Maintaining and Storing Your Kayak for the Off-Season
Before you put your kayak away for the winter, or and prior to a long trip, a thorough inspection is recommended. Properly maintaining and storing your kayak for the off-season is one of the best ways to increase the longevity of your boat(s).
Using a flashlight, examine the inside your cockpit and hatches for stress cracks to composite kayaks (Kevlar, carbon, fiberglass), which look like ‘spider webs’. Don’t confuse hairline gel-coat cracks on the exterior (cosmetic) with a real stress crack (structural) to the composite material in the interior. Inspect the seams of the deck and hull as well as the cockpit combing for cracks that can occur from lifting or improperly transporting boats.
Check for leaks by filling the cockpit and hatches with water, tilting the boat to one end, and looking for seepage. Impossible-to-find leaks are located by filling the hatch compartments, firmly re-attaching the covers, and then turning the boat upside down. Leakage is often from bulkheads separating due to stress, loose hardware, and occasionally poor factory workmanship.
Remember, replacing a rudder cable at home is easier then dealing with a snapped cable during a big water excursion.
Review all rudder and skeg cables, foot peddles, tracks, and all fasteners for wear. It’s also important to inspect your seat system, back band, and thigh brace padding for wear. If needed, be sure to replace:
- Frayed perimeter lines
- Rudder lines
- Grab handles
- Corroded hardware
Note: Before storing your kayak for the off-season, it’s also a great time to upgrade your boat with accessories or custom-fit padding to your individual needs.
General Care for your Kayak
Wash your kayak thoroughly after each use, especially when paddling different lakes. Use environmentally friendly dish detergent, non-abrasive kitchen-cleaning pad, and a soft cloth. Soap and water is also effective and Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser works wonders on those stubborn scuffs and the ‘sticky-stuff’ like tree sap.
Flush sand and grit away from gear tracks, foot braces, beneath your seat, and out of the skeg box. Acetone or nail polish remover is great for eliminating tough marks or stains on composite kayaks (it can be picked up in your local hardware store); Acetone should never be used on Poly or Thermoform Kayaks as it will melt the material.
Note: A U.V. inhibitor (UV Tech, 303 Protectant, Armorall) will help protect plastic and composite finishes from fading – think of it as sunscreen for your boat. It is also important to treat VCP hatches, gaskets, and all rubber materials to maintain supple, watertight seals.
Kayak Maintenance Prevention – Frontenac Outfitters’ staff is pleased to teach you how to enter and exit your kayak from beach areas, deep waters, and from docks. A few of our tips will go a long way to eliminating most normal kayak wear and tear. We will also show you the best way for you to carry, put down, and transport your boat(s).
Visit our shop for in-person demonstrations or check out our YouTube Channel for how-to videos and in-depth reviews!
How to Do Gel-Coat Repairs on Kayaks
Unless scratches expose the cloth, we recommend to leave them be unless you’re set on repairing them. Instead, think of scratches on composite boats as gentle reminders of past excursions; the deeper the scratches, the better your stories!
However, exposed cloth will eventually become saturated with water, which in time, can lead to de-lamination. A simple fix is to fill the area with 5-minute epoxy, but for a more visually appealing repair, a proper gel-coat patch is required.
Here’s how to do a gel-coat repair on your kayak:
Gel-coat Repair Materials
- Gel-coat – custom ordered from the manufacturer to perfectly match colour, or gel-coat repair kits can be purchased through most marinas
- Hardener with MEKP
- Rubber Gloves
- Painter’s tape
- 60, 120, 220 grit Sandpaper (dry)
- 300, 600, 1000 grit Automotive Sandpaper (wet)
- Dremel Tool
Gel-coat Repair Procedure
- Etch out the cracked gel-coat with a Dremel tool
- Rough the area with 60-grit sandpaper for better adhesion
- Clean with Acetone or nail polish remover
- Mask off the area with painter’s tape
- Mix gel-coat with hardener (read the instructions for proper mixing ratio)
- Fill damaged area
- As gel-coat begins to harden, remove painters tape so that it doesn’t get trapped beneath the new gel-coat and hinder its adhesion
- When dry (within 24 hours – 48 hours), begin sanding starting with heavy-grit sandpaper and working towards wet sandpaper to blend the patch with the existing gel-coat
Note: Two or three gel-coat applications may be required depending on the severity of damage.
How to Repair Small Holes and Cracks in a Composite Kayak
Looking inside your boat, if spider cracks or holes are clearly visible, your kayak’s integrity may well be compromised.
