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Repair Kit & Canoe Repair Basics

By Jamie Orfald-Clarke, Boreal River Rescue instructor

A good canoe repair kit can prevent everything from sleepless, mosquito-infested nights to risky and expensive evacuations. But even the most well-stocked repair kit won’t do any good if it’s too heavy or large to keep close at hand.

Having the tools to repair gear immediately in the field also prevents further wear and tear, and keeps your gear out of the landfill.

What’s in my canoe repair kit

Here are the essential items that make up my personal repair kit.

  1. Roofing tape: Incredibly sticky and strong tape for canoe patches
  2. Patches: stick on and sew on – canvas, nylon and leather. For tents, shoes, sleeping pads, sleeping bags and packs
  3. Five minute epoxy: A very strong and hard adhesive. Great for paddle and canoe repairs in areas that won’t experience a lot of flex
  4. Duct tape: Quick repairs on anything! I bring a roll of gorilla tape, which is stronger than regular duct tape (duct tape only sticks to a very dry surface)
  5. Shoe goo or Marine Goop: Like seam seal but thicker and more goopy – great for repairing things that need to flex
  6. Seam seal: For leaky seams, patching small holes in sleeping pads, drybags, or anything nylon, or for sealing the edges of large patches, or hand sewn repairs
  7. Fibreglass and Sandpaper: Combine with epoxy or shoe goo to make a strong canoe patch
  8. Zip ties: You’ll find a use for them
  9. Sewing kit: Floss makes very strong thread – hide a needle in the container for the world’s smallest sewing kit
  10. Small hardware: – Nuts and Bolts. Bring some long ones as replacement seat bolts
    • A few nails (a hot nail can punch holes in a canoe to sew up a large tear)
    • Safety pins, buttons, any other replacement parts (pack clips and zipper pulls can be a good addition)
  11. Extra string and shock cord: You can always use extra string and rope. A length of shock cord could fix a broken tent pole
  12. Scissors: Cutting patches, sewing repairs, etc.
  13. Wire: Great for various canoe repairs
  14. Small vice grips and screwdriver: Tightening or replacing nuts and bolts
  15. Lighter: Always nice to have extras, and good to have close at hand for some repairs
  16. Tent pole splint: A hollow plastic or metal tube – use it to span a break in a pole and tape it in place as a temporary repair. Remove it at the end of the trip and replace that section of pole
  17. Speedy stitcher/sewing awl: For heavy duty sewing repairs – the thick leather needle and tough wax thread can sew up even the thickest materials

Plastic ABS canoe repair

Canoes are made of many different materials, and each requires different repair techniques. Most modern tandem whitewater canoes are made of a type of plastic called ABS.

Different forms of this highly versatile plastic are laminated to make the strong, flexible material used in whitewater canoes. An ABS foam core is sandwiched between two hard layers of ABS, and then coated on each side with a protective layer of vinyl paint. This layered construction gives ABS canoes an incredible amount of flex and memory. After being folded in half around a rock, they can return to their original shape with little visible damage.

The strength of ABS can, however, be compromised by exposure to UV light, when scratches and abrasion remove the protective vinyl layer. Exposure to the sun causes the ABS to become soft and brittle, and more susceptible to cracks and tears. Cracks, if not quickly repaired, expose the foam core to water; if absorbed, the water breaks down the bond between layers of ABS, causing the hull of the boat to delaminate.

A boat that has started to go soft, crack, or delaminate is likely nearing the end of its life, since the properties of ABS make permanent repairs difficult. Good boat care should focus on prevention – treat an ABS canoe a little more like you would a cedar strip or wood canvas, and you’ll find it lasts a lot longer. There are, however, several repair options which can slow deterioration and keep the boat on the water longer – especially when cracks are repaired immediately, before delamination occurs.

Canoe repair options

Duct tape

Duct tape can make a surprisingly durable repair. To strengthen the bond between the tape and the boat, consider the following:

  • Both canoe and tape must be completely dry, or the tape won’t stick at all.
  • A boat that has warmed in the sun first will form a stronger bond
  • A metal spoon can be heated with a lighter and then rubbed on the tape to melt the glue and further strengthen the bond with the boat

Roofing tape

Roofing tape is a step up from duct tape. Used to patch leaky roofs, it is much thicker and stickier than duct tape, and very flexible. It is more tolerant to damp or cool conditions than duct tape, but a warm, dry canoe will still produce the best results. Find it in 4-8 inch rolls in the hardware store.

Epoxy

Epoxy is a 2 part adhesive often used with a woven fibreglass or kevlar cloth to patch cracked canoes. However, most epoxy dries to a hard, brittle consistency. Since cracks occur most often in soft parts of the canoe (where ABS has deteriorated), the ABS is likely to flex under the patch, causing the patch itself to crack. Epoxy is more effective for repairing or replacing skid plates, felted kevlar patches which protect the stem of the canoe at each end. These are places where the canoe is not likely to flex.

Shoe Goo/Marine Goop

Shoe Goo/Marine Goop is a one-part adhesive that dries to more of a rubbery consistency. It can be used on its own to patch small leaks, or used with fibreglass or kevlar cloth as an alternative to epoxy. It will create a more flexible patch that will seal out water, but is able to bend with the boat.

ABS and acetone

ABS can also be used as a patch. When ABS and acetone are mixed together the ABS melts, or dissolves. It can then be applied in thin layers with a small brush, and the acetone will evaporate, leaving the hard ABS as a patch. To melt the ABS, it first needs to be cut or shaved into small pieces. Black plumbing pipes or lego blocks are good sources of ABS.

Sewn with cord

Large cracks, commonly formed when an older ABS canoe gets wrapped, can be sewn with cord. This will hold the boat together, but require a waterproof patch (any of the above) to stop leaks. A boat that needs to be sewn back together likely won’t go out on another whitewater trip, but this repair can allow the boat to be paddled out.