Real World In-Field Repairs for Kayakers

When you head into the wilderness in any form, being able to repair your gear on the go is an essential skill.

Crunch. Not a comforting sound.

It’s the noise the bow of my fiberglass kayak made when a surprise wave picked the boat up and surfed it into a barnacle-covered rock wall. I grimaced at the thought of taking on water; I was three days from the nearest road on the west coast of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. My kayak was my lifeline. The good news? I knew I could fix it.

The Basics

When you venture out on the water, here’s what you need to stay afloat. Since space is at a premium in kayaks, it’s a delicate balancing act between being ready for anything and hauling around a lot of complex gear. A field repair kit for a kayak or canoe will also depend on what your boat is made of.

Patching Hulls

A boat that won’t float isn’t a boat at all. How you patch a hull depends on what it’s made of. For plastic sea kayaks, which bounce off rocks, the likelihood of a major hole is low, and once the boat is dry, holes can usually be fixed with tape. For fiberglass kayaks, it’s a bit more involved but can still be done in the field.

Quick Fixes

Epoxy Putty: This is a plumber’s putty that you knead together with your fingers and wedge into small holes and cracks. It cures in about five minutes, is available at every hardware store, and can be applied even underwater. I keep a small amount in an old-school film canister in my PFD pocket.

Denzo Tape: This gummy tape can also be applied wet. It’s goopy and messy, but gets the job done in the short term.

On Shore

When you’re on shore, you’ll have more time to do a proper repair.

Fiberglass patches: If you’re patching a fiberglass kayak, you’ll need epoxy resin, hardener, a way to dry the boat first, and some sandpaper, gloves and a spatula or paintbrush. It will take about 12 hours to cure, so this is an in-camp fix. Try it first at home so you know the technique. The good news: when you fix a fiberglass boat, you’re actually making it stronger.

Gutter Repair Tape: This stuff is so strong it’s nearly structural. Peel off the backing and you’ll find a thick, black gummy adhesive surface with a silver back. Heat it up with a lighter or stove till it’s gummy and then apply it to a dry surface and press on it for a while. Great for plastic kayaks, as well as cracked tent poles. Aesthetically pleasing? Nope. Strong? Yup. Available at hardware and home repair stores in giant rolls.

Gorilla Tape

You’ll need it. Trust me.

Hardware and Deck Rigging

Expeditions probably put more wear and tear on the small moving parts of kayaks than the hull itself. Rudders, skegs, foot pegs, seat backbands, and rescue toggles can all fail.

Hardware: A few extra bolts and bailing wire that can fit seat and backband fittings, foot peg sliders, or rudder attachments.

Spare deckline: A length of static deckline that can also be used to replace a torn rescue toggle.

Adhesive: E6000 general waterproof hardware store adhesive, for fixing cockpit outfitting and anything else that falls apart and shouldn’t.

Paddles, Neoprene, and Drysuits

Aquaseal: the best fix for tears in neoprene or pin holes in drysuits. It sticks to anything, but once the tube is exposed to oxygen, it won’t last long. Bring several small tubes.

Sewing Kit: Mine is a few thick-gauge needles and dental floss from my toiletries kit. Combined with Aquaseal, I’ve made sprayskirt repairs that lasted for years.

Tenacious Tape: for larger tears. Then follow with Aquaseal. Also works well for tent flies, backpacks, etc.


Multitool: you’ll want a scissors, knife, awl for punching holes, and pliers. Mine is the Leatherman Crunch.

Hemostats: for threading line through deck fittings, untying knots clenched by saltwater, and holding things until glue sets.

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