Ultimate Guide to Inflatable Kayak Repair: Fix a Leaky Boat Like a Pro

While inflatable kayaks are incredible for their versatility and space saving benefits, they are also more susceptible to punctures. So what do you do if you happen to spring a leak? Well, today, I’m going to share with you everything you need to know when it comes to getting your inflatable kayak back into tip-top shape.

Today, I’ll cover everything from finding that dreaded air leak to repairing it. I’ll also go over the different types of leaks you may encounter and the different options available for you to consider. Let’s get started! 

First Step for Inflatable Kayak Repair: Locate the Leak 

The first step to inflatable kayak repair is finding out where the leak is. If you notice the leak while you’re out on the water, then you may have sustained a puncture after hitting a sharp object. 

Chances are the leak will be under your boat or on the front or side chamber. Other times, it might be tricky for you to find the leak, this might mean your boat is leaking air from a seam. 

Carefully scan the base of your boat, side chambers, and then the front and back of your boat. If you have used sharp gear while paddling that might have fallen into your cockpit, look along the top of your boat as well. 

Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to locate a leak in your boat. 

Listen for the Leak

One helpful option can be listening for the leak. Fully inflate your boat and then put your ear along your inflatables surface and listen for a hissing noise. If you can hear it, but can’t find it, scan along the seams. When you apply pressure on the seam, this will make the air escape faster, resulting in a louder hissing. 

Put Your Kayak in Water

If you think there is a small leak on the bottom of your inflable, you can check by putting your kayak in the water. This method works best if you have access to clear water like a clear river or swimming pool.

Put your kayak in the water and dive underneath. Your goal is to scan the base for any small bubbles. As air escapes from the boat, the leaking air will bubble into the water. This method can be especially helpful if you feel you have a small hole somewhere on the base.

Use Soapy Water

Another neat trick to use is soapy water. With your boat fully inflated, you’re going to want to apply a soapy solution all over the boat. If you have an idea of where the hole is, you can apply the soap to just that area. 

Otherwise, apply it over the entire surface of your boat. If you have a rather large inflatable kayak, then you can try this method on the front part of the boat. Then, move to the back part if you still haven’t located the hole. 

Once the soapy solution is all over your boat, start looking for air bubbles. When air escapes underneath soapy water, the soap in the water will cause bubbles to form. If you think you have found the leak, try applying more soap to see if the bubbling continues. You can also put your ear against the surace to listen for the leaking air too. 

Next, Begin the Repair

Now that you’ve found the leak, it’s time to begin the repair. Air leaks can range from small pinhole leaks to large holes. Inflatable kayak repair is largely dictated by the type size and location of the leak – this is what will determine how you need to repair your boat. 

Use an Adhesive to Repair Small Leaks

If you have a super small leak that you can feel but not necessarily see, then a really good adhesive kayak repair glue may be all you need. 

A liquid adhesive like [alm id=’gear-aid-aquaseal-fd’]Aquaseal FD[/alm] can help you seal small holes and weakened seams. [alm id=’aquapro-repair-kit’]Aqua Pro’s PVC Stitch[/alm] is another very thick, vinyl based glue to plug up small holes. 

For the most part, adhesive glues help you touch up the boat, however, you may need to reapply the glue over time. Typically, adhesive glues like the ones mentioned above work best for PVC boats with low pressure. 

To use an adhesive, deflate the boat then clean and dry the area where the hole is. Apply the glue and allow it to dry for at least eight hours. Depending on the glue you use, you may need to apply a second coat. 

Some glues may require a longer dry time, and others may require you to inflate your kayak before you apply. Be sure to follow the manufacturer recommendations. 

What Patch Material and Adhesive Should You Use?

For larger punctures, you’ll need to use a patch to seal up the hole. Patches offer maximum strength when it comes to inflatable kayak repair. 

Know the Material of Your Inflatable Boat

In order to apply a patch, the first thing you need to do is understand the material of your boat. You’ll want to use a patch material compatible with your boat. With an inflatable kayak, your boat will either be made out of PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) or Hypalon. 

PVC is a lightweight, flexible plastic that incorporates a nylon or polyester fabric for added durability. 

Hypolaon is a more durable material. It’s made out of synthetic rubber. Like PVC inflatables, hypalon inflatables offer an outer coating of nylon or polyester fabric and an interior coating of neoprene. 

