Boatbuilding Materials: Wood Can Be Good


Fiberglass-encapsulated wood stringers absorb a lot of energy from pounding through waves and chop.

Fiberglass-encapsulated wood stringers absorb a lot of energy from pounding through waves and chop.

I see lots of manufacturers boasting that their boats have no wood used in their construction. There’s nothing wrong with that, and most of the builders making those claims put out solid products. However, I’m going to come to the defense of wood as a boatbuilding material, at least for certain parts of the boat. I’ll also offer a few caveats.

This came to me as I recalled a memorable ride in a vacuum-bagged, foam-core, epoxy resin offshore V-bottom, baked in an autoclave as part of its lamination schedule. As we were running it in some swells, the boat felt…  I don’t know, almost hollow. It felt stiff enough, but each landing on the next wavetop kind of rang throughout the boat.

I then recalled a ride in a family runabout. Obviously these are two markedly different animals, but the conditions per length overall were about the same. The swells were somewhat formidable for the offshore V-bottom, and the chop on the Intracoastal posed about the same challenge for a runabout.

But it felt different. The runabout felt solid, but not hollow. It seemed to absorb energy and the shock of the chop better — and that was due to the wood used in its construction. It also helps that there was a lot expanding foam used in its construction, but if you drive enough boats, you can tell by feel which ones have wood construction underneath all the shiny bits.

The caveat, as anyone knows, is that wood doesn’t age as well as composites. If you’re looking at an older boat, say, 10 years or more, do your due diligence by inspecting for water intrusion into the stringer system. Any manufacturer using wood in hull construction will fully encapsulate it in resin and fiberglass, but a decade of pounding can create cracks in the FRP that allow water from the bilge to seep into the stringer or transom.

So, yes, there are steps to take when considering a boat with wood construction. If you take them, and everything checks out, then it pays off on the water, with a ride you can live with for a long time.


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