What’s the difference between an aluminum and fiberglass boat, and what are the advantages of each type of boat?
Both materials are widely used in the boatbuilding industry, although fiberglass is preferred for most boat builders.
We’ve researched this topic to show you the advantages and disadvantages of both materials when buying a boat.
At the end of this article, you will be able to make an informed choice when choosing between an aluminum or fiberglass watercraft.
Should You Buy an Aluminum or Fiberglass Boat?
If you ask people what they think about aluminum and fiberglass boats, you will get varied answers based on a wide range of factors.
Most of the time, geography and use play a vital role in the material used to build boats.
So you may find that boaters prefer aluminum boats in some places while other areas love their fiberglass.
Making a choice can be ambiguous for many people, especially novice boaters.
And that is why you need to consider the following factors:
For decades, aluminum boats have always been more affordable than fiberglass watercraft.
In recent times, advances in aluminum boat building technologies have led to an increase in price.
But most are still less expensive than fiberglass alternatives.
Anglers who fish in shallow and rocky waters will tell you the most affordable fishing boats are aluminum.
In fact, you can get highly durable skiffs from Lund and Tracker for less than $15,000 with all the high-end features you need to land tournament-winning fish.
Besides their affordability, aluminum boats are also less expensive to run because of their fuel efficiency.
Aluminum is lighter and can achieve higher speeds with smaller engines. A fiberglass boat may require larger or twin engines to attain the same speed as a similar-sized aluminum.
Plus, the lighter aluminum boats are easier to tow, saving you money on the trailer and vehicle maintenance.
Regarding toughness, aluminum boats are generally more durable than fiberglass.
Aluminum is extremely forgiving when you make mistakes during towing, launching, retrieving, and while in the water.
They can withstand abuse and won’t suffer extensive damage upon impact.
You can hammer out dents in an aluminum hull and weld serious deformities in place.
You will incur serious repair expenses in a fiberglass boat and may not have access to the boat for a long time after an accident.
Fiberglass offers more comfort in terms of stability and noise. Fiberglass boats ride more smoothly in the water because they have improved stability.
Fiberglass boats are heavier and can take complex shapes that enhance their water handling compared to aluminum vessels.
An important consideration for many people is that fiberglass is quieter in the water.
Aluminum is noisy in choppy waters because of the relatively thinner hulls that act like a drum. Plus, the engine of aluminum boats sends vibrations through the vessel. Sometimes, the engine needs to work harder in rough waters, increasing the noise level.
If you want smooth boat rides, a fiberglass boat is an ideal choice.
Fiberglass boats, with their sparkling gelcoat and luxurious trims, are more visually appealing.
For superior styling that will wow your neighbors, fiberglass gets the job done.
It allows an extensive choice of materials, including polished stainless steel, vinyl, chrome, wood, and leather.
Aluminum boats lacked this level of finish quality until recently.
During the production phase, fiberglass boats offer more customization options because designers can mold them into any shape.
But you can’t change their shape once the glass solidifies.
Aluminum might not offer that level of versatility, but you can alter the boat’s interior and exterior after completion.
So if you are looking for a brick-and-mortar style remodeling, an aluminum boat might be a better option.
6. Maintenance and Repairs
Aluminum is the clear winner in the maintenance department.
Serious damage to aluminum hulls often causes dents, which you can hammer out.
Extensive damage may require welding, but it’s still generally less expensive than repairing a gaping hole in the fiberglass.
Plus, severe damage to fiberglass often requires professional know-how, which takes time and more money.
When Should I Choose An Aluminum Boat?
Aluminum gained widespread use in the boatbuilding industry because of its excellent qualities.
It is lighter, corrosion-resistant, and affordable.
In places with shallow waters and rocky beaches, aluminum boats are the fishers’ economic choice and leisure boaters.
In Alaska and Nordic countries, you will find aluminum boats dominate. So what makes aluminum the preferred material when buying boats?
10 Advantages of Aluminum Boats over Fiberglass
Here are some benefits of aluminum boats.
The biggest advantage of aluminum boats is the reduced weight.
Aluminum watercraft is 30-40% lighter than fiberglass boats of comparable size.
Compared to steel boats, aluminum boats have 45-55% less weight.
This reduced weight makes aluminum boats more fuel-efficient.
They require smaller and lighter engines, are faster, and can carry more weight. Lighter boats are also easier to tow.
Aluminum boats have longer useful lives.
The metal has high tensile strength, improved corrosion-resistant, and simplicity of maintenance.
