Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Gear: Kayak Repairs That Last - 10 Tips for Maintaining Your Kayak

I got into kayaking many years ago, after paddling rented tour boats a couple times to make sure I liked it enough to buy one. I've always loved the ocean (see my post Why I Love the Ocean), and sea kayaking offered a new way to explore it. When I did buy my first sea kayak (a 17" foot Perception Eclipse), I bought it used, after the season, off one of the tour companies I previously paddled with. Since then, I've purchased other boats and gear on Craigslist (after having done a fair share of research online to know what I'm looking for). In short, I'm cheap. And, I like things that last - and that I can fix myself with materials that won't break the bank, and hopefully, won't break at all. 

For several years now, I've expanded my paddling to include surfing a late model plastic waveski (for those who don't know, it's a sit-on-top kayak with a planing hull and fins - specifically designed to surf waves (See my post What's That Thing Called?). I was able to pick up a barely used Walden (the original/defunct Massachusetts brand, not the current brand) "Milo" model on Craigslist. It's banana yellow, which really makes me stand out in the lineup, but at least they can see me coming­čśĆ Surf conditions have added additional stress to materials and gear, and have taught me a lot that is transferable to flat water paddling (and sometimes the ocean can be anything but flat). I've also had the excellent advice of Joel at New England Small Craft (sadly, now out of business) to help with ideas and gear. I've often gone my own way with repairs, but his input has been appreciated. 
Walden "Milo" waveski
Here's a few things I've learned:

1. Store your gear out of the sun. I can't count how many times I've seen kayaks and related gear left outside to bake in the sun. The sun will deteriorate plastic boats over time, and, maybe more importantly, won't do the nylon fixtures on your boat any good. True, you'll be paddling in the sun, but when you're out of the water, wash your gear off and store everything in a cool, dark, dry place (or as close as you can get to that). If you have to leave your boat outside, put it up on a couple of saw horses with a tarp over it.

2. Nylon fixtures WILL break. It is inevitable. Repeated stress will cause nylon pad eyes (where you typically clip or tie lines), nylon slides (the buckle-like rectangular pieces used to adjust straps/webbing), and even the threaded rings (that you screw your deck hatch covers into) to fail. I have had all of these break - and mostly at inconvenient (to say the least) times. I remember calling Surf to Summit to complain about a slide breaking on their thigh straps for the second time, and being told "that's the first we've heard of that". I didn't believe it and neither should you. All manufacturers use nylon - so either keep extra fixtures and a screw driver on hand, or consider better materials. In my opinion, nylon fixtures are simply under-engineered to save on cost.

3. Better materials exist. There are 2 types of metal that can withstand salt water conditions without rusting/rotting quickly: brass and 316 stainless steel (not 3/16 stainless steel - that's a size, not a type. If anyone you speak with doesn't know the difference, walk away or hang up). Brass has historically been used in marine environments, and 316 stainless resists pitting and corrosion. I have sourced 316 stainless pad eyes on eBay and brass slides GET THEM HERE for webbing at STRAPWORKS. Sometimes, especially if you live near a harbor town, your local hardware store will carry brass, but less often 316 stainless steel. Bring your original nylon pieces with you, and match them for the right size. And don't forget your screws should be the same metal type, or they'll rust - save and reuse the originals if you can. The additional cost of metal over nylon is marginal, and I have not had one metal piece break yet.   

316 Stainless steel pad eye (plus some seaweed)
Brass slides used to replace nylon buckles

4. Webbing (straps) wears like steel. So long as your webbing hasn't been cut or frayed at the edges (and sometimes even if it has), it will last. Just wash it out with fresh water and store it out of the sun.  

5. Some things just have to be replaced over time. Drain plugs have a rubber gasket ring that helps to keep them water tight. These will eventually tear - especially if you over tighten your drain plug (so don't). They're cheap, available in the plumbing section of your local hardware store, and don't require tools to install. So, carry a couple extra with you.

