Gear - 13 min read

11 Marine Plywood Alternatives (Durable & Budget-Friendly Choices!)

Town and Tourist

Town and Tourist, Updated October 22, 2022

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Nothing is more essential in boat construction and repair than the materials that you choose. You need materials that provide stability and support without suffering the necessary waterproof properties that boats require. So, what are the best marine plywood alternatives?

The best marine plywood alternatives include Burmese teak, boil-proof plywood, and King StarBoard. You should also consider medium-density fiberboard (MDF), ribbon grain plywood, and Thermo-Lite Board instead of marine plywood. Alternatives such as wax resin fiberboard and reinforced polyurethane foam boards are also waterproof and durable for boats just like standard marine plywood.

The ideal marine plywood alternative must feature waterproof adhesive or else it won’t stand the test of time. Each of these marine plywood alternatives is unique, but they all share durability and waterproof characteristics that make them desirable. Follow along as we explore the best marine plywood alternatives.

What Can I Use Instead of Marine Ply?

You can use everything from Burmese teak and boil-proof plywood to wax resin fiberboard instead of marine plywood. The most important thing to consider is whether or not the material can withstand humidity and heat. Each of these environmental conditions is largely unavoidable when it comes to marine use.

There is always an element of thermal fluctuations when it comes to boats whether it be hot days and cold nights or vice versa. The ideal marine plywood alternative features a waterproof adhesive that provides stability and is essential for boats. Let’s take a look at the top 11 marine plywood alternatives.

1. Medium Density Fiberboard

Medium-density fiberboard is by far the best marine plywood alternative. It is essentially a strong mixture of resin, wax, and wood fibers that are bound together for the best results. Medium-density fiberboard, also known as MDF, can withstand plenty of pressure, weight, and moisture.

The moisture and humidity resistance is ultimately what makes MDF perfect for boats. Whether your deck gets wet or not, a boat will always be exposed to moisture on a river, lake, or ocean. Medium-density fiberboard can also withstand prolonged exposure to heat which is almost always a factor when you take a boat out for the day.

This means that you won’t have to worry about your boat even when you leave it at a marina with MDF. The materials that you find on a boat are all supposed to withstand heat and moisture, but that’s not always the case. You can buy a standard sheet of medium-density fiberboard for $60.

2. Ribbon Grain Plywood

Ribbon grain plywood is an excellent alternative to standard marine plywood, especially if you value comfortable materials. It isn’t quite as strong as marine plywood, but ribbon grain plywood is smooth and comfortable. You can also save money with ribbon grain plywood compared to marine plywood which is a major selling point.

For example, you can buy 50 cubic meters of ribbon grain plywood for roughly $200. It is technically artificial, especially when compared to something like medium-density fiberboard. Visually, ribbon grain plywood is much more unique than standard marine plywood.

The diagonal design of ribbon grain plywood stands out and is unique when it comes to marine materials. It also doesn’t hurt that ribbon grain plywood is low maintenance because it is naturally smooth and difficult to damage on a surface level. Consider ribbon grain plywood if you want a visually unique and affordable alternative to marine plywood.

3. Wax Resin Fiberboard

Wax resin fiberboard is similar to both MDF and fiber cement board. The main appeal of wax resin fiberboard is that it can withstand heat, pressure, and humidity. Much like MDF, wax resin fiberboard consists of wood fibers that are bound together with wax.

This marine plywood alternative is unique, affordable, and durable. It’s a great material whether you are modifying a pontoon, fishing vessel, or sailboat. You won’t have to worry about waves, rough waters, and rain if you have wax resin fiberboard.

Some manufacturers produce wax resin fiberboard using hydrogen bonding which many experts believe yields better results. Either way, it is worth considering wax resin fiberboard if marine plywood is too expensive and ineffective. A standard 4’ x 8’ sheet of wax resin fiberboard only costs $37, on average, and that’s inexpensive for such durable material.

4. Thermo-Lite Board

SpaceAge Synthetics, Ltd. / Facebook

Thermo-Lite is a relatively new brand in the world of marine equipment, design, and materials. Their mission statement is to produce materials that will one day become the gold standard in the world of boat manufacturing.

While this seems like an unattainable goal, they have been off to a great start with their boards that have been used for everything from building boats to maintaining mobile homes.

