glass man

Topic two of debate week is a fun one and may save you or cost you some money one day! OK, OK, we all have heard that if the bottom of a boat has been fiberglass it’s bad.. Or is it? After all, done properly, some fiberglass bottoms have lasted longer that restored ones? And on a lake like Lake Tahoe that can beat a bottom to a box of twiggs. A good glass bottom can add strength.  So is it bad? And to add to the argument.. Lets say you find a cool ordinary 17 ft boat that’s been in storage for years.. And if you put a new bottom on it, you will triple the expense of a otherwise non collectable boat.. Does it make sense to throw a glass bottom on it to just use it until you can rebuild it? When you put a new bottom on it, your gonna do the frames anyway.. And in the mean time you have a fun affordable ride? Does it all debend on how the bottom was installed?

So let the debate happen..

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56 Responses to “Debate Week Part 2 – Fiberglass Classic Boat Bottoms – Hidden Gremlins, Obvious Solution?”
  1. m-fine

    First and foremost, judging standards for ACBS and the Tahoe Concours need to be updated so a fiberglass bottom is a minimum 50 point deduction if not an immediate disqualification from judging. I don’t want to hear sh%^ about an incorrect screw head if the basic structure of the boat has been so severely compromised.

    As for non-judged boats, it is a bad trap. A thin layer of glass does not have the strength to hold the boat together when the wood underneath rots. A thick layer of glass that is strong enough adds a ton of weight. I wouldn’t touch a glassed over boat unless the selling price was discounted enough to tear it off and put on all new frames and a full 5200 bottom, plus an extra discount to put up with the hassle.

    As for why it works in Tahoe, there may be something with their climate and or altitude that slows the rotting under the glass. In other areas, glasses over old wood means trapped moisture and accelerated rot that you can’t see making the boats a safety risk.

    • Texx

      Back in the day (and even today) wooden boat seams opened up drastically with Lake Tahoe’s 7,000 ft of elevation and dry climate.

      From what I understand (experts please correct me if I’m wrong), in the days prior to the use of 5200 – a fiberglass bottom was an acceptable method / solution to the problem of seams opening up.

      I understand that in the early 1960’s Dick Clarke from Sierra Boat Company (then the Century Dealer) installed fiberglass bottoms on brand new Century Coronados when they arrived from the factory in Michigan.

      Some of those same early ’60’s Coronado’s still have those fiberglass bottoms and are in service today.

      • m-fine

        Obviously the brand new Century’s would have floating issues at Tahoe, and putting glass on new wood may have been the best solution they knew at the time and certainly not the disaster that comes from glassing over a bottom whose life is nearly expired. That doesn’t mean it should be accepted any more than other major dealer modifications when it comes to judging though.

          • Alex

            Tommy, I think what m-fine is trying to say is:

            a) Glass should not be thought of as a safe way to extend the life of a decrepit wood bottom; and

            b) That the departure from a wood bottom to a glass one too significantly changes the character of a boat not to be penalized in serious judging (ie as with modern power).

            Oh yeah, and:

            c) Century’s need all the help they can get with floating, so glassing them factoy-fresh makes sense.

            Ok ok, admittedly I just wrote that last bit to mess with you because, well, you’re Tommy, and you’re one of the great characters of this hobby, and you’re fun to tease. Also, winter is coming and this is the time of year I go a bit nutty because the thought of 6 months of ice is… is… well, let’s just say it makes Alex a dull boy.

            For that c), I guess I owe you a second beer at Tavares. Hope you’re keeping count.

          • Rick

            Alex if it’s 1 beer for every insult please insult me at least 6 times. I’ll attend Tavares just to collect.

  2. Sean Conroy

    A time and place for everything.

    There’s just too many issues with fiberglass on a planked bottom. I would never consider glassing a plank bottom.

    But, If you have a plywood bottom I don’t think there’s a downside if it is done properly. This especially true of your boat lives on a trailer. I did not glass my plywood hull when I restored it (on advice of purists) but, I wish I had. Next time she comes apart I definitely will glass it.

    As far as judging goes it’s as honest as using modern sealers…. If you are concerned with being original on a 193X show restoration, be original and use the methods/materials available in 193X! You can’t be a little bit pregnant.

