By Mike Kowalsky

What’s in your emergency repair kit? This one has a flashlight, multi-tool, duct tape, pipe tape, foil-backed butyl rubber tape, electrical tape, lights, marine goop sealant, five-minute epoxy, marine epoxy putty, epoxy resin, brushes, fiberglass fabric, sandpaper, nitrile gloves, patches, and spare cord, among other things.
Oh no! …Crunch. Ever wonder what you would do if a badly timed pour-over ended with a loud crunch and a slowly sinking boat, or you got slammed into the rocks after surfing a dream wave in just a little too close to shore? If your boat gets damaged and you are miles from the put-in or the nearest coastal access road, you may need to do an emergency repair—either that or call the Coast Guard! If you are lucky enough to have a landing spot nearby, you can do a temporary fix on dry land; otherwise, you may need to do an on-water repair. In either case, hopefully you have a suitable repair kit on hand, and you know how to use it.

So, what should go into your emergency repair kit? It depends on a variety of things, like the kind of paddling you will do, whether the boats in your group are composite or plastic, and not to mention, whether you are worried about wasting precious storage space and adding unnecessary weight.

To help you choose wisely, here are some questions to ask when assembling your repair kit for the next trip:

  1. What situations might I find myself in that could lead to boat damage? Whether touring in flat water near sandy beaches, or rock gardening in dynamic conditions, it is always good to be prepared, but some activities are more likely to lead to significant boat damage—and more-substantial repairs—than others.
  2. Where should I store my repair kit? If you intend to do a long crossing rather than stay close to shore, be prepared for an on-water repair with a readily accessible repair kit. Some people carry a small kit within reach for basic repairs, and a bigger, more complete kit stowed elsewhere in the boat.
  3. How far from civilization will I be? On an extended trip, a long-lasting repair might make more sense than a quick fix. For example, for a big crack in a fiberglass hull, a durable repair with fiberglass and epoxy may be warranted, rather than simply applying pipe tape or epoxy putty.
  4. Will this goop work in cold temperatures and how long until I can get back on the water? All resins and adhesives have their strengths and weaknesses. Epoxy provides an extremely strong bond but takes a while to cure, or may not cure if it is too cold, depending on the resin and hardener. Other resins, like Vinylester, need very warm temperatures to cure. Epoxy putty cures in less than an hour but is best for sealing small holes or cracks rather than, for example, applying new layers of fiberglass over a heavily damaged region. Butyl rubber tape or pipe tape provides an immediate, though short-term fix.
  5. Can the repair area be wet? Most repairs work best on dry surfaces. Furthermore, resins and adhesives stick best to surfaces that have been lightly sanded and cleaned. So pack some sandpaper. Epoxy putty can be applied to wet surfaces, like to fill in a gouge in the hull, and will even cure underwater while you keep paddling. The sealant Lexel also bonds to wet surfaces.
  6. Will the stuff I have for composite boats work on plastic boats? One of the things we love about plastic (polyethylene) boats is that they can take a beating. Repairing them can be more challenging or at least requires different methods than for composite boats. Without access to a heat source for plastic welding, emergency-repair options for plastic boats are limited. Pipe tape and butyl tape should stick, but most epoxy compounds will not.
  7. Does anything in my kit need to be replaced periodically? Resins and adhesives have a finite lifespan, which is shortened when they are stored in hot places, like in a car or boat hatch. Some products, like butyl tape, dry out with time but last longer in an airtight bag.
  8. What safety precautions are needed? When you are stranded with a busted boat, safety precautions for your repair may not be the first thing on your mind. Nevertheless, products in your repair kit can be toxic—some even causing blindness if splashed in the eyes—so it is important to be informed of the hazards and avoid exposure to skin, lungs, and eyes, and use protective gear. Also take care not to cut yourself when working around sharp material, like broken fiberglass or gelcoat.
  9. What else might need repair? Think about what other equipment might break or require adjustment on your journey, and bring what you need, be it an Allen wrench for your skeg control, a screwdriver for your foot-peg assembly, a patch for a torn drysuit, or a stowable replacement hatch cover.
  10. How do I use this stuff? It is important to know what is in your repair kit, and how to use it. The worst time to find out something does not work like you thought it would is when you actually need it. It is worth experimenting on your own or even taking a boat repair class!
Boat repair class at Paddle Golden Gate 2016, where students assessed damage on a boat and experimented with different repair materials on wet and dry surfaces.