Nothing causes panic on a remote river trip like serious damage to your canoe. However, with a black bag of essential items and the skill of a drunken surgeon you can repair even large, gaping gashes in whitewater hulls. Try these backcountry canoe repair techniques next time you’re in a pinch, and make sure you’re properly prepared with our ultimate canoe repair kit.
Essential Techniques for Backcountry Canoe Repair
Even though Royalex canoes have a toughness approaching elephant hide, they can rip if a loaded or water-filled boat meets just the right knife-edged rock.
To patch a small tear you need heavy-duty duct tape, which means at least 13-mils-thick with a tensile strength of 45 pounds (look for Polyken by Covalence Adhesives). Normal duct tape is weak, barely adhesive and readily delaminates.
Clean the torn area inside the hull and flip the canoe over so you can slide your camp stove under the canoe below the tear. Apply the duct tape to the inside once the damaged area is clean, dry and very warm. Applying the tape to the outside of the hull or to the inside if the hull isn’t warm is just a waste of great tape.
If your ABS canoe wraps on a rock in fast current your hull will likely only become hideously creased, but it is possible that the hull will rip in an even more dramatic way.
Assuming you can drag the carcass off the rock, the repair requires a spool of 19-gauge stainless steel wire (from most hardware stores) and a four-inch nail. Kick out the hull to its normal shape the best you can. Heat the nail and melt holes on either side of the tear, then stitch the boat together with the wire. Cover the fine stitching with proper duct tape on the inside after first warming the hull. With this unbraided stainless wire you can fix any number of things: seats, broken hanger bolts, thwarts, paddle shafts. Don’t leave it at home.
For chemists, there is a way to actually plug the hole left by a tear or puncture. Black ABS plumbing pipe will initially dissolve in acetone before setting to become hardened plastic once again. Before the trip, reduce a section of pipe to shavings with a rasp and pack a small amount of acetone in a can or padded glass jar. If you need to plug a hole on the trip, mix acetone and ABS shavings until they reach the consistency of gravy. Fill deep gashes with a few consecutive layers, allowing the acetone to evaporate and the ABS to harden between coats.
This gunk is about the only material you can use on the outside of ABS boats. Make your job easier by first backing it up with a warm application of duct tape on the inside.
With this tear kit you can float your way out of situations that would otherwise end your trip.
12 Items for the Ultimate Canoe Repair Kit
1 Multi-tool with pliers
A multi-tool is invaluable for undoing various nuts on a canoe, pulling stainless steel thread, boring holes and tightening screws.
2 Nylon zip ties
Take an assortment of lengths of nylon zip ties. Repairs broken seats, thwarts and gunwales.
3 Stainless steel wire
Bring 19-gauge stainless steel wire on a flat card spool. A great substitute for bolts of any size.
4 Square of 80-grit sandpaper
For roughening surfaces to be glued.
5 Vinyl patches
A tube of GOOP glue—that works as both an adhesive and a patch—will repair almost anything from tent flies to hiking boots. Include latex gloves for working with glue.
7 Aluminum tape
Aluminum tape is a very aggressive water resistant adhesive that sticks to anything and never comes off. Use for quick repairs on torn equipment, from hulls to rain gear.
8 Tent pole sleeve
A tent pole sleeve or splint slides over a broken pole, turning a tragedy into a non-event.
9 Four-inch nail
Heated over a fire or stove, this tiny tool will easily burn holes in a canoe hull. Thread your stainless steel wire through the holes and you can lace a severely damaged canoe hull.
10 Duct tape
Polyken by Covalence Adhesives has a tensile strength of 45 pounds. Pack no other.
11 Two-inch needle with large eye
For repairs on torn materials, from quick-dry pants to canvas Duluth packs. Bring thread.
12 Eyeglass screwdriver
An eyeglass screwdriver will help you repair glasses and sunglasses.
This article originally appeared in Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
With this canoe repair kit you can float your way out of situations that would otherwise end your trip. | Feature photo: Brian Shields