What is a better boat, aluminum or fiberglass?
Response by Steve Huber - Dated 3/13/2000
There is as much controversy over aluminum versus fiberglass boat construction as there is over Ford versus Chevy. There are many opinions and facts and sometimes both get intermingled to the point that it's hard to separate fact from fantasy. Having owned both and spending hundreds of hours each year in boats, here's what I've come up with.
Aluminum boats are "usually" lighter weight, this results in lower horsepower requirements for both the outboard and trolling motor. They also, because of the lower weight, are more maneuverable and can be trailered by a smaller, less powerful tow vehicle. However, due to changes in aluminum boat designs, the weight difference (depending on the boat) might not be a factor. A lot of manufacturers are going with heavier aluminum to increase the hull strength, thus increasing the weight. A case in point is AlumaCraft's 2XB hull. While it is definitely a stronger hull with it's double thickness aluminum, the weight of this boat is more than my comparable fiberglass boat. Read the manufacturer's brochures carefully for hull weight.
Aluminum boats are "usually" less expensive, but with the addition of flat floors, casting platforms, etc., the prices on many of the major manufacturer's boats are rapidly becoming the equal of many fiberglass boats.
Aluminum boats can "take more punishment" than fiberglass. True, but with some hedging. Aluminum boats can hit rocks and stumps but there is a price to pay for doing this. Yes, dents can be pounded out but there are also other considerations. Rivets can be pulled loose, causing leaks and if you do punch a hole in the hull, you have to find someone capable of welding aluminum. Depending on the area that you live, that might be a problem.
There are some downsides to aluminum. First of all, they are noisier than fiberglass. They are also colder when fishing early/late in the year. All metals conduct cold much greater than fiberglass and in my part of the country, that's a definite consideration. Like I said in the previous paragraph, rivets pull loose, seams leak and finding someone to repair aluminum can be a problem. Repeated beaching of an aluminum boat on sandy/rocky shorelines will wear through the aluminum.
With aluminum, welded construction is a plus. With all aluminum boats, there are certain design restrictions placed on the hull due to the construction materials. Metal can only be bent/contoured so many ways, this results in less efficient hull designs which can translate to a rougher, less dry ride. Also, most aluminum boats have fairly high sides, this can make boat control in windy conditions more difficult. But these high sides can sometimes result in taking on bigger waves.
Fiberglass boats are heavier, there's no disputing that. But there are also some advantages to being heavier. Usually the heavier hull weight results in a smoother ride.
Fiberglass boats are more expensive. True again, but the hulls are typically more efficient giving you a better ride, more efficient design. They also typically have a higher re-sale value. Fiberglass is fragile. Yes, but it's been my experience that if you are going to hole a fiberglass hull, you've also got some serious problems hitting the same object at the same speed with an aluminum boat. They will scratch, gel coat will crack, but these are cosmetic concerns, not usually affecting boat performance. Fiberglass typically will slide off many snags (wood especially) that aluminum will scratch and "stick" to. More caution is required when fishing shallow, snag filled waters. Also, most automotive body shops can repair damage to fiberglass boats.
I've found fiberglass boats to be easier to control in wind. Typically, fiberglass boats are lower profile than most aluminum boats, resulting in less area to be affected by the wind. Also, it seems that with the heavier weight, the wind doesn't push them around as bad, momentum keeps them tracking straighter. They also seem to be more stable in rough water, rocking less.
Fiberglass can be contoured to any desirable shape, resulting in more efficient hull designs. Take two boats of identical weight, power them the same and the fiberglass boat will plane out quicker, have a higher top end and better fuel economy than it's aluminum counterpart.
So what are the deciding considerations when buying a boat? Does it have the features that you want? Room, storage, platforms (or not), console/tiller, hull type, manufacturer reputation, dealer reputation, local recommendations, in your price range, suitable for the type of fishing you do, etc. If you can answer all of these questions to your satisfaction, then it comes down to personal preference. I can't help you with that.
But these are my opinions based on LOTS of time spent in many different boats.