Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Brian Drew

Inflatable boats are lightweight boats where the sides and the bow (the bottom) are made up of flexible tubes filled with pressurized gas. Any damage to the tube can be harmful to the occupant because they keep the inflatable boat afloat. Hence you should make sure that the tubes are in good condition.

What is the material used to manufacture inflatable boats?

The durability of your inflatable boat depends on the material used. The most common materials used for these boats are:

  • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): Most often the tubes are made of plastic or nylon and coated with PVC. The PVC coating protects the boats from UV radiation and sun damage. This is one of the commonest materials used because it is cheap and is easy to repair.
  • Polyurethane: This is another durable material that has a life span of 15- 20 years. The biggest advantage of Polyurethane is its flexibility.
  • Hypalon: This is a synthetic rubber coating used to improve the longevity of the boat. With proper care this coating lasts almost double the time of PVC. And the best part is that it comes in a variety of colors and textures. It is more expensive than PVC though.

What damage should you look for in the tube?

When checking the tube, check all around the tubes and the keel too. Look out for uneven patches, leaks, tears and sun damage.

  1. Sun Damage:

Often when boats are left without proper cover they are over exposed to sun and this leads to fading, cracks and overall deterioration of the material. 

  1. Leaks:

Leaks are by far the most common problem with boat tubes. A cut, tear or even a scratch can be the cause of the problem.

Factors that should be kept in mind during repair

Most of the boats come with a boat repair kit which consists of the basic necessities like glue, sealant and fabric patches. Before you repair make sure that all the air in the tubes is removed and the boat is flat.

Points to keep in mind while repairing a damaged inflatable tube are:

  1. Type of the material: You already know the three different kinds of materials used for inflatable boats. It is important that you know which of these materials your boat is made of because the adhesive used for repairing is different for different materials. Even the patches used to cover the leaks are based on the type of the material.
  2. Temperature and humidity: For long lasting results it is important that you maintain an ideal temperature between 18 to 24 degrees. It is also important to ensure that the relative humidity is not more than 60%; ideal humidity will be 40%. Only in dry and cool conditions can the bond be effective.
  3. Size of the patch – It is advisable to use a larger patch than the size of the tear. For example if a tear is 50 mm, you should use a patch larger than 50 mm for better protection. Moreover, for a large tear an inner patch too is required to strengthen the weakened part. Always round the corners on the patch for better durability.

How to repair a PVC tube

Each material has its own unique features and hence the time taken for the glue to dry differs; in fact the same glue cannot be used for PVC and Hypalon hulls.

Items needed:

  1. Fabric patch
  2. Masking tape
  3. MEK
  4. Glue
  5. Brushes with bristles cut short
  6. Needle.
  • The four steps to be followed:
    1. Prepare the area: It is important to first mark the area and then clean the area before any kind of repair is done.
  • Trace the area of the patch needed for a tear.
  • Clean the area with Methyl ethyl ketone or MEK. Use very little of MEK because it eats away PVC. If you use more the entire coating will peel off.
  • Stick masking tape around the area to prevent the glue from adhering to surrounding area (it is very hard to remove the glue).
  1. Gluing: The best glue would be the 2 part glue where the ratio of the glue to the accelerator (quickens the sticking process) is 98% and 2% respectively.
    • Apply two coats of the glue mixture to the patch and the inflatable tube. Wait at least five to twenty minutes between applications.
    • Pay attention to the color of the glue. If it is milky it means the humidity is more. Hence you can’t apply the patch effectively.
    • You can use a hair dryer to hasten the process of drying the glue.
  2. Placing the patch: Make sure that the glue is almost dry but not completely before applying the patch. 
    • Place the patch on the tear.
    • Roll and press from centre to the outside.
    • Do not roll out bubbles but puncture them with a needle. DO NOT puncture the tube but only the patch material.
  3. Setting time: The ideal time for the glue to cure is 12 hours. In case you need to use the boat earlier, ensure that the tubes are not filled to the full pressure.

How to repair a Hypalon tube

The steps followed for repairing the Hypalon tube are the same. The only difference is in the preparation of the area and the time taken for the glue to dry.

  1. Prepare the area: Follow the same instructions to mark the area and mask the surrounding area. The additional step here is to buff the patch and the tear. 
    1. Sandpaper or a rasp can be used to buff the area.
    2. Buff to remove the surface shine to facilitate easier adhesion.
    3. Ensure that you don’t buff too hard and the threads of the fabric become visible.
    4. You can buff in all directions.
    5. Use a lint-free towel or Toulene to clean all the sand particles and any remaining oil and protectants. 
  2. Gluing: A little care is needed in this area.
    1. Apply the first coat and let dry overnight.
    2. Allow the second coat to dry for at least two hours.
  3. Placing the patch: The glue used for Hypalon is the contact type glue which will stick instantly on contact. Hence care should be taken to align the patch properly before sticking. In case of misalignment use toluene to release the glue. And begin the entire process of gluing again with proper drying time.
  4. Setting time: You must allow a minimum of two days for the curing process to be effective and complete.

Extra care while repairing

Since a lot of chemicals and high grade glue is used you must wear safety gear, gloves and eye protection. Always work in a well ventilated area to prevent the ill effects of these chemicals.

How to maintain the inflatable tube

Maintenance of the inflatable tube will ensure that the boat remains by your side for several years. The maintenance is fairly easy and simple but must be done on regular basis.

  1. Cleaning: Do not use laundry detergents or cleaning agents that are silicone based. Mild soap and water should suffice. Wash the floor and use a hose to get rid of grime and sand particles. 
  2. Inflating: Check for leaks using soapy water. Wash with water and dry thoroughly.
  3. Deflating: Check that the valves and gaskets are clean and not damaged. Ensure the bailer is not clogged.
  4. Storing: Store in a clean dry place preferably covered. Make sure there are no rodents in the storage area as rodents tend to chew on the fabric.

Thus when you take care of the most important part namely the inflatable tube of the boat you can be sure of creating several happy memories with your boat.

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