By Andy Knapp
As our friend, the sun, climbs higher into the sky and the weather warms up, will your kayak be ready for that first exciting paddling tour of the season? Let’s look at some of the things you can do to keep that kayak in top condition. And, of course, if you’re one of those meticulous types who likes to clean and fix things before putting them into storage, just save this column until autumn.
The first step is to clean the boat up. Use a vacuum cleaner if possible to help get sand and other grit out of the corners of the cockpit and the hatches. While doing that, check to see that adjustable foot braces are also free of debris and work smoothly. Clean the outside of the hull with an environmentally friendly cleaning agent in preparation for the next step.
Next, and perhaps most important, apply a coating of a good UV-inhibitor such as 303 Protectant to the hull. This will help prevent fading colors on all kayak materials, as well as adding extra serviceable years to polyethylene and fabric hulls and rubber hatch covers. If you do a lot of paddling in the sun or live in a southern latitude, do this at least once more during the season.
Another important step is to check the integrity of the kayak’s flotation. Closely inspect bulkheads for watertightness, and hatch covers and their straps, buckles, or gaskets for a proper seal. If you are using air bags for flotation, see that they hold air for a reasonable length of time and that any deck bolts or other attachments to the hull are capped or covered and won’t puncture the bags.
Deck lines, particularly shock-corded ones, will deteriorate with age, and the weak areas may not be very visible. Look for thinning or frayed sections where the cord is under tension bending around the deck fittings. Shift the positioning of the cord if possible, or replace if necessary. Tighten any of the deck fittings if they have worked loose. Grab handles that utilize cord may develop worn spots if used as tie-down points for car-topping, so don’t overlook those.
Mechanical devices like rudders and skegs need occasional maintenance as well. Check for smooth operation, and replace frayed cables or corroded parts. Manufacturers are regularly improving upon these devices. You may want to inquire about upgrades or after-market alternatives for replacement.
Kayaking accessories that are integral parts of the kayaking process should be in top condition as well. Look over your paddles for damage and for workable take-apart joints. Spray skirts or spray decks should be adjusted for correct tension on the cockpit coaming, and the coaming itself should be free of nicks or chips that may cut into the skirt fabric. And don’t forget to adjust the fit of your PFD after a season of inactivity.
Proper maintenance of your kayak equipment promotes safety for you and others, extends its useful service life, and most probably improves its resale value.