Hole Repair Materials
- Fiberglass or Kevlar cloth
- Epoxy Resin – vinylester or polyester resin will also work if Epoxy resin isn’t available
- Hardener – match with the resin system used based on manufacturer’s instructions
- Rubber Gloves
- 100-grit Sandpaper (dry)
- 400-grit Automotive Sandpaper (wet)
- Cardboard & Wax Paper
Small Hole Repair Procedure
- Rough the inside of the kayak with sandpaper
- Tape the cardboard backing with wax paper to the outside of the repair area as a base to repair onto
- Saturate the fiberglass or Kevlar cloth with the mixture of epoxy & harder
- Apply cloth to an area 2” larger than the impact region
- When dry, apply a second, slightly larger application
- Gel-coat the outside of the repair area as per above instructions – paint gel-coat onto the cloth on the inside if needed
Note: For composite repairs larger than discussed above, we recommend having the repair done by a professional before storing your kayak for the off-season – our repair tech, Matt Lemke from Lemke Paddlecraft Repairs, is who we use locally.
Repairing Polyethylene (Plastic) Kayaks
It is unlikely you will face major repairs with polyethylene boats as they are very impact resistant, but small holes can easily be plugged with Ptex candle (sold in ski shops) or plastic weld epoxy. Other repairs that may be needed on a polyethylene kayak are reforming hull distortions or reattaching foam bulkheads that begin to separate from the kayak.
Small Hole Repair Procedure
- Clean the damaged area with rubbing alcohol
- Apply duct tape to the inside of the hole
- Fill the hole from the other side with the Ptex or Plastic Weld Epoxy
- When dry, use a razor blade cut the repaired area flush
Note: Although impact resistant, polyethylene plastic is soft making it affected by harmful U.V. rays and becomes stressed when left in the sun’s extreme heat or tying it down incorrectly for transportation.
Repairing Hull Distortion
Placing your kayak upside-down in the sun and allowing heat to build up within the cockpit will often eliminate hull distortions. In severe cases, fill the distorted area with hot water (not boiling); the combination of the waters weight, heat, and uniformity should repair your boats shape after a couple of hours.
Note: Continue to monitor the shape of the hull while attempting either of these methods to ensure you don’t distort it further.
Repairing Foam Bulkheads
Over time, foam bulkheads may can separate from a polyethylene kayak due to repeated hull stress or heat buildup. A re-application of a quality marine sealant is used to reattach the bulkhead in the original position. Completely removing the bulkhead and thoroughly cleaning away the old sealant is recommended for maximum adhesion and a reliable, watertight seal.
Kayak Skeg Jam Repairs
Skeg jams often occur when a small pebble, sand, or other obstructions get lodged within the skeg box. Most issues occur when the paddler doesn’t realize there’s a jam and tries to force the skeg down. This causes the cable to kink, which results in it needing to be replaced. Replacements typically need to be custom ordered from the manufacturer to fit your model.
A good rinse of the skeg box using the jet-stream setting on your garden house usually cleans away the obstruction.
Note: To prevent kinking your cable, drill a small hole into the bottom corner of your skeg and tying a small 4” line to it. Now you’re able to manually pull a skeg if it’s jammed rather than forcing it down with your control knob.
Kayak Rudder Repairs
A rudder line falling off the cam track, a rudder being bent, a down haul line or rudder cable frayed, broken, or missing hardware are easy-to-fix problems. Foot brace jams are usually caused by sand or grit or loose hardware. Flush the area with water (a pressure washer works great) then applying a light spray of W.D.40 to lubricate moving parts normally fixes this.
Replacement parts can be special ordered through the manufacture.
Storing Your Kayak Inside
Inside storage is preferred as prolonged U.V. exposure and snow or ice buildup can shorten the lifespan of your kayak.
Store your boat hull up on parallel bars that are evenly spaced under the bulkheads or about a third of the way from bow and stern. For large cockpit recreational boats, position the cockpit combing so it rests on the storage bars; for touring kayaks, position bars so they contact the hull between the cockpit and any hatches.
To build an on-wall storage system, attach an L-shaped frame using 2×4’s to a bearing wall and add nylon slings for a simple way to store kayaks. Products such as Malone Auto Rack’s, J-Hoops, are an option for a pre-made solution if you’re unable to make your own racking.
A sling & pulley system is also an effective and easy way for storing your kayak in the off-season. For this application place two 3-inch nylon slings around the kayaks underneath the bulkheads and hoist up & out of the way.
Note: Suspending your kayak through the grab handles at either end of the boat can cause the hull to sag (especially poly boats). Also, storing polyethylene kayaks on their sides may cause a flattening or deformation to the wall of the boat.
Storing Your Kayak Outside
If you must store your kayak outside, suspend a tarp over the boats leaving the downwind end open to ensure circulation. It is also important to store the kayak off the ground on two parallel bars as explained above – sawhorses work great for this – and to routinely clean off snow and ice that builds up throughout the winter. If possible, attaching a racking system to the outside of your garage or fence provides a reliable outside storage solution.
Note: Do not wrap your boat tightly with the tarp as it traps moisture inside and may discolour your kayak or cause gel-coat cracks.
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions or recommendations of your own for maintaining and storing your kayak for the off-season, contact us to share them!
If you’re a canoeist, be sure to check out our article on Maintaining and Storing Your Canoe for the Off-Season.
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