Timber yachts vs fibreglass



I am considering purchasing a timber yacht. I am of the believe that I get more size for my dollar than equivalent fiberglass yachts. The yachts I am looking at are all around the 30ft. Can someone please advise me of the following.

 How strong are timber yachts and timber masts
 What are the advantages of a timber yacht over fibreglass
 What are the disadvantages
 Does the type of timber that the yacht is constructed from come into play
 If so, what timber should I go for ( I live in Sydney) we have many boats constructed from Gum and Oregon.
 Can rot easily be identified and fixed
 Might be a funny question, but do timber yachts leak? (I am thinking of movement within timber.)
 Is maintenance a big and expensive issue
 How seaworthy are timber yachts?
 I am told that they are heavier than fiberglass yachts and therefore have a kinder sea motion.
 Are they slower, in general, then fiberglass yachts?

I am a new sailor and would really appreciate help this area.

Thank you.


As a current owner of both a wwoden trailer sailor and a fibreglass yacht I have decided to take this on. My answer are SURE to upset some purests out there but oh well here goes!!

> How strong are timber yachts and timber masts?

Timber yachts...very if they aren't rotten. Timber masts? No idea as this is outside my experience. Can't be too light though. The allow masts I have owned over the last 30 years have never needed any maintenance tho.

> What are the advantages of a timber yacht over fibreglass?

I would have phrased this the other way around. The fibreglass yacht gets sailed all the time. The wood boat gets painted and fixed all the time.

>Does the type of timber that the yacht is constructed from come into play?

Absolutely. My wood boat is actually fully framed ply epoxy construction which is far easier to maintain than real timber yachts but still requires 20 times the maintenance of the fibreglass boat.

>If so, what timber should I go for ( I live in Sydney) we have many boats constructed from Gum and Oregon.

Stick to firewood for your fireplace as its winter at the moment. Epoxy built wood boats are the best if you have to have wood.

>Can rot easily be identified and fixed

Yes if its easily visible. I recently replaced some decking which became rotten after being rained on without a tarp over it for a few years. There are some good booklets available from Boatcraft pacific or Gougeon that help immensely.

> Might be a funny question, but do timber yachts leak? (I am thinking of movement within timber.)

All boats leak unless thay are fairly new. Timber boats do. Real timber boats are supposed to leak as the salt water prevents rot from fresh water which may have entered from rain. Fresh water is the arch enemy of the wooden boat.

> Is maintenance a big and expensive issue

Yup, especially if you pay other people to do it. Otherwise if you put your own sweat and tears into it not really provided it's only the wood that needs fixing. Parts and rigging are ludicrously expensive.

> How seaworthy are timber yachts?

Too big a question. Depends on size, design, condition and what purpose it is built for. These rules apply equally for fibreglass yachts.

>I am told that they are heavier than fiberglass yachts and therefore have a kinder sea motion.

Romantic crap told to you by a one eyed person. Totally depends on the design. Long keels, fin keels etc etc. Depends entirely on the purpose of the design to begin with.

> Are they slower, in general, then fiberglass yachts?

Ditto for the above.

Now to hose down all the purists. I sail the fibreglass boat because it is alway ready to rip around Moreton Bay or up to the reef quite happily. I keep the trailer sailor because I actually love working on it. Working with wood and maintaining it I consider to be extremely rewarding. I even fix things that don't need fixing. There's nothing like varnishing or painting something then standing back with a beer in hand and admiring it. Wooden boats have character oozing out all over which I love and is why I have been divorced rather than selling my wooden boat. But as a long term ongoing concern for sailing fibreglass wins hands down. My fibreglass boat is actually nearly 15 years older than the wooden one but still needs bugger all maintenance. I've mastered the Osmosis fixing procedure but haven't had to touch it otherwise for years. It just goes.

So for sailing all the time FIBREGLASS but make sure it's in reasonable nick first. For admiration, character but a bucket of work constantly....Wood.

My 2c worth!!!

It's best to sail with other people for a while first and ask them how much maintenance they have to do. The sailing/yacht clubs are stacked to the ceilings with one-eyed experts who know everything. Talk to enough of them and you will eventually get an idea but above all go sailing.




New member
16 May 2001
West End, Surrey, UK
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Great answer

I looked at the question and thought "balls, i'll only stir up a hornets nest" but I think you hit the nail on the head (dont use nails in fibre glass boats by the way).

For someones first boat, I think GRP is the way to go, that way they get more sailing and get to understand what they REALLY want. A person's first boat is completely different to their dream/last boat.

Wood is beautiful, looks good, etc but it does take a LOT of work.


Re: Great answer

Thanks for your encouragement. I was way too scared to admit the fibreglass boat was a catamaran!!!


30 Nov 2002
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Ok, here we go. My background is wooden boats, so you must make allowances for my lack of experience of the other stuff, apart from a couple of dinghies and sailing in OPB's (Other People's Boats!)

1. Strength of timber yachts and timber masts.

There are good and bad of both types; a lightly built and badly maintained GRP boat will lack strength and so will a lightly built and badly maintained wooden one. Wooden masts are easier to inspect for damage and weakness than alloy ones, which can have hidden corrosion, but wooden masts require more maintenance.

