It’s something no kayaker wants to happen – springing a leak in your inflatable kayak… You play it out in your head everytime you go paddling, always being super careful..
Unfortunetly one of the cons of owning an inflatable kayak is that it may spring a leak when its least convenient. But we got you covered! As Red Green would say (Canadians know) “We’re all in this Together”!
Inflatable kayak repair is actually not as difficult of a task as you would think! There is definitely no need to start shopping for another kayak.
To repair an inflatable kayak, all you need to do is find the leak and patch it in a few simple steps. Even a large tear in your kayak is fixable! You’ll need patch material and adhesive, as well as a few common household tools like scissors and gloves.
Since I was seven years old, I’ve been paddling the coastlines in Ontario and British Columbia and explored many US waterways. I’ve been kayaking for 25 years and have had my fair share of leaks and repairs. I’ve patched plenty of inflatable kayaks, and I promise you it’s something you can do, too!
In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know for inflatable kayak repair. You’ll learn:
- How to find the leak
- What items you’ll need for repair
- How to fix small holes (step by step)
- How to fix large holes (step by step)
- How to fix holes in the seam (step by step)
- Frequently asked questions
Let’s dive right in and explore how to fix a hole in a kayak.
How Do I Find the Air Leak?
Okay, so you know you have an air leak. Maybe you were out on the water and your kayak slowly deflated. Or maybe you can even hear a leak – it will sound like a hiss of air.
But before you can patch the leak, you have to find it! I know sometimes it seems impossible. Punctures can be tiny and even invisible to the naked eye. But you can find the leak pretty easily with a few tricks.
First, make sure to inflate your kayak fully. It will be easier to find the leak if it’s got plenty of air pressure.
Second, make sure you have a pencil or some other marker on hand. Once you find the leak, you should mark where it is immediately.
Third, don’t forget that you might have multiple holes. Give your kayak a thorough check to ensure you’ve found all possible leaks.
Fourth, start with the seams and the valves. These areas are often a little weaker since they’re natural breaks in the fabric. Over time, the seams or valves might get looser. They’re also more vulnerable to punctures from sharp objects.
Okay, with these guidelines in mind, let’s walk through a few different ways to find a leak. Here are the techniques that I’ve found work the best:
Check It in the Water
Leaks are most likely to occur on the underside of your boat. If you paddled through a rocky and shallow riverbed, the fabric might have snagged on a rock or branch. If you dragged your inflatable kayak along the ground, the same thing could have happened.
Go to the shallows and inspect your kayak. While you’re still in the water, put on some goggles and inspect the bottom for leaks. You’ll need to be in water that’s deep enough for you to get a full view of the underside of your kayak while it’s underwater.
Look closely at the underside and see if any air bubbles are coming out. If you do see air bubbles, try to find exactly where they’re coming from. Sometimes it’s just natural air bubbles from plant life or turbulence. Make sure you can see them coming out of the kayak itself.
Listening for air leaks is the easiest way to narrow down where they might be.
After you’ve inflated your kayak, apply pressure to different parts of it. Put your ear close and listen as you press down. Keep doing this around different sections of your inflatable kayak.
As you apply pressure and listen for leaks, make sure that you’re in a quiet area so even the slightest sounds will be noticeable. Eventually, you may hear a faint hissing sound or even feel air coming out. That’s the leak!
Make sure to use a pencil to mark the leak so you can find it when you’re ready to patch.
Another way to find a leak is to use soap and water. You can also use this method once you’ve heard the leak but aren’t sure exactly where it is. This method works especially well for tiny leaks.
Put some water and soap or liquid detergent in a bucket. Then, use a sponge or cloth to rub the soapy mixture across the whole surface of your kayak. You can also use a spray bottle. Look for bubbles.
I know you might be thinking, “Soap already has bubbles.” What I mean is to look for new bubbles forming after you apply the soap mixture. The air leak will create a consistent stream of bubbles in the soap, and they’ll likely be a lot bigger than the normal soap bubbles.
Of course, you can just scrub soap over a smaller area if you think you already know where the leak is. But I recommend soaping up the whole kayak.
You might have more than one leak.
If regular soap isn’t working, you can try using snow foam. Snow foam is that incredibly foamy soap used in car washes. The bubbles from an air leak will be a lot bigger than the tiny bubbles of the snow foam. You’ll quickly see them popping up.
Coat your whole kayak in snow foam and give it a few minutes to react to the air leak.
Again, remember to mark the leak!
Use Plastic Wrap
That stuff you use in the kitchen to wrap up leftovers? Not the only thing it’s useful for!
