Packrafts are made of lightweight materials and will require maintenance and repair under normal use. Knowing how to repair your raft is essential to a successful packrafting experience. Read the the information in these tabs carefully. Be Prepared! Be patient! Use an extra pair of hands if available. Dealing with tape, glues, and fabrics can easily get out of hand. Think through your repair before starting.
A note on fabrics: Most of our older boats (purchased before 2014) have a urethane coating on both sides of the fabric. Our current fabric (from 2014 on) has urethane only on one side (the outside) of the fabric, which significantly improves tear strength. The inside of these tubes resembles a woven fabric and does not feel smooth like plastic. We call this the “Uncoated” side. It is important to know which type of fabric you have so you are prepared to fix it. Look inside the dump valve, or stick your finger inside and scratch the fabric, if it feels smooth and a bit shiny, then it is double coated. If it looks like looks and feels like a nylon jacket, its single coated fabric.
Packraft Repair Materials
- Alcohol Wipes: Basic denatured alcohol wipes available at your local drug store, great for prepping the raft for a successful bond of repair tape or glue.
- Patch-N-Go: A strong, easy, and effective repair tape, great for most tube and floor repairs. Provides for long lasting repairs when applied correctly. This is a great product.
- Tyvek® Tape: Amazing on packrafts! (Lowe’s® House Wrap Tape works too) We discovered this by accident. You can buy Tyvek® Tape at any hardware store that handles Tyvek® House Wrap. This tape is almost as good as the Patch-N-Go®, it just isn’t as strong. With 15 feet (4.5 meters) of tape, you can literally re-assemble your boat after a Grizzly bear uses it for a chew toy, and it will probably get you home. Consider wrapping a few yards of it around your paddle or around a lighter in your repair kit. The longer you leave it on, the better it sticks! Be sure to remove any temporary repairs that you don’t want to become permanent when you get home. We have seen small Tyvek® Tape repairs last several seasons, though we prefer more permanent methods.
- Tenacious Tape®: A strong repair tape for the uncoated side of raft and spray-deck fabrics. Great for backing (inside) tube repairs and spray-deck repair. Can be used for temporary repair of small holes (>1/2” 1cm).
- Gorilla Tape®: For backing the inside of tube repairs and quick spray-deck repairs. Can be used for temporary tube and floor repair in a pinch. Works best on the uncoated side of fabrics, as in the underside of the spraydeck.
- Aquaseal®: Aquaseal is an air-curing adhesive sealant. It’s great for patching small holes, reinforcing stitches, sealing seams, and much more. It’s flexible when dry and completely waterproof when properly applied. Requires a minimum of 6-8 hours to dry and cure! Cotol® Accelerator will reduce cure time to 2-3 hours. Does not work well for attaching grab-loops or bonding fabrics, as it needs air to cure.
- Aquaseal® UV: Instant curing version Aquaseal. Apply in the shade and then move to direct sun or use a UV light pen and sealant will cure in seconds. Perfect for instant repairs and long lasting, but not quite as good of a bond as regular Aquaseal.
- Urethane tube and floor fabric: You should have received small pieces of both tube and floor fabric in your basic repair kit. Aquaseal can be used as an adhesive in a pinch, but doesn’t bond well sandwiched between layers, as it needs air to cure.
Recommended Repair Kits
Basic Repair Kit
The basic repair kit included with your packraft is for shorter trips where walking out is an option. This will cover most of the repairs you’ll encounter during normal use of your raft.
- Alcohol Wipes: For cleaning repair area prior to applying a patch or glue
- Patch-N-Go®: Clear long lasting patch on coated fabrics when applied properly
- Tenacious Tape®: Best for backing uncoated fabrics and for short term pinhole repairs to seats.
- Aquaseal®: Long term repair sealant, but requires 8-hour cure.
- Valve Cap O-Ring
- Floor Fabric patch
- Zipper lubricant (Cargo Fly Zipper models)
Additional Recommended Items:
- Tyvek® Tape: Instant temporary and durable patch on coated fabrics. Probably the single most effective field repair tape for packrafts. Can permanently bond to the boat if left too long.
- Aquaseal UV: Instant repair sealant. Not as durable as regular Aquaseal, but cures fast.
Expedition Repair Kit
These are the items we recommend for long backcountry trips with a large group or where extensive paddling is required to complete the trip.
- Alcohol Wipes
- Tyvek Tape
- Tenacious Tape
- Gorilla Tape
- Aquaseal (1 large or 2+ small tubes)
- Spare Valve Cap
- Spare Nozzle
- Sewing Kit
- Scissors/Knife – Small Leatherman® or Swiss Army® knife is perfect.
