Betsie Bay Kayak

Betsie Bay Kayak
P.O. Box 1706
Frankfort, MI  49635
Phone: 231-352-7774
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Recluse (19')
Manitou (18')
Aral (18')
Valkyrie (17')
Idun (16')
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Only 27 pounds? How do we do it?

Betsie brandishing a 27lb Idun in yellow-with-black AwlGrip color.

Touring kayak construction has changed dramatically over the last few decades. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, hand-laid fiberglass kayaks were the rule. Advances in tooling technology made the mass production of rotomolded polyethylene touring kayaks feasible in the ‘80s and ‘90s. These boats are relatively inexpensive and tough, but many are too heavy to be easily handled by a single paddler. Fiberglass/resin layup kayaks, or Kevlar, carbonfiber or other ‘exotic’ cloth/resin layups became the choice of most serious paddlers. Because both the labor and materials to hand-mold these boats is greater than in rotomolding, the price is also higher.

The current new technology in the industry is “sheet molded compound” (SMC) construction. In this process a sheet of raw material containing a heat-setting plastic is pressed into a mold where heat and pressure set the resin, quickly forming a finished part. This produces a kayak that is stiffer and lighter than rotomolded poly, but still heavier than quality hand-laid composites. It is worthwhile to note that the retail price of both poly and SMC kayaks is driven by overhead costs, primarily advertising an distribution networking.

Betsie Bay Kayak's first plywood/epoxy/glass kayaks were built in the early ‘80s using a construction similar to current stitch-and-glue kits (although we’ve never sold a stitch-and-glue boat). These kayaks, in the 17’-18’ range weighed in at 45-50 pounds, which was competitive with the well made fiberglass kayaks of the day. Over the years our construction methods evolved, and significant weight reduction was both a goal and a by-product of that evolution.

As a 230-pound-plus paddler myself, I had no interest in making a kayak that couldn’t take the hard use I or my customers dished out. Every change, every improvement, was tested by sample destruction and in prototype kayaks before it went into customer’s boats. The kayaks we build today (at 27 to 35 pounds) are as tough as those early BBKs and destined to hold up better under years of use.

Our construction is a “core” composite of lightweight plywood with structural grade fiberglass “skins”. This technique has been employed for a long time in the aircraft industry where both consistent high strength and light weight are paramount. All of our seams and joints have been engineered for maximum strength without excess weight. This construction requires a variety of specialized fixtures and equipment. It demands critical and meticulous craftsmanship not well suited to a “production” shop employing hired help. Our turnaround time on a kayak is measured in weeks, rather than minutes or hours, as in mass-produced boats.

Most production kayaks are of monolithic construction, that is, one material throughout. In this manufacturing method, all areas of the kayak are the same material, thickness and weight, regardless of the structural requirements of the area in question. BBK kayaks are selectively structured to be strongest where needed most and lightest where best suited. This requires many individual construction steps, using slow-curing epoxy, as opposed to a one-shot molding process. Our system requires over 75 different materials and components to complete a kayak. Our material cost of a boat is more than that for a typical Kevlar or carbon fiber “exotic” layup.

We stand behind our products. Given the constraints of our materials and process, we certainly cannot aspire to produce the most sea kayaks in the world, only the best. A BBK is more expensive than a poly, SMC or fiberglass kayak. It is comparable in cost to Kevlar/carbon exotics, but tougher, lighter and better looking.

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Betsie Bay Kayak
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