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How to Repair an Inflatable Boat

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on September 10, 2021. In

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Inflatable boats have come a long way from kid’s dinghies and the like. Many inflatable boats are not only high quality, but powerful and affordable. It makes sense that you’d want to do your best to take care of them. Maybe you like to head downriver in an inflatable kayak. Maybe you like to fish from an inflatable pontoon. Either way, you need to maintain them. If something goes wrong and air starts hissing out, all does not have to be lost. Let’s take a look at some of the quickest and easiest ways to repair an inflatable boat.

What Kind of Inflatable Boat Do You Have?

Not every inflatable boat is created equal. If you have a serious, good quality inflatable, it’s probably made of one of two materials. You either have PVC or Hypalon.

Hypalon boats are usually more durable than PVC. Hypalon is made from polyethylene and synthetic rubber. It also features a neoprene layer. It’s used almost exclusively for inflatable boats. When you need to fix it, the ideal solution is a Hypalon patch. And, for that to work, you want a Hypalon adhesive. This isn’t set in stone. You can technically make do with

PVC boats are not quite as durable as Hypalon. That’s not to say PVC isn’t durable, though. Either kind of inflatable should last you well over 10 years. Expect a good 15 years from a top quality inflatable. How you care for and maintain your boat has a big effect on this. Remember, things like UV exposure and extreme temperatures can reduce lifespan considerably.

Both types can be repaired in almost the same way. The big thing to remember is that they are not chemically the same. Hypalon is basically rubber. PVC is basically plastic. You’ll need to treat them a little bit different if you want the job done 100% right. However, in a pinch, sometimes you might have to wing it. We’ll cover the right way to repair your leak here.

Watch for Air Bubbles

Repairing an inflatable boat has an inherent problem. That’s finding what needs to be repaired. A big tear is easy to see. A tiny hole is not. These can be a real needle in a haystack situation to deal with. Small holes are nearly invisible. So you need a way to track that hole down. That’s where soapy water comes in.

A coating of soapy water will show you where the air leak is. If you’re having trouble locating the hole, fill a spray bottle with dish soap and water. If you don’t have a spray bottle handy, just a bowl is fine. Once you have the boat inflated, spray it down with the soapy mixture. You can cover the whole boat at once or do it in sections. Evenly coat the surface and then watch carefully. A pinhole leak will cause the soapy mixture to bubble. The air bubbles are the easiest way to identify a hole in an inflatable boat. Once you have it located, mark it. Use a marker or even a piece of tape. It’s easy to clean off the soapy water and get to work.

How to Repair Inflatable Boats – PVC Boats

Let’s start with fixing PVC inflatable boats. The process is very similar to repairing a Hypalon inflatable. However, there are a few different considerations. But if you want a secure, permanent fix, this is what you need to do.

You’ll need a PVC patch for this. You can buy PVC patches online or at stores that sell inflatables. Make sure it’s PVC if your boat is PVC.

Cut Your Patch

We recommend some prep for your patch. If you bought a square patch, cut it into a circle. Most patches are sold as squares. That gives you good surface area, sure. But the corners can easily snag. A round patch will seal better.

Sand the Patch

Bonding this kind of plastic fabric to itself isn’t too hard, but you want to help it out. Use some sand paper and get your patch a little rough. Not a ton, just give it some texture. You’ll want to do the same thing over the area that’s going to be patched. Don’t destroy the boat by any means. Just get it rough enough that the patch has something to attach to. Just enough that the PVC doesn’t look glossy anymore.

Clean the Area

You want a clean patch and a clean boat. You can use isopropyl alcohol here. But we recommend a proper PVC cleaning solvent. You can buy solvents specifically made to clean and prepare PVC and other plastics. This is the best bet to get the job done right. Apply it to both the rough side of the patch and the boat itself. Follow the directions on the solvent and let it dry thoroughly before proceeding.

Use Masking Tape to Mask the Area

Why do they call it masking tape? It masks areas off. Masking tape will create a border around the hole you’re patching. This will prevent excess adhesive from spilling over onto the rest of the boat. You only want adhesive where the boat is being patched.

Apply Your Adhesive

You’ll need a PVC adhesive for this. If you bought a repair kit, it should have its own PVC adhesive included. Otherwise, make sure you find the right kind. Something like Stabond PVC glue works well.

Apply a coat of adhesive to both the patch and the boat. You will not be sealing it yet! Please don’t attach the patch to the boat yet. You need to cure your adhesive first. That means letting it sit for about a half hour to dry.

Apply a second coat after the adhesive has dried. This time you’ll only need to wait 10 to 15 minutes. Then you can apply a third and final coat. You’ll need to give it no more than five minutes to rest here. You should have created a good bonding layer by now. It won’t be wet and sticky to the touch any more. But it will be a little gummy.

Apply the Patch

Attach the PVC fabric patch carefully and evenly. You want this to go on smoothly. Start at one side and slowly, carefully, lay it across the hole. Press gently and firmly from one side to the air. Smooth out and wrinkles or air bubbles.

Once you have it as flat as you can get it by hand, try using a roller. If you don’t have one, use anything smooth and rounded to roll it out like dough for cooking. You want the seal tight and free of bubbles.

Finish Up

If you spilled any adhesive, now’s when to use a towel and a little solvent to clean it off. Try To avoid the patch as much as possible. Hopefully, your masking job ensured nothing dripped too badly.

