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Putting Your Boat to Bed

The coming of chilly and rainy fall weather has me thinking about what needs to be done to get my kayaks, canoes, and other equipment ready for winter storage.  Thankfully, the answer is really nothing “needs” to be done.  Kayaks are really pretty low maintenance items.  There are, however, some things you might “want” to do before storing your boats for the winter.

1. Give your canoe or kayak a thorough cleaning.  Pay special attention to getting sand and grit out of the foot braces and rudder.  Then make sure to get the whole boat nice and dry.  Freezing and thawing of moisture  could cause some problems on canoes with wooden gunnels.

2. Remove neoprene or rubber  hatch covers so that they don’t get all stretched out.  It is also a good idea to apply a coat of “303” spray-on protectant on any rubber hatch covers.

3. If you have a Royalex canoe with wooden gunnels and trim, you should back out the first several screws on both sides of the bow and stern holding the gunnels and deck plates in place.  The Royalex and the wood will expand and contract at different rates in the freezing temperatures which can lead to cracks in the Royalex.  In spring, you will just need to tighten the screws back up before paddling.

4. If you have a polyethylene plastic boat, consider giving it one last coat of “303” before storing it for the winter.

5. If you have a fiberglass kayak, you can try buffing out any surface scratches with the same polishing compounds you would use on a car.  For slightly deeper scratches and marks, I have had good success using 800 grit or higher wet/dry sandpaper to polish up my kayak.  I just run the hose at a low trickle while I sand the hull of the boat.  It really smooths out the scratches and cleans up almost all of the marks.  This isn’t something that has to be done, but it sure makes the kayak look nice!  Afterwards, you can apply “Gel Gloss” or a similar protective polish.

6. Consider making those repairs that you have been putting off all summer when you were too busy paddling.  Replace old decklines, carry toggles, and/or bungees.  Repair that webbing on your back band that you had tied together or maybe replace the backband with a new one altogether.  Any fiberglass or gelcoat repairs are best done when the temperatures are above 70 degress, so watch the weather reports for a nice stretch of warm temperatures.  Have your supplies ready so that you can do the repair as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

7. Clean out the ferrules on your take-apart paddles.

8. Wash, rinse, and air dry all sprayskirts, wetsuits, booties, and life jackets.  Use “Mirazyme” or “Sink the Stink” to kill the funky neoprene smell in your wetsuit booties, river sandals, and any other neoprene paddling gear.

9. Make sure your boat is supported properly when it is being stored.  Polyethylene plastic kayaks should be stored on their sides, or cradled under the bulkheads to minimize hull distortions.  Canoes should be stored upside down resting on their gunnels.  It is best not to hang kayaks from the carry toggles.  Plastic kayaks will distort and any kayak can get damaged if the cords on the carry toggles break allowing the boat to fall.  For short kayaks like whitewater and recreational kayaks, the boats can be stored vertically.  Fiberglass boats will not distort regardless of how you store them.  Just don’t drop them.

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Canoes and kayaks will last you for decades with minimal care, but with a little bit of TLC, they will stay looking great as well.  Having a few scratches is kind of a badge of honor showing that you actually use your kayak.  You just don’t want to look like you picked your boat up out of a trash dumpster, and you don’t want your paddling clothes and accessories to smell like they came out of a dumpster!


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