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Repairing Damaged Kayak Hull Material by Callum Boase

How to determine the proper methods & materials for repairing polyethylene plastic, fiberglass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber kayaks. (For mounting hardware or design modifications see our Kayak Repair & Customization Section)

This article introduces the author's successful efforts in researching and compiling a "one-stop" archive of kayak repair methods called "Kayak-Repair-Central.com". This simple to navigate website includes links to original instruction sources. Where web-based kayak repair demo's come up short, Callum translates repair methods used for large boat projects into a process applicable to kayaks. He welcomes input from those putting these methods into practice and hopes you will share your results on TopKayak.net's Forum.

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If you have a damaged kayak, your first step should be to make sure you know exactly what material your kayak is made from. Kayaks are generally made from either composite materials or plastic.

Composite Kayaks:

fiberglass hatchComposite kayaks are made from either fiberglass, Kevlar or carbon fiber. Some are also made of a combination of these materials (for example a layer of Kevlar then a layer of fiberglass), or a hybrid combination of these (for example carbon fiber weaved with Kevlar).

What composite kayaks have in common is their basic construction method. In a nutshell, the kayak manufacturer combines the composite material in it's dry "fabric" form with "resin", which acts as a strong glue. The material is then shaped in a mold and allowed to set. Once it is dry it becomes the kayak you know and love. (right: Current Designs "The Zone" - A look inside the hatch of a fiberglass kayak reveals the fabric construction materials)

The other thing that most composite kayaks have in common is the "gelcoat" layer. Gelcoat is the smooth layer of material on the outside of a composite kayak. It is a layer of a special type of resin. It can be white, colored, or sometimes clear and is there to provide protection for the composite material. It also is there for aesthetics.

Fiberglass The ZoneIf you don't know what type of material your kayak is made from you can contact your boat's manufacturer or ask at a boating or kayaking store for information.

Most very old composite kayaks are made from fiberglass since Kevlar and carbon fiber are newer innovations. If you have an old composite kayak and thus can't contact the manufacturer, it is quite likely that you have a fiberglass kayak. (right: The Zone fiberglass construction)

If you have a damaged composite kayak, once you know the construction material, your next step should be to assess the damage to decide whether you need to repair it, and, if so, what sort of repair to do. (Skip down to Deciding On Composite Kayak Repairs.)

plastic Perception IllusionPlastic Kayaks:

Plastic kayaks are made from polyethylene, which is a very strong, durable plastic that is so common that you probably come into contact with it many times a day. Polyethylene is used in a massive range of products including shopping bags, water bottles, shampoo bottles and children's toys. (right: Perception Illusion rotomolded plastic)

ThermoformedIt should be fairly obvious if your kayak is plastic. It will have similar properties and appearance to other polyethylene products that you are probably familiar with. If you are unsure whether your kayak is plastic you can contact your manufacturer for details or ask at a boating or kayaking store. (left: A thermoformed plastic kayak, like this Hurricane Phoenix, can mimic a composite boat with its two-toned combined halves construction)

If you have a damaged polyethylene plastic kayak your next step should be to assess the damage to decide whether you need to repair it and, if so, decide what type of repair to do. (Skip down to Deciding On Plastic Kayak Repairs)

Deciding Which Type of Composite Kayak Repair To Do

Step 1: - Assess the damage to determine whether you need to repair it, and, if so, to decide what sort of repair is required. Below is a guide:

Deciding on Composite Kayak Repair Nature of damage What needs to be done
Scratch or chip in gelcoat that does not reach the composite material underneath Nothing needs to be done. This is a superficial scratch and structural integrity is still intact. You can repair for aesthetics, however. See Gelcoat Repair.
Scratch or chip in gelcoat that does reach the composite material underneath, however does not damage the composite material Structural integrity is still intact so you don't need to repair any composite material, however you should repair the damaged gelcoat to minimize the risk of future composite material damage. See Gelcoat Repair.
Deep scratch that goes through gelcoat and damages the composite material underneath. Structural integrity is no longer intact since the composite material has been damaged. You should do a composite material repair using the material your kayak is made from. See step 2 below for further details. Once you have done the composite repair you can do a Gelcoat Repair for aesthetics.
Crushed hull, hole in hull or any other type of damage that seriously deforms the kayak or stops it being watertight. Structural integrity and hull integrity are no longer intact. You should do a composite material repair using the material your kayak is made from. See step 2 below for further details. Once you have done the composite repair you can do a Gelcoat Repair for aesthetics.
Kayak broken in half! You can repair a composite kayak that has broken in half. The specific process for this type of repair is not covered on this website, however information in composite repair (for more details see step 2 below) and in Gelcoat Repair should provide some valuable help.

Step 2: - For a composite repair, decide your repair material.

You should use the same composite material (i.e., fiberglass, Kevlar or carbon fiber) that your kayak is made from. Using a different material will weaken the repair.

Step 3: - Go to the appropriate repair instructions at Kayak-Repair-Central.com at the following links:

Deciding Which Type of Plastic Repair To Do

Step 1: - Assess the damage to determine whether you need to repair it, and, if so, what sort of repair is required. See the table below:

Nature of damage What needs to be done
Kayak hull is deformed or bent out of shape. Reshape the deformed area. See Reshaping Deformed Plastic Kayak.
Shallow scratches that do not penetrate the kayak hull. Nothing needs to be done. There is no way to repair shallow scratches on plastic kayaks. There is also no need to repair them. Plastic kayaks are incredibly tough.
Deep scratch that does not actually penetrate the kayak hull but leaves only a very thin layer of plastic. You can do nothing and repair the damage if it eventually does penetrate right through the hull or you can use scissors or a Stanley knife to finish penetrating the hull and then perform a Plastic Kayak Repair.
Scratch or crack that goes right through the hull, making the kayak no longer watertight. Perform a Plastic Kayak Repair to restore hull and structural integrity.

CallumStep 2: - Go to the appropriate repair instructions at Kayak-Repair-Central.com at the following links:

Callum Boase is from Australia and has been kayaking for several years. He has a keen interest in repairing all types of kayak and so in 2009 created Kayak-Repair-Central.com, a website that gives kayakers around the world a centralized source of information on this topic.

Resources:

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