Thermo-lite produces durable boards out of a mixture of fiberglass and polymer foam. The inclusion of fiberglass should tell you that these boards are a perfect alternative to marine plywood. Generally, fiberglass is the gold standard when it comes to boating materials.

The inclusion of polymer foam only serves to add to the water-resistant nature of Thermo-Lite boards. When combined with fiberglass, the polymer foam adds an element of buoyancy and water resistance that is hard to compete with. You can purchase 30 pounds of Thermo-Lite boards for between $406 and $1,800 depending on the thickness that you are looking for.

5. Birch Plywood

It should come as no surprise that birch plywood is a great alternative to marine plywood. That is because birch trees are every bit as reputable when it comes to construction and repairs as oak, walnut, pine, and mahogany. It is also quite affordable which is important because many people avoid marine plywood because of the premium price.

The best application for birch plywood on a boat is the cabin interior. Sure, birch plywood is durable, but it may break down over time if you use it on the deck. That is why you will typically only find birch plywood within the cabin or galley of a boat.

This may exclude some boaters with small vessels that aren’t large enough for a cabin, dinette, or full galley. However, you will have a hard time finding a cheaper or smoother boat interior material than birch plywood. A 4’ x 8’ sheet of birch plywood typically costs $50 or less which is a bargain, especially if you’re only using it for your boat’s interior.

6. Fiber Cement Board

If your idea of a marine plywood alternative is durability, then you should consider fiber cement board. Fiber cement board is used for everything from siding on a house to building boats and furniture. The biggest benefit of using fiber cement board on a boat is that it will not break down over time from water exposure and humidity.

It is often used for the exterior of buildings, but fiber cement board has recently become popular in boat design and marine use. Fiber cement board contains both wood fibers and cement to offer the best of both worlds. Don’t let the inclusion of wood fool you, however, because the cement binds with the wood so you don’t have to worry about moisture like you normally would.

Despite the durability, fiber cement board is unexpectedly light which is useful if you plan to install it without professional help. Fiber cement board costs an average of $9.25 per square foot, but it can cost as little as $5 per square foot. It’s worth upgrading to fiber cement board to avoid moisture damage and save money.

7. Exterior-Grade Plywood

As the name suggests, exterior-grade plywood is specifically rated for outdoor use. This is one of the best alternatives to marine plywood because it’s cheaper but ultimately serves the same purpose. While marine plywood is considered the best for outdoor use, exterior-grade plywood is nearly equally resistant to heat and moisture.

It is a combination of wood, sealant, and waterproof glue. The varnish on exterior-grade plywood means that the surface won’t suffer unpleasant cosmetic damage that is often unavoidable on boats. This is a great marine plywood alternative because it’s great for interior and exterior use on a boat.

You can easily use exterior-grade plywood on your boat’s deck as well as the cabin and galley. That sets it apart from the other marine plywood alternatives on this list. Even better, you can find 4’ x 8’ sheets of exterior grade plywood for as little as $25.

8. Reinforced Polyurethane Foam Boards

Eagle Rock Supply

Reinforced polyurethane foam boards typically include glass which gives the board extra strength and support. This helps bind the mixture together and prevent surface damage and has the benefit of looking great as well. The glass isn’t evident when you look at reinforced polyurethane foam boards because it is finely ground and mixed in well.

It is just as commonly used in the construction of homes and buildings as it is for building and repairing boats. Reinforced polyurethane foam boards often have 3 layers which give them the durability that they are highly regarded for. The layers consist of ground glass, polyurethane, and clay which are all durable when you combine them.

Polyurethane foam isn’t quite as strong as aluminum foam, but aluminum has recently become less popular in marine use. The main appeal of reinforced polyurethane foam boards is that they are quite dense and able to withstand heavy foot traffic. This makes them ideal for use in the cabin, galley, and deck of your boat.

9. King StarBoard

King Plastic Corporation

King StarBoard is a brand that has made waves in the world of boat construction and repairs. Their boards are made of high-density polyethylene plastic which is rated for outdoor and marine use. You can easily use King StarBoard for your boat’s deck, seating, storage containers, cabin, and galley.

These stable boards won’t suffer damage from extreme heat and prolonged exposure to humidity and water. Those are ultimately the only important factors that determine whether or not a material can handle the conditions that are unavoidable on a boat. You don’t have to worry about the surface-level laminate wearing off which is a common problem for marine materials.