  3. Greg Lewandowski

    I think it should be clarified that we are not referring to a West or epoxy construction which uses epoxy in lieu of 5200 in a very similar construction method. This method is used by several very reputable custom boat builders and restorers with excellent results.

  4. Wilson

    Heck…Some Chris Craft Cavaliers came from the factory with glass bottoms.

    And then there was my last boat…a 1970 Chris Craft Corsair….same boat as a 1969 Chris Cavalier….It was fiberglass, top and bottom…inside and out…

    Reminds me of old indian story….”Why you ask all those silly questions……?

    • Alex

      My ’59 Cavalier has its original glass bottom. Apparently it still has some life left in it. Mind you, there are some 1920’s boats in our area (Les Cheneaux) still with excellent original plank bottoms.

  5. Kent

    So – yes, we know fiberglass on wood is suspect. But if it allows the boat to be usable and safe – GREAT! As long as the owner knows what the pitfalls are.

    The problem is – too often that people short-cut the needed plank repairs and just glass over the problems…. which means the rot now can grow faster and undetected. This is why most of us steer clear of glassed bottom “project boats” and pretty much write them off as doomed!

    My plywood-hulled Cruis-Along has some patches in it done by a P.O. and for now its dry! Glad to have many options, but likely will use 5200 seams, Smiths Penetrating and Barrier Coat on the outside when that time comes. (interior will just be standard paint to allow wood to dry in winter).

  6. Kent

    On the other hand, a new boat or a complete new bottom can be assembled encapsulated in epoxy and potentially outlast most of us!

    • Ed Kriese

      I agree. If dry to begin with plywood makes an excellent matrix for epoxy. I even read somewhere that regular plywood, vs. marine, was the best to use as it absorbed more epoxy. Add a layer of glass for added strength and abrasion resistance.

      I think fiberglass on wood got a deservedly bad reputation when it was done with polyester resin which does not impregnate the wood and has substantially lower mechanical bonding properties than epoxy resin does.

  7. charleyquimby

    What about the glass-over-wood Silver Arrow? I suppose a redo of that model using the 5200 method would cost points because it wasn’t done to original specs? Lots of cowpies in this field… CQ

  8. m-fine

    Glass over new wood is not the same as glass over old wood. Not even close. If a boat like the Silver Arrow had glass over wood, a restored one should still have glass over wood. If the original bottom was two layers of planks, it should still have two layers of planks. If it was plank on plywood…

    This isn’t difficult.

    If you are building a modern replica, use whatever you want for the bottom. If you are putting a new bottom on a user boat, put on whatever you think makes sense. For a show boat whose purpose is supposedly preservation of the history of these boats, it shouldn’t be whatever you choose.

  9. steve bunda

    Fiberglass over a already failed bottom is a temporary fix just as caulking bottom seams. Done correctly over good wood and or as some boats left the factory is the exception. The method works in some dry climates , but in the Midwest the fiberglass bottoms do not work. In addition to retaining water and promoting the growth of mushrooms, they are heavy and hard riding.
    I am removing a fiberglass bottom from a prewar Chris Craft right now and the damage due to years of water retention is extreme. The 5200 bottom works well for a replacement bottom giving the boat many more decades of worry free service.

  10. John Justice

    This topic is much more important than it may seem, in my opinion. There are lots of boats that need a bottom, but are not viable due to the high cost and long rebuild time that a proper bottom requires. These boats are a potential source for new lifeblood for our hobby, but we can’t offer them a feasible way to participate. Many of these boats are family treasures or long-time dreams that are effectively shut out from participating. They may belong to the next generation of wooden boat owners. The situation cries for a new technology or new technique, but I don’t know what it is. What I see is a large number of boats (and families) that can’t enjoy our hobby.

  11. Troy in ANE

    A little off subject but it applies to today’s header.

    You think that is a Pumpkin boat?

  12. Phil Jones

    And the WOODY SPRINGER SHOW GOES ON :):):)
    How bout that for a lead in title????

