Repairing an Inflatable Boat is Possible!
I often compare repairing an inflatable kayak to patching a bicycle tire tube. Why? Well, for me it’s really that simple and it speaks to something many of us have done at some time during our youth.
The principles are the same, the materials and methods may be different. Understanding the difference between the materials and how they arerepaired can take the anxiety out of the repair and lend some confidence that you can in fact possibly do the repair yourself.
Repairing an inflatable boat is something that almost everyone can do, and with a little patience and some education, it can be done well.
What Materials are Used?
Unlike bicycle tire tubes, the inflatable boat market builds boats with only a couple of types of material for the air chambers, PVC or Hypalon (CSM). Floors are another matter altogether and can be made with marine grade plywood, aluminum, polyethylene (PE) or even a PVC inflatable floor such as any of the DropStitch floors found on many Sea Eagle models.
Developed by DuPont Performance Elastomers (a subsidiary of DuPont), Hypalon is a trademarked chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CSPE) product. Basically, Hypalon is a just a name like Kleenex, not actually the name of the material, such as tissue paper. Names aside, Hypalon is a chemical, temperature and ultraviolet resistant coating on nylon or polyester, giving the fabric a composition that coincides with long life and high abuse tolerance.
This strength and resistance come at a cost. Hypalon boats are typically handmade or assembled by glueing and taping seams together, making it a labour intensive material which increases the production costs of inflatable boats. Sadly, DuPont no longer makes Hypalon, though there are many new and existing products of similar quality and composition eager to take its place.
PVC is another nylon and polyester coating used in boat production among other things. Polyvinyl Chloride is the material of choice for many boat manufacturers due to its thermobonding and glueing capabilities. Simply put, it’s easier to use in production, keeping costs of production lower and the speed of inflatable boat building higher. PVC can be used to produce boats cheaper and quicker. What’s the trade off?
When compared side by side with Hypalon, the differences are apparent, but are’t necessarily detrimental. PVC’s resistance to chemicals, temperature and UV are not as strong as Hypalon. PVC also is slightly heavier than Hypalon. The chemical and UV resistance are simple to remedy, using easy to find PVC protectants such as 303 Aerospace Protectant. If you have plans to store your boat inflated and out in in the sun, a simple application of a protectant will act as a sunscreen for you fabric, resisting fading. As for temperature, care and proper handling can can prolong the life of a PVC inflatable boat. Extreme cold temperatures can render the fabric brittle, allowing it to crease and scar if mishandled.
Why Does the Material Matter?
The type of material determines what should be done to repair the inflatable boat. Differing materials require different chemical combinations for the patch to adhere properly. Knowing what kind of material your inflatable boat is made with will determine the types of repairs you can do both in the field and at home. Some manufacturers warn that improper use of their patches can result in the patch material letting go in unpredictable ways.
Most manufacturers don’t hide the type of material they make their hulls out of. In fact most have them materials used specified somewhere on their website or sales brochure. If you still are confident, another way to determine what you have would be to inspect the hole closer. If the colour of the material is the same through and through, it’s PVC. If the colour is different on the inside, then it’s most likely Hypalon. Sometimes neoprene can be found in use inside the layers of fabric for reinforcement by some manufacturers or as an abrasion layer by others. Due to its weight, neoprene is not used very often in compact inflatable boats.
Alternatives to Patching
The market has many innovative ways to do the same job. Many manufacturers are simply reinventing the same thing, however some are making unique methods of repairing inflatable boats. One such product is the ClamSeal by Barton. It is used as a high quality temporary repair to get you back on the water indefinitely, allowing you to make necessary repairs at a later time! In my opinion a weekend getaway lifesaver for you inflatable boat. Simple to use and extremely effective. It’s not the only thing out there but it sure stands out.
The Step by Step Video
At the top is a step by step video detailing one of the most common ways to repair an inflatable boat. Specifically is it a Sea Eagle SE330 Sport Kayak made with PVC that was snacked on by some rats while in storage during the winter. Step by step instructions are coming soon.
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