How to Repair a Kayak If It Gets Damaged
The first scratch on your new kayak is as inevitable as the tides. But not all damage is considered equal. In fact, there is quite a lot of wear and tear your kayak can take before it is structurally compromised and requires repair. Here are kayak repair tips.
Before you jump to patching and melting and gluing. . . take a minute to assess your kayak’s damage.
Assess Your Kayak
Extent of damage
The first thing you should discover is the extent of the damage and whether intervention is even necessary.
- Scratches - If you see scratches from rough entries/exits, bumps against rocks, or dragging on sandy beaches, you probably don’t need to panic. Many of these sorts of abrasions are superficial and won’t impact the water-tightness of the kayak.
- Dents - Dents can happen with collisions, or even more likely from storage and transportation straps. If you ratchet down your kayak on your roof rack too tightly and it sits in the sun, it might develop dents. Likewise, kayaks left in storage can also get dents depending on how they are propped/strapped/etc. Again, lots of this “damage” is not threatening the structural integrity of the kayak. Many plastics have great “memory” so some dents may resolve on their own. Others can be persuaded back to shape with the application of a little heat. Even a hair dray can throw enough heat to allow you to push the dent back into place.
- Cracks - Cracks can start to get concerning. If you have a “through crack”, one that goes all the way through your kayak, you will need to repair it. Other cracks may need no intervention or just some filler to keep them from expanding.
- Holes - If your kayak develops a hole, it will definitely be necessary to repair it.
Type of material
Before you can make any repairs, you need to know what type of material comprises your kayak.
- Plastic: Many kayaks today are polyethylene plastic: crosslink or linear. If your kayak is made of crosslink poly it cannot be heated, sanded, filled, or repaired. However, linear poly is used for most kayaks and it can be repaired. This plastic can be heated, sanded, and “welded”.
- Fiberglass: Kayaks made of fiberglass can be repaired, usually with epoxies, resins, and patches
- Wood: Wood kayaks are much rarer, but they too can be fixed. Wood patches and glues can take time but wood kayaks can see the water again.
Of course, if your kayak needs repair, it is wise to check if it is still under warranty. Manufacturers are also a great source to find out what the kayak is made from and whether they can provide patches or welding rods of the same material (maybe even the same color).
Repair Your Kayak
One: Polyethylene Kayak Repair
If the damage to your plastic kayak is such that it is compromising its structural integrity, then you need to repair it. Whether it is a deep scratch, gouge, or a hole, the repair is similar. You can think of it as welding with plastic.
Tools: plastic weld rods / scrap plastic, putty knife, drill & bits, tin snips or cutting utensils, propane torch or heat gun, and gloves.
- Prep: if the damage is a crack, drill a small ⅛” hole at either end. This prevents the crack from expanding after the repair by strengthening the ends. If the damage is a hole, cut a patch to fit. (It is wonderful if the manufacturer was able to provide you with scrap plastic but many sorts of plastics will do from old kayaks to buckets.) Clean the area thoroughly and trim or sand the edges of the hole.
- Weld: Melt / warm up the plastic. A hot air gun works better than a blow torch because a torch needs to be watched carefully so that it doesn’t overheat or burn, creating even more damage. For a crack: Using a rod of plastic, melt it into the crack. Use a putty knife as you go to keep the crack open enough for the plastic to melt in. For a hole: melt/warm the plastic of both the hole edges and patch. Work slowly and methodically to ensure the two pieces meld together.
- Finish: Smooth the resulting repair with a putty knife or silicone tool. It might take time and additional heat to get an adequate result. You can also add support from inside the kayak to the patch to keep it in place.
Two: Fiberglass Kayak Repair
Fiberglass kayaks are difficult to crack, but if it does, the resulting damage can be repaired with the appropriate epoxy or fiberglass cloth and resin.
Tools: Epox or resin, masking or painter tape, tools for applying the adhesive
- Mask off the area with painter’s tape and clean and scour the area for a good base to adhere to.
- Apply the epoxy or patch and smooth down, ensuring a good seal. Remove the tape before the epoxy hardens it to your kayak.
- A full hull-breaching crack or hole might need the services of a professional at a boat repair shop.
Three: Cosmetic Kayak Repair
If you are very concerned about scratches or dents that are marring the appearance (but not the water-tightness) of your kayak. You can attempt to make cosmetic adjustments, but sometimes the result is worse than the initial damage, so proceed cautiously.
- Smooth - using a sharp knife, you can cut away as much roughness as possible. Or sand it down using a file or sandpaper.
- Fill - if the damage is a bit deeper, consider filling it with melted plastic or resin that will bond with it.
- Heat - Heat can sometimes cause problems on a kayak and sometimes repair problems. Some dents can be eliminated by heating the area and allowing it to “pop” back. Pushing from the inside while the heat is applied can help the process.
Four: Emergency Kayak Repair
Sometimes damage happens on the water and you need a quick repair. Hull breaches can sometimes be temporarily sealed with compression or duct tape.
- A small leak can be stopped (for a time) with padding and compression. Using a spare PFD or pack or jacket, place it over the damaged area and then apply as much pressure as possible. If you can’t hold it, you can try to build a t-frame to hold it with sticks or pack additional items against it like a cooler or milk crate.
- Duct tape or weather seal tape is a great choice for a small leak if you can get the kayak out of the water enough to dry and affix the tape. Some putties are available that are designed to be applied even underwater.
If possible, it is always wise to test the integrity of your repair before you put the kayak in the water. After the repair has cooled or dried, use a hose or bucket of water to see if it stays water-tight. Once your repair holds, you are good to go. Happy Paddling!
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