The Material Determines the Adhesive

Once you know the material your kayak is made out of, you can then pick out your adhesive glue. The material will determine the glue. For example, if you use a glue meant for PVC inflatables on a hypalon boat, then the glue will not allow your patch to stick. 

In some cases, this attempt at a patch may even cause damage to your inflatable. 

Lightly Sand the Surface of the Kayak and Patch

To start your repair, begin by lightly sanding the surface of your kayak and the patch. By sanding the surfaces, you’ll create additional friction that will allow your patch to have a more superior hold. Once you’ve sanded the surface, thoroughly clean it so that you don’t have any lingering debris. 

Apply Glue and Patch 

Next, apply your glue over the boat and on the patch you’re going to apply. It can help to use a hair dryer to warm the glue in order to have a really tight seal. After you’ve applied the glue, place the patch over the hole. The video below does a great job of showing you how to do a general repair. 

Use a flat, plastic scraper and apply pressure to the patch starting from one end to the other. By applying pressure, you’ll effectively get rid of any air pockets. 

Now, allow the patch to sit for at least 24 hours so that the glue can cure. 

When to Apply an Inside Patch 

If you have a larger sized hole, then you may need to use an interior patch as well. An interior repair requires you to apply a patch on the inside of your inflatable as well as on the outside. 

Applying a patch on the inside of your inflatable kayak can be very tricky. However, if done correctly, it can really help with the integrity of the leak. 

  1. You’ll want to start by inflating your boat so that you have an easier time working. 
  2. If you are able, lightly sand the inside of the kayak’s surface that will be receiving the patch. Also lightly sand the patch itself. Clean and dry the sanded area well. 
  3. Now, it’s time to insert your patch. This is where things can get tricky. Using a smaller sized clean piece of polyethylene material, adhere it to the tacky side of your patch.
  4. Now, put the patch inside of the inflatable kayak. You’ll want to have the extra polyethylene material facing you. 
  5. Once you have the patch in the right position, pull at the extra polyethylene material. This will allow you to apply enough pressure to have the patch stick. 
  6. Once it’s secured, remove the extra polyethylene piece by pulling it out of the hole.
  7. Now, allow the patch to cure for at least 24 hours. 


Once your inside patch has cured and you’ve tested its integrity, it’s time to apply the outside patch. 

Interior patches along with outside patches can do a phenomenal job of securing air leaks. This method is best used for larger holes. When done well, this permanent patch can help restore the integrity of your inflatable kayak. 

How to Repair Leaking Air at the Seam 

One of the most annoying repairs to do is fixing air leaking from the seams of your boat. This can be really tricky to fix because it can be difficult to locate the puncture. 

When you do locate them, repairs can sometimes fail because when the boat gets deflated, the patches can be disturbed, causing them to lose their grip. Sometimes, the best remedy is to just reinforce the seams with an adhesive glue compatible with your inflatable kayak’s material. 

If you do know where the leak is, you can use adhesive tape or even a series of patches to repair the leak. If you do, be sure to apply extra pressure so that you can push the patch or adhesive tape into the seams. 

Fix a Pinhole Leak With Polymarine Sealflex

Pinhole leaks are another notoriously annoying repair to make. This is largely because locating the pinhole leak can be incredibly difficult due to its size. 

One great way to reinforce your boat and to plug up a pinhole leak is by using [alm id=’polymarine-sealflex’]Polymarine Sealflex[/alm]. This incredibly strong adhesive is an air curing water based acrylic sealant that helps to strengthen your inflatable boat from the inside. 

To use it, simply inflate your boat to its full capacity. Then, apply the sealant to the boat by pouring it in through the air valve. Now, gently roll your inflatable kayak around so that the sealant gets into every corner of your boat. Be sure to focus your attention on the parts of the boat where you think the pinhole is. 

Once you’ve spread the sealant along the whole surface of your boat’s interior, allow the sealant to cure for at least 24 hours. After 24 hours, partially deflate and inflate your boat to help with the curing process. 

What makes this method an excellent one is that it can help reinforce the seams of your boat as well. 

What to Do if You Spring a Leak on the Water?

If you own an inflatable kayak, then you can be sure you’re going to deal with leaking air while you’re on the water at least once in your lifetime. 

