There’s a lot to love about inflatable kayaks – their portability, compact size, and lightweight hull – but the fact that they can develop punctures and leaks is not one of them.
That’s the reality of owning an inflatable ‘yak, I guess.
Should you let a little leak ruin your afternoon and cut your time on the water short, though?
Stick around, and you’ll learn how to find a leak in an inflatable kayak and repair it!
Repairng Inflatable Kayaks – Key Takeaways
- Tools and supplies you need to detect and repair a leak in an inflatable kayak: You will need a spray bottle, some dish soap, clean water, a sponge, a bucket, and a marker to mark the exact point of the leak. As for the repair, you’ll need some rubbing alcohol, a clean cloth, sandpaper, scissors, and a kayak repair kit with adhesive.
- How to find a leak: You can inflate the kayak and listen for the leak; it’ll be accompanied by a distinct hissing sound. Alternatively, spray the surface with soapy water, and see where the bubbles will form.
- How to repair an inflatable kayak: Deflate your ‘yak and clean the area of the leak with a clean cloth and rubbing alcohol. Apply adhesive to the patch and the surface of the hull and press it on firmly, making sure to smooth out any wrinkles or bubbles that might form underneath. Wait up to 24 hours for the adhesive to cure.
- What can you do to prevent leaks on an inflatable kayak? Preventing leaks in kayaks comes down to proper storage, regular maintenance – including cleaning – and handling it with care.
Tools & Materials You’ll Need
Here’s what you’ll need for leak detection:
- A spray bottle
- Some dish soap and clean water
- A sponge
- A bucket
- A non-permanent marker or grease pencil
- An electric or hand pump
And here are some tools and supplies you’ll need to patch up your inflatable kayak:
- A repair patch kit and adhesive (this will vary based on the kayak’s material)
- Some rubbing alcohol
- A clean lint-free cloth
- Fine sandpaper
How To Find A Leak: A Step-By-Step Guide
Here’s how to find a leak in an inflatable kayak in three simple steps:
Step #1: Prepare The Kayak
The first step should be inflating your kayak to the recommended PSI. You can’t locate the leak if it is still deflated, can you?
Ideally, you’d want to set it up on an elevated surface – some kind of stand, for example – so that you have a 360-degree view and unrestricted access to the kayak, top to bottom. If that’s not an option, inspect the top first, then turn it over and examine the bottom of the hull.
You’ll likely hear the leak long before you actually see it.
So, you should do this in a relatively quiet area; otherwise, you won’t be able to hear the distinct sound of escaping air – especially for small pinhole leaks!
Step #2: Do A Visual Inspection
In some cases, there will be apparent signs of damage to the hull – ruptured seams, large tears, and small holes – that will be easy to spot.
So, it’s best to start with a thorough examination of the kayak.
Just pick an end and get to it – working your way from one end of the ‘yak to the other.
Pay attention to the seams and valves, as they tend to be some of the most common sources of leaks on inflatables. If one of the valves has become loose and is letting the air out, you may not need to patch anything up; you can tighten it with a valve wrench.
It’s a common – but easy to fix – issue with Boston valves.
And don’t forget to check the bottom of the kayak, too, especially if you’ve dragged it over rough terrain.
Step #3: Use The “Soapy Water” Method
One of the easiest ways to pinpoint a air leak is to use the so-called “soapy water” method.
The name says it all:
Mix some water and dish soap – the ideal ratio here is one part soap and six parts water – in a spray bottle. Alternatively, you can make this solution in a bucket and use a sponge to apply it to the kayak’s surface.
Either way, the idea is the same:
The soapy water mixture you apply onto the ‘yak – be it with a spray bottle or a sponge – should start bubbling if there is a leak.
If you can see bubbles or foam forming in a particular area, that’s where your leak is. So, dry the area off and mark it with a grease pen or a non-permanent marker.
How To Patch Repair An Inflatable Kayak: A Step-By-Step Guide
Now that you’ve successfully identified a leak, here’s how to patch an inflatable kayak:
Step #1: Prepare The Kayak For Repair
Okay, time to deflate the kayak and get to work.
The important thing here is to ensure that your ‘yak is on a level surface and that the area where the leak is located is as flat as possible. It’ll help you apply the patch with precision.
Before you proceed, you’ll need to prepare the surface:
- Clean it thoroughly with some rubbing alcohol and a clean cloth to get rid of dirt, oils, and residue.
- Lightly sand the area around the leak; I know the thought of using sandpaper on the hull of your inflatable ‘yak probably makes you cringe, but it’s perfectly safe, and it helps with patch adhesion.
- Clean the sanded area again to remove any fine dust particles; it needs to be completely clean and dry before applying the patch.
Step #2: Patching The Leak
Do note that the type of patch material included in your kit may vary and depends on the kayak’s construction, but the process remains the same:
Use scissors or a box cutter to cut out a circle-shaped patch. It should be big enough to cover the area of the leak; be sure to leave at least a one-inch border around it.
Your kayak’s construction dictates the choice of adhesive, too. Kayaks are not all made from the same material, so a kayak made of PVC will call for PVC or urethane-compatible adhesives, while a ‘yak made of Hypalon, for example, would need a solvent-based rubber adhesive.
The good news is that your kayak’s repair kit will include the right kind of adhesive. And don’t panic if you have misplaced your kit; repair kits are readily available from the manufacturers or from large retailers such as Amazon or REI.
Apply a thin layer of adhesive both to the underside of the patch and the surface of the hull – but don’t apply the patch just yet. Wait a few minutes for the glue to set and become tacky.
Now, press it on firmly and evenly, making sure to smooth out any wrinkles or air bubbles that might form underneath. It’s best to apply pressure from the center of the patch, working your way to its edges. I usually use the back of a spoon for this; it’s easier to even out the pressure and remove any air pockets between the patch and the kayak’s hull.