  13. Paul H.

    Not being a restoration professional or a wood expert like Dannenburg, I can only rely on my own empirical experience. My 1940 19′ Chris Barrel had one of these bottoms. It was installed over original in roughly 1977. This installation lasted exceptionally well until the boat was sold to Oregon in 1992, at which time it became heavily used. While it was well cared for, it did spend a great deal of time in the water and accumulated a lot of running time. I acquired the boat in 2007 and used it extensively until the bottom was replaced (due to opportunity rather than necessity) in 2012/13. When it was removed, the underlying bottom was found to be a bit tired but actually still in really decent, usable shape and better than we expected. Say what you will but that bottom lasted 35 years – how long will the “modern traditional” bottom that replaced it last? I think the bottom was properly done, using materials and experience available at the time in 1977. End of story – it worked for 35 years. How bad can that be? Is it the best solution ? Perhaps not, but is it the worst? Certainly not that either.

    My Gar Wood has one of these bottoms – installed by a shipwright in 1997. When the boat was fully restored in 2009-2011, I had it surveyed and of course inspected very closely. It was damn near the only part of the boat that was sound and it had no faults, so I left it. Why spend $20k to replace a bottom that had decades of life left and worked very well?

    That is my experience for what it is worth and based upon it, I would not be terribly concerned about a fiberglass bottom that has been installed correctly and which surveyed well.

    • Mike W

      Well I love wood boats but only own CC Commanders made of FRP. So I have no issues glass bottoms. Maybe I could overlay them with wood. Nah.

      Many, many years ago my dad decided to glass the bottom of our 17′ Lyman. Bad idea. It was like driving a whiskey barrel with a motor. Rolled so much it was scary and he sold it immediately.

  14. Rick

    When I first bought Panther she was a project to say the least. The 1st restorer I approached wanted to put a fiberglass bottom on her, which just felt wrong to me. I don’t know if he wanted to fiberglass over the existing structure as there was no outer planking on, or if he was talking about a complete solid fiberglass bottom. This was before I ever heard of ACBS, CCABC, WoodyBoater or judged shows. 8 years later I’ve never regretted having a 5200 bottom put on. The engine on the other hand……….. should have gone with modern power. But I bet that’s for later in the week so no discussion now. Can Matt see when we’ve done the math wrong the 1st time? Should have paid attention in 1st grade.

  15. Dale Sirois

    It’s always interesting to see how strong and absolute some peoples opinions are. Bottom treatments, be they 5200, West System, or fiberglass are all major departures from original construction. None should be treated any differently than the others when it comes to judging. Either they are all accepted, or they should all be equally penalized in judging.

    Why are glassed hulls singled out by our hobby. Obviously because there have been a number of bad experiences with this particular approach.

    Is the technology bad, or is it more appropriate to explain the failures because of the way that technology was applied. Was the hull sufficiently dry before glassing, was the structure sound, was there any impregnated oil in the wood?

    Sierra Boat glassed hulls have typically held up well. Is that because of the dry climate were the boats are used, or is that just a perception? I think the dry climate plays a big part, but not necessarily because of where the boats spend most of their time. I rather think its because the hull was properly prepared and because of the climate the hull was nicely dried at time of application.

    I remember reading a comment recently that went something like this… “I’ll take a 5200 bottom any day, they are forgiving and even a poorly done 5200 bottom seems to turn out okay. n the other hand however, a bad West System bottom is a disaster”…

    I’m with Paul H on this one. Other than 5200 being forgiving, I don’t think there is anything wrong with either fiberglass or West System bottoms. I say this if, and only if, they are done properly.

    Also as Paul has been known to say, the intrinsic value of a project boat should be $0 because when all is said and done, the original cost of the project is insignificant relative to the other costs of restoration (in either $$$ or for the DIY restorer, time). The cost of a $4500 project boat with a $20000 new bottom vs a $6500 project with a $20000 bottom, is still a mid-$20K boat before you even consider doing any of the other work.

    With that in mind, when I look at a new purchase, unless I know who did the bottom work, I shy away from West System bottoms as much as a do fiberglass.

    If I’m considering a boat that has either of those two bottom treatments, I assume it will need a new bottom. Maybe not immediately, but soon. If I find otherwise after I get the boat, then I’ve just landed a pleasant surprise.

    Why do I take this approach? I think both fiberglass and West Systems are great products if done properly, but they are also to easy for an uncaring, or unknowing person to do them improperly.

    • m-fine

      A 5200 bottom is the same construction method just with a different bedding compound between the planks. A fiberglass bottom is no longer a wood boat.