2. Advantages of timber of fibreglass

Most wooden boat owners would instantly reply "the smell!" i.e. wooden boats don't smell of styrene, and "the noise!" i.e. wooden boats transmit less sound to the interior. They are, as you have spotted, significantly cheaper so you get more boat for your money if you are willing to take on a slightly greater maintenance committment.

3. The disadvantages of wood...

More regular maintenance is needed, there is a much higher possibility of minor deck leaks, ventilation really must be maintained when you are away from the boat. GRP owners with no experience of wood all seem to believe that wooden boats stink of mildew, incidentally. This is not actually true. It is based on what they have read in old sailing books, when people stowed wet cotton sails below decks!

4. Does the type of timber matter - yes, very definitely. Jarrah, spotted gum, teak, kauri = good. Oregon, also called Douglas Fir and BCP, is not so good. But the type of timber varies according to its position in the boat. A teak mast would be absurd- too heavy - whilst an Oregon mast would be fine !

5. What timber should you go for? You need to consult a local surveyor with specialist experience in wooden boats. To locate this person, spend time around other owners of wooden boats and see whom they recommend. On the positive side, Oz has some very good boatbuilding timbers.

6. Rot. Yes. It is easy to spot and easy to sort out, but a good wooden boat won't have much of a problem in this area. Irrational dread of rot is no more sensible than irrational dread of osmosis - most boats suffer very little of either!

7. Leaks. A timber boat which "works" a lot under way will leak significantly; this is a sign that the whole structure is tired. A wooden boat in good condition will not do this. You will find that all boats make a bit of water in rough conditions, and timber boats make a bit more, but nothing to panic about.

8. Maintenance. If you live a long way away from where you will keep your boat, so that you need to hire professionals for routine maintenance, then yes wood can be expensive. On the other hand, rather a lot of people who have owned both types say that there is very little difference in the amount of maintenance involved. I would disregard opinions from people who have only owned GRP boats or non-traditional wooden boats as they tend to be influenced by what they have read rather than by hands on experience.

It is worth noting that GRP boats are by no means maintenance free and can suffer very serious loss of strength due to such problems as water entering cored decks (very common), rot in plywood bulkheads, keelbolt failure, impact damage, etc. It is also possible to disguise serious structural damage ( from a collision or grounding, for instance) to a GRP boat more easily than with a wooden one

9. Seaworthiness - depends on the boat. There is no reason to think that a GRP boat is more or less seaworthy than a wooden one. It depends on the design, the maintenance, the outfit and preparation and mainly on the crew.

10. Weight and motion at sea. In general, and this IS a subjective area, a heavier boat will have a slower motion at sea. Some GRP boats are as heavy or heavier than most wooden ones, but most of the more recent designs espescially those intended for racing are much lighter.

11. Speed. Again, impossible to generalise. Cold moulded wood is the strongest and lightest way to build a boat, ( apart from "megabucks" exotic composites, many of which incorporate wood anyway!) and this method is often used for high performance racers. Conventional carvel plank on frame timber construction cannot give a very light boat.

Speed has a lot to do with horsepower vs weight, so conventional wooden boats and heavy GRP boats are slower than light GRP ones. How fast do you wish to go?

I would urge you not to be frightened off wooden boats by those who have only read the manufacturers publicity for GRP boats. Spend time with wooden boat owners and take your time to look for a boat and you can easily come out with a far better boat for your money than you would get in GRP. But you need to make the effort. Your geopraphical location is pretty good from the wooden boat point of view.
<P ID="edit"><FONT SIZE=-1>Edited by mirelle on Wed Jul 11 12:41:19 2001 (server time).</FONT></P>


A much documented debate!

And one to which there is no simple answer! There was a very in-depth discussion over on www.voy.com/27508 a week or so ago, and is probably worth having a look at. From recollection, there was a bit of banter flying around, but a lot of the comments made will adequately answer your questions.

Good luck in your search, and whether the final result is wood or plastic, enjoy your sailing!


I have owned both GRP and Wooden boats. The design of the boat determines everything (speed, stability, etc) except one thing: Wooden boats need at least 15 times more maintenance, in terms of time, than GRP boats. However, some people get a lot of pleasure in maintaining the boat, whilst sailing is less important to them, others by sailing all the time. Nowdays, with a young family and working 12 hours a day, I have very little time for maintenance, even for a GRP boat.


Well-known member
16 May 2001
UK East Coast
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A good friend of mine has a wooden yacht....

He's owned it for 13 years, for most of which time it's either been ashore for repairs, or in the shed for repairs, or afloat but out of commission. He sails with me a lot on my GRP boat. Does that answer the question??


New member
4 Jul 2001
Australia, East coast.
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Timber or Glass

They are right, get a glass boat first and sail with as many others as possible.
Timber boats are for the purist and lovers of timber, who have the time and the inclination.
As a new starter to the art of sailing, do that sail first; you can become a purist later.
Happy sailing and good luck regardless of what material keeps you a-float, just make sure you enjoy the experience.
OldSaltOz. 40 years of timber and glass. But my first love is still sailing, not what the boat is made of.

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