Step #3: Wait For The Glue To Cure
Now, you can sit back and relax. There is nothing more you can do except wait for the adhesive to cure and become completely dry. The curing process usually takes between two and 24 hours – depending on the type of glue. You will find more information about this in the repair kit’s instructions manual.
Step #4: Test The Leak Repair
I need you to inflate your kayak again; that’s the only way to check whether this repair job has been successful.
If all goes well, you’ll be hitting the waters soon enough!
With the kayak inflated, check for signs of any leaking air. You can do the soapy water test again – focusing on the patched-up area, looking for any small bubbles. Obviously, it wouldn’t hurt to examine the rest of your ‘yak while you’re at it, just to be sure everything’s in order.
If you can’t see any air bubbles on the surface, and your kayak seems to maintain its pressure well, you’re good to go.
How Can I Prevent Leaks In My Inflatable Kayak?
Prevention is better than cure.
Here are some common causes of leaks in inflatable kayaks, just to give you an idea of what to avoid – and how to prevent air leaks in the future.
You should NEVER store your kayak in an area where it will be exposed to extreme temperature changes or direct sunlight. It should always be kept in a cool and dry place – away from any heat sources, protected from the elements, sunlight, and excessive moisture.
That’s kayak storage 101.
Sunlight will slowly – but surely – weaken the materials, damaging even the most durable among inflatable kayaks to the point where it becomes much more likely to tear.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind:
You can store your ‘yak inflated as long as you make sure to let out some air – enough to reduce the PSI by roughly 20%. That way, with it partially inflated you’ll leave enough room for the expanding air and keep the pressure on the seams at an optimal level.
If you decide to store it deflated and packed up, then be sure not to fold and roll it up too tightly – because, again, it can put stress on the seams.
Handling With Care
You need to handle your inflatable boat with care.
That is to say, do not drag it across rough terrain; sand, twigs, and sharp rocks are all more than capable of causing damage.
And don’t even get me started on litter – broken glass, cans, bottles, and bottle caps – which has unfortunately become a common occurrence on many shores these days. I mean, how hard is it for people to pick up after themselves?
But I digress…
The risk doesn’t magically disappear once you’re in the water, by the way.
Fallen trees, coral reefs, rocks – you never know what is hiding beneath the surface, especially if you’re in shallow waters.
Proper maintenance is one of the biggest contributing factors to your kayak’s longevity.
You should make it a point to inspect your kayak for signs of damage regularly – especially if you haven’t done it in a while and have a longer outing coming up. In fact, I suggest giving it a quick once-over before and after every outing.
The same applies to cleaning your kayak.
You should rinse it with clean water, although I recommend adding some mild soap into the mix to make sure you’ve removed dirt, grime, and saltwater that builds up on the hull.
Case in point:
The accumulated debris can actually cause the valves to fail – making them unable to maintain a tight seal.
Clean the valve opening to remove any debris that might be trapped inside, and apply some 303 Marine Protectant to prevent future issues.
Frequently Asked Questions on Finding and Fixing Leaks in Inflatable Boats
How can I prevent leaks in my inflatable kayak?
The best way to prevent leaks in inflatable kayaks is to take good care of them. That means you should avoid dragging it across rough terrain – especially if there are sharp rocks, branches, and broken glass – and, generally speaking, handle it with care. Regular maintenance – cleaning and visual inspections – and proper storage are just as important. Also, don’t inflate the ‘yak past the recommended PSI to minimize the risk of the seams rupturing.
How long does it take for a patch to cure?
How long it will take for the repair patch to cure will depend on a few factors, namely, the type of adhesive and the material used. You should always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure the best possible results. Generally speaking, though, it will take anywhere from six to 24 hours.
Is it possible to repair a large tear or puncture in an inflatable kayak?
No, it’s best to leave the repair of extensive damages – especially those that involve large tears – to professionals. You’ll be able to repair holes, punchers and smaller tears at home – but it is important to know when to step aside and ask for professional help. If the damage is severe enough that it affects the kayak’s structural integrity, it may make more financial sense to replace it altogether.
How do I know if my inflatable kayak is losing air due to a leak or just natural air pressure changes?
The biggest difference between air loss caused by normal pressure changes due to temperature fluctuations versus an actual air leak is, essentially, the amount of air lost. When a pressure change is caused by a leak, it’ll be much more noticeable and usually accompanied by a hissing sound.
Can I use duct tape to fix a leak in my inflatable kayak?
Duct tape can be used to fix pretty much anything – including punctures and smaller leaks on an inflatable kayak. At this point, I’m pretty certain that duct tape can even mend a broken heart! All jokes aside, though, you should only use it as a temporary fix, until you actually reach the shore. I always keep a roll of duct tape in my dry bag for on-the-go repairs, and I suggest you do, too – but do not treat it as a permanent solution
Inflatable Kayak Repair: A Quick Summary
Here’s how to find a leak in an inflatable kayak and patch it up:
- Inflate the kayak to the recommended PSI and perform a visual inspection. If you cannot see the source of the leak, apply soapy water onto the kayak with a sponge or spray bottle; bubbles will indicate the leak’s exact location.
- Deflate the kayak and clean and lightly sand the area around the leak. Cut out a piece of patch material (leave a one-inch border) and apply glue on both the patch and the hull of the kayak. Press the patch on firmly and smooth out any wrinkles and air pockets. Leave it to dry for up to 24 hours.
- Check if the repair has been successful before heading out.
Obviously, prevention is better than cure. You’ll prevent future leaks by taking good care of your kayak. Maintain it regularly, store it properly, and handle it with care, and it’ll serve you for years.