When Was Fiberglass First Used in Boats?

When did fiberglass become a popular material for building boats? How long has it been in use?

When Was Fiberglass First Used in Boats?

Have you ever wondered, when was fiberglass first used in boats? This highly insulating material is found in many lofts around the world, but it is also often utilized in other ways. One of these applications is in the construction of boats, as fiberglass composites offer several advantages when compared with other hull materials.

The use of fiberglass in boats has slightly blurry beginnings, but it first came into wider use in the 1950s as a composite with polyester. Its development grew out of experiments with other then-new materials, such as plastic resins, and this area was being explored as early as 1937.

In this article, we’ll be looking in more detail at the history of fiberglass in the nautical world, as well as exploring other facts. such as the range of advantages and disadvantages it offers when used in boat construction.

When Was Fiberglass First Used In Boats?

Fiberglass boats became commonplace in the late 1950s as the popularity of fiberglass-polyester composite hulls grew in popularity. However, some fiberglass boats had been made prior to that as well. Before fiberglass was developed, there were many attempts to make boats out of a range of other materials, many of which resulted in limited success.

Before fiberglass became popular, boats could be made from a huge variety of different materials, including things like:

  • Plastic resins
  • Wood
  • Animal skins
  • Reeds
  • Other natural materials

Of course, there are pros and cons to all kinds of boats, but fiberglass boats have become immensely popular – and it’s thought that glass itself was made as long ago as the Ancient Egyptians. It is not likely that the Egyptians used it for their boats, but it is amazing to consider how far back this extraordinary material goes.

It is surprising, in some ways, that fiberglass did not become used for commercial boats until after World War II, but it is possible that some military boats utilized this material during the war. There seems to be some debate about this, perhaps because the use of the material might have been classified at the time.

Who Invented Fiberglass Boats?

Fiberglass boats were most likely invented by somebody named Ray Greene, from Ohio in the US. They are more commonly credited to Clinton Pearson, who created one of the first fiberglass sailboats in the 1950s – but Greene is thought to have built his in 1942. This would have been a sailing dinghy, with polyester incorporated into the design.

It is thought that there were some versions even before Greene’s, but these were not viable for sailing in, as they were too brittle. These versions have, however, led to more debate about who really invented the fiberglass boat, and it isn’t known for sure that no usable boats predate Greene’s version.

Fiberglass was produced in its modern form in 1932, and was patented as “Fiberglas” (with a single “S) in 1936. It is impressive to think that only 10 years after the first production, Greene made a boat with the new material. He went on to found a boat-building company and built a variety of designs.

However, despite Greene’s boat being – so far as we know – the first of its kind, there are still disputes about the “true” first fiberglass boat. Other companies, including Clinton Pearson’s Triton, make similar claims.

What Was The Triton?

The Pearson Triton became one of the most famous early fiberglass boats, released in 1959. It isn’t known exactly what gave it its claim to fame, but it became an enormously popular option for thousands of boaters everywhere. It was the first of the mass-produced fiberglass boats to sell in volume, and it certainly captured the imagination of the boating world.

It was created by Tom Potter and Carl Alberg, and was almost entirely made from fiberglass, rather than just incorporating fiberglass elements. It was shown to the world at the 1959 National Boat Show (which took place in New York City) and it quickly became popular, filling a niche in the market.

Irrespective of the debate about which was the first fiberglass boat, there’s no doubt that the Pearson Triton was the first to sell well – which may be why many people believe it was the first to exist. This popular boat improved the image of fiberglass and encouraged other boat makers to start looking into it as a viable material.

What Are Some Of The Pros Of Using Fiberglass For Making Boats?

There are a few good reasons that people might use fiberglass for making boats, which is why this material is still popular today. Firstly, it is generally a cheap material, and costs about a third as much as wood (although this does depend on the kind of wood being considered).

Secondly, it is a particularly strong option, especially when compared with some more brittle plastics and resins. Because of this, boats made using fiberglass tend to last better, and therefore receive better ratings and can be used in a wider range of circumstances. Fiberglass is even stronger than wood, making it a good alternative material.

This additional strength also means that boat manufacturers can create thinner hulls and larger boats overall – because the vehicle is better able to stand up to use than a boat made from wood.

As a final advantage, fiberglass doesn’t have to be caulked in order to make it waterproof. Instead, a gelcoat is applied, and this makes production simpler and possibly cheaper.

That is quite a few benefits, so next, let’s explore some of the drawbacks of opting for this material.

What Are Some Of The Cons Of Using Fiberglass For Making Boats?

One of the most significant drawbacks of choosing a fiberglass boat is that it’s easy for defects to be concealed. If bubbles have formed in the fiberglass during the production process, these are often very hard to see. Having air trapped inside the glass will weaken the overall hull integrity, which could result in damage or breakages.

Next, it is also worth noting that some fiberglass boats utilize wooden crossbeams, and this means that there is a risk of rotting if water gets into the framework of the boat. This should be rare, but the use of timber can be problematic. A lot of modern boats don’t include timber for this reason.

Furthermore, sometimes water will get under the gelcoat and start to attack the fibers beneath. This is much more likely to happen if the gelcoat has been damaged and not repaired. The problem is sometimes known as osmosis, and if you don’t deal with it swiftly, there is a risk that it will destroy the boat.

You need to get repairs to the gelcoat done quickly and dry the boat out as much as possible between uses. Never store it while wet, or keep it in a wet place!


Hopefully, that fully answers the question, “when was fiberglass first used in boats?” Fiberglass boats have been a part of our lives since the 1950s. It is hard to say who made the very first one and when, but Ray Greene is often credited as the first builder of these boats. Fiberglass has a lot to offer, so it’s no surprise it is a popular boat building material.