With proper maintenance of your polyethylene kayak you extend its life while avoiding headaches on the water
If you have been taking care of your polyethylene kayak, there won’t be a scratch, blemish or dent anywhere to be found on your kayak. But let’s face it, that’s not the typical experience of a plastic, or rotomolded, kayak. Over time they succumb to use, the effects of weathering, especially from sun exposure and outside storage, and, like everybody and thing, ageing. Each takes a toll on the hull and deck of a kayak.
With a little care, however, you can extend the life of your plastic kayak, whether it’s a recreational, whitewater or touring boat. Let’s take a look at some basic, easy maintenance.
Five common points to address for maintenance of a polyethylene kayak include eye straps, deck bungees, oil canning, hull fuzzing, and cleaning.
Let’s start with the eye straps as it applies to the maintenance of deck bungees as well. An eye strap is a U-shaped piece of hardware used at various spots across the deck of a kayak. The eye strap’s purpose is to anchor web straps and hatches to the deck as well as to channel and hold in place deck bungees. An abundance of eye straps are found on many models of touring and recreational kayaks, and a handful on downriver, or crossover, kayaks.
The eye strap is an important piece of hardware; however, the plastic ones, which are regularly used on polyethylene kayaks, have a weakness. They crack and ultimately break due to stress, impact or age. Of the 20 eye straps on my oldest touring kayak (22 years old), 15 were cracked and one had completely broken off. The kayak was otherwise in good shape, not quite ready for the boneyard. So, needing some love, I chose it to be our model.
In short order I found the exact eye strap replacement for it in a packet of four at an Ace Hardware store. Replacing an eye strap requires a Phillips head screwdriver and a small wrench. Two bolts hold one eye strap in place, secured with a nut on the inside of the kayak. To replace an eye strap, remove the bolts with the screwdriver while holding the nut with the wrench. Before pulling the unloosened bolt through the hole, be sure to grab the tiny rubber gasket off the bolt threads – and don’t lose the nut. Unless the bolts, nuts and rubber gaskets are damaged, you will reuse them to replace the eye strap.
Set aside or discard the old eye strap or its pieces. Ready a new one in its place, and insert the bolts. Slip on the rubber gaskets and nuts, then tighten the bolt. Not too tight! You don’t want to start over because you cracked the new eye strap by overtightening the bolt.
You may need some help at one end of the operation due to the arm reach needed to hold the nut while turning out a bolt. The eye straps behind the cockpit are more accessible than those at the front, which, depending on the boat, could require long arms to accomplish yourself.
Deck bungees hold gear onto the deck of a kayak where it’s accessible to the paddler. It’s one of the materials that’s quickest to wear out but also easiest to replace. It was a different color, but I found ¼-inch bungee sold by the foot at the same hardware store. I needed about 12 feet to replace the bungees on the back decking of our model kayak. Front or back, be sure to measure how much your project will need before heading to the store.
If all your eye straps are in good order you can begin threading the new bungee. You can either remember the configuration of the threaded bungee or diagram it, come up with a new configuration, or simply thread the new bungee in by following out the old bungee. Secure the ends of the bungee with a firm knot such as a lover’s knot aka fisherman’s knot. When tied, there should be a bit of tension throughout the bungee. Cut any excess from the end of the longest bungee end and burn the frayed end with a lighter.
Oil canning is a large dent, dimple, or indent that pops up – in technically – on the bottom of a polyethylene kayak. However it is described the impression on the hull deforms the look of your kayak and can hinder performance.
How did it happen? Generally these indents form at weight-bearing points when a polyethylene kayak is strapped too tightly for long periods to the bars of a car rack or stored on a surface that is not flat. In warm temperatures the plastic becomes more pliable, quickening the susceptibility of oil canning or exacerbating an indent that has already occurred. Kayak cradles offer a better surface to hold kayaks to a rack.
Heat it up
Repairing the indent requires heat. On a sunny day, flip the kayak so the hull faces upward. There, the warming rays of the sun can soften the polyethylene. This could take a couple hours or more, depending on the strength of the sun. In time the indent may automatically straighten itself, or you can flip the kayak and use your hand to push the indent outward. If the indent resists, let the sun warmer it longer and repeat.
Other options to warm the hull include using a hair dryer or to fill the kayak with hot water. Using hot water is more labor intensive but it has the benefit of adding weight to help hold the hull to its original shape.
Dragging, hitting rocks, loading, these occur regularly in the life of a kayak. They create scratches, gouges, scrapes and “fuzz” on the hull of a plastic boat. Each can put a drag on the boat but the fuzz is something that is easily addressed. The threads of plastic and other protruding spurs — the “fuzz” — can be shaved or clipped away. Good tools include a disposable razor or surform tool, or a fingernail clipper.
Kayaks spend their quality time on the water but they can get quite dirty. Generally, a light scrubbing with mild soap and water is all that is necessary to cleanse a boat. Adding a thin coat of non-silicon and non-petroleum products will put a bit of shine back onto the boat, and if the product choice is 303 Protectant you add sun protection.