This makes it is easier to get more life out of an aluminum boat compared to alternatives.
3) Resale Value
Aluminum boats are more environmentally sustainable.
This makes well-kept aluminum watercraft command a higher resale value and will require less maintenance over their life span.
Aluminum does not wear out or deteriorate over time, so that it can store its value for longer.
Aluminum boats can withstand serious, rough handling.
Alaskans prefer them for their fish runs as they can run upon a rocky bottom and sharp banks and come off unscathed.
This is because aluminum absorbs the energy of the impact thanks to increased flexibility compared to fiberglass.
This helps to prevent serious damage to the hull. In serious cases where the boat is compromised, it is easier to repair aluminum because of its high ductility.
You can repair serious deformation on an aluminum boat by welding. Make sure to find a welder who is good with aluminum.
5) Easy to Maintain
Most of the maintenance work on aluminum requires rinsing the boat and scrubbing off the remnants of your partying and fishing.
A fiberglass boat requires waxing and buffing the fiberglass gel coat. And you will need more cash and specialist know-how if the boat suffers a serious hit.
6) Sun Exposure
Unlike fiberglass, aluminum is immune to the harmful rays of the sun.
Over time, an aluminum boat exposed to the elements will fare better than fiberglass with the same care level.
Overexposing fiberglass to the sun can degrade the gel coat, the hull, and, eventually, the boat’s core structures.
While aluminum is extracted from the earth, it is 100 percent recyclable. And the production process is more environmentally friendly compared to fiberglass.
Fiberglass is a cocktail of petrochemicals that is more expensive to produce. It is also difficult to recycle and is a leading cause of environmental pollution in many boating areas.
Because aluminum requires less maintenance, it produces lesser secondary pollution.
Aluminum boats burn less fuel and oil because they use smaller engines. This reduces their carbon footprint while saving you running costs.
Because they are lighter, corrosion-resistant, and extremely strong, aluminum boats have some of the best safety records in the boating industry.
You can crash into a boulder with an aluminum boat, drag it along the riverbank, graze it on a rocky bottom, and it will only suffer small scratches.
Serious abuses that can sink fiberglass boats may require a new paint job on an aluminum boat.
Aluminum is non-flammable, so there is a zero risk of it going up in flames.
Fiberglass is a derivative of petrochemicals, which is highly flammable. While manufacturers use fire-retardant resins to reduce fiberglass igniting chances, they create disastrous conflagrations when they do.
One reason boat builders prefer fiberglass is because it requires fewer parts. Aluminum boats may need hundreds or thousands of different parts welded, screwed, or bolted to each other.
But this provides an advantage as it allows for more customization later in the boat’s life.
All you need to do is remove some parts and change them to a new plan. This is almost impossible in fiberglass because it is molded and can’t be taken apart without major re-construction.
Aluminum hulls have been used for decades to build blue water vessels thanks to their exceptional seaworthiness.
The material is not only light and corrosion-resistant, but it can also be a lifesaver if you experience a serious accident at sea as aluminum dents rather than shattering and cracking.
8 Disadvantages of Aluminum Boats
While aluminum boats have exceptional characteristics, the material has some shortcomings.
Here are the disadvantages of aluminum boats.
Aluminum boats can be noisy at high speeds when the hull slaps the water.
This makes them less ideal for on-the-water conversations.
The boat can spook fish if your rod hits the aluminum or something falls on the metal.
This can be a great disadvantage in places where you need total quietness.
2) Less Comfortable
While aluminum’s lightness allows it to achieve greater speeds, it also makes the boat less steady.
The lightweight hull offers little resistance to break through the waves. This makes rides bumpier and lacking the smooth feel of fiberglass.
Because of their instability, high-speed handling can be tricky in aluminum boats.
3) More Labor Intensive Production
Unlike fiberglass, aluminum boats require extensive welding and riveting of hundreds to thousands of parts.
Besides, the construction process with aluminum makes it difficult to form into irregular shapes. But fiberglass can take any form as long as you can mold it.
Aluminum is corrosion-resistant, but it is not completely inert.
In saltwater environments, aluminum boats can experience high corrosion levels if you don’t take good care of them.
The metal can react with electrical wiring, causing an electrolytic reaction that promotes corrosion.
5) Expensive Anti-Fouling
It is more complicated and expensive to apply anti-fouling paint to aluminum boats.
Anti-fouling is the paint that prevents marine life from colonizing the part of your boat that stays in the water.
6) Poor Aesthetics
Until recently, aluminum boats used to have relatively shabby looks, unlike their flashier fiberglass cousins.
