As lots of fishermen are the owners of inflatable boats, I put together some tips and tricks about the care, repair and storage of the boats to keep them operational. The buoyancy tube of your inflatable boat is made of fabric using plastomer PVC or neoprene/hypalon rubber. Maintenance is easy, but essential.
How to do preventive maintenance for the inflatable boats?
It´s easy to prevent damages to your boat if you follow some simple tips. First of all, if you are moving your boat, do not drag the boat along the ground. Abrasion is one of the biggest enemies of an inflatable boat, as a result, you can scratch the bottom and it gets fragile. So next time it hits a rock or a branch, it may rip. Also, be careful when tying the boat to a bridge in a windy weather. Waves can constantly beat the boat against the bridge construction and it may damage the boat.
Do not leave the inflatable boat in the sun, because it harms the material and makes it more fragile. Also, when your boat is too full of air, it may burst in the hot sun, because the air in the boat expands. If you don´t have any other option and you have to keep your boat outside, protect it with a cover.
Rodents like to chew the fabric of the boat, that´s why you should store it above the ground, so the rodents, especially rats and mice, won’t reach it.
How to wash an inflatable boat?
Try to wash the boat as often as possible. Sand and other abrasive particles can get between the bottom of the boat and the pontoons, which causes the material to wear out faster. In this way, abrasion points or holes can occur in hard-to-reach areas, where repairs are difficult to do. The more you rinse the boat, the better. A bigger washing should be done once or a twice in a season.
Here is one way to do it:
1) Spread out a tarp on a place where it´s comfortable to work with the boat and then place the boat on it.
2) Pump the air in, but don´t let the boat get too tense (70-80% full). Make sure that all moving parts are removed from the boat.
3) Vacuum the boat to remove bigger dirt. Pay particular attention to the area between the bottom and the pontoon and between the seams, where abrasive particles may be stuck. As the boat is not fully inflated, these areas should be easily accessible with a vacuum cleaner.
4) Take a bucket full of warm soapy water (car shampoo and regular shampoo are fine) and wash the boat thoroughly inside and outside.
NB! Never use chemicals to wash your boat (acid, spirits or silicone based products). Many boat owners use silicone oil, but tests have shown that silicone oil can cause the stitches, that hold the boat together, to break. Surfaces cleaned with silicone are also later difficult to repair, because glued patches no longer stick so well to these surfaces.
Also, do not use pressure washing as this may damage the boat.
How to check if your inflatable boat is leaking?
If you want to check for leaks, start with the inflatable pontoons. Gradually pour soapy water on the pontoons. Do it section by section. You can spot the hole when the bubbles appear on it. Locate the exact place and repair the hole with manufacturers’ repair kit. If you don’t have it or the manufacturer didn´t include it in a boat set, then you can also buy it separately. I will introduce some repairing kits at the end of this article.
Checking the bottom for leaks is a bit more complicated.
Here´s one way to do it:
1) If possible, it is recommended to take the boat to indoors.
2) Turn it over and cover the bottom evenly with baby powder. You only need a thin layer of it.
3) Turn the boat back to the correct position and place it on two chairs for example. It is important that the boat is above ground.
4) Pour a few liters of water into the boat and check the bottom of the boat from below. Check whether the baby powder is getting darker somewhere. If so, the leak has been found.
Using baby powder is good because the holes may be very small and you can´t identify them without it. To avoid a bigger mess, do it section by section.
Also, check that the valves and gaskets are clean and not damaged. Check to ensure the self bailer is not clogged.
If you have a problem with an air leakage and you don’t know what to do next, do not hesitate to contact your boat dealer.
NB! A 20% air pressure loss in a 24 hour period is normal. Only address more serious air leakages. For example 0.25 PSI pressure loss in 5 hours already needs your attention.
Where and how to store an inflatable boat?
Inflatable boats are best kept in a room with even air temperature and humidity. The best way would be in a slightly inflated state, so that there are no wrinkles. For example, a warm basement or garage would be a perfect place to store an inflatable boat. The temperature in the storage room must not be less than + 5 degrees. If you keep the boat at a lower temperature than that, move it to a warm place before transport. Because moving the boat when it´s cold can cause severe damage (the material loses its elasticity when cold).
You may store the boat deflated and rolled up also, but be sure you clean the boat before and keep it in a warm storage room.
How and with what to repair an inflatable boat?
Never throw away your boat before you have tried to fix it. Here are some options how to repair a PVC boat.
Tear Aid Repair Kit
First of all, the most common method is to use a whole repairing kit like Tear Aid Repair Kit. Tear Aid Repair Patches provide a simple and easy method of patching holes and tears, as well as an excellent protective film solution. Each Tear Aid Repair Patch is made from an exceptionally tough, matte finish, abrasion resistant, elastomer that resists puncture and tearing.
Sea Eagle Small Repair Kit
Here´s another good repairing kit for PVC boats – Sea Eagle Small Repair Kit. Small and compact yet effective repairing kit. It´s easy to use and really cheap. Comes with a handy container.
Boston Valve Replacement Kit
If you have problems with leaking valves then some replacement valves would be useful. Here are some universal valves by Boston Valve Replacement Kit, that can fit almost any inflatable boat. You can also use them to repair a hole, but you will then have one more valve on your boat, but it works!
Coghlan´s Airstop Sealant
There are also repair sealants for PVC material, so you actually won´t need a patch of PVC to seal the hole, the sealant glue will do the job. One of the most popular ones is Coghlan’s Airstop Sealant. It works fast and really well.
Brampton Marine Epoxy
And lastly a strong sealant Brampton Marine Epoxy. Unlike many conventional epoxies, this sealant can form and maintain bonds underwater. It has excellent tensile strength and impact resistance. It´s also really fast – sets the bond in 15 minutes. Cures in 30 minutes at room temperature. Fantastic product with a great price.
Remember, always try to fix the boat first, do not throw it away. Almost every hole can be fixed. If you follow these instructions how to take care about your inflatable boat, you can prolong the life span of your boat significally and save your money.