While I don't want to suggest that paddling is over once the leaves start to fall, this is the time of year to consider some season's end maintenance on your equipment. From the basic hose-down the last time you take your boat out of the water, to the teeth on your neoprene paddling top, proper care in storing your gear means you can expect the most from your equipment for the longest time possible.
It's easy to pull the kayak down off the rack and stash it into the garage for the next five months without further thought. Anyone who's ever tried to work rudder cables loose or free a stubborn rudder or, worse yet, pull apart a two-piece paddle that's had all winter to "set-up" knows what fun that can be! Taking care of business at the end of the season should be high on any kayaker's list.
I've found that spray lubricants that are meant to keep moving parts from rusting work well to keep kayak parts moving as well. The environmentally aware may protest in favor of gel-type silicon lubricants and I agree. Sometimes, however, that gob of goop just can't make it into those tight spaces. Perhaps heating the gel and pouring it into spaces is the answer. Clearly those of you who pack away your folding kayaks should give all connecting pieces a good coating of lubricant before packing pieces away in storage - regardless of the seasons.
If you do use a spray lubricant, I've found that WD-40 works well, and that a product called "Corrosion Block" works even better. It's the stuff floatplane pilots use to keep all the cables linked to their float rudders from jamming up. Do a little scouting around and find something that works well. Those especially developed for maritime use are naturally the best choices.
It's important to note here that this focus on maintenance is not reserved for just the saltwater environment. I've seen some pretty nasty film stick to freshwater gear too. It nearly took a flamethrower to remove!
Don't forget your two-piece paddles, either! I've seen some paddles break before they'd loosen up on their own. Preventive maintenance on the ferrules of a two-piece paddle after every outing is smart insurance against the sometime futile tug-o-war that ensues. Any excess lubrication should always be wiped off.
It's important to check seals on hatches, too, especially if you plan to over-winter your boat outside. Poor seals invite moisture and while that isn't a serious problem, that stale, dank water in the compartments come spring can leave a nasty odor in the air. Same, too, for cockpit covers - seal them tight. Moisture has a way of creeping in under those caps, too.
Now is the time to check deck lines for wear and tear, check for thin spots or serious gouges in your hull. Plastic hulled boats may need some special maintenance to remove the burrs and fuzz that's developed over the season (See last month's article on ways to maintain a rotomolded boat). For the repair of composite boats, try any of the epoxy fillers on the market. A marine supply store probably has the best choice of the best concoctions.
If you are storing your boat outside, a protective cover will keep out UV rays and add additional protection from dirt. In extreme cold climates, some manufacturers of wooden gunwale canoes also suggest loosening the first half dozen screws at the bows and stern ends of those gunwales to allow expansion and contraction as the temperatures fluctuate throughout winter. The best advice should come from individual manufacturers and should be mentioned in their owner's manual.
I tend to wash and air dry my paddling clothing before hanging it up for the winter. For those of you who use clothing with zippers, especially those on dry suits and neoprene garment, you should take special care of those zippers. At least two sources: Northwest River Supply (NRS) and McNett Corp. both produce special zipper lubricants and cleaners that will help those devices last a good while. REMEMBER - store all zippered apparel with the zippers OPEN!
If you've struggled with a too-tight neck closure on your dry suit this season, it's best to use the neck stretch approach than to decide to finally cut off a section for next season. Ideally you find a can just slightly larger than the neck opening and insert the can into the neck gasket. This stretches the gasket enough to make a more comfortable fit. The can may have to be used again, but a too-big cut will haunt you forever! Rips and tears in neoprene and other waterproof fabric can sometimes be fixed at home with special kits. This is an area best left to the counsel of the manufacturer.
Rechecking your inventory of survival gear, stowable snacks and other emergency equipment will pay off next season. I'm as guilty as the next paddler when it comes to sneaking a nibble off a bar I've packed for "emergencies" only. Sometimes water has seeped into what you thought were "waterproof" pouches. When you can't tell whether the green fuzzy blob was once an apple or a nature bar - you've been way too long neglecting your boat!
Don't forget water bottles and other containers that usually carry your liquid refreshments. If you leave juice, soda or other liquids in these bottles, you will be introduced to some totally nauseous chemical reactions when you do finally remember to rinse them out. Sometimes you just have to toss the containers because the intensity of the bad stuff needed to clean them out is worse than the initial crud fermenting in them.
Seasonal maintenance is about 99% common sense. If it gets wet or dirty during the year, make sure it's clean and dry before you pack or hang it for the season. There are those unseasonably fantastic paddling days in the dead of winter when, at least up north you can sneak in a mid-winter day trip, that you don't want that unfinished maintenance task to put the finish on a paddling opportunity before it's even begun.
For more seasons end maitenance, check out the November 2005 article.
Tom Watson, an avid sea kayaker and freelance writer is also the author of "How to Think Like A Survivor" available on Amazon.com and most major bookstores.