Before buying our aluminum boat (pictured above left), I read all about both aluminum and fiberglass boats. I’ve now owned both as well.
When the smoke cleared and I rode in some boats, talked to dealerships and scoured boats online, the only thing that mattered to me was that aluminum hull boats are more durable, can withstand bumps and bruises better and require much less maintenance. Perfecto. That’s what I needed in a boat. For us, aluminum was a no-brainer.
But it’s not quite that simple. Fiberglass offers some significant advantages too. Here are the advantages of both types of boats.
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Advantages of aluminum boats
- Can withstand bumps much better: Unless you really plow into something, aluminum will withstand hitting logs, docks, rocks much better than fiberglass. Aluminum may dent (it needs to be a pretty serious collision) which can be fixed. Fiberglass cracks and/or crunches through and needs some serious repair. The salesperson who sold me the Hewescraft said the hull came with a lifetime warranty. That’s telling.
- Better for shallow water: Since aluminum can better withstand hitting rocks and ground, aluminum is a better boat material for shallow waters.
- Less maintenance: Fiberglass requires ongoing waxing and cleaning. Not aluminum. We had a coating applied to our boat because we don’t plan to take it out of the water other than for annual servicing.
- Do aluminum boats cost less? Apparently aluminum costs less than fiberglass to manufacture so it follows aluminum boats cost less. I’m not entirely persuaded by that because aluminum boats are pricey but I suppose it makes sense. It’s really impossible to compare because there are a huge range of fiberglass boats with pricing from low to extremely high. I set out every boat cost we incurred here (it adds up).
- Lighter: Aluminum boats weigh less which is great if towing (and you have lower towing capacity vehicle) and it also means more speed with less horsepower.
- Better resale value (in relation to sticker price): Because aluminum holds up for so long, aluminum boats have excellent resale value. If it’s not dented, chances are the hull is just fine. When looking at use fiberglass hulls, you need to be very careful and inspect it carefully that it’s not compromised.
- Is it better to buy an aluminum boat used? That’s a tough one. Used aluminum boats aren’t cheap because they retain value (as noted above). I had found a used Hewescraft for $69,000. Granted it had a slightly more powerful motor than the boat we ended up getting, but our new Hewescraft (before the add-ons) was $75K. Sometimes I wonder whether we should have bought the used boat because aluminum hulls last a long time that as long as the motor is in good condition, it can be a great buy.
Advantages of fiberglass boats
- A better ride: This pretty much sums up the main advantage of fiberglass and it’s significance. It’s heavier so it is more stable in the water and drift more predictably. It’s better handling is also why high-end ski boats are fiberglass… overall much better performance on the water.
- Handle rougher seas better: Again, being heavier it can handle rougher seas better.
- Custom shaping: Because it’s molded, you can create any hull shape you want. This also permits for built-in extras like cool, comfortable seating and pretty much anything that can be molded built into the boat.
- Design: Let’s face it… a snazzy fiberglass boat looks better than a workhorse aluminum boat. I’m not so naive about this even though I have an aluminum boat. I know a glistening fiberglass boat looks better. However, I’m more practical and like the hardiness of an aluminum boat.
I grew up with a fiberglass ski boat and now have a mid-sized aluminum fishing boat (18′ Hewescraft with hardtop pilothouse). I can tell right away the aluminum boat does not handle anywhere close as well on the water as the fiberglass boat I used to drive (into my early 20’s). However, I can also tell that when I hit a log or come in a bit fast into the dock with the aluminum boat, the aluminum will hold up no problemo.
Performance vs Toughness
It really boils down to performance vs. toughness. At least in my mind. We don’t need a high-performance boat so aluminum is ideal for us. If I wanted a boat for water skiing or heading out into open waters where there’s much more chop, I’d get fiberglass in a heartbeat, but that’s not our use. Our use is to get us to and from our cabin and do some fishing in closed waters (we’ll mostly use it in the fiord where our cabin is located and maybe among some islands in the Gulf off the City of Vancouver.
Size matters too
If you’re looking for a live-aboard boat, it’s very likely going to be a fiberglass boat. Cabin cruisers, convertibles and large recreational watercraft with living quarters are fiberglass. They handle better. They’re much better in rougher seas. So if that’s the type of boat you want, this really isn’t an issue for you because you don’t really have any choice.
Where you go may be taken into consideration
Are you bobbing around on shallow lakes or heading out onto huge lakes or the ocean with some potential serious chop? Aluminum is perfect for shallow lakes where you don’t need a huge boat anyway but do need something that can handle shallow waters and withstand damage from bumping into logs, rocks and the bottom of the lake. If heading out onto huge lakes with chop or the ocean, more stability and weight is better. In that case fiberglass is for you.
I thought we’d buy fiberglass but ended up buying aluminum
When we decided to buy a boat (which was when we decided to buy a boat access cabin), I didn’t realize aluminum boats were so popular. I grew up with a ski boat which was fiberglass. I’ve rented boats many times over the years and other than a pontoon boat, all were fiberglass. When I started researching boats, I fully expected to buy a fiberglass boat. I was thinking something simple like a runabout.
Then we found the boat access cabin we wanted to buy (and did buy). The realtor, who lived in nearby boat access house, took us up to view the cabin in his boat. He lives full time in his boat access house and commuted to the mainland daily so I paid particular attention to the boat he had. It was an aluminum fishing boat with a pilothouse. I can’t recall if it was a Thunderjet or Hewescraft but it was one of those two.
That’s when I shifted my boat search to aluminum hull boats.
Fast forward several weeks. We closed on the cabin but still didn’t have a boat. We hired the local water taxi to take us up to the cabin. It was pretty much the exact same boat as the realtor. I figured there must be something about these aluminum hull boats with hardtop pilothouse (great for passengers) for getting around one the water.
That’s when I realized I needed to considerably increase our boat budget if we were going to get one of those aluminum hull boats. I did increase the budget. I found a boat dealer with the perfect boat for sale. It was brand new. A tad smaller than the realtor’s but plenty big for our needs (we’ll be using our cabin as a vacation property only). I bought it.