Canoes have served as an efficient means of water transportation and provided millions of recreational boaters with an inexpensive way to enjoy our nation’s waters from America’s pioneer days to the 21st century. Over the years, kayaks, and more recently, paddleboards, have joined the flotilla of smaller, human-powered vessels that afford enthusiasts with an outlet to enjoy our country’s boundless water resources.  

Beginning in the days of birch bark canoes to today’s high-tech hulls and personal gear, canoeing and kayaking continue to grow in popularity, spawning new hull materials, personal equipment and designs, not to mention commercial endeavors that manufacture, sell, equip, maintain, and repair the boats. 

Protecting an investment in a canoe or kayak with regular maintenance not only keeps the boat in top condition, it also creates a safe environment for the operator, providing some peace of mind in knowing that the vessel can withstand almost any situation encountered while underway — a sudden storm or a collision with another boat, for example.

Keeping a canoe or kayak seaworthy is critical. Because of their size, inherent instability, low profile, and limited maneuverability, any change in weather, sea, or vessel traffic conditions can quickly turn a leisurely outing into a potentially life-threatening situation. As a reminder, regardless of vessel size, type, or area of operation, kayak, canoe, and paddleboard operators follow the same rules as power and sail boaters, and meet very similar safety equipment carriage requirements. All state boating enforcement agencies have websites that detail laws and regulations specific to the state.   

The variety of modern-day hulls — plastic, composite, aluminum, or the classic wooden canoe hull, gives the paddlesporter a range of choices, but all require maintenance to varying degrees. In general, all vessels used in saltwater should be rinsed with freshwater after every outing. The rinse prevents metal fitting corrosion and, perhaps more importantly, removes aquatic nuisance species that may attach to the hull during the trip.

Tips for Canoes and Kayaks

Regular in-season maintenance will keep kayaks and canoes in top shape and hopefully, lessen the potential for hull or equipment failures and the need for expensive hull repairs or equipment replacement. The following tips provide general maintenance guidelines for canoes and kayaks.  

  • Wooden canoes are much more susceptible to the elements than aluminum, plastic, or composite hulls. Regularly inspecting the hull condition and joints, thwarts, gunwales, bow and stern points, keel, ribs, and seats is important. Using water-resistant treatments will protect the wood and reduce the potential for rot, mold, and mildew. 
  • Fiberglass, kevlar, and other composite hulls typically have a hard outer layer of gelcoat that resists superficial scratches, which can be buffed out. For more extensive repairs, a skilled technician can completely rebuild a hull section and make the work invisible. 
  • Personal paddlesport gear, including life jacket, neoprene wetsuit and gloves, and the zippers used to close the gear need cleaning and UV protection, just like the vessel itself. Using a spray without silicone is a good approach. 

In-Season Canoe and Kayak Care 

  • It is a good habit to rinse out kayaks or canoes after each use. Saltwater will corrode kayak metal fittings and fasteners. If last used in freshwater, waterborne bacteria and pollutants can create unappealing odors in the cockpit or attached gear. Rinsing the boat also prevents cross-contamination of microorganisms from one body of water to another. 
  • As part of regular cleaning, thoroughly inspect the hull from bow to stern; tighten screws and replace or repair frayed bungee cords, batten hatches, mooring lines, and cables. Lubricate snaps, springs, and metal parts to avoid binding and check rivets for tightness.  
  • For kayaks with a rudder or skeg, inspect and clean control lines, steel cables and crimps, pivot hardware, and pedals. Apply spray lubricant to the steering gear and inside cable housings to lubricate guide sleeve interiors. 
  • Frequently applying a high-quality automotive wax or a protectant to hulls will prevent damage from Ultra Violet (UV) radiation. Ensure that the selected wax or compound is appropriate for use on the hull type.  
  • Protect exposed gear, including paddles, spray skirt, neoprene material (bodysuit, boots and gloves), hatchtops, and drybags from the sun. Applying a water-resistant lubricant to zippers will keep them working as intended.  
  • Remove perishable food from day or bail-out bags. Check the condition and expiration date of safety items (notably flares) and replenish First-Aid and emergency tool kit items.

Canoe and Kayak Storage

Effective storage of kayaks and canoes during the off-season will keep them in good operating condition for years; a protected, indoor location is the best approach to prevent unnecessary wear and tear. Extended exposure to cold weather, UV rays, wind, rain, and rodents can cause significant damage to boats left unprotected for long periods.   

  • After the last use of the season, carefully inspect the hull and all attached equipment. Refer to the owner’s manual for specific off-season storage recommendations.  
  • Set the kayak or canoe hull side up on sawhorses and thoroughly wash the hull and interior compartments with a mild detergent and scrub brush. From beneath, spray water into the cockpit and hatches, allowing loosened sand, silt, weeds, and other material to drain. If possible, remove the seat and clean underneath. 
  • Keep in mind that removing hull accessories and equipment for off-season storage is important. An empty hull allows water to drain more readily. Leaving gear attached to or inside of kayaks for extended periods invites mold/mildew damage. The best approach is to lay detached gear flat in a dry environment, allow it to air dry, then store in a container until the next use. 
  • To help retain the elasticity of bungee cord rudder controls, hatch battens, and neoprene covers, loosen adjustment straps and remove hatch covers. To allow air to circulate but keep rodents out of hatches, stretch nylon window screen over the hatch and secure with large rubber bands. 

Following these common-sense tips will keep canoes and kayaks in top condition and the operator safe and ready to handle any distress situations if they arise. Happy paddling!