Right here and now, I need to acknowledge that most of what I know about kayaking repair kits is stuff that I’ve learned from a good friend and fellow kayaking instructor, John Browning. Like me, he is a total gear geek, but he has one of the best systems of repair kits that I’ve ever seen any kayaker carry. Since he hasn’t blogged about this subject, I’m going to take my crack at it.
What you carry for repairs is obviously going to depend on what kind of kayak you have, where you paddle, and the type of trips that you generally take. For most recreational kayakers out for a day paddle on waterways that are close to roads, houses, and cell phone coverage, perhaps a roll of duct tape, a towel, and a cell phone are all you really need to carry with you. Damage to your boat or paddle is relatively unlikely, but if it happens, you can probably walk back to your car, get assistance at a nearby home, or get on your cell and call someone to come and get you. For duct tape, I would recommend “Gorilla Tape”. It is tough and tenacious stuff. Naturally, John Browning introduced me to the product. The towel is to dry off the surface of the boat or paddle before applying the tape since most tapes do not stick well on wet surfaces. The towel needs to be kept in a dry bag to keep it completely dry until needed. A dry piece of clothing could be substituted. You can also find very tiny, compact, ultra-absorbent camp towels about the size of a half dollar available in camping stores. They will take up very little space in your repair kit.
Even for most whitewater kayakers, a roll of good duct tape is probably all they need for a repair kit along with a Leatherman multi-tool or similar type knife. Wood, plants, and trash along the river banks can often supply additional materials that can be fabricated into any pieces needed for the temporary repair of damaged gear.
For sea kayakers, however, shore may be a long swim away making a damaged boat a life-threatening occurrence. To avoid having to call the local Coast Guard for a rescue, you should be carrying a basic repair kit in your PFD or some other very accessible location to handle emergencies on the water. A previously unnoticed crack in the hull of a kayak, a deck seam that is separating, or a lost or damaged hatch cover could cause a kayak to take on water and lose necessary buoyancy in the front or rear hatches. Rudder cables can snap or become detached making a kayak difficult to control. Your basic on-water kit should have the materials to address these kinds of emergencies. Remember, you are only trying to do a repair that is adequate to get you safely back on shore where a more extensive repair can be done. Below is a suggested list for a compact, on-water repair kit.
- Gorilla Tape
- PC-Marine epoxy putty stick
- Plastic cable ties (zip ties)
- Heavy duty garbage bag, sheet of heavy mil plastic, or mylar space blanket (to cover holes or open hatch covers)
- Elastic bands large enough to fit around a hatch cover rim (I bought some made to hold garbage bags on garbage cans)
- Tiny ultra-absorbent camp towel
- Small, waterproof dry bag or container to hold the repair kit
I can carry all of these items in a pocket on my life jacket. In addition to this very basic kit, it would be helpful to have a multi-tool available.
Once you’ve made it off the water safely, you can make a more permanent repair to your boat. If you were able to make it back to your car, you can just take your kayak home and repair it at your leisure. If you are near a road, you may be able to call someone to come and pick you up, or you may be able to hike back to your car. However, if you are on a stretch of shoreline that is remote or difficult to access (perhaps a pocket beach at the base of some cliffs), you may need to be carrying the tools and materials necessary to do a more extensive field repair.
I have assembled a field repair kit that I carry in a BDH bottle that I bought well over 10 years ago. I tried doing an internet search for BDH bottles and didn’t find anything like the one I have, so I don’t know if they are still available. However, it is similar to the 1/2-gallon Nalgene HDPE storage container. Whatever container you decide to use, it needs to be waterproof and very durable.