You can use plastic wrap to find air holes in your inflatable kayak. The plastic wrap should hold air in so you can see a bubble forming. The process could take a while since you’re wrapping up your kayak and waiting for the air to leak slowly out.
First, get your kayak wet so the plastic wrap will cling to it. Then, working in sections, press the plastic wrap down onto every surface of your kayak. Try to press out any air bubbles or creases because you’ll need to see where new air is coming in.
Now, just give it some time. As air slowly leaks out of the hole, it will gather in pockets in the plastic wrap – assuming you stuck it down well enough.
Inspect the situation regularly to see if any fresh air pockets are forming in the plastic.
Plastic wrap is a pretty work-intensive solution, so I recommend using it only as your last-ditch effort.
Items You Will Need for Repair
Before we get into the steps for how to patch a kayak, you’ll need to gather the right tools. You’ll need a few basic household items for every type of leak. Depending on your specific inflatable kayak construction, you’ll need different products for the adhesive or patch materials.
Most inflatable kayaks come with an inflatable kayak patch kit. But even if yours didn’t, you can easily get all the tools you need.
The following you can get on Amazon.
Work gloves – You’ll need work gloves to ensure you don’t get glue on your hands.
Scissors – You’ll need scissors to help cut out a patch for the leak.
Packing or masking tape – You’ll use tape to help control the area where you apply adhesive. Packing or masking tape will adhere to but won’t damage your inflatable kayak.
Isopropyl alcohol or a solvent cleaner – You’ll use this to clean the area you’re patching. Alcohol helps remove any oil or residue, so the glue sticks.
Roller or putty knife – You’ll need these to help press out any air bubbles in your patch.
Adhesive glue – We’ll explain how to choose your glue type below.
Patching material – You need a sheet of patch material to cover the leak. Get the patch material that matches the type of material on your kayak. Most of the times your inflatable kayak will come with a repair kit.
Types of Material – PVC vs. Hypalon
Let’s break down the different types of adhesive you might need. Most inflatable kayaks are either PVC or Hypalon. Some newer kayaks come with a more environmentally friendly material called Nitrylon, but you can use the same products with Hypalon.
All inflatable kayak surface materials are very smooth and slippery, which in small part allows your inflatable kayak to glide in the water. However, standard glue won’t be able to stick to the surface.
- PVC stands for “polyvinyl chloride,” and it’s a type of plastic. It’s sturdy, lightweight, and very affordable. But PVC is less resistant to abrasion and sunlight than Hypalon. For PVC, you’ll need a PVC or urethane-compatible adhesive. The best are solvent-based polyurethane adhesives.
- Hypalon is a synthetic rubber that’s exceptionally durable and resistant to UV damage. It’s more expensive than PVC and comes in fewer colors, but it’s incredibly sturdy. For Hypalon, you’ll need a solvent-based rubber adhesive. Look for the word polychloroprene.
For rubbers, the adhesive will be a two-part adhesive with glue and a curing agent. Simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mixing the two.
How to Fix a Leak on an Inflatable Kayak
Now that you have all the materials you need, it’s time to patch that leak!
Use the following steps for a complete inflatable kayak repair.
For small holes three inches or smaller, you’ll want to do a basic patch job. If it’s a tiny puncture, you may be able to get away with just using a self-adhesive patch or tape. But these aren’t as long-lasting, so we recommend using adhesive and a proper patch.
To see a great visual of these steps for kayak leak repair, check out this YouTube video.
Here are the steps to patch a small hole.
- Clean the area on your kayak with a solvent cleaner or alcohol. You’ve already marked the leak, so you know where it is. Clean at least five inches out on every side to make sure you’ve covered the area.
- Cut out your patch. Make sure it’s circular. You can use a lid or a coin to guide your patch outline! Any sharp or pointed edges will more easily snag and lift over time. Also, make sure you cut a patch large enough to cover two inches out from the hole in every direction.
- Sand down the patch and patching area so that the surface is smooth and matte, not shiny. The sanded surface helps the adhesive stick.
- Apply a thin layer of adhesive to the patch and the patching area. Wait three to five minutes or use a hairdryer to heat the glue, so it dries. You can also use the manufacturer’s instructions to know how long it will take to dry.
- Apply a second layer of adhesive in both places and let it dry until it’s “tacky,” not completely dry.
- Apply the patch over the hole. Make sure you press out any air bubbles. You can use a roller or putty knife to smooth out the edges.
- Slightly deflate your kayak, so the patch isn’t working against extra pressure as it cures.
- Let your kayak sit for at least 24 hours as the glue cures. You can get away with four to six hours, but I don’t recommend it.
