Is There An Official Ruling On Fiberglass Bottoms On Woody Boats Yet?

glass-manA couple weeks ago we featured a beutiful 25 Sportsman being fully restored and the owner is having the bottom fiberglassed. Now at first I gasped. We have covered this topic before in 2014 on Debate week. 56 comments. I have long believed that fiberglassing a Wood bottom is a short cut and can cause problems to actually be worse. But is that really the case? has anything changed in two years? Not that we know of, But we always want to have an open mind.

Chris craft cover silver arrow

How about Silver Arrows? they are fiberglassed over wood from the factory.

We know that the folks out on the West Coast swear on these Fiberglassed bottoms. With such a dry climate and the beating a boat takes on lake Tahoe, it makes sense. And if the job is done right, lasts decades. yes decades. Some of the issue has to do with what you are covering with fiberglass. Doing a cheap fix of a crap bottom, and you are going to have a real crappy bottom. Fiberglass over a new bottom and whats the big deal? no really? What is the deal? It kinda makes sense if the job is done right. Right? It would be great to have another good discussion on this today. Heck at one point we all thought West System bottoms were the trick. And yes a 5200 bottom is the persevered way to go now. But is that based on facts? So today is for you to be an expert..or not.. the world wants to see what you think about your bottom! OK, that didnt come out right.. We want to know about  what your bottom is made of? OK, again, that may have not been said right. Here. Do you like a fiberglass bottom?

plastic bottom

This Century Palomino has a plastic bottom on it?

28 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Again I think you have hit the nail square on the head.

    A glass bottom on a new build is probably fine, but installing glass over old wood to try to extend the life of a weak bottom with create as many problems as it will solve.

    IMHO if you want a glass boat buy one, if you want a wood boat buy one. (a Silver Arrow on the other hand is just a very different animal)

  2. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Glass bottoms are the preferred bottom for a glass boat. Glass on old wood is a big no no to me. Glass on new can work but is not in any way desirable.

    I still believe allowing any non-factory glass on a judged wood boat is a huge mistake by ACBS.

    • Walter Legett
      Walter Legett says:

      I restored a 1955 18′ continental purchased in Buffalo in 2004, spent 4 years took my tome did the research and installed the 5200 with new inner bottom. Never regretted all of the sweat and work. Added about $16,000 to value use often in rough water, no leaks because bottom moves. Read Dannenbergs book 4 times before purchasing the boat. Won lots of contest and glass guys tell me they made a terrible mistake because the bottom rots from inside

  3. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Trying to pass off a fiberglass bottom on a classic wood boat is like claiming a salted strip of turkey paste is bacon. Uh NO!

  4. Geoffrey Reynolds
    Geoffrey Reynolds says:

    Many molded and sheet plywood boat manufactures from Holland, Michigan (Skipper-Craft, Mac Bay Boat Company) routinely applied fiberglass to the bottoms of their boats because that was what owners wanted and fiberglass manufacturers (Corning, etc.) were promoting. These late 1950s boats are historical accurate for their time and are still looking good at boats shows, today.

  5. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    If the add says “19 somethin year blah blah blah, wooden boat in excellent condition with professionally fiberglassed bottom” RUN

  6. mike s
    mike s says:

    As with anything, proper care and maintenance will make any style bottom last a long time if it was done properly to begin with. You can also ruin any style of new bottom quickly with neglect no matter how well it was constructed. If you need stability in the bottom planking, go with a plywood/epoxy bottom. If you want a slightly softer ride and the look of traditional planking go with a 5200 style bottom. Fiberglassing is just an invitation for rot. Not to mention the fact that you lose the sharp edges at the chines and transom because the glass doesn’t want to conform to outside corners very well. And every glassed bottom I’ve seen has the distinctive waterline bulge where the fiberglass ends. No Thanks.
    When I find myself wanting a fiberglassed classic, I’ll go find an over stylized finned glassic from the fifties and get to work.

  7. mike
    mike says:

    I have a 15′ century that the original owner had fiberglassed in the early 50’s. The boat was used on a cottage and he wanted something he could put in the water and go without swelling.
    The boat was used for several years then sat in a boat house from the late 50′ till 1985.. We don’t use the boat alot but the glass is still holding on good..