      Should 5200 Be allowed on a judged boat? If done properly there is no way for the judge to know it is there.

      • Dale Sirois

        Fiberglass applied to a wood boat is not a method of construction, it is merely a coating.

        It does not by its own design require any modification to the underlying structure. Hence the original boat design can be maintained. A wood boat is still a wood boat.

        So are you suggesting that the use of certain coating products is acceptable and others aren’t?

        I can’t imagine that any of the common marine coatings haven’t been modified to some extent with better chemical formulation, uv inhibitors, etc. Should those modified coatings be allowed?

        I have no problem with your position on the suitability of fiberglass on wood hulls. I just think that these kind of choices should be left to the owners, and not dictated to them.

        • m-fine

          Fiberglass is a structural product, not a coating like paint or varnish. Even a single layer of glass cloth and resin is much thicker and heavier than dozens of coats of paint or varnish and if you peel it off the wood, it has far far more strength and rigidity than any paint.

          All restoration choices belong to the owner. The question is what should be acceptable for judging. I have a hard time accepting the scrutiny of every screw stich and staple while allowing fiberglass or other bottoms that vary significantly from the original construction.

          • Dale Sirois

            Ah, so now I understand.

            Fiberglass is a structural product and the only reason someone would apply it to the bottom of a boat would be to structurally modify and strengthen the boat. Perhaps its a good solution for one of those boats you think are so prone to sinking (although Tommy Holmes has already weight in on that subject)…

            I guess that no one ever applied fiberglass in the interest of merely sealing and protecting the bottom…

            Oh wait, that would be applying it as a coating, not a structural modification…sorry for my digression.

            Conversely, 5200 is merely a bedding compound and it is applied to seal the joints…

            Oh wait, doesn’t 5200 have adhesive qualities (ever try separating two 5200 bonded items)…

            Don’t you create a laminated joint when two items are bonded together… Aren’t laminated joints stronger than joints held together by periodically attached fasteners…

            Oh my God! we just modified the structure of the boat by using 5200 to create laminated joints (i.e. strength in flexture)…

            guess all 5200 boats should be disqualified from judging.

            Gotta love a good, lively debate now and then. All in fun. Matt sure knows how to stir the pot

          • m-fine

            I would be fine with a point deduction on any boat where a judge can see 5200 was used. The thing is IF done correctly and neatly You won’t be able to tell without a drill.

            And yes, fiberglass is not just a coating. You wouldn’t put the glass fibers in if you were not looking for strength. Have you ever worked with fiberglass? It is not something you paint on. It is just a coating in the same sense covering a boat with aluminum or a layer of plywood would be a coating.

          • Dale Sirois

            M-Fine, yes I have worked with fiberglass in a number of situations. I glassed over my first wooden boat bottom with my father when I was 10 years old. The last I heard of that boat was thirty some odd years later and it was still in good shape and used frequently.

            I’m sorry if you think I am misrepresent fiberglass as a material that can be used as a coating in certain situations.

            In the interest of correctness it might be good if you contact some of the companies that also make this gross misrepresentation.

            For example, Key Resin Co. of Ohio that classifies themselves as: “Manufacturer of fiberglass coatings for surface preparation. Available with various tensile strength and abrasion resistance.”, or Abtrex Industries “Custom manufacturer of fiberglass, plastic & rubber coatings”. The list goes on and on. My favorite is Wicks Aircraft Supply “Distributor of fiberglass coatings. Types include epoxy resin, 206 slow hardener, 207 special coating hardener, 209 extra slow hardener, west system aluminum powder and barrier coat additives.” I like them because they even appear to use some of West Systems products as additives. Either that, or they make the additives for West Systems.

            Enough of this exchange. My only point was that no specific bottom treatment should be excluded from judging. You obviously have a more focused and discriminating opinion. That is certainly your prerogative and varying opinions are health for any organization or hobby. If you come to Tavares next year, I’ll be happy to buy you a beer.

    • Paul H.

      Good comment about the air at Tahoe, Dale. My BB was indeed a Tahoe boat from 1940 until 1992, when it moved to the much more moisture laden environs of Portland and Idaho. The bottom on the boat was not done by Sierra Boat in 1977, but by an old-time restorer in nearby Truckee.

