Wood Boats

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Jim Cooper

Senior Member
Jul 9, 2015
Vessel Name
Tuna Talk
Vessel Make
CC Tournament 30
I've always read that wood boats ride softer and more comfortable than fiberglass boats. Is there any science behind this statement? I can rationalize that a wood hull would provide better sound deafening and therefore create a sense of a softer ride but is there any data or analysis to prove this claim?
Don’t know if there’s any white papers on the subject, but yes, wood boats do have a more sea kindly experience.
Might be partly due to the hull shape, partly due to the ability of wood to absorb impact instead of transferring, like solid glass does.
Wood boats are warmer, drier feeling, and quiet. It’s a shame that it’s so hard to get them insured any more.
For anyone that used to heat the old paint with a torch and scrape the under bottom of a wooden boat - they will understand when I say Fuhgeddaboudit!

What a pain in the arse to maintain a wooden boat. Fiberglass is the way to go...
Unfortunately the term "boats" is so broad.... hard to answer unless we all just assume being on the "Trawler Forum" we are discussing only classic trawler hull shapes of displacement or semi displacement.

While other hull shapes are welcome here, it is why using the word boat and expecting simple "hull" type questions becomes a free for all discussion.

I agree wood trawler type boats probably have a few attributes that are considered favorable..... I grew up on a lot of wood boats and rode larger commercial wood boats and I have to say...nope...would probably never own one for all the reasons I consider not an advantage and downright a disadvantage. Sure their merits can be extolled, but for every favorable argument, there is a negative one in my experience.

Particular maintenance, love of wood, matching wood use for construction and remaining in that climate, better overall insulation (sound, temp, vibration) and a few are all positives....if you THINK they are and have another material build boat and don't address those qualities wood naturally has.
I doubt if there is any scientific study on "softer ride" and "more comfortable" since those don't readily lend themselves to quantitative analysis. However, I have been involved with traditional plank on frame boats that have been redesigned in cold molded wood and in very similar designs in fiberglass. They are noticeably different. Surprisingly, the cold molded wood had most of the characteristics of the fiberglass boat with the exception of thermal insulation of the hull.

Of the three boats, the traditional wood was more comfortable and quieter as there was significantly more movement and flex in the wooden structure (by design). The cold molded boat was the lightest of the 3 and most lively.
For what it’s worth my day sailer is a wood lap strake construction and the sound of the water hitting the hull is delightful, kind of like a wooden instrument.
For anyone that used to heat the old paint with a torch and scrape the under bottom of a wooden boat - they will understand when I say Fuhgeddaboudit!

What a pain in the arse to maintain a wooden boat. Fiberglass is the way to go...

For anyone that used to heat the old paint with a torch and scrape the under bottom of a wooden boat - they will understand when I say Fuhgeddaboudit!

What a pain in the arse to maintain a wooden boat. Fiberglass is the way to go...

No more difficult to maintain than fiberglass

I'm still paying money for someone to do it regardless of construction
It’s unfortunate in my mind that when folks say “wood boat” they usually mean traditional plank on frame. For decades now even plank on frame yards like,Benjamin and Gannon use epoxy. However there are multiple wood epoxy composite techniques that have equal or less maintenance requirements and are considerably stronger weight for weight as compared to the typical grp in our boats. This is true for double diagonal verniers as well as strip plank or combinations of the two.
With modern techniques the wood bought to a specific moisture content then is epoxy impregnated. With verniers the ply can be oriented to expected forces much like what is done with carbon fiber. Unlike metal complex curves are more easily achieved. Modern wood composite construction has no risk of rot if done correctly. Doesn’t require a full female mold. Just stations and modest tooling required and you get a stronger hull at less weight. Unlike grp a significant R value occurs so no sweating.
On new construction you can apply an outer layer(s) of fabric to improve abrasion resistance or even aramid for puncture resistance. No issue putting on gelcoat or a modern paint system.
You see modern wood used for sport fish and mega yachts but unfortunately it doesn’t have widespread acceptance in the US market.
Before building our prior boat looked at modern wood. Particularly Covey Island and B&G. Loved the Farfar design and the Westernmanns. Did the economics and walked away. I could get a stick built semi custom at the same or less money. Less risk on the resell point. Resell risk for composite wood is comparable to a one off in my judgment.
It’s unfortunate in my mind that when folks say “wood boat” they usually mean traditional plank on frame. For decades now even plank on frame yards like,Benjamin and Gannon use epoxy. However there are multiple wood epoxy composite techniques that have equal or less maintenance requirements and are considerably stronger weight for weight as compared to the typical grp in our boats. This is true for double diagonal verniers as well as strip plank or combinations of the two. ...

The couple with the RAN sailing channel are building a "wooden" boat from strip planks which are glue with epoxy and will eventually be covered in fiberglass. https://www.youtube.com/c/RANSailing

Enjoying watching the build and they are almost done with the planking of the hull. They sourced the wood from someone who had it stored for years. My assumption was the guy who sold them the wood was going to build a boat but I might be wrong. They did not have quite enough wood, but they found a supply cut from trees that had been planted in Sweden a bit over a century ago but had recently blown down in a storm. I think it will be a pretty boat when done.