The matte finish means that you won’t have to worry about annoying reflections when you’re out on the water in the sun for hours. Don’t worry about cosmetic damage or splinters with King StarBoard boards. This low-maintenance alternative to standard marine plywood is worth the investment for its practicality and appearance alone.

10. Boil-Proof Plywood

Ville / Flickr

Boil-proof plywood, also known as weatherproof plywood, is perfect for boat construction and repairs. As the name suggests, the heat won’t cause boil-proof plywood to blister or lose its strength. It is specifically designed to withstand heat and prolonged exposure to moisture which are big parts of having a boat.

You also don’t have to worry about thermal shock with boil-proof plywood. Thermal shock occurs when a material experiences a rapid fluctuation in temperature from hot to cold or vice versa. That is a common problem when a boat sits docked at a marina in a climate with warm days and cold nights.

Boil-proof plywood has to pass a series of tests before it can be rated as such. This includes heating the plywood to extreme temperatures and submerging it in water. A 4’ x 8’ sheet of boil-proof plywood costs between $16 and $25 per sheet. This is reasonable when you consider how long it will last and how well it can withstand prolonged elemental exposure.

11. Burmese Teak

Shaw Floors

Burmese teak is another excellent-yet-expensive alternative to marine plywood. It is pricier than the other alternatives featured on this list because it is less widely available. This is a great option if you want to use a material that is as aesthetically pleasing as it is durable.

Burmese teak is just as popular for interior design in the home as it is for marine use in boats. Ideally, you should use the Burmese deck for the deck of a boat or surfaces in the cabin and galley. It isn’t meant to be the main structure of a boat, but it’s a great surface material and looks great on the interior.

The only downsides to Burmese teak are the high price and the high oil content. You don’t have to worry about the oil damaging the structural integrity, but it can be annoying to clean on hot days when it sweats. It costs an average of $60 for just 84” of Burmese teak which makes it the most expensive marine plywood alternative in this guide.  

Is Treated Plywood The Same as Marine Plywood?

Treated plywood is not the same as plywood, but both are generally resistant to water damage. The main difference is that treated plywood is also designed to hold up to wood rot, mold, and mildew. Marine plywood isn’t specifically treated to withstand those issues, but it is often able to.

That is because marine plywood features waterproof adhesive and materials that aren’t absorbent. Marine plywood can still experience problems with mold and wood rot, but it is fairly rare. The design of marine plywood is such that it shouldn’t absorb much water at all which negates the risk of rotting and mold.

However, rotting and mold can still occur after years of prolonged exposure to water and humidity with marine plywood. You are more likely to experience wood rot, mold, and mildew if your marine plywood suffers physical damage that would let water seep between each layer. Otherwise, marine plywood is specifically manufactured to keep water out of it, unlike standard plywood which is much more porous.  

What’s The Difference Between Regular Plywood and Marine Plywood?

The difference between regular plywood and marine plywood is that marine plywood is rated for outdoor use. Regular plywood isn’t typically designed to withstand high temperatures and prolonged moisture exposure. Much like regular plywood, marine plywood consists of several layers that give it its durability.

Marine plywood also features a waterproof adhesive that binds each layer together for maximum durability. This protects the surface from cosmetic damage such as blistering. Most importantly, the waterproof adhesive ensures that the layers won’t let water in between them which can cause wood rot.

Typically, marine plywood also features paper fibers that help fill the space and give it density. This density lets the plywood withstand heat, moisture, weight, and pressure. Never use regular plywood on a boat or else you will need to replace it within a few years.                                                              

So, What Are The Best Marine Plywood Alternatives?

The best marine plywood alternatives are medium-density fiberboard, ribbon grain plywood, and wax resin fiberboard. You can also use Thermo-Lite board and birch plywood instead of traditional marine plywood. Otherwise, fiber cement board and exterior-grade plywood are also great choices and won’t suffer water damage.

Reinforced polyurethane foam boards can hold up to heat and humidity, and 3M produces them. King StarBoard is another leading name in the world of marine plywood alternatives. Consider boil-proof plywood and Burmese teak if you don’t mind a marine plywood alternative that is slightly pricier. Just because marine plywood is designed for exterior use doesn’t mean that it’s the best material to use on your boat.

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