As I promised in my blog on “Repair Kits for Kayaking”, I am going to spend a little time talking about the routine maintenance that you should be doing on your canoes and/or kayaks. Fall is officially here and most paddlers in the upper half of North America will soon be putting their boats into storage for a few months except, perhaps, for the occasional pool session. Thankfully, nowadays, there is very little maintenance that is absolutely required on most kayaks and canoes. However, what follows are some recommendations on maintenance that will keep your boat looking good and in good working order for many seasons to come.
Hopefully you have been doing some basic preventive maintenance on your boat all through the season. If you paddle in salt water, you should be taking the time to rinse off your kayak (and gear) with fresh water after each trip. Those of us who paddle the Great Lakes are lucky not to have to worry about this task. However, we do need to be concerned about not transporting invasive plant and animal species from one body of water to another. After every trip, we need to remove any plant debris from the hull and sponge out any water and sand in the cockpit and hatches. In Wisconsin, this is now the law. Besides preventing the spread of invasive species, drying out your kayak between uses will also prevent the growth of mold and mildew inside the cockpit and hatches. If you transport your wet, smelly neoprene gear in the cockpit or hatches of your boat rather than in the trunk of your car, make sure to remove it from your kayak and hang it up to dry as soon as you get home.
To prevent excess scratching of the hull, it is best to try to launch and land your kayak while it is floating in water rather than sliding it over the shore after you are in the boat just to keep your feet dry. You also want to avoid ramming the bow of your kayak into the shore when you are landing. This isn’t always possible, but the less you abrade your hull on land, the less repair work you will need to do later. When transporting a kayak on shore, don’t drag it over the ground. Learn to do a shoulder carry, get a boat cart, or find someone to help you carry your canoe/kayak to and from the water. This is especially true for rotomolded polyethylene boats since this soft plastic scratches very easily. You should be aware that it is possible to wear a hole through the hull of a plastic kayak by dragging it repeatedly, and repairs on polyethylene kayaks are very difficult, if not impossible in many cases. At least with a fiberglass kayak, you can apply more fiberglass cloth, epoxy, and gel-coat if you start wearing through.
Regardless of what your kayak is made of, it is a good idea to give your boat a thorough cleaning at the end of the season. You may need to blast the footbraces with a hose to get the sand out of the tracks. I usually try to rinse and sponge out as much of the sand and dirt as possible, but then I get out a vacuum cleaner after the boat is dry to get out everything else. I do this partly because some of my boats are used in pools over the winter and the people responsible for maintaining those pools do not appreciate getting sand, dirt, leaves, and acorns in their filter system. If, like mine, your kayak is going to be used in a pool over the winter, take the extra time to make sure that you have gotten out all the debris that collects under the seat and around the foam flotation pillars in the bow and stern (whitewater and recreational kayaks). This is a difficult and tedious task, but I get really embarrassed when I empty out one of my kayaks during pool practice and see leaves and sticks coming out with the water. I make it a practice not to empty my kayak directly back into the pool when possible so that if a stray piece of debris comes out with the water, I can grab it and throw it in the trash.
For plastic kayaks in particular, but really all hull materials, UV exposure is a big enemy of our canoes and kayaks. Keep in mind that even if your kayak is stored indoors, nearby flourescent lighting can still give a damaging dose of UV exposure. You can reduce fading, and the subsequent tendency of plastics to become brittle, by regularly applying UV-inhibiting coatings and polishes like 303 Aerospace Protectant for plastic and ABS kayaks/canoes, and UV-inhibiting gelcoat polishes or car wax for fiberglass and kevlar boats. These protective coatings should ideally be applied every 4-6 weeks during the paddling season and once more just before putting your boat into winter storage. However, if you are going to be using your kayak in a pool over the winter, you may want to be careful about the coatings you apply. Depending on the type of coating or polish, the chemicals may wash off or dissolve into the pool water.