Drain plug with gasket "O" ring
6. Consider repairs that will solve the problem long term. A couple years back, I bought a Heritage Sea Dart sit-on-top touring kayak from a seller on Craigslist. What he didn't tell me, and I couldn't assess when I bought it, was that the internal bulkheads were leaking. This condition trapped water inside the hollow middle section of the boat. I could have re-sealed the bulkheads, which were hard to reach. I could have drilled a few holes in them to let the water freely drain to the front or back compartments. What I chose to do, instead, was to install a drain plug in the top deck over the middle compartment. I located it at the highest point I could, which would be the lowest point when the boat was turned upside down. This way, I could drain any water that leaked through the bulkheads at any time, and I wouldn't have to re-seal them again, inevitably, in the future. The drain plug was cheap, and I just needed some sealant and a big enough drill bit to install it. As for any flotation lost by leaking bulkheads, I just bought dry bags with an air fill tube attached. Now, they would do double duty to store gear and be blown up to act as float bags fore and aft. Problem solved. 

7. When buying your boat, pick a material you're comfortable working with. I buy plastic boats - period. I know, they're heavier. I know, they don't perform like fiberglass or Kevlar. But, guess what - I don't care if I scratch them (and I do occasionally bump rocks), they're cheaper to buy, they're more plentiful used, and they're easy to work on. With the addition of some metal hardware, you could drop my boats out of a helicopter and they would be ready to go.

8. Be creative with repair solutions. My Sea Dart was molded with the weld line half way down the drain hole in the cockpit. I know this because I made the mistake of tightening straps (to hold the boat on my truck roof) too tight - this pulled the weld line apart, causing a small gap. This gap then leaked water into the hull while I was paddling along the rocky coast (why did my boat seem like it was trimming lower in the water? - duh). What to do, what to do. I could try to get the weld line re-sealed (but, it was still separated). I could patch it up with some sealant and maybe a tape of some sort. Then, it hit me - I could install some sort of ring just slightly narrower than the diameter of the drain hole. I went to the hardware store to research my options, starting in the plumbing aisle. There, I found a 6" plastic basin drain section that looked right, and it only cost a couple of bucks. When I tested it on the boat, the diameter was perfect. I cut it down to 4" so the drain plug could still fit at the top of the hole. Then, I roughed it up with sand paper, covered it liberally with sealant, and gently tapped it into place with a hammer. It pushed the weld line back together and fit like a glove - and it sits there today without issue. Creative thinking solved a problem and saved me a lot of money. 

9. Listen to professional advice, but be skeptical. Well intentioned folks might offer a solution to your problem that is more than you want to pay for, or seems like you'll just have to repeat at some point in the future. If you're like me, and you'd rather spend your time in/on the water than waiting for a repair to be completed, then use my suggestions above to avoid issues, and to fix them when they occur. There are thousands of solutions I haven't thought of, and you might just be the one to come up with the next one. But in the end, if you have to get a pro. to do a repair, ask if you can watch. If there's a next time, you might be able to do it yourself.

10. Have fun with your repairs. The challenge of coming up with a low cost, functional solution can be a fun puzzle to crack. The satisfaction of creating an elegant solution can make your next paddling adventure a greater pleasure - because you know your boat much better than before. Plus, now you legitimately have a custom boat. After all, how many Sea Darts have a basin drain pipe fitted into the cockpit drain hole? - mine does.  

- TB on the Water 

Follow up:

Per request of Tom at Top Kayaker, here are some pics of the fins on my Walden Milo Waveski. They are set up in a sort of thruster/tri-fin arrangement, and aren't in fin boxes, so they can't be moved, unfortunately. For the most part, though, they keep the back end from sliding out - them and some paddle technique.

Thanks for the question, Tom!          




Tom Holtey said...

What about the fins on the bottom? Do you have a photo of the fins?

TB on the Water said...

Hi Tom,

Nice to hear from you. I've found great info. on your site from time to time.

- TB on the Water