If he had built out of aluminum he would be much farther along in the build. I would be curious as to the price comparison of building the boat in wood vs aluminum but I don't know if they even considered AL as an option.

For a sailboat, and other boats too, there are some good advantages for building a wood boat this way.

Having said that, we were once on a wooden trawler build in 1943. It was a trawler converted to a yacht. It was leaking like a sieve from rain water and down below had mold issues. The boat was very pretty but it was a good thing it was owned by the owner of a boat yard. :D

The boat builder was still in business after well over a century and we ended up talking with them a couple of years later.

Dan no argument traditional wood plank on frame can be even worst than chasing rust on Fe. But for both the reason for troubles has been sorted out and techniques as well as materials and coatings make it much less an issue than in the past. Think now a days you may get more bang for the buck with metal than grp. Hard to compare apples to apples but look at the cost for Artnautica , Deep Water or steel and c/w Nordhavn or KK. Hulls/decks/house is usually around 10-15% of total cost. Infill is where the big money goes. Al c/w series production grp (not including infill) is ~ 1 1/2 times more for materials/labor if not using exotics with the grp or baking prepreg . But the designs are very different as you want to take advantage of the lighter weight. Don’t think you can make a fair cost comparison. You will always discount one of the major advantages of each type of construction. Even comparing a Northern Marine to a Arksen is unfair to both. Then all I think you can say is cost is in the same ballpark.
I have no ownership experience with AL beyond small boats. High school friend of my admiral had an Al Boreal built for him. When building what we thought was going to be our last boat the short list was the Outbound, Boreal and Halberg Rassy. I liked the Boreal. Wife liked the Outbound. Both great boats so happy wife happy life.
Cost of the O46 and B were the same with US delivery. Boreal is built in France. Boreals are series production with modest ability to customize outfitting. There’s cost savings even with metal if done in series. So would expect a one off to cost more. Resale is better for the outbound in the US. In Europe Boreals keep their value quite well. Find it interesting that the US market is backward c/ Europe and Oceania. We seem to not like metal as much. Don’t see a good reason for it. But there remains a cult following for very old school wood.

If and when we downsize again it will be in welded plate Al. There’s so many excellent small boat builders in the PNW and elsewhere using Al it would be my first choice.
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Dan you point out the major expense for boat building is labor. Go to the Wooden boat school to get an idea of the skill set for even small boats. A good shipwright is few and far between.
In my thirties was enamored of old school heavy displacement full keeled boats and their derivatives. Some were converted to Fe and a few to Al. So in spite of my miserable working schedule did a welding/metal fabrication course at a local tech school to get certified. Great fun using TIG and MiG. Could do stick but badly. Had no issue with hydraulic shaping or plasma cutting and my puddles passed inspection . In short at the end felt I could build in Al or Fe hull and house. Especially now that you can send off cutting files so your problem is only putting it all together. I’ve built furniture most of my life. But there’s no way I feel I could build a wooden cruising boat.
I came from a 40' wood boat to a 40' FG boat. As an engineer the 'ride' of the boat really is a function of the hull shape and weight of the boat. You have to make an 'apples to apples' comparison. Originally FG boats were not lighter than their wood eqivalents. Old FG hulls tended to be quite thick and thus heavy. Therefore there was no difference in ride. The best example of this is when GB moved to FG in 1973 (example where the exact same design was moved over) there was no change in displacement, seakeeping, or ride. However, newer FG boats are far lighter than the older FG boats. Use of vacuum resin impregnation and foam coring has allowed FG boats to be lighter than an equivalent wood boat would have been. A lighter boat will move more rapidly in response to the sea. In fact in the early days of FG before CAD some builders would build a model of wood to test it and if successful they'd use it as a 'plug' for the glass version. I've seen the boat that is the wood (mahagony planked) version of our FG boat.

Wood does have advantages and several are significant. First is that it is much much quieter than FG. Our old boat had 1.25" yellow cedar planking, you never heard waves lapping on the boat at anchor and underway mecanical noise didn't transmit much in the structure. The second advantage is that wood is easy to repair, a plank can be replaced and it is litterally as good as new. That isn't quite true with FG, repairing serious damage is possible but it doesn't return it to being just the same as new (something a ship wright pointed out to me - and he worked on both).

So coming back to the original question about ride it isn't that wood rides better it's other factors, weight mainly. Also as Hippocampus points out wood is still used though to my knowledge mainly in true custom builds (as opposed to modifications of a production design). If cost were not an object I'd have wood, no hesitation. But for most of us cost is an object so FG is the current material of choice.
Some of the nicer riding waterman boats on the Chesapeake are wood hulls that have been sandblasted down to bare ruff wood and then the hull covered with 2 layers of bi-axial cloth and West System epoxy. The nice ride of wood with the lower maintenance of epoxy cloth. You don't get the same penetration and bonding with fiberglass that you do with epoxy.