Boatbuilders are now reinventing the design of aluminum watercraft to make them as attractive as their fiberglass counterparts.
Aluminum is prone to condensation because it conducts heat quickly.
The result is that aluminum boats are usually colder, a disadvantage when using them in cold weather.
8) Reputational Issue
Historically, aluminum boats have always been cheap and of inferior quality despite having better credentials in strength and longevity.
This can be an issue when you try to sell an aluminum boat as people expect them to come at lower prices.
But this is fast changing thanks to companies like Tracker and Lund, among others.
Aluminum boats have come a long way. They are available in a wide range of choices, including fishing boats and family watercraft. These boats are affordable, long-lasting, and can take a hard beating with no sign of stress.
When Should I Choose a Fiberglass Boat?
Fiberglass is a composite made from resins of petrochemical origin.
The material is flexible, strong, and can be molded into any shape.
Its manufacturing process means boat builders can mold it into different shapes, making it easy to create an entire boat with the desired exact detailing.
This simplifies the production process, creates standardization, and reduces time to market.
Fiberglass allows marine designers to create faster and stronger boats of exceptional beauty. It offers improved stability at high speeds.
The material delivers better creature comforts and is the preferred material for building many recreational vessels. Advances in technology allow fiberglass designs to enjoy increased strength using innovative composites.
4 Advantages of Fiberglass Boats
Fiberglass is the preferred choice of boat builders and buyers for many reasons, including:
1) Design flexibility
The biggest winning factor for fiberglass is its ability to take any shape.
Boatbuilders can mold a complete hull as one unit, eliminating the need for rivets, screws, or bolts.
In fact, fiberglass boats can comprise only two pieces, helping to standardize the production line. Because it is such a flexible construction material, designers create mind-blowing shapes to improve handling in water.
With fiberglass, boat builders create complex hull-forms, making them more varied and highly customizable.
You can do so much with fiberglass, which is limited to less moldable materials such as aluminum, steel, and wood.
Fiberglass boats are beautiful!
Thanks to gel coats, glass boats can retain a flashy finish for many boating seasons with proper polishing.
You won’t find sharp edges on most fiberglass watercraft except where the design is serving a purpose.
Most glass boats feature sleek construction that is as functional as they are head-turning.
You will find glass boats variable-degree deadrises, pads, multiple strakes, and even transoms made from fiberglass.
If you love breathtaking boats, there is a fiberglass boat out there waiting for boating pleasure.
3) Ease of Handling and Comfort
Fiberglass boats offer improved comfort in choppy waters.
This is because they are heavier and can power through the waves more steadily compared to aluminum.
The result is improved handling and maneuverability at high speeds and less bumpy rides in rough waters.
Fiberglass is non-metallic, so it is not prone to corrosion.
This means you don’t have to worry about electrolytic reactions, and they can stay in the water for longer.
However, you must be sure the water won’t damage the boat’s gel coat.
5 Disadvantages Of Fiberglass For Boats
For all its bling and sleek curves, fiberglass has many disadvantages, such as
Fiberglass can absorb water, leading to heart-breaking bubbles and bumps that can reduce the boat’s strength.
This is often not an issue, but undetected manufacturing flaws can leave space in the fiberglass, causing it to absorb water through osmosis.
Fiberglass boats are far more expensive compared to other materials like aluminum and wood.
This also makes every aspect of their production expenses, and the buyer bears most of the cost.
3) Huge Maintenance Costs
Unlike aluminum boats, which only require a quick rinse and scrub with water, you must wax and polish a fiberglass boat to keep its spark. This is expensive and takes time.
4) Weaker Structural Strength
While fiberglass is versatile in liquid form, the surface is brittle when solid.
Upon impact, fiberglass boats will often shatter instead of absorbing the blow.
This makes them unsuitable for shallow waters and rocky beaches.
Minor damage to fiberglass may be DIY-able, but extensive damage will require expensive and time-consuming professional attention.
5) Not Environmentally Friendly
Fiberglass is a composite material made from resins which can be harmful to the environment.
It is expensive to produce and even more complicated and less efficient to recycle.
Plus, fiberglass creates higher residual pollution because it is maintenance intensive.
So should you buy an aluminum or fiberglass boat? It depends on use and preference.
If you fish in shallow waters or want a durable boat on a low budget, aluminum watercraft is ideal for you.
For show-stopping boat parties, luxurious trims, and steady cruises, nothing beats the reliability of fiberglass.
There are no winners here; you choose the boat type that best suits your budget and boating needs.
Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.