Maintenance - Keeping your kayak in top condition



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A yearly maintenance program will extend the life of your boat and the associated expensive equipment.




This past weekend we had a big snow storm. Well big for here anyway. We got about 16 inches of light powder snow -a real treat as most snow we get here is less than 6 inches and usually a heavy wet mixture of rain, snow and sleet. Anyway this was really nice stuff and I spent a couple of days out cross country skiing. Once it warmed up and the snow packed down it was time to put the skis away and think about the start of another year of kayaking. The arrival of the winter solstice and the start of the sun's journey back to our hemisphere got me in the mood to do the yearly maintenance on my kayak.

Over the summer, long trips through the tannin stained waters of the Pocomoke and Honga Rivers had colored the off white fiberglass hull of my boat a mottled tea hue. Sun and salt had powdered the once bright yellow deck of my nine year old boat. The first step in this year's plan was to restore the gel coat with a good fiberglass restorer.

First I removed all the deck rigging - the nylon lines that ring the periphery of my back deck, the front and rear bungee cords for securing gear and the bow and stern painters (lines). The back deck bungee had a broken cover from a missed roll in the surf at Corson's Inlet a couple of months back. I was holding onto my boat via the bungee instead of the toggle and a wave stretched the cord past the breaking point of the nylon cover. The rubber was still in one piece but the frayed ends of the cord reminded me of my error. Although I had replaced the cord just last year and my bungees usually last for several years, I would be replacing the cord again this year. I took the nylon lines I had removed from the rear deck rigging and put them in a little dish with some poured in Armor All, a less expensive alternative to 3M's pricey 303 Protectant. There they soaked for several hours.

Next I got out the 3M Fiberglass Restorer and started on the deck. The faded gel coat returned to its deep color, almost as dark as when my little kayak was just a puppy. A finish coat of carnauba wax and a buffing wheel really got the shine going.

Next I turned my attention to the stained oyster colored hull. The tannin stains required a lot more elbow grease, but section by section, the tea color disappeared. Only the many scratches in the gel coat retained the dark stains. It didn't seem worth it to do all the work to rub it out of the thousand scratches that now adorn the bottom of my boat. With a coat of wax buffed on, the hull was once again shiny and clean. It was also damned slippery so I will have to be careful handling it for a while.

I checked all the deck rigging eyelets for cracking and loose nuts. Then I went over the sliding seat mechanism unique to Mariner craft, checking the bolts and nuts, making sure all was in good condition. I decided to coat the aluminum foot pegs with a new product I discovered called Plasti Dip. I got it at Home Depot. It is a can of plastic that you dip or paint onto tool handles. It leaves a thin covering of stretchy plastic that does a marvelous job of smoothing and protecting all kinds of metal and plastic. I have dipped all my tool handles in it, restoring a funky looking collection of yard sale screw drivers, wrenches and chisels to a custom look set of matched items. Soon I was looking for other projects around the house. In went the S hooks for the kayak tie downs to protect the car finish from the bare galvanized metal. Next it was onto some aluminum carabiniers that I use for a short tow rope. The aluminum was pitting from the salt water and I thought the Dip might protect them from further corrosion and at the same time protect the kayak from the 'biners. I was dipping so many things in the Dip that the cats were starting to get nervous.

Anyway I thought that perhaps this stuff would also protect the aluminum on my Mariner foot pegs, so I coated them with the stuff too. They look great and I look forward to seeing how it performs.

While I had the brush wet I decided to put a protective strip on the stern keel where I set it down on the pavement when unloading the kayak from the roof of the car. I put on two coats. it will be interesting to see how it holds up

I returned the nylon lines to the back deck. I was glad that I had taken a picture of the setup prior to dismantling it. The piece by piece wax job had occurred over a period of a couple days. By the time I was ready to return the deck lines I had forgotten how they were on there. With a picture of the setup on my computer I just needed to bring it up on the screen to see how it had been done.

I put on the new bungee cord I purchased from Annapolis Performance Sailing. They have all kinds of marvelous high tech cord, elastic and things marine. It is a treat to live so close to such a marvelous resource. They have several different types of stretch cord both traditional and special purpose. All I wanted was the plain standard kind. I got the 5 meters of cord I needed for about $5.00. They sell over the internet so if you need some high performance gear, check them out.

With the boat waxing taken care of I turned my attention to my paddles. I used the restorer and wax on the paddles and brought their color back as well. The rubber drip rings got a liberal application of Armor All. I sprayed some lacquer down the barrel of the two sections of my break apart Euro blade fiberglass paddle to seal the plugs. These plugs keep water out of the paddle and keep it floating. Without plugs the paddle will fill with water and sink, I result that I unhappily experienced with a rental paddle one year.

I put strips of SOLAS reflective tape on the power face of the blades to complement the piece I have had on the back for almost five years. I also renewed the SOLAS patches on the bow and stern of my boat. These patches were in bad shape from all the bumps and drenching this great safety tape has endured over the years and it was time for a fresh set.

I will wait until spring to refinish my Greenland paddle when I came varnish outside in the warm temperatures.

I turned my attention to my dry suit. I Armor All-ed the gaskets and the zipper rubber gasket, lubed the zippers and returned the suit to its rounded shoulder hanger in the closet. I also lubricated the zippers on my PFD and checked the piece for thin spots and any tears of the past season. I used some wash in fabric water repellent.

Next I washed the wet suits in a special shampoo for neoprene, waxed the surf helmets, checked the operation of the hand pump and inspected the sea sock for holes. The valves on my float bags were loose so a used 3M 5200 to permanently secure them into the tubes. I checked over the paddle float, blew up both chambers to check for leaks, tested the operation on the valves and made sure that they were closed tightly for storage.

Next I opened the strobe and removed the batteries and replaced them with a fresh set. Same for the waterproof flashlight I use for night signaling and the headlamp for camping. I checked the operation of the VHF and removed the battery pack.

There certainly is a lot of equipment for kayaking. A little attention to all these things will keep your equipment in top condition. Doing it during the off season will mean that everything is ready to go when that first day of your new season comes around. As for me, I am headed for Florida.


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