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How Do I Find and Fix a Slow Leak in My Inflatable Boat?


Pete Turpel asked:

I have a slow leak somewhere and after a day I have to pump the boat up again. What is the best way to find the leak and repair it?


The first trick is to locate the leak. The best way to do this is to mix a solution of detergent (dishwashing or liquid laundry detergent) with warm water, put it in an old spray bottle and spray the soapy solution on the boat in the suspected area. Watch the area closely for signs of bubbles. If the leak is very small, this could take some time and require patience as you work your way around the boat, but it’s the best way for DIY’s.

The first place to check are the valves. This is the number one culprit of air loss. The next areas to check are the seams and if you still can’t find it, then check the fabric for tiny punctures.

To repair a defective valve, first see if the seals are the problem. This is the easiest fix. next a replacement valve may be called for. If valve replacement is required I suggest you contact a professional as surgery will be required.

If it’s a seam, you may or may not be able to repair it yourself and depending on the cause may not be repairable. Many boat owners have used oil or silicone based protectors on their boats which have crept in and delaminated the seam. In these cases repairs are not usually successful as it’s almost impossible to get rid of the contaminants but, sometimes you get lucky. Seam repair or replacement can be difficult, because first you have to remove the old, without damaging the adjacent fabric. Gluing is done with a super contact cement, which when properly applied will tear the fabric before letting go. Again this type of repair is best left to the professionals, unless you are skilled with a scalpel.

Puncture patching is pretty straight forward. Like patching a bicycle inner tube. It’s very important that you use the right materials and follow the cleaning and prep instructions very carefully, otherwise you will be doing it again.

Doing repairs is not difficult when you know what you are doing, have the right tools and materials and have gained a bit of experience. Unfortunately these items are not usually present the first time around. If it’s a one shot deal, I suggest finding the leak and unless it’s a simple replacement project, pay a professional. If you think you will need this experience for future repairs make the investment, plus try to buy some scrap material that you can practice on before attacking your boat.

Thanks for your question,
Captain Aurora

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