  8. spider
    spider says:

    I purchased a 1942 chris craft in 1979 , with a fiberglass bottom from the waterline down. Ran it for 25 years no leaks no problems.

  9. Sean
    Sean says:

    Like any potential product solution, the true answer is “it depends”. While fiberglass on a planked hull is a big no-no and may actually accelerate rot; Fiberglass on a plywood hull is an ideal use of the product with many benefits and no downside (other than show judging).

    However, blanket condemnation of fiberglass bottoms in general is both ignorant and detrimental to the preservation and use of this type of boat. It stems from a narrow minded doctrine considering plank as the only proper material for hull construction. I am not of the opinion that fiberglass could/should be used on plank boats but, a note to the purists that 5200 and epoxy encapsulation are just as non factory if you really want to judge on authentic originality.

    If fiberglass is the best bottom solution for a plywood boat (imho it is) then we need to stop unqualified bashing of the practice.

  10. Greg Wallace
    Greg Wallace says:

    Silver Arrows were not glassed on the bottom, just the topsides. While Chris Craft offered glassed bottoms on some plywood models they were apparently not confident about glass over a live bottom. Back in the day the miracle of fiberglass over “weak” bottoms was the rage and we did our share of them. If the bilge stayed dry they seemed to last a long time, maybe even as long as a pure traditional bottom might have but as a rule it took awhile to realize that polyester resins are not waterproof and that the glass jobs did not last forever (to say the least) and were intolerant of less than perfect application and maintenance. You all have to keep in mind that there was a period of time that these treasures were just old boats that did not command the respect they do today. In some cases, however, a boat has been amazingly preserved due to a very well done glass job.

    • Paul H
      Paul H says:

      I think your comment is right on the money.

      What is the life expectancy of any bottom? Twenty years for a new modern bottom? It was certainly less for the originals, and no bottom lasts forever. Expectations have to attuned to reality and things, structures wear out and have to be replaced. If I glassed a bottom that lasted 20 years, would I complain? No. How about a modern 5200 bottom? I wouldn’t complain at 20 years, either. If I had a new bottom of any type that failed at 5 or 10 years due to crappy workmanship, I’d complain.

  11. Paul H
    Paul H says:

    Like any other bottom, it comes down to how the work was done. Of course, my personal experience is only what I can comment upon authoritatively.

    My 19′ BB had fiberglass installed over an original bottom in 1977, up at Tahoe. The boat was 37 years old, the original bottom was likely tired but not rotted. I replaced the fiberglassed bottom with a “modern traditional” bottom in 2013 – 36 years later. So, the original lasted 37 years and the fiberglass 36 – and the bottom was not finished at that time. The boat was heavily used during much of the last 36 years – aside from it working well and lasting well, what other conclusion can one draw but that the glass was a very good solution to a tiring but not rotted bottom? The original work must have been done well. It would be demonstrably incorrect to say that bottom 1977 system was inherently bad or would not last.

    My 1946 GW has fiberglass installed over a traditional wood bottom in the mid’ 90’s. I totally restored the boat in 2010, and at the outset I had it surveyed, at the suggestion of the restorer. The ONLY part of the boat the was essentially sound was the bottom, so I left it. In 6 years since there has not been a single problem – again, the work was likely done well.

    The only right answer here is that the usability and life expectancy of ANY bottom is most highly influenced by the quality of the initial job, irrespective of what kind of bottom it is. One cannot make generalizations that any one type is automatically good or bad.

  12. Dan.T
    Dan.T says:

    You guys are right. It’s not really a question of good or bad. Is a question of aesthetics. To my eye, fiberglassed wooden boat bottoms just look like crap on the hard. I’m a sucker for a beautiful traditional planked bottom.

  13. Tommyholm
    Tommyholm says:

    Glass fiber reinforced plastic applied onto a wood boat is not a short cut. When looked at or processed as a short cut you in the wrong boat, so to speak. Simply calling this boat “plastic” is not correct either. Simply stating that this type of boat rides “hard ” is a myth and an indication of lack of knowledge. Glass fiber reinforced plastic is more, yes more, flexible than timber. Matt, you are simply trying to raise debate, but it would be better if you were more politically and technically correct on this matter. And it’s “paper or plastic” , that’s the real question!

