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Kayak Care 101: All Year Round Maintenance Plan For Your Kayak

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could paddle our yaks every year without ever getting any dings, scratches, or dirt on them? As much as we’d like, that is never going to happen. Even the most casual of use has its share of wear and tear. There is no avoiding it. Your kayak is going to require some periodic TLC.

It has come to my attention that there are some who do not know what kind of maintenance their yak needs. While each situation is unique, there are some generalities we can explore.

When The Season Starts…

For many of us, there is no ‘season’, and we paddle all-year. For us, maintenance is an ongoing thing. But for those who are ‘seasonal’ there are some guidelines to follow.

If you did the proper maintenance on your yak before you put it up for the winter, then opening season may just be a good inspection for you. Otherwise…shame on you. Your boat deserves better. Even inflatables require some care and feeding.

The first thing to do is get the yak out, put it on some stands and do a good visual inspection. You’re looking for mildew, mold, discoloration, scratches, dents, fittings and tie-downs that are worn, wasp nests or animal nests in the cockpit or below deck, etc… Notice any smells that shouldn’t be there and try to determine the cause. You also need to inspect all of your equipment such as PFDs, bungrees, paddles, fittings, tethers, rod holders, etc… Repair, replace and clean anything that needs it.

On inflatables, be sure to check each valve to be sure they are clean and work properly. Look for any tears, or holes. Inflate them to the proper pressure and be sure they hold air. Inflating them also makes inspection and cleaning easier. Check your air pump and make sure it is clean and working properly. I always throw away my old sponges and get new ones about every 6 months or so. If you want to keep your sponges even though they smell, here is a trick to salvage them. Rinse the sponges and squeeze them until the water comes out clear, or close to it. Place the damp sponges in the microwave for 2 minutes and let them cool before removing them because they will be hot.  Rinse them in Clorox water (about 1 to 10 is plenty strong enough). Squeeze them out, and they will smell and feel like new for another 6 months or so.

It may sound obvious, but you need to remove anything off your boat that doesn’t belong there, like wasp nests, animal droppings, loose things like nuts, bolts, rivets, etc… If you covered the cockpit like you should have when you put it up, this should not be much of a problem. Likewise, if you stored your yak in a bag or cover, this will be a lot easier.

Next, replace any old and worn parts and fittings. Don’t try to, “get by for just one more season”. Most fittings are cheap enough that it is more feasible to just replace them, rather than try to do repairs. Be on the lookout for any signs of dry rot, and replace anything that is suspect. Pay close attention to the riggings and replace as needed. Inspect the hull for dents. A lot of times, dents can be removed by simply applying a little heat from a blow dryer (not too hot, though…just enough to heat it a little and not melt anything. You can also leave it out in the sun for a few hours (that’s not long enough for UV damage, especially if you treated it with protectant before storage like you should have…). This usually will make the dent pop right back out. If not, they may require more extensive repair by a professional. I’m not much of a DIY person. I love my boats and want them to receive the best care possible, which many times means by someone more knowledgeable than myself. I’m the same way with my guitars. I am secure in my limitations….

Now we come to the dreaded Mold and Mildew inspection. The first clue will be that funky smell of old gym clothes. A sure sign of mildew. Look for any dark spots. This is mold and mildew. Bad news …mold and mildew does not come off with regular cleaning. You’ll need to attack it directly and carefully. Never use bleach, ammonia, acetone or anything not specifically recommended for boats. With inflatables you have to be especially careful because even some specialty cleaners can discolor the fabric. Check them on a small inconspicuous area first. The easiest way I know of to kill these little botanical vermin is to use a specialty cleaner like Starbrite Mildew Stain Remover, or  a similar product. Spray it on., let it sit for 20 minutes or so, then use a very soft detail brush to lightly scrub away mildew and mold. Do it on small areas, one at a time. If you are worried about discoloration, you can use a straight white cleaning vinegar instead. Just let it set for 20 minutes or so, then rinse. The vinegar changes the PH to where mold and mildew cannot survive. A little light scrubbing with a soft brush should remove the dead spores. Afterwards, rinse the boat well and do a thorough cleaning with mild dishwashing soap and warm water. Dry the boat very well with towels, and let it air dry the rest of the way.

Lastly, treat the boats with a UV protectant like 303 UV Protectant, or my favorite, Armor All Kayak Restorer and Protector. Your boat will shine like new, and your inflatables will be almost showroom clean. You can now deflate and/or store them until you are ready to hit the water. Be sure to always use a cockpit cover and a storage bag to prevent future problems.

During The Season…

After every use, when you get home, put your boats up on the stands and inspect them. Inflate your inflatables. You are looking for damage, wear, dirt and grime, but especially unwanted hitchhikers, like Zebra Mussels, New Zealand Snails, Diaspora,etc… You do not ever want to transfer these from one body of water to another under any circumstances. These will be removed by cleaning your boats with dishwashing liquid and water. Check your paddles, PFDs, and other equipment as well, and be sure to wash them, too. Towel dry everything as best as you can and allow them to air dry the rest of the way before properly storing everything until the next use. Do this after every trip, no matter how short.

At The End Of The Season…

This is the most important part of maintenance. Diligent care here will keep you from having to do so much next season.

After your last trip, pay special attention when inspecting your boats, and replace or repair anything that even looks suspicious. Do all of the same things you do at the beginning of the season, and more…When cleaning, lightly scrub your yaks with a soft detail brush and be sure there is nothing on the yak that does not belong. Do the same for your equipment.

One of the most important things here is that the boat needs to be as dry as possible before long-term storage. Towel dry with Cham-Wows if you can find them, or just plain towels, then allow the boats to air-dry completely, and not in the garage. They need to be in the open air to dry properly, no matter how long it takes. After they are dry, treat them with the protectants and allow it to dry completely. Mold and mildew need moisture to to live and grow, so we want to deprive them as much as possible.

Your boats should always be stored with a cockpit cover and in a storage bag. Do not ever just throw them in the garage or shed. Bad things can and will happen. Use dehumidifier packs in the cockpit, and in the bag to make sure everything stays dry. They work great. I use them in all my guitar cases as well, and have never had a humidity issue.

I can’t kayak in the winter… that doesn’t mean that I stop taking care of it!

Inflatables can be a little more trouble. They are usually difficult to get back in their storage bags, and many people just roll them up and secure them with a bungee. Don’t do this. Even in a bag, rodents can chew through it, and borrow pieces of your boat to make nests. They love PVC and Hypalon. I’ve found a cool solution. Go to Walmart, Home Depot, or a similar store and buy one of those large plastic storage tubs with airtight lids. They are under $20.00, and more than worth it. Get one bigger than you think you will need, but will still fit in the back of your vehicle. Drop in a few dehumidifier packs and place your rolled up yak inside. There may even be room in there for some of your equipment like PFDs, multi-piece, paddles, pumps, etc… Now, just put the lid on securely, and your done. You can use any hand truck, dolly or cart to move it around. It can even fit on some shelves, and in lofts. Perfect storage all year.

It’s been my experience that it is much easier to prevent rather than repair. A clean, well maintained boat is a safe boat. Don’t skimp on any of these procedures, and your boats may very well outlast you. Your children may be paddling them someday, or maybe even grandchildren… a greater legacy I cannot imagine.

Happy paddling!

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