This column was first published April 16, 2011

Surprisingly, I’ve been able to lay my hands on everything I’ll need to get on the water this spring. I still have to dig into various nooks, crannies, bins and closets to get camping gear organized, but I plan to get on the water before I have the desire to sleep on the cold ground.

I waited for a warm day (last Sunday) before I dragged out the kayaks to get them spruced up for paddling season. I was lucky this year; all they needed was a good detailing and a polishing.

To me the spring cleaning goes easier if I set up a couple of sawhorses in the driveway, put foam V-blocks on top of them and place a kayak on the blocks.

Next the boat gets a critical eyeballing. Are the perimeter deck lines and bungees looking strong? Are the recessed fittings tightly secured to the hull? Are they full of dried mud or seaweed? The toggle lines (those things with handles at each end of the boat) are often candidates for replacement. Give them a good inspection, replace the lines if there’s any question.

What’s it look like under the deck and inside the hatches? Check the foot braces while you’ve got your head inside. You may want to pull them out in preparation for the next step, which involves water.

Run some water into the cockpit. Raise the bow of the boat with a block and check to see whether any water is seeping past the bulkhead into the stern compartment. Then raise the stern and see whether the forward bulkhead is watertight. You may want to try this with the boat on its sides as well.

If you detect seepage, you need to get a tube of sealant and run a bead around both sides of the bulkheads. I’ve seen Lexel, Sikaflex and 3M 5200 advertised, but fortunately I’ve not had to use them, so I can’t say which is best.

Next, you’ll need to give the boat a good washing inside and out. Use a mild detergent and warm water and a sponge and attack last year’s grime. Then hose out the suds, rinse off the outside and dust off the water with a towel.

When the hull’s dry it’s time to apply a coat of marine wax, or in the case of a plastic-poly hull, a UV inhibitor such as 303 Protectant. Don’t forget to use the 303 on your rubber hatch covers.

Two seasons ago, in a moment of wild ambition, I pulled the deck lines from my two composite kayaks, removed all the recessed fittings and gave their recesses and the decks a thorough cleaning and waxing. That turned out to be a project. With the deck lines off, though, cleaning and waxing was much easier.

Here’s a hint when you get to removing and reinstalling the lines: Use a pair of locking pliers, preferably needle nose. You may also need a regular pair to pull on the end of the line to get enough free line to untie the overhand knot that keeps the lines in place. You’ll notice there isn’t any extra line; the knot is at the very end.

Pull on the line to get some slack and cinch it with the locking pliers. That way you can untie the knot to remove the perimeter lines. You’ll need to reverse this process to be able to retie the knot when you reinstall the lines.

It may sound like a lot of work, and some of my paddling friends shy far away from this type of preseason routine. But I get a good feeling about hopping into a nice clean boat in the spring — a fresh start to a new season on the water.


The bright, reflective orange graphic accompanying this piece is of a sticker every kayak, canoe and rowboat owner should have stuck in their boat. A product of Operation Paddle Smart (a collaborative between the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Power Squadron and the Coast Guard Auxiliary), it will help search-and-rescue respondents quickly determine whether they are looking for a body in the water or that the boat has simply drifted off to sea. The owner’s name and telephone numbers allow the Coast Guard, for example, to immediately call the numbers provided and determine whether he or she needs assistance.

With the cost of a responding helicopter at around $2,000 per hour and immense expenses associated with search and rescue, it’s an effort to help prevent unnecessary responses.

The stickers are free and can be obtained at Coast Guard stations, from members of the U.S. Power Squadron, Coast Guard Auxiliary members and some harbor masters. Get one, put your name and numbers on it with a waterproof marker and stick it in your boat in a visible place.

Jeff Strout’s column is published on Saturdays