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How to Inspect Your Kayak Before Taking It Out

Even as the winter chill marches across much of the northern hemisphere, you might be dreaming of launching your kayak on that first warm day that presents itself. However, if your kayak has been enjoying “a long winter’s nap”, it might take a minute before it is ready to tackle any rapids.

There are a few basic (and more advanced) tips to getting your kayak water-ready.

Visually Inspect Your Kayak

Set aside a day to work on your kayak(s). But before that day arrives, make a cursory visual inspection.

Just take a look at your kayak. It might quickly become apparent where the needs are. Maybe it shifted in storage and the hull was damaged. Perhaps mice made a nice over-wintering nest. Possibly a line is chewed through or a bungee is over stretched. Take stock of the clear and present dangers and order or purchase the parts so that you can be ready to do repairs. 

Physically Inspect Your Kayak

On the day set aside to work on your kayak, give yourself space and time.

  • Hull

Take a minute to inspect the hull. Are there areas of weakness, apparent holes/leaks? If you have concerns about the hull, you can flood the dry hull to check for leaks. (Better the effort to learn it now, than to discover it a dozen feet from shore.)

If you find problems, address them. Sealing problem areas on plastic kayaks can be done yourself or you can take it into a pro. A plastic kayak can be fairly easily repaired so you can enjoy many more hours on the water.  (Aluminum, wood, or other materials might have other problems so check for oxidation or rot and repair before problems become severe.)

This is also a great time to apply a UV protectant to your craft.

  • Paddle

Check your paddle. Any cracks or concerns? Disassemble the paddle and wipe down the ferrule. Dry completely and reassemble. You don’t want to lubricate your paddle as you want the connection to stay snug.

If you don’t already, this might be a good time to get a spare. Or maybe you want to upgrade your existing paddle and move the older one into the “spare” position. Always remember that you want your paddle in tip-top, working condition. You certainly don’t want to be up a creek. . .  You know the rest.

  • Lines / cords

Check your lines, cords, and hardware. Are they frayed? Over-extended? Do you like the configuration? Most kayaks come with a certain number of bungees but you can definitely add more or develop a different configuration.

Make sure to replace any worn or missing items. UV rays can impact these parts as well, so check for damage. You can also invest in UV-resistant rope. If you use straps to transport your kayak, don’t neglect to inspect those as well. If they have dried out or become brittle, it is time to replace them.

Take time to evaluate the pedals and rudder if you have them. Also the foot pegs, hatches, and other lines. Clean and dry them completely, making sure that they are operational.

  • Seat

Although this could probably fall into the above categories, it gets its own mention, because it can get overlooked.

The seat of your kayak is indispensable for efficient and comfortable paddling, so take the time to make sure it is in good repair. Is it worn? Can it still be adjusted (if adjustable)? Clean it up and make sure it is ready to support you the next time to get on the water.

  • Roof rack / trolley

Now that your yak is in good working order, let’s see if we can get it to the water. If your roof rack has been sitting, unused, atop your car for the season, it could probably use a dose of TLC; likewise, if it has been sitting in storage.

Give it a good cleaning. Eliminate bugs and accumulated dirt. Take apart what you can and dry it thoroughly before putting it back together.

Make sure it is undamaged and working correctly. 

  • Emergency Gear

Take stock of your emergency gear. As we get into routines, we can remember to grab the items but never to check to see if they work. Sitting in a rapidly filling kayak is not the time to discover your emergency whistle is cracked and doesn’t even whisper, let alone whistle.

Check your emergency first aid kit and restock and replace as needed. Bandages and ointments can dry out, medicines can expire, things may have gotten mildewed or wet. Prepare for the season ahead with fresh goods.

And don’t neglect to check your PFD. Are straps worn? If you have a self-inflating one, does it still work? It might be time to replace the CO2 cylinder. Make sure it still fits.

Practically Inspect Your Kayak

While this might not be feasible for all, it is highly recommended that you plan a test run that actually gets your kayak in the water to check off any lingering concerns.

Plan a day early in the season to take a short, near-shore trip with your clean, repaired, updated, and ready-to-rock kayak. This gives you the time to make any more fixes before you risk a longer or more intensive trip.


As always an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take care of your kayak and it will take care of you.

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