Make sure to apply 303 Aerospace Protectant to any rubber hatch covers or hatch cover gaskets. This will extend the life of your hatch covers and gaskets by keeping the rubber supple and will improve the watertightness of your hatches by keeping the gaskets flexible. As much as possible, it is also a good idea to take your hatch covers off, or loosen any compression straps, whenever your kayak is not on the water. Rubber hatch covers can crack when air inside a hatch compartment that is totally air and watertight heats up and expands. Even if your hatch covers are not that watertight, the rubber will begin to stretch out if the covers are left on all the time making the cover less likely to seal well on the rim of the hatch opening.
If you make it a point to routinely inspect your boat for signs of wear and damage, you can take care of most repair and maintenance tasks when they are still pretty minor and easy to handle. If you have a skeg, check the skeg box regularly to make sure there are no rocks or packed sand jamming the skeg inside the housing. Trying to force a skeg slider when the blade is jammed by rocks or sand is a sure way to turn a minor maintenance issue into a major repair. If you insist on forcing the slider, you will most likely kink the slider cable and have to replace it. While rudder repairs are generally much easier than skeg repairs because the parts are more accessible, it is still wise to keep up with routine inspections since you don’t want to lose the use of your rudder or the contact of solid foot bracing which occurs when a rudder cable snaps or nuts and bolts come loose.
Here is a list of things that you should be looking for as you regularly inspect your kayak:
- gelcoat chips
- deep hull scratches
- worn and faded deck lines
- stretched out and frayed deck bungees
- cords on the carry handles that need to be replaced
- knots that need to be retied on deck lines, bungees, or rudder cords
- loose nuts and bolts
- broken or missing deck fittings (the pieces that hold your deck lines and bungees)
- frayed rudder cables
- sticky or frozen skeg slider
- footbraces that are stuck
- cracked, brittle, damaged hatch covers or gasket seals on hatch covers
- leaky foam bulkheads needing to be recaulked
- worn or damaged straps, buckles, & cords for securing and adjusting the seat
- separating seams and joints on composite and polycarbonate kayaks (deck to hull, deck to coaming, deck to hatch cover rim)
- loose cockpit outfitting (ie. foam needing to be re-glued)
If you store your kayak indoors where it is warm and dry, you can take care of some of these repairs over the winter. Otherwise, make note of what needs to be done, gather the materials and tools needed to make the repairs, order replacement parts like hatch covers and rudder/skeg parts, and wait for spring to do the work just before you are going to put the kayak back in the water for the season. As I have recommended in other articles, get a copy of the book,“The Optimum Kayak” by Andy Knapp. This book can answer just about any question you may have about maintaining and repairing your kayak and the related gear.
Required fall maintenance for your Royalex (ABS) canoe with wooden gunwales: Before storing a Royalex canoe with wooden gunwales in a location that will drop below freezing over the winter, you need to do a few things to prevent small cracks from developing near the deck plates. First, try to make sure that your wooden deck plates and gunwales are completely dry. If you have been taking the time to keep these wood parts of your canoe oiled or varnished, that shouldn’t be too hard. If this wood hasn’t been treated regularly to keep it waterproof, you may have to wait quite awhile to make sure that the wood has completely dried and has no moisture left in it. Once it is dry, take the time to sand, and then oil/varnish the wood parts of your canoe. Afterwards, and before temperatures drop below freezing, you need to make sure to back out (loosen) the screws that are holding the deck plate to the hull. You should do the same with the screws that are securing the wood gunwales, at least near the ends of the canoe. Royalex will expand and contract a great deal with the changing temperatures. The wood does not contract and expand nearly as much, so cracks can develop around the screws if the screws are left tightly in place. You will need to tighten down these screws in the spring when you start using your canoe again.
Recommended maintenance for your fiberglass, kevlar, or polyethylene canoe: The recommended maintenance for these canoes is pretty much the same as that for kayaks. Give the boat a thorough cleaning and apply protective UV-inhibiting coatings/polishes. Canoes should always be stored upside down resting on their gunwales. I will talk more about proper methods for storing canoes and kayaks in a future blog post. We-no-nah Canoe in Winona, Minnesota, publishes one of the most complete and comprehensive owners manuals I have ever seen. You can find a lot of good information about canoe maintenance and repair on pages 48-64 of this publication found on the We-no-nah website.
In a future blog post, I will talk specifically about the best ways to store your canoe and kayak. Until then, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions about canoe and kayak maintenance.