Repairs and Maintenance for Inflatable Boats

The popularity of and demand for inflatable boats has drastically increased over the past few years. New methods of production, stronger materials, and updated models are the main reasons for the popularity of inflatable boats.

Since the use of these boats has increased, it is necessary to know about the repair and maintenance for the same. Here are 10 common questions people ask while considering the repair and maintenance of inflatable boats.

#1 What is the life of an inflatable boat?

On average, the life expectancy of an inflatable boat is 10-15 years. The approximate lifespan can extend or shorten depending on several factors and the use of the inflatable boat. The age of the boat, the material used, it is stored, the amount of UV exposure, method of manufacture such as using a hand-glued machine vs machine-welded seams, are some of the factors responsible in determining the lifespan of the boat.

In ordinary cases, boats made from Hypalon last longer than those made from PVC. However, inflatable boats are the most easily damaged due to lack of maintenance and proper care.

#2 How to clean an inflatable boat?

It is necessary to clean an inflatable boat after each use. If it is not cleaned, dust and grime tend to settle on the surface of fabric or rubber, which makes the boat look filthy. It also starts the process of boat decay. Rinsing the boat after every use is the most important part of cleaning an inflatable boat. The inside of the boat should be rinsed using freshwater.

# 3 How to store an inflatable boat?

For storage, your inflatable boat should be kept out of the water to maintain its good condition. Keeping it on the water will expose it to algae, bacteria and other temperature changes, which will cause degradation.

Inflatable boats can be conveniently stored in a small space. However, before storing, the boat should be thoroughly cleaned. The spot where the boat is to be stored should be away from pests and rodents. The boat should be wrapped in extra layers of plastic cover to keep it safe.

The boat is then to be rolled up and kept in a place where it will remain unaffected by extreme changes in the climate as excessive heat and humidity have a negative impact on the adhesives on the boat.

#4 How to identify the fabric of your RIB or inflatable boat?

To repair an inflatable boat, it is first necessary to know the type of material it is made of, so as to use appropriate tools and measures. In ordinary cases, to manufacture the inflatable collars and tubes of boats, three main types of materials are used: Hypalon, Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and Polyurethane (PU).

  • Hypalon is a synthetic rubber coating on the fabric. It can last for up to 20 years and its joints are glued by overlapping of layers which are glued to each other. Hypalon boats are dark grey and black.
  • PVC is a plastic coating which is not flexible and cracks over time. It is the cheapest material for production and can be welded or glued. Boats made out of this are glossy in colour.
  • PU is a relatively new material and has superior airtightness and durability, as compared to Hypalon and PVC. It is glossy in colour.

#5 How to repair an inflatable boat?

The environment in which the boat is going to be repaired has to have a relative humidity less than 60%, the temperature should be between 18°C and 25°C and the area should be dry and well ventilated. There should be no open flame in the area.

For Hypalon fabric boats, a suitable adhesive should be used. The purpose of repair requires a lot of materials and tools. Some of them are adhesive glue, fabric patch, piece of polythene, sandpaper, solvent/primer or acetone, glue brush, acetone.

The basic steps for repairing an inflatable boat are as follows:

  • Identify the fabric with which the inflatable boat is made. The type of fabric determines what apparatus is to be used for repairing the boat.
  • Create an ideal environment in which to work and repair.
  • Repair of tubes and collars of the inflatable boat involves tears up to 55mm long. Small tears can be repaired with a single fabric patch, but the larger patches need fixing both from the inside and the outside of the tube.
  • Gather all the materials required beforehand.
  • Locate the tear in the tube. If unsure, apply soap water on the surface and look for bubbles arising.
  • Cut a fabric patch with round corners including the overlap. For Hypalon and PU patches, abrade the back to achieve a key for the application of adhesives.
  • Clean the back of the patch with a solvent and wait till it evaporates. Mask the area that needs to be repaired to avoid excess application of adhesive.
  • Use a 2-part adhesive and apply it on the back of the patches in a thin coat. Wait for it to dry for 20 minutes and apply the second coat.
  • Place a small piece of polythene over the glued area so the patch can be rolled and placed inside the tear.
  • Unroll the patch and let the surfaces stick.
  • Smoothen the patch to ensure there are no air bubbles.
  • Remove the masking tape along with the excess adhesive.
  • Place a heavyweight on the repair for 24 hours, to make sure the repair has been successful before relaunching the boat.