Some of the specific items that you carry in your field repair kit are going to depend on the material that your kayak is made from. The following items would be recommended for everyone to carry regardless of the type of boat you paddle:
- Locking pliers (Vise-Grip makes some very nice small versions)
- Multi-tool with phillips and flat head screw drivers
- Drill bit or awl for making holes
- Short hacksaw blade
- Sharp scissors
- Screws, nylon locknuts, cotter pins, and spare hardware/deck fittings found on your kayak
- 1/4″ bungee cord to replace deck bungees
- Hog rings (also called swages or crimps) for crimping bungee cords together
- Cord to repair/replace deck lines
- Wire/cable to repair/replace rudder or skeg lines
- Bailing wire
- More Gorilla Tape
- More plastic cable ties (zip ties)
- More garbage bags or sheet of plastic
- McNett AquaSeal or Seam Grip (same basic product, different thickness)
- Marine or Sportsman’s Goop
- 1″-wide nylon webbing
- Waxed thread and large sewing needle
- Spare spring-type button for paddle ferrule
In addition to the above items items, if you paddle a fiberglass or kevlar kayak you should be carrying the following:
- West Systems 101-T Repair Pack Refills of 105 Resin/205 Hardener
- Vinyl gloves
- Fiberglass cloth
- Mixing stick (you could use a stick or branch after peeling off any loose bark)
- Mixing cup
- Disposable brush/plastic spreader (for applying the epoxy to the fiberglass cloth)
For a rotomolded polyethylene kayak, you may want to carry the following:
For inflatable and folding skin-on-frame kayaks, you will need to assemble a kit of repair materials that can be used to patch tears and holes in the fabric of your particular kayak. Patches on canvas will require different adhesives than patches on vinyl, Hypalon, or PVC. Manufacturers of these types of kayaks may have repair kits available for purchase designed specifically for the materials that your kayak is made of.
Polycarbonate hulls can be patched or repaired with fiberglass cloth and various plastic welding adhesives that use methyl methacrylate (airplane glue). Check with the manufacturer of your kayak for their recommendations for repair adhesives.
While it is important to carry all these materials, it is also necessary that you become acquainted with using them, especially the 2-part epoxies and adhesives. Carrying a well-stocked repair kit will do you no good if there is no one in your group who knows how to use them. An excellent book to read for reference on maintaining and repairing your kayak is “The Optimum Kayak” by Andy Knapp.
Thankfully, in over twenty years of paddling, I have not found myself stuck on a beach needing to do major repairs on my kayak in order to get home. However, I will say that the contents of my repair kit have often been needed by myself and fellow kayakers on many occasions before, during, and after simple day trips. If you don’t currently have a repair kit for your kayak or canoe, it’s time to get one put together right now! Find a container. Get some Gorilla Tape and a few basic tools and put them in your kayak. Keep working on assembling a better and more complete kit as soon as you can. If nothing else, this can be a good winter project to keep you occupied when your boat is in storage.
For the definitive repairs completed at home, you may want to have some additional items:
- Dremel tool
- Caulking gun
- Screw drivers (phillips and flat head)
- Dust masks
- Acetone (should not be used to clean up catalyst)
- Rubbing alcohol
- Mineral spirits
- Gel-coat, catalyst, and pigment (for repairing fiberglass and kevlar kayaks with gel-coat exteriors)
- Wax paper
- Release cloth
- Box of vinyl gloves
- Disposable brushes
- Safety glasses
- Sure-form tool (or dragon skin) for shaping mini-cell outfitting foam
- Paper towels
- Disposable sleeves or old long-sleeve shirts
- Lexel (for caulking bulkheads)
- and many other tools and materials specific to the particular repair you need to do
As time passes, some aspects of kayak construction change and the repair items available change as well. I would love to hear from people who have new and better tools and products that they have found useful in their own repair kits. For one, I’m hoping that Mr. Browning will weigh in and share the name of the 3M adhesive that is supposed to work really well for gluing in foam outfitting. I’m certain that there are many other people who have much more repair, maintenance, and kayak building expertise who could add to this post and help us all expand our knowledge on the topic. Please grace us with your wisdom and experience!
I’ll try to cover basic maintenance in a future post.