- After 24 hours, do a soapy water check to ensure there are no leaks around the patch. Remember that leaks will cause large bubbles in the soap.
If you have a large hole of three inches or longer, you’ll want to do an “inside” patch as well as the regular outside patch. Inside patches are very tricky, so make sure you’re fully alert for this one!
Here’s how to do an inside patch for kayak hole repair:
- Clean the area inside the hole.
- Measure and cut out your patch. Again, make sure that you have at least two inches extra on every side.
- Sand down the interior surface around the hole and the surface of the patch.
- With the kayak deflated, lay your kayak down, so the hole is flat on top of the other internal layer of your kayak. Put the patch inside the hole with the sanded side facing up through the opening.
- Apply a thin layer of adhesive on the patch and the inside of the hole. Let it dry. Don’t let the surfaces touch each other yet.
- Apply a second layer of adhesive on both surfaces and let it dry to the point that it’s tacky.
- Now you’re ready to stick them together. With the patch lying inside the hole with the adhesive side facing up, press the top side of the hole down onto the patch. Align the bottom side of the hole, so there’s no gap, and press that side down onto the patch as well.
- The hole should now just look like a slit and should be completely stuck to the patch on the inside. Let it dry for 24 hours.
- Next, follow the steps above in the “small holes” section to apply an outside patch.
Hole in Seam
If you have a hole along the seam, you may need to take a couple of extra steps. Here’s how I recommend patching a hole in the seam.
- Follow the steps for both inside and outside patches listed above. Seams are the weakest points in your kayak, so using the strongest patch is a good idea.
- Measure out a patch that is significantly larger than the hole. I recommend about five inches on every side. The wider patch helps absorb some of the impact and stress on the seam.
- If your seam sticks up, fold it down flat over the hole before applying the outside patch. You can see what I mean in the above YouTube video.
- You can also use Sealflex as an additional safety measure. Sealflex is a water-based sealant explicitly made for inflatables. The bottle will have instructions for how to use it. Essentially, you pour the solution through the valve on your kayak. Close the valve and then rotate your kayak in every direction until the Sealflex has coated the inside.
Other than these three additional steps for inflatable boat seam repair, you can follow the previous sections on doing an inside and an outside patch.
FAQs on Inflatable Kayak Repair
Now that you know how to repair a kayak, nothing can stop you! But before we leave, let’s go over some of the most frequently asked questions about kayak repair.
How do I Prevent my Inflatable Kayak From Springing a Leak Again?
Inflatable kayaks are highly durable and made for regular wear and tear. With proper care, your inflatable kayak should last years before you even need to patch it.
However, you can take a few steps to ensure the kayak lasts longer and avoids leaks.
1 – Protect Your Kayak From Sharp Objects
This one seems obvious, but sometimes it’s harder said than done! You may encounter sharp objects on a paddling trip with a shallow section or even on the journey from your vehicle to the water.
In the water, try to plan your route to avoid shallow or rocky areas. Don’t go out when the water isn’t deep enough for safe passage.
Out of the water, make sure you aren’t dragging your kayak over anything except soft grass. Lift it to carry over rocks, branches, or rugged terrain.
2 – Regularly Rinse & Clean Your Kayak
Minerals and contaminants in the water will eventually erode your kayak’s protective material over time. Protect your kayak by rinsing it after every use and cleaning it with soap every few months.
A few reasons that a regular rinse helps your kayak last longer:
- Saltwater is particularly corrosive, so make sure to rinse your kayak with fresh water after going for an ocean paddle.
- Even freshwater has pollutants in it. Think of oil and gas from speedboats and regular chemical runoff. While you don’t have to rinse it every time, a quick rinse will do a lot to maintain your kayak.
When you rinse or clean your kayak, ensure all the valves are closed, so you don’t get any water inside. A damp interior can breed mold and mildew.
3 – Use UV Protection
UV rays can damage your kayak over time. The harsh rays can break down the durability of the material or weaken seams. Over time, the color might start to fade, and the material may start cracking.
To protect your inflatable kayak against harmful UV rays, simply use a 303 UV spray. Spray the entire surface of your kayak with the spray, and then wipe with a cloth. If you notice streaks, that means you’ve used too much product. You can simply wipe it away with a towel.
4 – Be Careful of Air Pressure
Too much air pressure can eventually cause splitting at the seams. Make sure you’re only filling your kayak to the exact recommendations on the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t overfill it.
Air also expands in the heat. If you plan to dock your boat in direct sun or on a hot day, I recommend releasing some air first. When you remove some air, you’ll give the air inside more room to expand in the heat.
