ugly Aluminum canoes can be the perfect choice for hardcore hunters & fisherman in remote regions.
Wood Canoes – Avg. 16’ – Weight 45 to 65 lbs
For many of us a beautiful wood canvas or cedar strip canoe is not only a cherished memory but is part of our proud Canadian heritage. Recent innovations such as watertight epoxy coatings, improved varnishes and modern production methods have made these canoes lighter and more durable than ever before. Weights vary widely depending on the wood used, building techniques and craftsmanship. Paddlers who value aesthetics but will not compromise care, often choose wood canoes.
Note: Quality wooden canoes can be ‘Works of Art’ and they often paddle as incredibly as they look.
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