Inflatable boats are durable and designed to resist punctures. However, damage can still occur for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, modern high-quality inflatable boats have redundant air chambers that help to keep a boat afloat even when one chamber is compromised.
With the help of these redundant chambers, you can keep your boat going long enough to make it to land. Punctures that occur above the waterline can also be patched with an emergency seal, though you will need a more permanent fix once you’re back on dry land.
Here we will look at how to identify where a leak is, what to do when you get a leak on the water, and how to repair an inflatable boat.
How to Find a Leak in an Inflatable Boat
While rips and tears are easy to find, many leaks are caused by small, pinhole punctures that you will not see immediately. On one hand this is good because the smaller the puncture, the more slowly you will be losing air, but it does make it hard to find.
The easiest way to find a leak in an inflatable boat is with liquid soap or an all purpose cleaner in a spray bottle .
Follow these steps:
- If you are using soap, mix it with a small amount of water and put it in a spray bottle. The mix should be thin enough that it can be sprayed. If you are using an all purpose spray cleaner move to the next step.
- Spray around the air chamber that is leaking including around the valves. Swipe your hand over the mixture so there is just a thin layer left.
- Bubbles will form wherever the air is leaking out.
- Use a permanent marker to mark where the leak is so it will be easy to find
- You can also use this method to test if a patch is secure.
Note: If you cannot find the leak but the boat still seems to have lost air, the temperature may be to blame. Cold temperatures force air to contract which will cause a loss of pressure and sagging.
Know What Your Boat is Made Of
Inflatable boats are most often made of hypalon, a kind of rubber, or PVC, a kind of plastic. Both are durable and have their pros and cons. For example, hypalon is considered a stronger material but its seams must be glued instead of welded, making them not as resilient as PVC seams. We will focus primarily on PVC but the repair processes are similar.
What to Do When You Have a Leak in the Water
Noticing that an air chamber is not as full as it should be while you are out on the water can be an extremely concerning sight. However, you should not panic because boats have multiple air chambers so even if one is leaking, the others will not.
If you can tell where the leak is coming from and it is above the waterline, you can perform an emergency fix by wiping the area with a PVC cleaning solvent then applying a piece of duct tape or a PVC patch.
Both of these items should be in your emergency gear along with
- Life jackets
- Emergency radio to call for help
- Cleaning solvent (to clean the area before applying a patch)
- Duct tape (can be used as an emergency patch or to secure other items as needed)
- Patch/patch kit
- Hand pump (use this to refill the chamber until you are able to perform a repair)
Emergency repairs with a quick patch or tape can help ensure you have time to get to land but they are by no means a permanent fix. For a more complete and long-lasting fix, follow these steps:
- Trim the corners from your PVC patch: If your patch is square (most are) you should cut it into a circle or oval. Corners are more likely to lift and losen.
- Apply PVC cleaning solvent to both the patch and the boat.
- Once the solvent has dried, apply the PVC adhesive to both the patch and the boat.
- Let this first coat of adhesive cure for about a half hour. Then, apply a second coat and allow it to cure for 15 minutes. A third coat can also be applied and only needs to be cured for 5 minutes.
- Place the patch over the leak, getting it as flat and smooth as possible. Then, take a roller or other rounded object to go over the area, removing any remaining wrinkles.
- Allow your new patch to rest for at least 24 hours before taking it on the water. Ideally, wait three days.
What to Do When a Patch Doesn’t Work?
If you find that your patches do not hold or that you are getting leaks frequently, it is time to get a new boat. While inflatable boats are durable and can be repaired, if you have multiple patches, your boat is likely weakening and will have other issues.