Repairs and Maintenance for Inflatable Boats

#6 How to find a leak in a Rigid Inflatable Boat?

The process for inspecting an inflatable boat to find a leak is as follows:

  • To locate the leak, you have to inflate the collar or tubes of the boat to the maximum so that it sounds like a drum when tapped on with the flat of your hand.
  • Inspect all areas of the inflatable collar or tube for signs of wear and tear.
  • Mix mild Ph washing liquid and warm water in equal parts in a spray bottle.
  • Spray the solution on one side of the tubes and look for any bubbles forming.
  • Mark all the areas where bubbles are evident with a marker.
  • Once the entire area of the boat is covered, rinse the surface thoroughly with water and allow it to dry completely.

Further repairs can be carried out on every part where the leak is found, as mentioned above.

#7 How to fit a replacement screw-in type inflatable boat?

RIBs and many other inflatable boats are fitted with the screw-in type of valves. It is necessary to know about the anatomy of the valves in order to fix them. The next process is:

  • Once the identification of the male and the female section is done, deflate the tube on a flat surface.
  • Before unscrewing the male section of the valve, make sure the new one is handy.
  • Lay the tube flat and put downward pressure on the valve.
  • Hold the female valve through the tube to prevent it from moving inside the tube when the male section is unscrewed.
  • Unscrew the male section and replace it with the new male section.
  • Ensure that it is in a closed position and re-inflate the test tube to check for leaks and repairs.

#8 How to fix or glue inflatable PVC fabric patches and accessories to Hypalon fabric RIB collars and tubes (and vice versa)?

PVC adhesive and Hypalon fabric, or vice versa, are not compatible but they can be bonded. The first step is to prepare the fabric patch.

For PVC patch –

Clean the side of the fabric or accessory that is to be glued, with solvent or acetone.

  • Glue PVC patch to Hypalon tube – After cleaning the patch, apply one coat of adhesive to the side that is to be glued. Allow it to dry and then simply fix it to the Hypalon collar.
For Hypalon patch –

Thoroughly abrade the back of the patch and clean it with a solvent.

  • Glue Hypalon patch to PVC tube – After abrading and cleaning the patch with solvent as told in step one, apply a coat of Hypalon adhesive to the back of the patch. Allow it to try and then fix it to the PVC collar.

#9 How to replace an inflatable boat valve?

As required during the repair of inflatable boats, the environment where the valve is to be replaced must be stress-free, relative humidity less than 60%, temperature between 18°C and 25°C. The area should also be ventilated.

The procedure then is as follows:

  • Deflate the tube and remove the existing valve.
  • Cut the fabric around it and remove the entire valve assembly.
  • Fit the new valve to the assembly with valve-doubler.
  • Lay the assembled valve over the tube and mark the area.
  • Mask the area with removable masking tape to avoid over-applying of the adhesive.
  • Abrade the back of the doubler and achieve a key for adhesive (only for Hypalon). Over abrasion must be avoided as it can damage the fabric. PVC does not have to be abraded.
  • Clean the back of the patch with solvent and wait for it to evaporate.
  • Apply adhesive using a brush, in a thin coat and leave it to dry for 20 minutes. Apply the patch and the doubler to the cut-out. Smooth down the fabric area to make sure there are no bubbles.
  • Remove the masking tape along with the excess of solvent and adhesive. Put a weighted object on top of this for 24 hours.

Endnote

That concludes our list of the 9 most common questions people ask when it comes to inflatable boats. For the do-it-yourselfers out there, a word of caution. Repairing and maintaining an inflatable boat is necessary to keep it functioning properly and smoothly.

What are your thoughts about repairing and maintaining inflatable boats? Any questions you would like to ask? Please contact us.

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