Active Sports

Basic Kayak Maintenance Routine

It’s almost spring and most paddlers are itching to break their kayaks out of winter hibernation. It’s nice to have a clean kayak in peak shape to start the paddling season. Here are a few spring-cleaning tips to get your kayak ready and some ideas for how to maintain it throughout the year.

Spring Cleaning

Some paddlers make it a habit to thoroughly clean their kayak before storing it for winter. This is a good idea but it doesn’t always happen and, depending on where you store your kayak, it may need some maintenance and cleaning from sitting for several months.

Set your kayak on a pair of sawhorses or a stand and use this quick checklist to get things ready for your first paddle of the season:

Inspect the Cords: Carefully inspect all the deck hardware, webbing, cords, bungees, and perimeter lines. Over time the cords, bungees, and ropes wear out from normal wear and tear, UV radiation, and weathering.

Treat bungees that are fraying at the ends but still in good working order with a dab of hot glue on the end to prevent further fraying. For additional protection you can add a sleeve of heat-shrink tubing used on electrical wires.

Replace any other cords that are showing signs of wear and weakness. Be sure to inspect the handle cords as well, if your kayak has them. The cords might seem insignificant and you might never use them, but it’s good practice to keep everything in good working order in case of an emergency or other situation where you do need them to be strong and reliable.

Inspect the Hull: All kayaks get scratches and dents in their hull from rocks and debris in the water and normal wear and tear.

Kayaks made of softer, heavier plastics are more prone to scratches but they are fairly easy to repair using a small heat gun with a narrow tip to direct the heat to a smaller area. Slowly move the heat gun over the scratches until they disappear. Be careful not to hold the heat gun over the same place for long as this will damage your hull.

Some owners repair gouges in their plastic hulls by shave down the raised “burrs” for a smoother hull.

Kayaks made of fiberglass, Kevlar, and other composite plastics usually have a hard “gelcoat” on the outside. This gelcoat doesn’t scratch or dent quite as easily but the glossy finish tends to highlight any scratches. The good news is you can easily polish out any scratches in these composite boats using a quality automotive wax.

UV Protection: UV radiation is damaging to plastic and composite kayaks. Using a quality automotive wax on composite kayaks or a UV protectant on plastic kayaks will protect and extend the life of your kayak.

Any high quality auto wax will do for composite kayaks. Meguiar’s waxes has a marine and RV cleaner that removes oxidation from gelcoat finishes and gives better protection from UV damage.

Star Brite Ultimate Kayak Cleaner or 303 Aerospace Protectant acts like sunscreen for your boat, creating a protective barrier against the UV rays that break down plastics. The best practice is to apply a UV protectant every 3 to 5 weeks throughout the season, focusing on the top and sides of your kayak that are most exposed to direct sunlight.

Inspect the rudder or skeg: If your kayak has a rudder or skeg, check the deployment lines, cables and crimps, pivot hardware, and pedals. Wipe away any dust or dirt and apply lubricant to the main pivot points and pedals or sliders. Test everything to make sure it is clean, tight, and in good working order.

Check your gear: Look over all your kayak gear to make sure it is clean and in good working order. Follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. Make sure your PFD is in peak condition.

Inspect all hull coverings, spray skirts, even drybags. For zippers that stick, apply a little water resistent lubricant and make sure they run smoothly.

Test hull coverings to make sure they still fit properly and are watertight.

303 Aerospace Protectant is safe to use on a lot of your paddling gear, including your PFD, drytops and pants, drybags, even your paddles!

Repair, Replace, and Accessorize: Set your kayak up as you normally use it and get in your kayak. Remind yourself what was bothering you last season and make note of things that need repaired or replaced. Now is the perfect time to repair or replace old and damaged items and add new accessories or upgrades!

Check emergency gear: Carefully inventory your First Aid kit and emergency repair kit to make sure everything is stocked and nothing is past its expiration date (emergency food, batteries, glues, etc.). Refill or replace any items that you used last year.

During The Season

There are a few things you can do throughout kayak season to keep your kayak in peak paddle condition.

Use a Kayak cart: Dragging your kayak to and from the launch point wears down the bottom and could lead to holes. Kayak carts not only protect the bottom of your kayak, they also make transporting it to and from the water a breeze!

Cleanliness matters: Get in the practice of spraying down your kayak after each use to wash away dirt, grime, and especially salt. A quick wash with the hose prevents corrosion and keeps mold from growing. Every 3 to 5 uses, give your kayak a thorough scrub with mild soapy water and soft sponge.

Summer Storage: UV radiation fades your kayak and, more significantly, weakens the plastic, making it brittle. Avoid leaving your kayak out in the sun for long periods of time. Store your kayak away from direct sunlight. Regularly apply a UV shield like 303 Protectant.

Cover the cockpit when it is in storage to keep out the rain and little critters looking for homes. Dry the inside of your kayak before you cover and store it to prevent mold from growing or mosquitos and scum at bay.

Preparing For Offseason

Before you tuck your kayak away for winter hibernation take a little time to clean and care for it. This will make spring-cleaning infinitely easier and help your kayak last longer.

Deep clean: Give your kayak a good scrub down with water, mild soap, and a soft sponge. Spray water through the cockpit and all the hatches to clean out any dirt, sand, dead bugs, and debris that collected over the summer. If possible, remove the seat and all other removable items to clean them, too.

If your kayak has a rudder, loosen the pedal’s adjustment straps, cables, and bungees. Apply W-D40 or other lubricants to cables and hinges to help prevent rust and keep things clean through the winter months.

Undo any quick-release buckles on hatch straps and partially open any neoprene hatch covers so that air can flow through your kayak but critters looking for a winter hideout can’t get in. One option is to remove all hull coverings entirely and use large rubber bands and nylon window screen mesh to create winter hull coverings. This will keep all bugs and critters out and allow maximum airflow.

Store your kayak properly: There are many kayak storage options on the market. No matter what storage method you choose, make sure the wall brackets or slings align with the bulkheads of your kayak where the hull is strongest. If the supports are too far apart or too close together it will overstrain your kayak and cause damage. It is never a good idea to store your kayak by ropes attached to the carrying toggles.

Clean your gear: Wash your paddle, PFD, bilge pump, drybags, and any other accessories in mild detergent and dried thoroughly. Use an enzyme based odor eliminator to tackle any smell issues (but check the label to make sure it is safe for the material you are trying to clean).

Remove any perishable items from your First Aid kit and emergency bags.

Store everything in a cool, dry place with all the zippers, snaps, and buckles open to allow maximum airflow and prevent mold and odors.

Some paddlers prefer to do any maintenance on their kayaks during the winter months so they will be ready to launch on the first day of warm paddle weather.


No matter how you decide to plan your kayak maintenance schedule, keeping a good cleaning routine will make your paddle adventures safer and more enjoyable and keep your kayak in peak condition for years to come.

Do you have a cleaning and maintenance routine? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

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