If sea kayaking’s your preferred means of water transportation, it’s time to to start getting ready for another season. Even those who never gave it up for the winter should take some time to look things over. Saltwater is harder on equipment than fresh water. You’ll find rust or residue even on a new boat after one season. But first, some advice on storage.
Outfitters and dealers agree: hang your boat under cover by straps (the wider the better) placed around the hull close to the boat’s bulkheads. If there are no bulkheads place the straps a few feet fore and aft of the cockpit. Turn the boat on its side in the straps. Don’t hang it by its carry handles, says Dan Henry of Duck Trap Sea Kayak in Lincolnville. Keep the boat out of sunlight, and if you have a cockpit cover, put it on to keep out bugs and small animals, including your cats.
To begin spring cleaning, put your boat on a couple of sawhorses, bottom side up and inspect the hull for damage or deep scratches. Dings in the fiberglass gel coat can be filled with a gel coat repair kit available at your dealer. Likewise deep scratches in polyethylene hulls can be filled with repair sticks available from your dealer. If damage is more severe, check with your dealer or manufacturer for repair advice. There is a growing number of businesses which are into welding cross link polyethylene.
If you did not store your boat properly and you have a dent in your poly hull, don’t panic. You can fix it by using a controlled heat source such as a hair dryer and a weight. Put the weight inside the boat on top of the dent and heat the outside carefully. Take your time, do not heat one spot for any length of time, and do not overheat the area. Eventually the weight will push the dent out. Let the hull cool for a day with the weight in place.
If you don’t want to go high tech, you can wedge a brace between the deck and hull and let the sun do the work for you. It may take a couple of days, Henry says. But the best advice is to store your boat properly in the first place.
To clean the exterior and interior use mild soap and water. It’s a good time to check bulkheads for leakage. Puddle water on one side of the bulkhead and check the other side for any leakage. Caulk if necessary with Lexel or other appropriate marine sealant.
Check all interior and exterior cables and lines, including the carry handles. If you have a rudder, check the cables closely, especially at connection points at foot braces and rudder for corrosion or wear. Replace lines, bungees and cables as necessary. Check your foot braces too. Make sure the pedals move freely in their tracks and lube if necessary with TriFlow or silicon spray lube, available at most bike shops, Henry suggests.
Check all the through-hull hardware too. It should be tight and interior ends should be checked for rough edges which could tear flotation bags, dry bags, gear, clothing or your skin.
Run your fingers around the cockpit coaming, checking for rough spots which could cause wear and tear on your spray skirt. A light sanding with fine sandpaper should take care of any burrs. Look for stress cracks on glass boats. Make sure your thigh braces are still attached firmly.
Once your boat’s in good shape, check out the rest of your gear. Look closely at your paddle. Are there cracks on the blade or ferrule? If your paddle is wood, are there dings in the varnish which need attention? Sand and re-varnish as necessary.
Check your spray skirt’s seams and edges for wear and tear or dry rot. It doesn’t take long for the sun to do damage. If there is dry rot, it’s time for a new skirt. If everything looks good, give it a coat of 303, Henry recommends.
If you have float bags, inflate them and check for leaks. Patch as necessary or replace if they’re getting dog-eared. Remember your life depends on your boat staying afloat should you capsize. Check your paddle float to be sure it still holds air. It too could save your life. Try your water pump. If it’s not working fix it or chuck it and get a new one. If you have deck bags or chart cases, inspect them for damage. Make sure they’ll stay attached to your deck lines. If you have a compass check it out.
While you’re going over your PFD check your other safety equipment. Put a new battery in your strobe. Check the expiration dates on your flares. If they are past expiration dispose of properly and replace. Is your whistle still working and attached to your PFD?
Finally, before you head out for that first excursion, why not start a body tuneup? Consult your doctor on the best pre-season plan for a physical conditioning. When you and your boat are in good shape and you head out for a day on the water, don’t forget to take a few minutes to stretch out prior to launching, Henry advises.