- Valve Cap O-ring
- Tube and Floor Fabric patches
- Stiff bristled brush (Cargo Fly Zipper models)
- Zipper Lubricant (Cargo Fly Zipper models)
- Make Sure it Leaks: Packrafts are very low-pressure boats and will change pressure with changes in temperature. In cold water, you may have to inflate your boat several times before it becomes full, the warm air from your lungs slowly cools and the boat softens. We call this re-inflating process “Tempering”. Make sure the valves are snug, but not over-tight.
- Carefully Look and Listen:
- Pull your gear off the raft, fully inflate, and slowly look it over. You can often spot damage on the perimeter and bottom of the raft.
- Step away from the noisy river and listen, you can often hear faster leaks.
- Inspect the inside floor seam, use a flashlight if possible. Pour a cup of water on the floor and hold the raft on its side, slowly rotate it around to check the entire floor where it meets the tube for any bubbles.
- Inspect high stress areas near grab-loops, seat attachments, as well as areas where your feet rest on the tubes.
- Break Out the Camp Soap: Soapy water can help to find and confirm a suspected leak if you have extra soap and is helpful for diagnosing valve leaks. Water must be very soapy to show the leak.
- Submerge: If you still can’t find the leak, put a small amount of air in the raft and close the valves. Force sections of the raft underwater and look for a stream of bubbles.
Pinholes and Small Tears (<3″)
- Deflate, Clean, and Dry. Clean the area (use alcohol wipes if available).
- Cut and round a patch; Use Patch’N’Go® or Tyvek®. (See “Tools of the Trade” earlier in this article for more specifics on each) Cut your preferred patch about an inch across. Always round the edges with scissors if possible.
- Apply to the raft; Try to keep the edges clean, rub thoroughly to help bond the glue. Warm the patch with body heat in cold temps to improve the bond.
- Aquaseal® UV: Clean around the hole, shade the area, and apply a thin layer of sealant roughly 1/3″-1/2″ around the affected area. Expose the sealant to sunshine or a UV light pen and it will cure in 5-10 seconds.
- Aquaseal®: For overnight repairs and replacing Tyvek Tape field repairs, you can use regular Aquaseal®. Sealant adhesion is better than Aquaseal® UV, but cure time is a minimum of 6-8 hours or 1-2 hours if you use Cotol Accelerator. Apply in the same manner as Aquaseal® UV and place in a flat and dry area to cure.
Large Tears (>3″)
- Deflate, Clean, and Dry; Make sure all surfaces are clean and dry as possible. Use alcohol wipes if available.
- Use a backing tape:
- Double coated fabrics (plastic both sides) can be backed with the same repair tape you would use on the outside, such as Tyvek® or Patch’N’Go®
- Single coated fabrics (one side plastic) must be backed with Tenacious Tape®, Gorilla Tape®, or duct-tape in a pinch. The uncoated fabric side will soak up water, wipe it dry, or let it air dry if you have time.
- Mark the sticky side of the backing with a pen for easy placement, carefully place the backing inside and press flat
- Cover and Seal: Once the backing is in place, cover and seal the outside with Tyvek® Tape or Patch’N’Go®. Aquaseal® will also work if properly cured and the backing is strong, use only as a last resort, repair tapes are easier and provide instant repairs. (See “Tools of the Trade” earlier in this article for more specifics on each)
- Reinforce laterally: For longer tears over 8 in. (16 cm), apply some more tape perpendicular on top of the patch to keep stress off the patch.
“L” shaped tears: The fabric will often tear in 2 directions along the grain of the fabric. These repairs are handled much the same way; back the repair first, then seal the tube.
Seams/Black Tape; If the tear has reached a seam, deck, or the floor, often air will escape along the edges of the black tape. A tiny dab of Aquaseal® or Aquaseal® UV placed where the tear crosses the black tape will help seal these tiny air channels. Use only a tiny amount and do not wait for it to dry, cover immediately with your preferred patch.
If the tear has reached under the spraydeck; Peel the black tape that holds down the deck back from the tear. Make enough room for the repair tape to pass underneath the deck. Once the tubes are repaired, tape the deck back down on top of the patch.
- Clean and dry around the damaged area
- Repair Tape: Patch-N-Go® or Tyvek® Tape typically work best on the inside or top side of the floor, since the bottom is subject to more abuse. You may use tape on both sides if you like. Tenacious Tape®, Gorilla Tape® and duct tape will work for very temporary repairs. A tiny ring of Aquaseal® around the edges of a Patch-N-Go® patch will provide a long lasting repair.
