Inflatable Boat Repairs
How do I find and repair air leak in an inflatable boat, kayak or raft?
If you are losing air pressure, (aside from pressure loss commonly caused by colder temperatures), check the boat over for air leaks. Air must escape somewhere for air chambers to become soft. No magic here. The best tool to find air leaks is soap, shampoo or dish detergent mixed with water in a spray bottle. Start by checking the valves first. Spray around the valve on a suspected air chamber. If you see bubbles forming, check your valve fitting and base and be sure the valve insert is screwed on tight and pushpin is in correct position. Very slow leaks show up as a fine white foam that takes 1 to 5 minutes to form. So watch patiently.
To find tiny leaks on a boat surface, fully inflate the boat until it's hard to the touch. Put some liquid detergent in a bucket of water and scrub it all over the boat with rag or big wash brush. Watch for elusive or tiny bubbles. When you find the first leak, keep looking. You might as well fix them all at the same time! Remember, the number one cause of slow leaks is due to poorly fitted or dirty valves. Unscrew the valve and clean the area. Make sure the little rubber O-rings are still good. They are the cheapest repair possible.
If you have no luck finding a slow leak with air bubbles, inflate the boat to it's maximum air pressure and try to listen for the leak. If you can narrow the area down, return with a spray bottle to identify the source of the leak. Sometimes larger holes release so much air they don't form bubbles at all, but you can hear or feel the air escaping.
Divide air chamber surface into imaginary squares, and apply soapy mix to that square and then look against surface to see for bubbles. If no bubbles are appears after a couple of minutes, then move to another square. Don't forget to apply soapy water all along seams as they are a common problem in older boats.
Tiny holes caused by fish hooks or fish spines can be repaired simply without a patch. Deflate your boat, then clean the area with MEK (nail polish remover). Apply a small drop of glue to cover the puncture and let dry for 12 hours.
Your inflatable boat comes with a repair kit as standard equipment. It is recommended to do repairs in dry weather. Humidity will decrease glue bond. Cut a piece of repair material large enough to overlap the damaged area by approximately 1" and round off the edges. Position the patch over the leak or mark its border with a pencil (NOT boll-pen) mark outside the marked border with masking tape so glue dosen't go where its not needed. It goes a dark colour in sunlight & looks unsightly. Apply glue to the under side of the patch and around the area to be repaired. Too much glue will often interfere with a proper repair. Allow adhesive to become tacky for 5 minutes, and then roll the path onto the repair so as to avoid trapping any air bubbles, then press tightly together. Immediately deflate the chamber to allow time for the glue to bond properly. Leave for 12 hours before re-inflating. For large cuts you need to use 2 part glue & the services of any expert!