Any captain, regardless of the tonnage of his vessel, is concerned with taking on water. Kayaking, and kayak fishing are wet sports. I'm constantly amazed at the number of paddle anglers whose prime concern is staying dry. But we can certainly take some precautions to keep the inside of the boat dry, and hopefully stop a leak before it ever starts. In this installment, we'll talk about prevention and then about emergency repairs. Next month, we'll chat about finding the leak, and repairing it.
Right now, I'm making several assumptions. First, that you paddle the typical sit-on-top roto-molded plastic kayak. Second, that you're admiring this article while sitting in your living room, tossin' back a coolie, and waiting for football season to start. OK, maybe that's just me. But you're certainly not out on the water. So, there's still time to protect you from yourself, so that you don't need to read the rest of this article, or the next one. Too late, you're already reading... Carry on.
ROTO-MOLDED KAYAK MANUFACTURING 101:
Imagine a $40,000 clamshell. That's what made your boat. Back when I was knee deep in the design and manufacturing end of this sport, I was amazed at the "artist meets engineer" aspect of bringing a boat to market. Voodoo is probably involved as well, though I never saw the chicken's foot. But, despite the efforts of all parties concerned, the weakest points of a roto-molded boat will be where the clam shells meet at the outer seam and at the scupper holes. Those joints are affectionately called "the parting lines", because that's where the mold parts upon de-molding (very technical term, eh?). The mold gets blasted up to 500+ degrees, endures its bake cycle, then is cooled in order to get the part out. As it cools, the bare kayak shrinks, and that amount of shrinkage depends on the resin, the cook cycle, the dimensions and geometry of the boat, and to some degree, the size of that chicken's foot. The point here is that there are a number of variables that go into making a great boat. Should any of those variables be out of spec, there *could* be a weakness somewhere in the boat. And, should that happen, chances are that it will happen along that parting line.
PROTECTING THE PARTING LINE:
Aristotle said, "... We are what we repeatedly do..." Such is the mantra of mass production. Rest assured, your boat went through lots of R & D, as well as trial-error-recovery before it made its way to you. It's a good boat. Still, we need to practice a little common sense when we're out on the water, and do what we can to protect those parting lines.
STUPID HUMAN TRICKS:
PREPARATION AND SHORELINE REPAIR:
We all have spares of our favorite lures, carry several rods, or even go as far as to pack a spare paddle. Being prepared is already part of our pre-fishing routine. However, I don't know too many paddlers that are prepared in case their boat springs a leak.
There's a little "McGyver" in all of us. This is my answer to the burning question, "What would McGyver do?" I give you the "hole in my boat" survival kit. Put these in a zip-lok bag and toss it inside your boat. Don't worry about losing it in the bowels of your craft because should you ever need it, just open the hatch and the kit will float to you. The survival kit includes:
SHORELINE LEAK DETECTION:
The first indication that you've taken on a significant amount of water will be a feeling that the boat is heavy, sluggish, and harder to keep straight. And, that sloshing sound will also be a clue. First order of business, get to shore. That's important because paddling that heavy boat will drain your strength quicker than an empty sound boat will.
It's not uncommon for a perfectly good boat to take on water under extreme conditions. Hatches can leak, so can hardware fastened with rivets. All plastic boats exhibit some degree of "oil canning", which simply means when you sit in it, the hull gives way to your weight. It's plastic, it bends. During "oil canning" air gets pushed out of the smallest hole when you sit on your boat. It happens normally by air escaping around hatch covers and rivets, without you even knowing. But, when you get out of the boat air (or water) will get sucked back in the same places. If you're in some rough seas, with waves coming over the bow (and hatch) and standing around hardware rivets, it's quite possible that your paddling movements are enough to cause the boat to "breathe" and thereby inhale some water in the process.
But for now, we're looking for a hole. First thing to do after you get ashore is get the water out. Drain plugs are great for getting lots of water out of a SOT, but since the depth of the plug is normally much deeper than the thickness of the hull, you can never get all the water out. Once the boat is empty, look in the most likely places for that leak.
With the leak temporarily plugged, time to head to the launch. Hopefully you've been able to notify someone via your radio or cell phone that you've running a wee bit late getting back. Also, I'm hoping that you didn't paddle alone. So, hug the shore when you can, stop and empty the boat again if you need to. Be smart, get back to the launch safely.
In the next article, we'll discuss how to pinpoint where that leak is, and then we'll tackle the repair.
See you out on the water!
"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after" ~ Henry David Thoreau
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