Excellent post Slomo and true if comparing with traditional plank on frame. Both Boatbuilders and Wooden Boat have discussed modern composite construction. One option is as follows
Set up your ten stations. Top down.
Build a hull of soft wood strip plank in epoxy or even resorcinol. Thin penetrating epoxy preferred and edge nail with non metallic or bronze.
Put down double diagonals of rot resistant strong hardwood such as African mahogany. Than a layer(s) of aramid. Then layer(s) of cloth such as dynel or woven.
Turn hull over and remove stations but use cradle to limit resting stresses and shape distortion.
Put in diagonals of synthetic cloth of your choice on the inside. Or hardwood veneers for aesthetics in exposed areas.
Hull can be painted or gel coated before turning over as you desire.
Stick build interior at this point. Place and secure heavy infill objects.
Simultaneously build deck/house. Can avoid aramid (trouble with it floating if not carefully done so more difficult ) can use cheaper fabrics but woven preferred.

You end up with a boat nearly the equivalent of baked prepreg/carbon/ exotics at the same or less cost. Much stronger than standard grp even if done with infusion and vacuum. Weighs less and has the favorable low noise and temperature conductivity.

Boats have been built this way of over 100’ and as small as the boats we own as a group. It is tried and proven. Various modifications of this scheme are available and have been successfully used. Unlike standard grp hull it is quite stiff and oilcanning not much of a concern. Virtually monocoque. So greater latitude in where bulkheads are placed. Water intrusion is eliminated and maintenance minimal.

Problem is wood is now frightfully expensive. Few yards are capable of this work. Just like baked prepreg/core/carbon exotics cost savings from series production isn’t that significant so it’s an expensive way to build a boat. Current modular non stick built series production is cheaper.

So if money was no object it be on my screen. However I’d like to do high lat so think metal has its advantages. Particularly like the ldl designs in AL. Think as time goes on both weight and efficiency will be increasing concerns. Also like Al whether recycled or new is equivalent. Waste here is the huge energy costs for de novo smelting and manufacturing.
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If you ask a Maine lobsterman about wood vs glass you'll find those who have been around feel a wood boat has a more forgiving and comfortable presence in the water. Seems to have something to do with the movement and flex in a traditional plank on frame boat. My Maine built lobster "yacht" was a wonderful boat once it swelled up. Epoxy, cold molded, more modern construction are composite boats with characteristics much like glass. Trouble is, no matter what anyone says, wood is constant work. Worth it to many though...
Firstly, to be able to have a valid opinion on this topic of seakindliness I believe you should have experience in wood and any other material in the same model boat. I do.

29 years riding about in a wooden 42-foot Grand Banks and a bit less in fiberglass GB42s and 36s.

There is no difference IMHO, at least in this brand. I do not speak sailboat and have no opinion there.
My opinion and not worth very much but I have had wood boats and fiberglass boats and wood boats covered with fiberglass. I have never noticed a difference in the handling of either that can’t be explained by hull type (round chine vs square chine or hull type). Wood is certainly more maintenance. Disclaimer is boats got longer as I went to glass.
Agree with Rgano. Ride has everything to do with displacement, weight distribution and hull shape. If they’re the same the ride is the same.

Usually wood is lighter than solid hand laid grp per square cubic inch. Often plank on frame is considerably heavier than the various forms of composite construction to achieve the same modulus of stiffness and strength in the directions of stress lines. It’s here wood shines. Stiffer and stronger than traditional glass at less weight with the same or less maintenance. It’s also here modern infusion, vacuum bagged cored glass is a considerable improvement over solid grp.

For cruisers in both power and sail heavy solid grp offers the major advantage of ease of repair and cost savings in series production. Performance suffers but for us not to such a major degree it matters that much. Where it does you see modern composite such as in some sport fish. Where money is no object exotics and prepreg.

Still look at this link to see what’s possible in composite wood


To me the ultimate sportfish. Definitely boat candy. Drooling and some more drooling.

In the future see an advantage to Al. Lighter hulls than steel or solid grp, more abrasion resistant than glass or wood and recyclable. Same advantages for land vehicles. Problem of energy requirements for producing useable metal remains. But it’s electricity so at least potentially “green”. Even bauxite to Al. Recycling is considerably cheaper and energy intensive. Also we have extensive reserves in friendly countries such as Australia.

Both the EU and Oceania have embraced Al for recreational boats. Other than the pnw we have not.
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Agreed. My interest is still in cruising boats. Think it’s here the US lags behind. Always liked Kanter. Particularly the Bougainvillea line. Very familiar with the 64. Gerr drew a really cool power boat for them as well. Kanter is still in business. So Canada has some representation as well. We have a few and Seaton is marketing a Gladding Hearns deep V converted from a pilot boat for recreational use. However for new designs like the currently crop of LDLs still think we lag behind.
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