  14. Chug-A-Lug
    Chug-A-Lug says:

    I’m currently building A Glen-L designed plywood boat.As it is made of plywood,I had no problems with using Epoxy and glass for bottom.I think if I had used solid wood,what with wood movement,there would have been issues with fibreglass cracking.What with cold-mold construction using epoxy and strip planking and veneer.And reduced maintanance . depends on what a person wants.After all most of the enjoyment is in the build itself.

  15. Randy Rush Camptain Grumpy
    Randy Rush Camptain Grumpy says:

    MY 1956 Sears Kit Boat “300 Bucks”is all plywood. When the original owner built it , he didn’t trust the glue in the plywood so he epoxied and glassed the entire boat. Probably the only thing that saved the boat

  16. steve in the woods
    steve in the woods says:

    We were @ Keels & Wheels last weekend…guy came up to my Thompson and said, “That is neat that they put a wooden deck and trim on a boat with fiberglass bottom and sides.” I said to look at the 1400+ nuts on the inside. I then said to look at waves and knicks in the wood. Guess my 8 months and numerous 30 packs were worth it! Oh, had hole in bottom and fixed with wood and caulk, not glass.

  17. steve bunda
    steve bunda says:

    I think we need to factor in how the boat is cared for. I have seen perfectly built and restored boats wrecked in a few years from poor , or lack of , or stupidity , please someone help me with this.

  18. Brian Flaherty
    Brian Flaherty says:

    I for one am a huge fan of the Tahoe style foberglass bottom, if done correctly over a newly constructed wood structure.. We have several members up here in PNW that have this style bottom and being able to go anywhere at anytime without fear of drying out and requiring swell time is very attractive! We use our boats ALOT out here and we often go to he high desert areas of eastern Washington where a standard bottom would dry out during travel time in the 100+ degree, dry desert air… Also, having grown up learning and observing the PNW chapter of ACBS (my parents joined when I was in utero) I have witnessed boats loose planks while couping with the rough water we can get on our lakes during busy summer weekends!!

    The Tahoe style bottom is not perfect though, as it does require diligence to keep the bilge dry! Water from above will kill the bottom faster than anything else!! So if you leave your runabout on lift or otherwise vulnerable to rain water accumulation then the Fiberglass bottom is probably not the right choice for you… But if you are like so many of us “poor folk” who have to keep the boat on a trialer in the garage then this bottom is great cause you don’t have to worry bottom shrinking during storage. However the same logic can be applied to a properly done 5200 bottom or an encapsulated epoxy bottom as well… Is one better than another? I think that all depends on how you use, store, maintain, and abuse your boat!

    Of course, I own a 1969 Chris-Craft Cavalier 17 Ski Boat which is fiber-reinforced-plastic…

        • Dave Nau
          Dave Nau says:

          Leave wood as wood and fiberglass as fiberglass.

          In my book, it’s better to use 5200, which, after all, is just really, really, good caulk.

          That said, I don’t live anywhere near a place with such extremely hot summer weather.

  19. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    I am currently debating which pathway to go.
    Two issues at hand, price and tim.
    I have owned a few boats, all of which were well taken care of and therefore experienced no problems.
    I love the look of wood and the feel of building something with my own 2 hands. 4 Years ago I built a cedar strip canoe using number 1 yellow and red cedar. This 21ft canoe is the most beautiful and durable that I have seen. I have put as much as 1200lbs in and unfortunately have had to store it outside. After 4 years, it still looks new.
    Recently I have acquired 156 1×6 Sapele boards , twice as many Mohogany , a brand ne mercruiser 4.3IB and alpha I outdrive.

    My thoughts are at first to take these materials, combine with my knowledge and build my o n modern day 19’ Barrelback
    This is a prolject that well I within my skill set that will produce the sunny day fare weather boat I want.
    I take pride in my work. I also am always striving to create the best.
    I am curious to the thoughts from the more experienced

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