Even though the official start of spring for the Northern hemisphere is March 20th, the vernal equinox, for many in the northern states there are still frozen lakes and cold weather. Usually by the month of May many are waking up their kayaks from their winter hibernation. Since I paddle in the winter, my kayak never seems to get a rest. However, this year my Gulfstream had a long winter nap and it needs to be pampered.
Regardless of whether your kayak rests or not, spring always seems to be the best time to do a bit a spring-cleaning for a kayak. Since springtime is the time for renewal and rejuvenation, why not treat your kayak to a day at the boat spa?
I usually plan to take one day to work on all of my kayaks. I know in advance if it is time to change any cords, deck lines, gaskets, etc. This way when I have my workday scheduled I have all of the elements I need. Last November I wrote about winterizing your kayak (see USK article, "Winterizing You And Your Kayak"). At that time I took an inventory of what I needed to change for the next season. I also do a quick inspection before my workday to see what I need to change or upgrade.
I like to begin with a bulkhead leak test. I fill the forward and aft compartments with water and leave the kayak on an angle to see if the water drains into the cockpit. Of course you have to begin with a dry cockpit. I also rotate my kayak on its long axis to see if the tops of the bulkheads are watertight. In addition when the kayak is upside down I can see if water runs out of the hatch covers. If you have a day hatch you need to check that one after you check your rear hatch. I want to be sure my bulkheads are still watertight along with my hatch covers. If I find any leaks I seal those leaks with the manufacturer’s recommended sealant.
My next concern are my grab loops and deck lines. This is where towlines may be attached and I want them to be at full strength. Even if they do not show signs of wear, UV rays can weaken the integrity of these lines after long exposure times. You have to decide how often you should replace these lines. I know a couple of active paddlers that replace their lines every year. I try to change them every two years during active years. I also keep my kayaks stored out of the sun.
Bungee cords are easier to see if they are losing their elasticity. I prefer to have them tighter than looser. As a side note you can also change the configuration of the cords. If you don’t like the way the manufacturer rigs your deck elastics you can change it to your liking. You can also add extra deck fittings to have more lines to fit your needs. Just make sure you use o-rings or sealant so the new holes do not leak.
Keeping my foot pegs clean and moving smoothly means you need to get down there and clean them out. Since I am so big I usually take the time to unscrew them from the boats and work on them in an upright posture. I have found great success with a silicone spray and wiping off all excess. After being cleaned I will spray water over them, dry them, then check them again.
Of course you cannot forget checking your rudder cables and skeg cables. I inspect as much of the cable I can see. I look for the contact points because that is where the usual wear points are located.
Seat adjustment cords and hardware get a lot of use. If you have ever lost your seatback at the beginning of a long paddle, you know how much you depend on that seatback. Since kayaking is 100% sitting while you are paddling, your seat is an important part of your kayak. Make sure it works for you.
As for the deck and hull, I am not good with filling gashes so they look like new. If I want a clean repair look I take it to a pro. I usually just live with dings and scratches. If there is a leak then we have a different matter. I like to clean my kayak at the beginning of the year and get the surface looking as good as it can given the wear and tear it has undergone. As a side note, one of the reasons I recommend buying blem kayaks is as soon as you put a brand new kayak in the water for the maiden voyage it becomes a blem, because inevitably there will be scrapes or scratches on it. Since a full priced kayak becomes a blem after it’s first trip, you may wish to consider saving some money if you can get a blem.
Since I took care in storing my paddling clothing before the winter I just do a quick check and treat all gaskets as needed. If you are like one of my friends and put your gear away for the winter without cleaning it, I would check for mold or mildew. A good washing with manufacturer-approved products is recommended.
I also like to dismantle my roof rack system and lubricate all moving parts and clean the one billion bug carcasses off the bar and saddles. Once the rack components are cleaned and lubed I put them back together so they are ready for use. I realized this needed to be done when the wing nuts on my first set of kayak saddles rusted shut and I could only get them off with a hacksaw.
I am sure most of you have your own routines, but I thought it would be a good idea to write about this subject just as a reminder to those who procrastinate and say they will get to it next weekend and soon realize it is September and they never got to their spring maintenance. My experience has taught me that I get more years of life out of equipment that I regularly maintain.
Wayne Horodowich, founder of The University of Sea Kayaking (USK), writes monthly articles for the USK web site. In addition, Wayne has produced the popular "In Depth" Instructional Video Series for Sea Kayaking.