A woman recently posted a question on my Facebook page about purchasing a used kayak and how long fiberglass and composite kayaks last. I wrote back to her that it depends on how well the boat is treated and maintained. I thought I would explore her question in greater detail in this blog.
Purchasing a used kayak or canoe is often a great way to go for someone new to the sport of paddling. You don’t want to invest a couple thousand dollars or more for a fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon fiber, or Royalex boat if you’re not sure paddling really appeals to you. And what happens if you spend $2,000 on a Royalex canoe and decide a year down the road that you would rather take up kayaking or vice versa. Of course you can always do both; they both are fun and have strong points, but I digress from the subject.
A fiberglass or composite boat (canoe or kayak) can last your lifetime if properly maintained. That’s the caveat. The worse enemy to fiberglass, composite, Royalex, and rotomolded boats is UV rays from the sun. UV rays fade paint and wood, cause gel coats and plastic components to crack, and cause plastic hulls to sag.
It is because of UV rays that it isn’t a good idea to keep your boat on your vehicle at all times except when it is in the water or being transported to the launch site. When not in use or being transported to the paddling site, your boat should be stored in the garage or under a canopy or tarp. However, make sure to leave some room between your boat and the tarp for air to circulate; otherwise, you’ll discover mold and mildew has started to form in areas where you can’t get rid of it.
You can protect fiberglass and composite boats from UV damage by keeping them waxed regularly. Royalex and rotomolded boats can be protected using ArmorAll or some other UV protectant.
So what do you look for in a good, used boat? Check for spider cracks in the hull of a fiberglass or composite boat. Also check to see if the gel coat has faded. Look for fading (bleaching) and sagging in the hull of rotomolded boats. Royalex boats will show fading but very seldom show sagging. Fading, spider cracks, and sagging will tell you that the owner stored the boat in the sun and probably never waxed or treated the boat. Cracks in plastic components will also allude to boats being left in the sun, especially if the plastic shows significant fading.
Check the hull for cracks, gouges, and deep scratches. While minor scratches are inevitable, gouges and deep scratches denote hard use. Gel coat is pretty tough stuff, so cracks in the gel coat signal the boat hit something (rock, stump, boat ramp) pretty hard. Gouges and deep scratches can show that the boat owner ran the boat up onto the boat ramp or rocky beaches, ran it over rocks, or launched the boat using the seal launch method (getting into the boat on land and sliding the boat with you in it into the water).
Look for faded or warped wood components (this is especially the case on canoes). Wood thwarts, gunwales, deck plates, and seats need to either be oiled or re-varnished time to time depending on the finish. If the seats are cane, check to make sure the cane strips are still supple and don’t feel brittle or appear dull and faded.
Metal parts should show little to no rust. If the parts are meant to be moveable, then they should freely move. This is especially important for the seat adjustment and rudder assembly.
Check to make sure the hatches still seal tightly, well as tightly as possible because I am not aware of any kayak hatch system out there that is perfectly watertight. Make sure the bulkheads to the dry compartments are secure and that there are no separations between the hull and the bulkheads. If there are, then that dry compartment will no longer remain dry no matter how tight the hatch is.
If the boat is properly taken care of, it will still be usable long after you have been planted six feet underground. A well-maintained boat can be passed down from one generation to the next.
I have probably left some things out that my paddling buddies will remind me of. For more advice, refer to the Resources page on my website.