Kayak Maintenance: How to Care for Your Kayak Year-Round
When we did our Lemonade Challenge for Kayakers at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, we did a blog post on using that downtime to clean and maintain your kayak equipment. In this article, we have expanded on those concepts so that the next time you go out, your kayak will be in pristine working condition and will remain that way for years to come.
Types of Kayak Materials
There are several distinct types of materials from which kayaks are made, so the tips that follow may vary, depending on the kind you have. Rotomolded kayaks are made from polyethylene, which is a type of plastic. Polyethylene kayaks tend to be the least expensive, heaviest and require very minimal kayak maintenance. Most recreational and whitewater kayaks are made from this material.
There are also thermoformed or polycarbonate plastic kayaks, which are slightly lighter weight and require a bit more care than rotomolded kayaks. Fiberglass is a popular material for sea and touring kayaks. Fiberglass kayaks can’t withstand the types of impacts that polyethylene kayaks can, but they are generally more scratch resistant. Kevlar is similar to fiberglass but is lighter and more expensive. Kayaks made from wood tend to be favored by DIY kayak builders and finally, in yet another category, there are folding kayaks and inflatable kayaks.
For this article, we focus primarily on polyethylene kayak maintenance with a few nods to fiberglass kayak maintenance and other materials here and there.
Store Your Kayak Properly
Before you even dip that first blade into the water, give some thought as to where and how you will store your kayak. Here are some of the top strategies to keep in mind:
If possible, store it in a cool, dry place that’s protected from the elements (e.g., garage, shed, spare room); keep it away from heat sources and windows
If you must store it outdoors, choose a shaded area; prolonged sun exposure will weaken the plastic and make it more susceptible to cracking
Store it upside down and cover the cockpit to keep out rain and snow, small animals and bugs
Keep it off the ground, if possible; there are a variety of DIY and pre-made storage devices (e.g., saw horses, racks, cradles) you can use
For prolonged storage, use a weather-resistant tarp to cover the kayak; avoid having it rest directly on the kayak, which can lead to mold and mildew
To protect against theft, keep it out of view and/or use a cable lock to secure it to an immoveable object
Be sure to let it dry thoroughly before storing it for the season as the expansion and contraction of freezing water can damage your kayak
How to Clean the Inside and Outside of Your Kayak
You don’t have to win any Good Housekeeping awards, but a little kayak cleaning from time to time will extend the life of your boat.
Give the kayak a quick spray down with a hose after each outing, particularly if you’re paddling in saltwater or lakes and streams with significant algae or muck. This helps keep the kayak itself, along with any metal and rubber parts, more resistant from corrosion.
Don’t forget to rinse the rudder system, foot braces and accessories. If you don’t have ready access to a hose, bring along a rag to wipe down your kayak before transporting it home.
From time to time (e.g., 2-4 times a season), use some light soap and water with a sponge to remove built-up dirt and stains, both on the outside and inside of the kayak. Stay away from any abrasives. Remove all loose gear and accessories before cleaning and be sure to let everything dry thoroughly when you’re done.
Give special attention to the coaming/cockpit rim, hatch interiors and covers, tracks and rod holders, where sand and crud often accumulate.
Both polyethylene and fiber glass composites age in the sun, becoming faded and more brittle. On plastic kayaks, use a protective spray to mitigate the harmful effects of UV light; be sure to use it on both the outside and the inside of the kayak. There are many to choose from, but 303 Aerospace Protectant is a popular brand. For fiberglass boats, consider using a fiberglass-suitable wax to protect the finish.
A Note About Hull Deformities
Extended sun exposure, weather fluctuations, tie-down straps and other storage conditions can cause plastic kayaks to warp. These dips and dents are quite common and generally are not a cause for concern. You can try to coax the kayak back into its original shape by leaving it in the sun for a few hours, which will soften the plastic.
Perform Regular Kayak Maintenance
At the beginning and the end of the season (and as necessary during the season), inspect your kayak with an eye toward the following:
Do any holes need to be resealed or repaired? Is there any loose hardware? Is the bulkhead seal tight?
Inspect all rigging. UV radiation and everyday wear and tear can degrade plastic and metal attachment hardware. Are any handles, bungees or mounts broken or in need of replacement? How are the rudder or skeg, outriggers, cables, paddle mount and pedals holding up? Fix them all now to avoid finding yourself stranded on the water later.
Are the mounting tracks functioning properly, or are they filled with dirt and debris?
What about your paddle(s)? Are they clean and in good functioning order? If you have a Versa Paddle by Angle Oar, is everything secure and working properly?
Are fish finders and other battery-, solar- or motor-powered equipment all in working order?
If you had a collision, does your kayak hull need maintenance? Inspect the area of impact. For composite kayaks, look for fine white lines which may indicate fractured resin; get a repair kit, if needed.
Are there any other superficial scratches that can be buffed out with a polishing compound?
Don’t forget about your drybag contents and/or emergency kit. Are they fully stocked with all necessary items (e.g., knife, extra paddle, pump, first aid, paddle floats, throw line)?
And, of course, check that your lifejacket, or personal floatation device (PFD), fits properly and doesn’t have any tears, missing hardware or weak straps.
Consider Upgrading Your Kayak Equipment
If you suffer from occasional bouts of "kayak envy," now's the time to make a list of those important (and not so important) upgrades you’ve been dreaming about. New rod holders, a more comfortable seat or stabilizing outriggers are all investments you might want to make.
Or, if you’re concerned you might have to give up kayaking altogether due to a shoulder injury, arthritis or other health- or age-related condition, maybe it’s time to consider transitioning to a Versa Paddle or Gamut Paddle Holder.
Another start- or end-of-season purchase to consider is a kayak cart or other transportation system. Not only will they eliminate the bad habit of dragging your kayak on the ground, they’ll make transporting it much easier. If you can’t swing a cart or rack right now, do try to use the carrying handles on your kayak to prolong its life and appearance.
With a little extra effort, these kayak maintenance tips will keep your beloved kayak in good working order for years to come.