So, what do you do if you happen to spring a leak while you’re out paddling? While it might sound a bit scary, it’s actually a lot less intimidating than you might think. 

Well constructed inflatable kayaks that have multiple air chambers actually do a phenomenal job of staying afloat after they’ve sustained a puncture (of course this does depend on how large the puncture is). Because of this, you’ll have a lot of time to repair your leak while you’re on the water. 

Here’s what you’ll need to do. 

Use Your Kayak Repair Kit

You should always have a repair kit on board with you. Along with your safety gear, your repair kit is the most important thing you’ll be paddling with. Your repair kit should include the following items: 

  1. A hand pump
  2. A temporary kayak repair kit
  3. Gorilla tape or masking tape to cover the hole
  4. A spray bottle with a soapy solution to help you find the leak. 

If you notice your boat is leaking air, start by reinflating it again using your air pump. After you’ve done so, try to locate the puncture so that you can do a temporary repair. 

If you’re having a tough time locating the hole, use your soapy solution to find the leak. Remember, you want to look for bubbles with this method. 

Unless you dropped a sharp item on your boat’s surface, the leak will probably be on the front of your kayak or on the outside of the side chambers. If you find the leak, use the masking tape to cover the hole. This should provide you with the needed protection so that you can paddle back to shore. 

Paddle Back to Shore

When you’re paddling back to shore, use quick strokes and try not to apply undue pressure on the impacted area. If you have a long distance to paddle, then alternate paddling and reinflating your kayak using the hand pump. 

The key thing to remember is to stay calm. If you have a multi chamber inflatable boat, you run a really low risk of sinking. This is because the other inflatable chambers will keep you afloat as you make your way back to shore. 

Tips to Avoid Getting an Air Leak in Your Kayak

One of the best ways to keep your inflatable kayak in tip top shape is by avoiding air leaks altogether. 

Well built quality inflatable kayaks will rarely spring a puncture all on their own. Typically, your inflatable boat will likely find itself with a hole as a result of poor care. Whenever you’re handling your inflatable boat, keep the following tips in mind…

High Temperatures Can Cause Over Inflation

Hot air expands. And if you fill your kayak with air and then go out on a kayaking adventure on a hot day, then your kayak can get over inflated as the air inside it heats up. The best way to prevent this is by inflating your kayak just under the recommended PSI if you know you’re going out on an unusually hot day. 

Along with this, consider the temperatures when you are storing your inflatable kayak away. Many kayak experts (including myself) will tell you that it’s best to store your inflatable boat partially inflated as this will help it keep its durability. If you are going to store your kayak inflated, be mindful of where you inflate it, and the temperatures it will encounter. 

Never store inflatable kayaks outside and exposed on a hot day.  

Avoid Dragging Your Kayak

Dragging your inflatable boat over jagged rough surfaces like a rocky river bank or beach shore is one of the best ways to puncture its surface. Even if the bottom of your kayak has a durable surface, sharp rocks, glass, sticks, and other objects can quickly cause damage to your kayak. 

Avoid this all together by carrying your inflatable kayak to the shore’s edge when you’re ready to launch it. If possible, always look for soft areas to launch your inflatable boat from. 

Don’t Paddle Over Sharp Objects

Now that you’re out on the water, use common sense and stay away from sharp objects. If you are kayaking in a river, stay away from the river’s bank. You’re more likely to find sticks and broken tree stumps along the edges. Even if you slowly graze over them, you run the risk of accidentally puncturing your boat. 

Always Carry Your Repair Kit

Lastly, never leave the shore without bringing along your safety and repair kit. Having your repair kit with you can help you avoid an unnecessary situation while you’re out on the water. It can be helpful to put your repair kit together and then store it away in a storage space on your boat. 

Conclusion

While a leaky inflatable boat is incredibly frustrating, it’s not an end all be all type of situation. For the most part, holes in your inflatable kayak can almost always be repaired. And if they’re done correctly, they’ll last you for years to come. 

Finally, whichever adhesive glue and repair patch you end up using, be sure to carefully read the instructions provided to ensure you are doing the repair properly according to the material you are using. 

Have you ever had to deal with a leaky boat? Be sure to share your experience in the comments section below. Let me know if you have any favorite repair products that you’d recommend.