      The cost is an issue as well as you suggest. We have to be able to use modern technology to improve the usability of our boats and hopefully extend the service life between bottom replacements – if for no other reason than to save costs. This is one reason I am sure that went into the decision to stop judging boats on the composition of their bottoms. We want the damn things to last and overcome the well deserved stigma that was often applied to the original methods of bottom construction. That said – I do have a 1948 25′ SP with original bottom and it works fine. That is truly unusual and the product of unique circumstances. I know few if any who would re-install a fully original bottom. Basically at this point, I own boats with just about every kind of bottom available and they all work well. For new bottoms however, I choose modern traditional 5200.

  16. RiverRat

    No fiberglass on lapstrakes, the hull cannot flex as intended. See a Lyman with fiberglass, run the other way. You carvell planked boat boys can do want you want. It ain’t wood. West system each individual part and then assemble, then we can talk.

    • Paul H.

      I have a Skiff as well – 1965 24′ with original bottom, never touched. Not a single problem with it at all. Love the boat…..

  17. Kent

    If they cannot tell the difference and the bottom is safe and stands the test of time – then who cares?
    Any boat that has had a shortcut glassed bottom on it will fail eventually and soon. Buyer beware and cheapskate quick-fix captains will pay accordingly- unless they unload the boat on a poor newbie wannabe woody boater. And that’s the shame of it. This scenario takes good people out of the hobbies in a single season or two.

    • Paul H.

      Kent – ALL bottoms will eventually fail, but not necessarily soon. Is 35 years “soon”, as that was the point at which I ended the life of the fiberglassed bottom on my BB? How about 18 years and still dry on my Gar? You cannot support your statement, any more than I could support a statement saying a glassed bottom is the best solution and will last forever. Generalizations can’t really be accurately made here. I don’t care what kind of bottom a boat might have – a great deal of the performance and longevity of the bottom will be dependent upon the quality of the initial workmanship. That is about the only definitive comment that can be made about it.

      • m-fine

        How many glassed over old bottoms have lasted 35 years in the Midwest or south east where humidity is a bigger concern? There are plenty of examples where it didn’t work.

        Perhaps If I lived in Tahoe I would have a different view on the safety of the practice, but around here or anywhere east of the Mississippi I can’t see taking the risk.

  18. Wilson

    Interesting about the alleged dry weather at Tahoe…I watched them glass a bottom at Sierra and they wet the wood before applying the glass. I’m still wondering how the glass stuck to the wood as the instructions on the fiberglass I’ve used….used to help the eroded surface on an old Hobie Cat drug too many times across the beach,…Say do not apply in weather of high humidity which tells me that fresh fiberglass and water don’t mix until the glass is dry….but what do I know ???

  19. Doug P in the PNW

    I am taking my Roamer in next week for a new bottom, I can’t decide whether to go fiber glass or 5200, maybe carbon fiber.

  20. steve bunda

    Today we are removing the fiberglass bottom, actually it takes longer than a day. Please notice the oil mess , so far we have , broken screws and bolts, wet wood, wet rot, dry rot, cracked wood , and broken wood. This is way messier and more difficult job than a original bottom, pretty itchy too. steve and larie

  21. David

    It is a sad state when safety and reliability get thrown out the window for pure originality with minor exceptions thrown in here and there depending upon subjective opinion. So my 75 year old boat that can hardly stay afloat will judge better than a boat with a modified bottom? I would ask, “Which one is safer?”

    My boat carries a electric bilge pump and that is not original either. Is a boat without one safer?

    Bilge blowers are not original, but one could argue that having one is safer. How many people don’t carry them because of the excess hose that is in the engine compartment looks ugly and was not original?

    Owners of wooden boats know (or should by now) they do require maintenance. Whether an original bottom, 5200, fiberglass, or West, none of them last forever.

    If we want to judge a finish, should it only have 3 or 4 coats of varnish? That was original, not the beautiful 12-20 coats found today. I would argue we allow the 12-20 coats because it makes it even more beautiful. I would then argue, and boat with a fiberglass bottom being used, is far prettier than it would be, if it was sitting in a field unused.

    My wife told me one time, can you imagine how proud the factory workers back then would be today knowing the boats they built in the early part of the last century are still around? I wonder how many boats built today will last for the next 75-80 years? This is from a very “non” boater.

