It's so easy, after squeezing in that very last paddling trip of the season, to shove your boat in or behind the garage and forget about it for a few months. While some storage locations are notably better than others and indoors almost always better than outside there are still some fundamental maintenance routines one should go through in anticipation of storing a kayak or canoe for a long period of time.
Clearly the best maintenance plan is one that relies on prevention rather than cure or remedy. It's much easier to keep a rudder and cable peddles unstuck and smooth running than it is to chisel free crystalline saltwater welds and well-seeded sand grains. This should be a standard routine after, and sometimes even during a day's outing in such environments.
Some owners of folding boats who have to fold and transport boats quickly without a rinse and who tend to keep them stowed in their bags as those nasty corrosion creators continue to do their work in the dark use an anti salt corrosion spray to coat all their exposed rudder components. WD-40 is a classic example of such a spray. My personal favorite is a product called "Corrosion Block", a no-nonsense lubricator introduced to me by my float plane-flying buddies in Alaska who use it throughout their entire rudder cable system.
Doug Simpson of Feathercraft Folding Kayaks includes a tube of silicon lubricant with his all aluminum framed folding kayaks and suggests that all the fittings be coated with the silicon before each assembly and for long-term storage. Basically any metal joints or fittings should be well cleaned and coated before each use and again at the end of the season preferably after a good maintenance cleaning.
As eager as you might have been to get that one last glide across the pond before freeze-up, you'll probably be just as anxious to hit the water again when the ice goes out in the spring. Better to make sure all loose, broken or missing bolts, nuts, clips and other fasteners are replaced at storage time rather than delaying (or worse yet, forgetting to) when next season comes chomping at your paddling door. Make note of these replacements, especially if they seem to be recurring. This could mean an over all tune-up will soon be needed somewhere along the line. Also, carry a few extra pieces with you in your repair kit (you do carry a repair kit don't you?).
Once all the moving parts of the boat have been inspected and repaired, check the hatches, bulkheads, seat back, cockpit coaming, toggles a general inspection of the boat inside and out. Clean and repair any obvious rips, tears, punctures, etc.
Some gouges and abrasions in neoprene can be cared for with a dab of "Shoe Goo" type of products that use a thick, clear silicon glue that spreads like peanut butter into depressions for a waterproof, albeit sometimes unsightly seal.
This silicon-based sealer also works well on leaks around the edges of bulkheads that have been tweaked with age and wear and might have sprung a leak or two. Sometimes these can be found by shining a light through from the backside. The more obvious leaks can be found using water to check where it seeps through. Since leaks can be minute and still cause a problem, if you suspect your bulkhead is leaking, simply re-coat the entire perimeter with sealer.
Deck lines can fray and unravel at ends through extended wear. Make sure the diameter of your replacement line is at least as large as that used by the manufacturer. Some manufacturers will skimp and use a 3mm when 5 mm is better so you can upgrade when you replace those lines. Some line comes with a reflective strand woven through it a handy aid that doesn't diminish the strength of the line.
Here's a handy tip to keep the ends from fraying on those open tie-down strap ends on either your hatch lids or on those you use for tying down your boats. Get a container of that rubberized coating used to re-surface hand tools. You dip the end of the tool, such as a pliers or screwdriver down into the liquid rubber and slowly pull it out as it coats the handle. Once dried, it's a new surface. The same principles and tactics apply for your strap ends. If you don't have an official nylon strap cutter (thin, flat, hot metal edge) use a very sharp knife or shear and make your new cut clean across the strap well into the tight weave below the frayed area.
Now dip about 1.5" of the strap end down into the rubber coating and allow it to saturate the end of the strap for a few seconds. Slowly remove the strap allowing the excess to drip off. The next step is vital: using a cloth or square edge, remove all the excess rubber coating from the surface of the strap. If too much is allowed to harden on the strap, it'll be too thick to slide through any slot or fitting as intended. This end will become rigid but also very easy to thread through the buckle on a tie-down strap. If you are weaving it through a nylon coupler or clip be sure do to so before it hardens. You can treat many types of line ends this way, too... even put new tips on shoelaces! This coating material is available at most larger hardware stores.
Maintenance on the hulls and decks of boats has become more complex only because of the wider choice in materials these days. The rotomolded polyethylene boats are more scratch and abrasion resistant but even they can be gouged or produce a curl if scratched. Most gouges aren't too serious. Deep ones may have to be poly welded, but minor ones can be left alone or you can try the shoe goo trick although not too many things tend to stick to poly' boats. Those tiny abrasion curls that rough up a surface can be shaved off using a disposable razor blade just as you would a wood plane. Carefully shave and smooth the surface with the razor. Most depressions and roughened surfaces can be level and smoothed by applying the hot air from a hair drier to the surface. Keep the stream of air moving because some driers do get hot enough to melt through or severely thin out the plastic.
Small grooves worn into gel coat hulls or decks can be filled with gel coat from a marine supply store or sometimes your boat's manufacturer. Remember to use a surfacing agent and be sure to work within the time frames and mixing formulas for the type of gel coat you are using. Large areas should be done by professionals and could be spendy. Be forewarned that a boat sprayed with gel coat, as opposed to the process when it's first built, tends to have a surface that is initially "orange-peeled" in appearance. It will take extra sanding (and hence, expense) to sand it down smooth.
Color matching can be a problem when making large repairs on the deck. Even hull colors with their various shades of white: "ivory", "Alaskan Ivory", "Smoke" - can challenge a perfect match.
I've heard two suggestions for maintaining the finish on a kayak: 1) use marine fiberglass polishes; 2) use regular car polish. Check with a local marine repair/paint shop or try a small area using your favorite car polish.
Storing boats, whether hung from garage rafters or stood on their side/bottom/deck on a rack, make sure there is not excessive weight on the boat, particularly on one small area especially if a poly boat. Covering the boat with a canvas will protect against UV rays outdoors and also the element. A garage is usually always a good safe bet, especially if the boat is up and out of the way hung from the rafters, usually by a set of 1" straps (or ample lines). Try to support the boat, either on the racks or by straps by equalizing the weight of the boat at the point on the hull or deck where the bulkhead is attached. Those of you who have the Royalex™ hulls on your canoes that also have wooden gunwales, check with your manufacturer regarding winter storage in colder climates. Because the Royalex expands and contracts at a different rate than does the wood, gunwales can split during warming and cooling cycles throughout the winter storage months. Some manufacturers in anticipation of this uneven expansion/contraction, assemble the gunwales using an oblong screw slot that enables the gunwales to slid back and for during those expansion/contract phases.
No matter what boat or what material, a good preventive maintenance schedule is vital to the "health" of your craft. Better to think ahead and maintain a boat than to have to do last minute or cost/lengthy repairs because you waited too long to attend to problems. Besides, a well-maintained boat is a safer boat and that's very important, too.
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.