Caring for your Recreational Kayak

Most plastic kayaks are remarkably durable, and without moving parts (rudder excluded) there really isn’t much that can go wrong.  Even so, kayaks, paddles and other equipment will benefit from at the very least some type of annual maintenance.  The type of material used to make your recreational kayak will determine the amount of care and maintenance required to keep it in top form.

kayaks wait in line

The Plastic Recreational Kayak

The least expensive, heaviest and generally most popular recreational kayaks are made from polyethylene plastic.  Polyethylene is a tough, waxy-textured material unaffected by water and many chemicals.  It can be repeatedly softened by heating and hardened by cooling. These characteristics make it excellent for the manufacture of kayaks.   Many manufacturers are giving unique names to the plastic materials used in the making of their kayaks; though realistically speaking, most are quite similarly manufactured with a process known as rotomolding.  Rotomolding is a process where powdered or beaded polyethylene is poured into a mold and placed in an oven.  The mold is then heated and spun to distribute the plastic evenly.  After being ‘baked’ in the heat the kayak mold is removed  from the oven and allowed to cool.  Process entire is complete once  the seat, foot braces and various other items are added to the kayak.

The Strength of Plastic

Plastic kayaks are strong, durable and able to withstand the abuse of being dropped, run into rocks or grounded on rough terrain without showing any significant damage such as scrapes, scratches or dents.   This type of damage can usually be repaired easily and will not affect the integrity of your boat.  You may find that a scratch in the hull will often leave strings of plastic hanging around.  You can just shave them off with a razor blade and forget about it.  Leaving the dented side of the kayak exposed to the sun on a hot summer day will often be enough to pop it out, though at times you need to give a little push with the palm of your hand.  By making kayaks using polyethylene, manufacturers are able to offer a great product at a more affordable price.

Dents and Deforming

Plastic kayaks of all types can deform or develop small indentations in their hulls over time; these indentations are sometimes called “oil canning”, because they tend to pop in and pop out under pressure – similar to oil can. This normally happens at the hull of the kayak though will not have a noticeable effect on how the kayak performs.  Typically these indentations are due to improper storage or transport of the boat.  Storing a kayak flat on its hull or tying it on a car rack so that another boat (or the rack itself) pushes against the kayak hull can cause such indentations.   Plastic kayaks  should not be cinched down on a car top carrier with the keel down and straps over the top. The proper way to transport is with a rack that holds the kayak on its’ side.

To remove a dent, set the boat in the direct hot sun for a couple of hours with the dented area exposed to the sun for at least two hours. When the hull heats up, it will usually reform itself.  At times you may need some creative thinking by using weights or braces inside the boat to push the dents back out.

Another method is to use your hands to push from the sides of the indentation to allow the center of the dent to pop back into shape. In periods without a hot sun, another way to remove a dent is to use a heat gun, hair dryer or hot water to heat the dented area. Be careful to only heat the plastic until it is in a soft state without burning or melting it. This will allow you to push the dent out and the hull should retain its original shape. The same methods can also be applied to dents in the side or chine of the kayak.  Dents in the chine are often noticed only after the boat is removed from a vertical roof rack transport.  Take care to prevent such dents in the future, be sure to store your boat vertically, or on its side – never flat on the hull – and to always be mindful of the hull during transportation.

Washing and Cleaning

A clean boat is a good thing, and most hull designs these days make cleaning a straightforward process. The general rule, when it comes to the little crawlies your boat can pick up from the water, is to rinse the hull down with freshwater after every trip, a habit that will also save your metal and rubber parts from damaging salt corrosion. Washing your recreational kayak and touring boats with a mild soap and water solution a few times a year, steering clear of abrasives or solvents that could damage the hull, will go a long way in expanding the life of your kayak. Mild soapy water should do it, along with a little elbow grease on tough stains.

Plastic, fiberglass and composite kayak must be shielded from exposure to sunlight over long periods of time, such as during storage. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight will fade their colors over time. When not in use, a  rinse your kayak with water,  dry it thoroughly and store in a shaded, protected place.

For an extra boost of UV protection, try spraying 303 Protectant* (or a similar UV spray) over the hull and kayak as part of your usual cleaning and tune-up work. Repeat this application several times during the paddling season. The seals, o-rings and rubber compartment covers can also be sprayed with 303 Protectant* (or a similar UV spray) to maintain their flexibility and prevent cracking and breakdown of the material. The spray will also give your boat a nice polished shine – a definite bonus.

For more information on 303 Products, check their website: