The Ultimate Guide to Kayak Maintenance – How to Take Care of Your Fishing Kayak


Right, so you’ve got your beautiful new kayak, and you’re excited for all the adventurous possibilities it offers.

But how do you keep it looking and performing in tip-top condition?

Well, you’ve come to the right place.

We present our essential kayak maintenance guide, packed full of expert tips, tricks, and advice for keeping your vessel ship shape and shiny.

So, get ready to swab the decks me hearties! It’s kayak care time!

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Kayak Care and Maintenance – Too Long, Didn’t Read

If you’re just looking to find out the basics without reading a more in-depth guide, then take a look at the bullet-points below to save you some time.

Here’s a brief checklist of good kayak care practice:

  • Cleaning.
  • Inspecting for damage.
  • Necessary repairs.
  • Improvements
  • Storage

Now, you might have guessed there’s a lot more to it than that, so I recommend reading on to discover a more detailed rundown of essential kayak care and maintenance.

fisherman in sit-on-top kayak with multiple fishing rods

Why Maintain a Kayak?

It’s a good question. Surely kayaks these days are perfectly capable of standing up to the wears and tears of use without the need to give them a once over?

Especially like these premium pedal fishing kayaks – which are extremely well put together (not to mention expensive).

Well, even the most pricey, top-of-the-line models can get damaged, scratched, dinged, and dented from time to time – and letting them sit without cleaning and a bit of TLC can seriously impair their performance.

Particularly if you’re taking them out in saltwater, or other challenging conditions and environments – such as peppy, whitewater rivers.

Not only can a dirty or damaged kayak have a negative effect on your enjoyment and success on the water, but it can also be very dangerous depending on the circumstances.

Owning and running a kayak that is free from such issues is essential to your comfort and safety.

Check out this article on the ultimate kayaking safety tips for more information.

And not only that, but a well-maintained kayak is going to last much longer, so you don’t need to be forking out another stack of cash if you’ve let it go to rack and ruin.

Thankfully, kayaks don’t require a great deal of maintenance (certainly when compared to motorized craft such as boats), but it’s still worth doing from time to time.

angler fishing from kayak on lake

Type of Kayak

Understanding the type of kayak you own is key to maintaining it.

While they might share some similarities, caring for a hardshell is going to be largely different from that of an inflatable.

Wood is going to be different from PVC, PVC is going to be different from fiberglass, fiberglass is going to be different from Kevlar, etcetera, etcetera.

You get the idea.

In this article, we will be focusing on the more common types of kayak – hardshell PVC and inflatables.

For specialist kayaks, refer to the manufacturer’s care and maintenance instructions for that particular material, or use a good old search engine to research how best to look after it.

Cleaning

When you get out of the water after a kayaking trip, it’s highly likely your craft is going to be filthy.

This is particularly true if you’ve been paddling in muddy waters, at the beach, or anywhere there’s an unusually large amount of dirt and grime.

Using cut bait when you’re fishing can also cause a proper mess, not to mention any other kind of fish-related filth, blood, and guts that can slime up your yak.

As such, your first mission is to clean it all off.

Start by emptying it out, and removing all your gear – like kayak fishing tackle boxes – so only the bare bones remain.

Remove the seat and rails, and any other hardware that might be harboring muck. Your yak should be completely stripped down to the hull.

Clean individual components – all the stuff you take off your yak should be rinsed off, too.

It doesn’t need to pass a white-glove inspection (unless you want it to) but just be sure to give your kayak a good hose down and make sure there’s no debris left clinging on.

Consider using a liquid bug remover, or other such product – which can really help shift those caked-on stains. Sometimes water alone just won’t cut it.

Pay particular attention to pedal areas, rudders, and skegs, or anywhere dirt has a chance to build up over time. Caked on mud might prevent these features from operating properly in the future.

The longer you leave dirt, pond scum, and other such filth – the harder it’s going to be to get off.

If you’ve been paddling in saltwater, this step is non-negotiable – you need to hose it down with freshwater immediately.

Saltwater will corrode just about anything over time, and it should be rinsed off as soon as you get home.

Use warm, soapy water and a sponge/scrubbing brush if you want the kayak to be spotless – or if you’re having trouble removing any stubborn dirt and grime.

The same product you’d use on your car is ideal for a detergent – just don’t use any harsh chemicals or cleaners on your kayak.

Then, simply allow it to air dry before storage and/or damage inspection and repair.

Remember, the reason you clean before damage inspection, is you never know what horrors the filth might be hiding underneath.

man kayak fishing in river

Damage Inspection

Both plastic hulls and inflatables can take their fair share of damage, so let’s take a look at each, individually.

It’s not uncommon for hardshell hulls to get seriously scraped and scratched over time, but fear not, for unless they’re particularly deep and/or might cause a performance or safety issue, you don’t need to worry about them.

However, as they get worse and develop over time, they can impede the performance of your kayak by adding drag and slowing it down – so they will need attention eventually.

Any deep scratches or holes will need to be repaired – more on that below. Pay particular attention to the scupper holes on your kayak – which will be the weakest section of the hull, and prone to damage.

Try using one of these amazing kayak carts if scraping a hull is like nails down a chalkboard for you, or if you just need the extra pair of hands to transport the thing.

With inflatables, you should be checking for tears, rips, and punctures – much like you would if repairing the inner tube of a bike tire.

For both kayak types, you should check any pedals, rudders, grab lines, hatches, handles, bungee cords, accessory tracks, center consoles, and other hardware that might have taken a hit.

Make sure everything is operating just as it should, with nothing loose, twisted, broken, rusted, frayed, or damaged in any way. Replace anything that has worn out, before it gets corroded any further.

While you’re at it, give your paddle a once-over and make sure it’s clean and undamaged.

Damaged paddles can seriously affect your performance on the water, but if you do need a new one, head on over to this article on the best kayak fishing paddles on the market.

Finally, take this opportunity to inspect your PFD and make sure it’s still in perfect condition. If it’s defective in any way, you should consider replacing it immediately.

Check out this review on the best fishing PFDs available today – to find some practical, potentially life-saving options.

fisherman fishing from kayak

Repairs

If you discover some serious damage, such as holes, problematic large dents, or punctures in inflatables, then you need to address them before you next head out.

A warped or dented kayak can often be returned to its previous shape by using heat.

This is where it’s okay to leave it out in the sun for a while, until you can either manipulate it back to the way it was yourself, or it does it naturally on its own.

If you genuinely don’t like the scratches, you can take a piece of very fine-grit sandpaper to them, and lightly sand them out. Using a scraper of some kind can also help remove any fraying polyethylene strips.

A heat gun can also be used to remove scratches – but just be sure to keep it moving. You’re only heating the top surface, enough for the sanding to take effect. Start with a 400-grit and work your way up from there.

Be warned though, this process can take a bit of time, and if you go too harsh, you’ll end up damaging the surface.

If you have access to an electric sander, then it’s going to make a world of difference for how long you’re spending on the project, but keep it slow.

You don’t need to take off a lot of material – so there’s no need to use very coarse sandpaper, and a belt sander is going to be overkill.

For deep scratches, you’ll need to use a special polyethylene filler. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to apply. Plastic welding might also be an option – but only attempt it if you know what you’re doing.

Give metal hardware and/or moving parts a liberal spray with anti-corrosion lubricant, such as WD-40 or similar product.

And consider using a UV-protectant spray over key areas – such as storage hatches – or anywhere that is particularly susceptible to sun damage.

The 303 Marine Protectant Cleaner comes highly recommended for this purpose, and can help prevent yellowing and cracking of your kayak hull.

Be careful though, it can leave a slick surface, so take care if applying it to areas of the deck.

Good quality inflatable fishing kayaks (and you can find plenty at that link) should come with a puncture repair kit as standard. If they don’t, it’s easy to pick one up.

Check out the video below for an excellent visual guide to repairing punctures in inflatable craft. Sea Eagle also happens to be one of the best kayak fishing brands out there.

Improvements

When all the hard cleaning and repair work is over, it’s time for the really fun part – making improvements.

This is where you can let your creative side run wild, and kit your yak out with new accessories, gear, and equipment that will improve your overall experience on the water.

Aftermarket accessories can turn your craft into a faster, more effective, efficient fishing hunting machine.

Or simply to pimp your ride as a fun recreational play boat.

Take a look at this article on some awesome kayak fishing accessories for some inspiration, and this kayak fishing gear list will also give you plenty of neat ideas.

The sky’s the limit – you can add some new fishing rod holders, fit a quality fishing cooler on board, or even add impressive kayak fish-finder technology to help raise your angling game.

If your yak doesn’t currently have something you feel it could benefit from – now is the time to add it.

Storage

After you’ve cleaned, repaired, and optimized your yak, it’s important to make sure it’s stored in a safe and secure location.

Leaving it out in the sun, for example, is a sure-fire way of ruining it – even if it has been coated with some kind of UV protection. The sun will damage it eventually.

Never let your yak sit in direct sunlight. If storing your craft outside, it’s a good idea to use a kayak cover, tarp, or other such material to keep it sheltered.

A good kayak cover is going to keep the sun off, and prevent unwanted critters and insects from using it as a new home.

You certainly don’t want that surprise the next time you try to take it out for a spin. Having a nest of spiders in the foot well is nightmare fuel.

Roll the kayak on its side to prevent water from getting in, and do your best to keep it somewhere shaded – cover or no cover.

The best place for storing a kayak is in a cool, dry, sheltered place – such as a shed, garage, or dedicated boat house.

If you’re hoisting your yak onto the wall or up into the roof rafters, make sure you’re using the correct hardware to mount it – and that it is fixed securely.

The last thing you want is it tearing away from its fixings, clattering to the floor, breaking and/or causing injury to someone in the vicinity.

Make sure it’s well-balanced, and the weight has been distributed evenly. It needs to be properly supported along its full length, otherwise warping, bending, or other damage can occur.

two man kayak fishing in summer

FAQs

What’s the best way to clean a kayak?

Use a mild detergent and freshwater, coupled with a sponge or scrubbing brush. For really tough stains and filth, a bug-remover liquid will give you some added cleaning power.

Dedicated kayak cleaning products are available, but soapy water will do just fine. Try to avoid washing up liquid, though.

Make sure you strip the yak down to the bare bones, so nothing is left but the hull, and remember to clean all the individual pieces of hardware and equipment that you have removed.

Finish off with a hose or power washer, flip upside down and leave to drain out.

How do I repair a kayak?

It depends on the type of repair that’s needed. A puncture is going to be different from a scratch or hole, for example.

I would encourage you to watch how-to videos on YouTube that cater for the particular type of damage your kayak has suffered.

And you can always refer back to the tips and advice in the repair section above.

How do you maintain a kayak?

Easy – follow all the steps in this article!

Joking aside, keeping a kayak clean, inspecting it regularly for damage, making necessary repairs, optimizing and then storing correctly is the best way to keep your craft in top condition.

Take a look at the video below for an excellent visual guide to kayak maintenance. While this is geared towards fishing, it can be applied to most hardshells and general recreational kayaks.

Do kayaks need to be waxed?

No, not really. Only composite kayaks or wooden models need waxing. It would be wasted effort and product on poly hardshells and inflatables.

The most it will do is give it a little shine for a while, and maybe, maybe, offer a bit more speed when you’re in the water.

If you’re kayak fishing, there’s a chance that the wax will give off a smell and unpleasant odor in the water that can scare away the fish, so it’s best avoided.

Give the hull a spray of UV protectant though – that should suffice.

How do you protect the bottom of a kayak?

You can buy protective UV sprays that help form a defense barrier on the hull of a kayak, that are also suitable for preventing cracking and yellowing.

Take care when transporting your kayak, and avoid dragging it along the ground where possible. That’s where a helping hand, or a good quality kayak trolley will come in handy.

How do I clean inside a kayak?

Sit-on-top kayaks have the advantage of being much easier to clean than their sit-inside counterparts, although there are some truly awesome sit-inside fishing kayaks out there.

There’s no quick fix here or magical technique – in order to properly clean one, you’re going to have to get stuck in.

Giving the insides a good blast with a hose or pressure washer can help release the dirt, but then you’ll have to go in manually with a sponge or scrubbing brush if you want to get it all.

Turn the kayak over when you’re done to let it properly drain and dry out.

How often should I maintain my kayak?

It’s a good idea to at least clean your kayak every time you get back from a trip – especially if it’s been through some mud, or covered in fish guts.

But for a full maintenance regimen, I would suggest you check it through at least twice a year.

Once at the start of the season when you’re bringing it down out of storage, and once when you’ve been out on it for the last time that year.

Still keep an eye on it throughout, however, just so you can be ready to spot and/or fix any problems that come up from time to time.

Summary

Caring for your kayak is going to keep it looking good, performing well, and its occupants safe and comfortable out on the water – as well as extending its longevity.

I hope this guide to kayak maintenance has inspired you to give your craft the TLC it deserves.

Drop me a line in the comments if you have any kayak care tips, or if you’d just like to share your experience with the community.

Stay safe, stay clean, and happy kayaking!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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