Give your patch at least 24 hours to fully harden in place. Remember, this is going to be a permanent seal, so patience is key. The longer you can wait, the better. Even 48 to 72 hours would be great.

How to Repair Inflatable Boats – Hypalon Boats

The process for repairing Hypalon is nearly identical. There are a few key differences, though, so let’s go step by step again.

Cut Your Patch

As before, it’s a great idea to cut a circle patch here. Corners snag too easily, so this will last longer and look better.

Sand the Patch

Hypalon is a little more finicky. The sanding is more important for this material. Sand both the back of the patch and the boat. Remember, this is just to give it a bonding surface. You’re sanding off the shiny finish, nothing else. We don’t want to weaken the structure.

Clean the Area

You could use rubbing alcohol here. It’s not the best option, though. Use it as a last resort. For Hypalon you want a solvent like acetone or even toluene. These can be dangerous, so please use a mask and gloves. Watch for spills and clean up immediately, if there are any. Make sure you have good ventilation as well. Acetone and toluene fumes can be dangerous.

Clean both the patch and the section of boat needing it. Let the solvent dry as per the instructions on the bottle.

Use Masking Tape to Mask the Area

This is just to prevent adhesive from spilling all over the boat. Make a little tape border around the area you’re going to patch. This can catch spills and make clean up easier.

Apply Your Adhesive

You need the right inflatable boat sealant here. Hypalon needs a Hypalon adhesive. Buy the stuff that says Hypalon glue right on the label. Then, apply a thin coat to both the patch and the boat but do not bond them yet. Read the instructions on the label. Just in case your brand recommends a different approach. If it does, follow the instructions listed.

Just as with the PVC process, you want to cure the glue. So let it sit and dry for around 30 minutes. Once that has passed, add a second layer to both the back of the patch and the boat. Wait another 15 minutes. After that, do a third coat. This time, you just need it to dry enough that you can safely touch it. You don’t want it wet or gummy.

Apply the Patch

Attach the fabric patch carefully and evenly. You want this to go on smoothly. Start at one side and slowly, carefully, lay it across the hole. Press gently and firmly from one side to the air. Smooth out any wrinkles and remove air bubbles.

Once you have it as flat as you can get it by hand, try using a roller. If you don’t have one, use anything smooth and rounded to roll it out like dough for cooking. You want the seal tight and free of bubbles.

TIP: If you place the patch incorrectly, you can still fix it. You can use a heat gun to loosen the patch and reposition it. A hot air gun can be picked up on Amazon.

Finish Up

If you spilled any adhesive, now’s when to use a towel and a little solvent to clean it off. Try to avoid the patch as much as possible. Hopefully, your masking job ensured nothing dripped too badly.

Give your patch at least 24 hours to fully harden in place. Remember, this is going to be a permanent seal, so patience is key. The longer you can wait, the better. Like we said before, 48 to 72 hours would be great.

How to Repair Small Tears in an Inflatable Boat

So tiny holes are one thing. What about surface tears? These can be a pain. But a tear doesn’t have to destroy your boat. If a layer of your boat has torn but didn’t make a hole, repairs shouldn’t take long. Basically, all you’re doing is gluing it down again.

Since no patching is involved in this, all you need to do is sand the area as before. Getting it looking rough. Then clean it based on the kind of material your boat is made from. Once that’s done, we skip the patching step.

Take a look at the damaged area. Depending on your boat, you may have torn down to a new layer with a different color. If that’s the case, you can try to color it to match, so it’s less noticeable. You can get fabric markers that may match your color.

Use an adhesive like Aquaseal FD. This adhesive is made specifically for this kind of job. It’s meant to be flexible and waterproof to seal tears in boats. Apply it according to the directions over the sanded, torn area.

You’ll need to let the glue dry for several hours. The instructions will say for sure, but you should expect at least 12 hours.

Fixing the Valve in Your Inflatable Boat

The last spot that may have a leak is your air valve. It’s possible that a valve leak is a simple fix, if you’re lucky. You may only need to tighten it in place once again.

If you see those air bubbles in the soapy water around your valve, try to tighten it first. You can use a tool appropriately called a valve wrench. Stores that sell inflatables should have them on hand. Otherwise, Amazon sells them for under $10.

This should clear up most valve-related air leaks. If it doesn’t, you still have options. Your best bet from here is to clean the valve. Luckily, if you bought the wrench, you can now remove the valve. Take it out and wash it thoroughly inside and out.

Valves can get filled with lots of dirt, sand, and grime from the water. If those get into the valve, then you will lose an airtight seal around the threads. Even a tiny obstruction will do it. So clean it very thoroughly, including into the push pin itself. Get it looking as good as new, then put it back in place and see if it still leaks.

If after tightening your valve and cleaning it the leak hasn’t stopped, you have a problem. Unfortunately, it’s too hard to diagnose what it might be at this point. It’s possible your valve is broken, or something else is wrong. You could try replacing the valve entirely.

The Bottom Line

Inflatable boat repair doesn’t have to be hard. Don’t panic if you find that your inflatable SUP sprung a leak. As we’ve seen, getting it repaired doesn’t have to be stressful. Make sure you prepare the boat and the patch properly. A properly done patch can make your inflatable as good as new again. The materials don’t even cost that much. Just make sure you have patience and do it right. As always, stay safe and have fun.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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