A leaking boat is no mere annoyance. Every crack, tear, split seam or missing rivet can put you one step closer to a sinking vessel. Left unattended, minor damage can lead to a major headache. Don’t fret, though, you can usually handle small leaks yourself before they spiral out of control. These five boat repair steps will help you stay afloat.
1. Find the Source of the Leak
Boat leaks are typically first noticed below the water line. In the lowest section of the boat — known as the bilge — water may seep in and accumulate each time you launch, despite a secured plug. At this point, load your boat onto a trailer to commence a visual inspection.
With the boat sitting on a trailer, begin a visual examination, carefully looking for obvious signs of wear and tear. For instance, aluminum boats utilize rivets. As they loosen or age, they become a common source for water seepage. If that’s the problem, you can remove the old rivet by grinding off the head or drilling it out. Be sure to take extra care to avoid enlarging the hole.
3. Just Add Water
This tip for for small boats only, like a canoe or an aluminum jon boat (don’t try this with your 46’ cabin cruiser). A visual examination may not be enough to reveal every leak source. Consequently, you cannot afford to launch again before identifying and fixing each problem. Start by emptying all your gear out of the boat. With the boat on the trailer sitting level, begin filling the interior with water (about two or three inches deep). Now stop and examine the boat for leaks. Next, use a waterproof pen to mark areas that require repair. This will only work for leaks on the lowest part of the boat, as the weight of the water may exceed the trailer weight capacity. Do NOT fill the boat all the way with water!
4. Prepare for Repairs
With each problem area identified, release the drain plug and then elevate the bow. Wait one or two days to allow the boat to thoroughly dry. Whether your boat is aluminum or fiberglass, clean the area under repair before starting your work. Never use a scouring pad or wire brush on fiberglass, but you may use these tools on aluminum.
5. Apply Epoxy, Adhesive or Resin
Once your vessel is clean and dry, you can use a body repair kit to address the problem areas. Specifically, an epoxy adhesive is suitable for handling split seams on aluminum boats. You can use epoxy to fill cracks or small holes, as well as to hold rivets. As for a fiberglass boat, a boat repair kit that contains a fiberglass resin will get the job done. Follow the kit’s instructions to accomplish repairs. Remember to always wear safety goggles and latex gloves when working with epoxy, adhesives or resins. Lastly, wait for the substance to set before you set out to launch.
Time and tide wait for no man, and both will gradually take a toll on your boat. As for more difficult tasks, such as structural repairs, you’ll want to leave that work to the professionals.
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Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.