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Kayak repairs

Repairing a glass fibre sea kayak or 'Who put that rock there!' by John B

Repair glossary

Kayak repair to many people is a black art. This can be for many reasons:-

– it is fear of the unknown
– why ruin my nice shiny kayak
– best left to the professionals
– where do I get the bits
– any other options & procrastination 

The basic repairs consist of a bit of duck tape and crossed fingers. This is fine for a quick repair in a trip but not good long term. Eventually running up beaches and lots of seal launches take their toll on the keel of a kayak and repairs are needed. Or worse, bumping a rock can have a disastrous effect on the side of a sea kayak. Ever wondered why your kayak leaks in the compartments when no one else has that problem? Could be the deck fittings, bulkhead or a small hole, so why not fix it!

It must be remembered that resins, gelcoat, catalyst and fibreglass are not designed to be swallowed, placed in open cuts or areas of thin skin tissue like eyes or more private areas. So it is very advisable to wear rubber gloves, goggles or a face mask when working with these items. Ventilation is a must as the fumes can be very uncomfortable and in some cases fatal! AND it IS all very flammable, so those people who are unfortunate to feel they must smoke restrain yourselves whilst in the work area!

Repairs take the following format:-

  • Assess the damage
  • Prepare the work surface for repair
  • Prepare the repair materials
  • Carry out the actual repair
  • Wash out brushes, dispose of excess safely
  • Possible final finishing
  • Get the kayak back on the water!!

Assess the Damage

Always worse on a new boat! No one wants to be the first to put a blemish on their pride and joy. But one that has many battle scars, well one more will not hurt. Cracks or splits are much simpler than full blooded holes of course. A split or crack may just be a case of painting a bit of resin  in the gap whilst a hole may require some assistance to hold the shape of the boat.

Prepare the Work Surface

Like painting, the surface must be firm to hold the new materials. There is no point in putting lots of fibreglass onto loose repairs from before. Although it may be unfortunate, or seem extra work, you are best getting rid of all the old repairs. Your shoulder will thank you for it when you put the kayak on the roof! Sand/groove ALL the area that GRP is to be bonding with so it will not fall off easily. It MUST be dry. Fibreglass absorbs water so you must give it time to dry out! Do not waste your time if the clouds are looming in the garden, head for the garage or get the tent out.

Prepare the Repair Materials

Do you wish to make it look like it never got hurt or simply slap on some fixes. The materials include fibreglass, Resin, Catalyst and a brush as a minimum. Additional items may be Pigment, Gelcoat, Tissue, Woven Roven, Acetone and Powder.

Carry Out the Actual Repair

This has a time factor! It is based on temperature and the amount of resin / catalyst being used. The minimum temperature you should be working in is 16C / 62F. If it is colder than this you may want to add more catalyst, but this will make the repair more brittle. Add Catalyst at 1% (10cc per KG resin) to give a working time of about 25 – 30 minutes. The chemical reaction creates heat so if the resin is left as a large quantity for long it will go off quicker. First stipple the resin onto the  fibreglass on a board or similar then paint a small amount onto the kayak itself. This will make sure all will bond well. Place the fibreglass onto the kayak and again use the brush to stipple the area. This is to remove all air and let the resin fully bond with the glass. Transparent repairs are easier to see as the materials go clear. If you wish you can add a piece of tissue to the top layer for aesthetics.

Wash Out Brushes, dispose of excess safely

Once all repairs have been done get the brush and any other tools you wish to reuse in the Acetone   as quickly as possible! Get every drop of the resin out of the brush. Any tubs containing waste resin allow to go solid – make sure they do not create a fire hazard- this makes them easier to dispose of. DO NOT POUR WASTE ACETONE OR RESIN DOWN THE SINK!!! There are many ways of disposing of the chemicals. If left open to the air acetone will evaporate so seal the lid. Old acetone can be reused as the first rinse of your brush. It is not advisable to pour chemicals over the neighbors fence either.

Possible Final Finishing

Once all is hard check the work for spikes of glass or loose edges. It may need a bit of sandpaper over the top. What does make things look nice is a bit of sanding followed by a gelcoat mixture to really smooth things down.

Get the kayak back on the water!!!

Seems obvious. The kayak has been off the water far too long already so get out there and enjoy it.





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