Wood Vs. Aluminum Vs. Fiberglass or Steel

November 13, 2012

The Arne A in Prince Rupert, British Columbia


Written by Christine Guay

Looking across the dock in Prince Rupert, British Columbia the thing that struck me most, other than the incredibly beauty of the area, was the variety of boat types in the harbour. As I’ve crossed the country on our tour to film Canadian fish harvesters and have had the chance to view a number of harbours, I was surprised that this was the first time I’d actually seen wooden boats! That’s what triggered me to notice all the contrasting types of boats together in the Prince Rupert harbour.

I noticed the stark differences between a wooden boat floating next to an unpainted aluminum boat next to a fiberglass boat being repaired. This created a curiosity for me. Why are boats no longer made of wood? As a non-fisher, they are by far my personal favourite because of their visual appeal but that also got me wondering about the practicalities of other materials that now seem far more popular.

With very few results online, I did manage to find a few of the advantages and disadvantages to the different types of materials used for fish harvester boats: wood, aluminum and fiberglass. 

I got a glimpse at the reasons for selecting the material for a boat here and there and it seems as though each material has its advantages but there's no clear winner. I wondered, why it was that I saw aluminum boats outnumber every other type of boat in one harbour while in another it seemed fiberglass was the winner.

From my research I managed to find out that wood is sometimes selected because of the classic look it has. I also read that some newer boats are made of a type of wood composite and is light so a smaller engine can be used to produce the same performance as would be needed for other materials. I’ve yet to see or notice one that’s made out of this new type of wood. I also read that wood has the ability to absorb vibrations making it a more enjoyable ride. For those who are interested in the environmental aspect, a wood boat is created from a renewable resource.

When I read about aluminum, I learned that you have the choice between lighter or heavier marine grade aluminum and that some buyers select the heavier aluminum to have better hull integrity. I also read that the sides of the ship made of aluminum are often higher and although that can make for a rougher ride it means that the boat can take on higher waves. One of the disadvantages of aluminum is that you have to have welding skills or you have to hire a welder for repairs. On a personal and more visual side, I noticed during my travels that un-maintained aluminum boats were a bigger eye-sore, the corrosion really seems to age the boats quickly when they aren’t cared for.  I’ve also heard that all boats in sea water must keep a close eye on electrolysis, particularly aluminum boats.

Steel boats were another option that I saw. To me it seemed similar to aluminum. As a person who’s not familiar with boats, I had some difficulty distinguishing between steel and aluminum but I’ve since been told that steel boats are painted to protect them from erosion, especially to protect against sea water, while aluminum ones are rarely painted.

Fiberglass boats are heavier but because of the weight the ride can be smoother. I also read that resale value for fiberglass boats is higher. Fiberglass can be contoured to any desired shape and repairs can be done by almost anyone.  On the negative side purchasing one tends to cost more money and they are more fragile than aluminum.

With the little bit of information I was able to find online I thought as a fish harvester, how do you know which to buy or which best suits your needs.  Are there any places that you, as a harvester, find information like this? Is it knowledge you’ve acquired from having a chance at working on different boats or what you’ve heard from your fellow harvester? What are your thoughts on the different types of boat building material? Is there a type that you swear by or an experience that you’ve had that has made you prefer one type of material over another?