5 – Store It Correctly in a Dry Space
Storing your kayak correctly will help it last longer.
Make sure your kayak is completely dry before folding and storing it. Leaving any parts of your kayak wet can allow mold or mildew to grow. When you’re packing it up for storage, make sure you’ve allowed it to dry completely.
You can use a towel to wipe down your whole kayak and then let it air dry. I also recommend folding your kayak somewhat loosely. Tight folds can put a lot of pressure on the material and weaken it over time. Fold or roll it loosely, and don’t always fold it in the same direction.
Never store your kayak fully inflated. Leaving it inflated puts extra pressure on the seams. Your kayak needs to rest, just like you!
What Should I Do If a Leak Springs in the Middle of Paddling?
First of all, don’t panic!
Most punctures are pretty small and leak very slowly. But even large holes aren’t an emergency. Inflatable kayaks can stay afloat even if part of it springs a leak.
Inflatable kayaks have different compartments of air pockets or chambers. If you happen to snag a hole in one section, the other sections should stay inflated, allowing you to get safely to shore.
If you notice you’re losing air, try to find the leak with the techniques discussed above. You probably won’t have soapy water on hand, so try looking underneath your kayak for air bubbles. Above the water, run your hand around the surface of your kayak to see if you can feel air coming out.
- If you can find the leak, seal it up with duct tape or marine tape and then pump the chamber back up with the hand pump.
- If you can’t find the leak, pump the chamber back up and make for shore as quickly as possible. You’ll need to end the trip for now and figure out where the leak is coming from.
No matter what the leak situation, remain calm and head for dry ground.
Can You Use Flex Seal on an Inflatable Kayak?
The short answer is: Yes, but it may not work very well.
Flex Seal comes in different sealant forms, including an aerosol spray, a thick liquid, and tape. All three types can work to seal a puncture in your inflatable kayak temporarily. But none of them will work permanently.
I recommend keeping some Flex Seal tape on hand for quick, temporary fixes. You can apply the tape to keep air from leaking out until you get a chance to patch your kayak properly.
What Can You Put on the Bottom of an Inflatable Kayak to Protect It?
Like I mentioned above, sharp rocks, branches, or either debris can tear up the bottom of your kayak. And, while you want to avoid shallow, rocky waters, you can’t completely stay away from some bumps and scrapes.
So it’s best to make sure you add some protection to the bottom of your inflatable kayak. You can use a few different products to add a second layer of protection to your boat.
- Marine Glue: This adhesive sealant adds a solid protective, permanent coating to any PVC or synthetic rubber surface.
- Marine Paint: Marine paint is another protective coating used on boats and other underwater equipment.
- Marine Tape: You can use marine tape to reinforce seams, angles, or bends in the bottom of your inflatable kayak. The waterproof tape adds a strong reinforcing layer.
Adding an extra layer of protection to the bottom of your kayak is a great idea. You’ll have more peace of mind as you encounter rapids or shallows with a bit of extra reinforcement underneath.
How Long Can Inflatable Kayaks Last?
Most inflatable kayaks will last between five to ten years if you take good care of them. Follow the steps in this article to make sure yours lasts as long as possible.
In general, inflatable kayaks made from Hypalon will last a bit longer than PVC. They’re more expensive to buy, but I think it’s worth the money with the longer lifespan.
In the end, though, it all depends on how well you care for it!
How Do I Prepare for an Air Leak?
Just in case you spring a leak on the water, you should keep a few things with you every time you head out on your kayak.
Make sure you bring along:
- Duct tape or another sealant tape to temporarily patch holes
- A hand pump to refill the leaking chamber
- A personal flotation device or life vest for each passenger
Many kayaks will come with a kayak repair kit when you buy them. But if yours didn’t, it’s a good idea to go ahead and purchase patch material and adhesive, so you have it at home for any emergencies.
What We Learned
Boom! You have everything you need to know for inflatable kayak repair! Let’s do a quick review of all the basics.
- Find and mark the leak using one of our helpful techniques.
- Identify your kayak’s material type and find the right kind of adhesive and patch.
- For punctures of three inches or smaller, simply apply a patch to the outside and let it dry for 24 hours.
- For punctures of three inches or larger, apply an inside patch and an outside patch and let them both dry for 24 hours.
- For punctures or holes along the seam, use inside and outside patches and make sure the patch is significantly larger than the hole. You can also reinforce it with sealant.
Above all, don’t panic if you spring a leak, and don’t throw out your kayak! Inflatable kayak repair can be straightforward, and you should be able to enjoy your kayak for many more years.