Inflatable Boat Repair Is Best Done By Professionals But Can Be Done With Care

Inflatable boat repair is best done in a carefully controlled environment with the proper tools, but you can make do it yourself repairs in the field.

It is best to get large repairs done by a professional. You may even want to get field repairs re-done by a professional in a temperature and humidity controlled environment!

I have done some do it yourself boat repair , and I have spent lots of time talking to repair specialists to learn how to do it right.

I still have a lot to learn!

I always make sure I have my boat repair kits fully stocked and on-board the boat. Without the right supplies inflatable boat repair is impossible.

Even with the right supplies a good inflatable boat repair is all in the details. The temperature, the humidity, the type of glue, how you prepare the material, the size and shape of the patch, where to place the patch, do you need inside and outside patches....... these are a few of the "details" to which I refer.

The details....

type of material - It is very important to know what type of material your boat is made of before you try to make an inflatable boat repair. The glue for each type of fabric is different, and it is important to use the correct patch material!

temperature and humidity - The temperature must be in the range of 18 to 24 degrees C (65 to 75 degrees F) and the humidity must be below 70%. 40% humidity would be better. This is very important as bond strength will decrease greatly with heat and humidity.

size of the patch - A patch should extend 25 to 50 mm on all sides of the tear (1 to 2 inches) I prefer using patches 50 mm larger than the tear. If the tear is less than 50mm (2inches) long then an inside patch is not necessary. Inside patches are recommended in larger inflatable boat repairs because the inside patch adds strength to the repair. Make sure you cut the patch with rounded corners to decrease the possibility of corners catching and stressing the patch.

deflate the boat - even with a small pinhole leak, air pressure under the patch will cause the patch to bubble and weaken your repair.

PVC repair

  • preparing the area - Place the patch on the tear and trace around the patch so you know where to clean and glue the tube material. Use masking tape to protect the area outside the patch - the glue is very hard to clean off. Clean the area to be patched with MEK (methyl ethyl ketone). The MEK actually dissolves the PVC, so use it sparingly as too much may loosen the coating completely off the fabric!

  • gluing - If using a 2 part glue, mix the glue in the ratio required, usually 98% glue to 2% accelerator. Apply two coats of glue to the tube and to the patch, allowing the glue to dry between coats (5 to 20 minutes, depending on the glue and environmental conditions). Apply the glue with a natural bristle brush with the bristles cut short. Acid brushes from the plumbing shop work great. If there is a milky color to the glue, that means there is too much humidity so do not try to apply the patch, the moisture must be removed first. Use a hair dryer to dry the glue.

  • applying the patch - When the glue has dried and is only slightly tacky to the touch, carefully line up the patch. Roll or press the patch into place, starting from the center and moving to the outside edges - pressure is important for a good bond. Do not try to roll out bubbles as this will damage the glue bond. Puncture bubbles with a needle, being careful to push it only through the patch material, not the boat tube!

  • set time - It is always best to leave the patch for 12 hours to allow the glue to cure before inflating the boat. If you must inflate sooner, do not inflate to full pressure.

Hypalon repair

  • preparing the area - Place the patch on the tear or hole and trace around the patch. Use masking tape to cover the boat tube outside the patch area to protect it while buffing the hypalon and applying glue. Use 36 grit or 60 grit abrasive wheels to buff the Hypalon. If you are using a power tool make sure you do not go through the coating to the base fabric. Buffing by hand ensures you will not go into the fabric. Buff the Hypalon until all the shiny coating is covered with scratches. Buff in more than one direction.

    You get the picture I hope..... Hypalon must be thoroughly buffed for glue to stick. Buff the patch as well.

    After buffing some say to wipe with solvent before gluing, others say simply sweep away any rubber bits with a dry brush. The experienced repair guys I have watched did not wash with solvent before gluing.

  • gluing - brush on the glue using a natural bristle brush. Let the first coat dry, preferably overnight. The second coat should dry for at least two hours. Not letting the glue dry long enough is a common error with boat repair. Two part adhesives cure much faster than one part adhesives.

  • applying the patch - these glues are contact type glues. Carefully line up the patch before you touch it to the tube. If you need to re-align the patch, use a dropper of xylene or toluene to reactivate the glue. Then reapply another layer of glue and let it dry again before reapplying the patch.

  • set time - if possible allow the patch to cure for a couple days before using the boat. Most two part adhesives cure to 70% strength in two days.

With inflatable boat repair the number one problem is trying to rush the job. Be patient, take your time. Make sure the details are done right and you will get a good repair.

Inflatable boat sealant

An inflatable boat repair product that is put inside the tubes to seal up small leaks. It is a liquid latex type product that is poured into the tube through the valve. Brands of boat sealant include:

  • Inflatable boat sealant - Inland Marine
  • Inflatable boat sealant - West Marine - made by Inland Marine
  • Toobseal - Bixler Marine

Inflatable boat paint

There are a number of products available to make your boat look like new and re-skin the outside of a severely worn boat.

Products for this type of inflatable boat repair include:

  • Inland Marine - Liquid rubber for re-skinning your boat, and Topside paint for restoring it to "like new" condition
  • Polymarine - Superflex PVC paint and Flexithane Hypalon paint - each paint is specially formulated for the specific application
  • Tuff Coat - a synthetic rubber coating applied in two parts - designed to bond to the PVC or Hypalon permanently.

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