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Kayak Hull Construction


  • Polyethylene
  • Composite
  • Skin on Frame
  • Wood Strip
  • Inflatables
Flexible, Tough, although Heavy: Polyethylene has become the material of choice for moderately priced, yet durable canoes and kayaks. These boats can take impact but are softer than most of the other hull materials described here and not known for being stiff. They can be more subject to abrasion damage than many other hull materials. They need little maintenance, and they can be dropped, banged, or bent and still spring back to shape although they may retain deformities. They are somewhat sensitive to heat but this can be helpful in bringing them back into proper shape if they have been deformed. A 17'canoe can be 85 lbs. A 16 foot kayak is often over 65 lbs.
Stiff, Ultralight, Efficient: Kevlar, carbon and fiberglass combinations make up these sleek craft. Composite boats are the choice for those who want to slice efficiently through the water and for those wanting a boat that is easy to lift onto a car rack and carry over long portages. Though needing more care in handling to prevent damage, composite boats are not delicate and can, with care (and repair, if needed), outlast royalex canoes. 17' canoes run 40-55 lbs. Expect to pay higher prices for good stiff boats at lower weights.
Traditional, Light to Heavy: There are many marvelous canoes and kayaks that are built using a skin on frame technology. Some of these are traditional designs such as the Greenland style or Aleutian style kayaks. In some cases high tech construction materials have been used to create lighter boats or in many cases, boats that can be disassembled and reassembled which makes them ideal to take along when a paddling trip is planned on some distant continent or when space is at a premium. You'll find far more kayaks than canoes built using this method.
Stiff, Ultralight, Efficient: Wood strip canoes and kayaks can be gorgeous craft. They are more often made by the home builder than by a boat manufacturer although there are some small reputable companies specializing in this construction technique. Many of the large composite boat manufacturers start with a strip-built boat as the model off which a mould is formed. So the construction method is frequently used in the industry. In finished boats, what we see looks like a gorgeous wooden watercraft but in essence these are fiberglass or composite boats with wood cores.
Inflatables are like many of the other boats described here in that performance and design characteristics can vary from model to model or company to company. Prices vary from some of the least expensive to amongst the most expensive kayaks in the overall price range. Price is an indication of the construction quality. One exciting feature to inflatables is that the top-end boats can take an incredible beating so they can be great whitewater and adventure options. These boats are great when storage space is limited or when you want to fly to an exotic distant paddling location but bring your own gear.

There are general rules of thumb that help in understanding the boat building material relationship to performance. All other things being the same, a stiffer material will reduce the amount of energy you need to expend in moving it through the water. All other things aren't always the same however so you may find a flexible material used to make a very nicely shaped boat that performs the way you would like it to.

It is likewise often true that with all other things being the same, a more flexible material will be better able to tolerate impact. Again, the same sort of qualifier is needed. There are always specific exceptions to a general rule of thumb.