    Isn’t that why we are all in this hobby? To preserve and protect the history of these great boats? I suppose the purist can have his opinion, but it comes at a very high price to this hobby.

    If a boat is at a show, and it is floating, I would think that, in itself, is far more important than the type of glue that holds it together.

    We all argue about how to grow our unique hobby. The above arguments surely won’t grow our hobby. Now that is a topic of great discussion – how to grow our hobby. I would venture to say, that everything mentioned above, is just a laundry list of ways to kill our hobby.

    If an owner is willing to buy or install a boat with a modified bottom that should be his business, not anyone else’s. Safety and enjoyment of the hobby should be at the top of the list.

    • Paul H.

      David – boats are not deducted points for having non-original bottom composition at ACBS shows. I think they are expected to have in some cases a “modern traditional” bottom which is 5200 but looks like original. They are also not deducted for having electric bilge pumps to the best of my knowledge. Please forgive at least some of my uncertainty as I am not a judge.

      Incidentally, my 1948 Sportsman came with an electric bilge pump on the hull card, and it is still there and it still works. I kept it in place when we restored the boat, but added a modern pump to be safe.

      • Jimmy

        Any safety gear fuel system, wether it’s a west system or 5200 bottom modern bilge pumps etc no points should be deducted. But a blower is questionable since opening the hatch and sniffing but also the main reason they started requiring blowers was because they started requiring foam so when the boat sinks it still floats below the water the foam in the boat stops ventilation in a wood boat that’s what the vents are for but with flotation in there there is no air flow so vents are useless so there’s not really any safety advantage with a blower since air flows through the bilge unlike a fiberglass boat. If it’s below the water line it shouldn’t be judged! Although a 5200 bottom should be the way to go. But if your replacing a bottom don’t patch a little bit of rot replace it! Yes I believe the boat should be preserved but a bottom frame don’t try fixing replace the frame and chances are anyways its oil soaked! That means the wood loses the strength to hold a screw strongly.

  22. Randy Rush-Captain Grumpy

    Well I think that my boat $300 Bucks proves the point. It was a 1956 Sears kit 22’express cruiser, made out of 3/8″ plywood. The original builder didn’t trust the resin in the plywood of the day and glassed over the entire boat brand new! It still has the original glassed hull, I peeled the top side and the wood was perfect. So I would say the proof is in the pudding. That boat would never have survived all this time in NH.

    • Jimmy

      Look at philbricks when they first started experimenting with fiberglass they fiberglassed the sides and worked out.

  23. TomH

    Horror storys abound regarding bottom repairs especialy with fiberglass. It is difficult to make a non flexable coating hold up to a flexable material. If you have expansion and contraction and movement in the planks a thin layer of fiberglass does not stand a good chance of staying in one piece. Any water that makes into the builge will be traped. Just fiberglassing a bottom will not make it more safe than any other if there are underlying problems.
    I am all for the fiberglass if done right and I have done several fiberglass bottoms myself but normaly over plywood as it is dimensional stable.

  24. JFunk

    We replace 3-4 fiberglass bottoms annually, some less than five years old. They nearly always destroy the bottom structure. Some we can peel the glass right off the bottom planks…kinda scarey. It’s good business for us though. I cringe when they tell me how much was spent on the replacement ‘glassed’ bottom that will last forever. In the end, wood moves and fiberglass does not. It’s oil and water in my book. Go ahead and keep glassing them, I’ll get them sooner or later for a propler bottom.

    • John Justice

      Lots of good information today. Sounds like we might agree that there isn’t a quick, inexpensive, safe, and long-lasting option yet. Which means some boats have unsafe bottoms, and other boats are not being used at all. Please, somebody come up with a better way.

    • Jimmy

      There’s a difference between glassing a dry new bottom and glassing an original bottom that already has problems. Looked under a seat of a Capri that had a glassed bottom even scarier thing was that there was a mushroom growing on the wood when you lift up the seat you could see it. And that boat as we said don’t get it fiberglassed it had a decent original bottom on it but with the fiberglass it made it way worse.

  25. TomH

    I have seen a few cold molded bottoms that are fiberglassed. It could be installed to look like planks and who would know. I think that could be the better alternative than dimensional lumber.