- Aquaseal®: Aquaseal is great for fixing holes and adding life to worn areas of the floor. Clean the areas well, place a temporary piece of repair tape on the underside, then cover the hole with about an ⅛ “ thick layer, working it into the hole to fill it. Lay flat and allow to dry. You may remove the tape on the underside and the bottom with another thin layer for larger holes. Don’t use too much! Thick repairs are more likely to get scraped off.
Main Valve Repair
- Hissing: It is normal for your valve to leak air (hiss) when the cap is off. The temper assist flap is only to allow you to top off the boat with less effort. You need the cap to seal the valve.
- O-Ring Seal: The seal on the main valve is created by the rubber O-ring located on the Valve Cap. Often a leaking main valve is due to a missing or cracked O-ring. A spare is included in your repair kit.
- Lost Cap: The fitting on your inflation bag works best as an emergency valve cap, you’ll need to screw a plastic bag into the threads to create the seal. Zipper Lube in the threads will assist with sealing.
- Valve Weld Leaking; If the valve is leaking around the base where it seals to the boat, you’ll need to use Aquaseal®. Clean well. Work the glue down into the leak as well as you can, and all the way around the base of the stem.
- Leaky Cap: For 2017 and newer valves, a leaking valve cap will almost always be caused by a missing or cracked O-ring. For 2016 and older valves, the valve cap threads can start to wear out over time. We recommend teflon plumber's tape if available or a thin plastic bag in the field.
Top Off (Elbow) Valve Repair
- Clean and Check: Make sure the valve is clean of dirt and check again. Drip a bit of water in the tip and look for bubbles.
- Replace: If you have a Spare Nozzle in your repair kit, cut the old one off. Clean the inside of the tube with an alcohol wipe. Unscrew the cap of the new nozzle, apply glue to the white collar and insert. DO NOT insert the white collar all the way into the valve stem as it will prevent the valve from closing, leave at least ⅛-inch (3mm) of the white collar showing. You can run a piece of tape lengthwise over the top of the nozzle onto the tube to hold it in place until the glue cures.
- Fold over and Tie: In an emergency, simply fold over the valve stem and wrap with string.
- Valve Weld Leaking: If the valve is leaking around the base where it seals to the boat, you’ll need to use Aquaseal®. Clean well. Work the glue down into the leak as well as you can, and all the way around the base of the stem. Contact us for warranty repair.
Cargo Fly Repair
You must clean, dry, and lubricate your Cargo Fly Zipper after every trip and often while in the field!
MAINTENANCE KIT: You will need a small (about 3×3″) clean rag, zipper lubricant, and a small brush. You can use old t-shirts to make new rags. Keep your kit with you in the field and maintain often.
CLEANING: If you are having trouble getting your zipper to close, it is most likely due to an obstruction in the chain (i.e. the teeth). Therefore, you need to keep your zipper chain clean and free of sand, dirt, and debris. Because lubricant attracts sand, we do not recommend applying lubricant direct to the chain. If your zipper needs cleaning, start with a small brush and use warm soap and water for more difficult cleaning.
LUBRICATION STEPS: Your zipper should always run smooth and easy. If your zipper is difficult to move or feels sticky, it needs lubrication. Always make sure the zipper chain is clean before lubricating.
- With the zipper CLOSED apply a lube to the rag and use the rag to work the lube into the urethane laminated exterior of the zipper. Do not apply lubricant directly to the zipper teeth!
- Continue to use the rag to until all exterior surfaces of the closed zipper are coated.
- Wipe down the zipper until all excess lubricant is removed. Excess lubricant will attract dirt and sand.
- Open the zipper and use the rag to lightly lube the chain and sealing edges.
- Apply a small amount of lube to the docking end.
- Open and close the zipper several times, it should slide smoothly and close easily. Repeat the above steps if necessary.
The goal is to regularly maintain a very thin coat of lube along the length of the zipper allowing the head to slide freely and dock easily.
STORAGE: After each use, leave the zipper open and allow to dry thoroughly. Failure to dry will cause the zipper to rot and crack, which is not covered by warranty! If you need to travel home with a wet packraft, leave the zipper on the outside where it can breathe
- Separating Behind Zipper Head: If the zipper separates behind the head, it will self heal by pulling the zipper head behind the separation and reclosing. You may need to follow the cleaning and lubrication steps to make it reseal. If necessary, close the zipper by hand through the problem area.
- Separating at Zipper Base: If the zipper separates at the base, you will need to clean the area and manually close the first 3cm of the zipper by hand and then back the head over the closed area to reset.
- Leak at Zipper Base: Sometimes the zipper will close, but leave a small gap at the zipper base due to an obstruction in the teeth. You will need to separate the zipper by hand at the base, clean the area, and then reclose following the steps above.