How To Find An Air Leak In An Inflatable Boat
Regardless of whether you have an inflatable kayak, inflatable dinghy, or inflatable canoe, the methods are the same. They will also work for an inflatable bed or inflatable pool toy, inflatable furniture, etc.
1) Wash your boat
Fully inflate the boat. Using a solution of dish detergent and water, coat one section of the boat at a time. Spread the solution with a cloth. Work slowly and methodically, watching for bubbles and listening for a burbling sound. Sometimes bubbles will form even where there is no leak, but they won't grow. A bubble over a leak will grow as the escaping air inflates the bubble. When you see a bubble that grows, you know you've found the leak. Or, I should say, a leak. There may be more than one.
A leak may be anywhere on your inflatable item. Check seams. Check around valves. And check every square foot of surface. You WILL find the leak if you coat every square inch with soapy water and look at every square inch while it is wet.
Focus on about 1 square foot of boat area at a time and move in a methodical pattern so that you don't skip any areas. Don't let preconceived ideas of where the leak may be lead you to ignore any possibilities.
2) Listen to your boat
It helps to have a young assistant. Air leaks make a very high-pitched sound that is heard best by young ears. I was trying to find a leak once and I had my bowl of soapy water and my cloth and I was ready to start to work with method 1 above. My son, who is 20 years younger, just walked over and with his finger pointing at a spot several feet from me, said "Here, dad." Sure enough, there was a pinhole. With his young ears, it was obvious. I have normal hearing, but not the high range that he has. So, do your leak searching in a quiet place, fully inflate the boat, and ask a young person if they here a hissing, whistling or whining sound.
Wetting the area of a leak with your soapy solution may change the sound of the outrushing air so that it is more noticeable. It may cause it to burble or sputter. So, be alert for auditory cues while you are watching for the telltale bubble.
3) Play a Good "Inner Game" of Leak Finding
Frustrated, pessimistic, impatient people are not effective leak finders. That's rough, because when your lovely inflatable boat gets a leak how do you feel? Frustrated, pessimistic and impatient, probably. So, work on your inner game: Tell yourself you will find this leak and it's not going to be all that hard. Set your expectations for 30 minutes. Make yourself a nice non-alcoholic drink and some treats to munch on while you do it. Approach the task with a calm, methodical, optimistic mindset.
I deal with inflatable boats all the time. I usually have several inflated in my yard all summer and each winter I go to the Caribbean and ship 2, 3 or 4 down there and back. While there, I keep them inflated on the beach. And I use them a lot. I haven't encountered a lot of leaks in my life, but I've had my share. Using the above methods, I have never failed to find a leak. The washing method is sure- fire, if you are methodical.
4) More resources: NRS video on leaky valves - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXSdzpzfMS0
Saturn Boats FAQ on finding and repairing leaks - http://www.boatstogo.com/faq.asp#1
Another expert's suggestions: http://www.ribstore.co.uk/cms-assets/documents/12715-355291.find-leak-in-inflatable-boat-dinghy-ri
Preventing leaks: Don't fold up the boat with straps attached that have sharp metal buckles. Avoid placing boats on the ground where there are thorns. Use extreme care with fish hooks. Don't carry sharp objects in your back pocket. Don't over inflate the boat. Don't leave the inflated boat in the sun on land (hot air expands and contact with land won't cool the air inside the way contact with water does), or if you must do so, let some air out to reduce the pressure. Remember to re-inflate before launching.
Patching: You must use the right glue for boat patching. All-purpose glue will not work. Different boat materials require different glue. Ask the boat maker or consult the instruction booklet. For PVC (vinyl) boats, use a glue with MEK. This would include most boats from Sevylor, Sea Eagle, Red Star Traders, and Intex. But be careful Hypalon boats require different glue. The glue sold at pool stores for patching vinyl swimming pool liners will work on most PVC boats. Most boats come with a small tube of glue. Use that if you can. Sevylor Air Seal is a useful patching product. It's a liquid patch for tiny punctures and requires no patch if the leak is small enough. A little dab will seal a pinhole leak permanently. It can also be used as a glue to hold on a conventional patch. It is for use with vinyl (PVC). It's a good thing to have on hand.Click Here for Airseal Info and Buying Options
And here are patch kits:
Or, a swimming pool patch kits also work on boats, and they give you more patching material:
Another good source for patch kits is the Sea Eagle website (go to "Accessories" and then "Care and Maintenance") Click Here
Did you know you can turn your inflatable boat into a sailboat? We offer sail rigs that attach to your inflatable boat. The sail rig folds to a compact package for storage and transporting. Click on the catalog tab at the top of your screen, which will make more tabs appear, and then on "dinghy rig" or "Kayak rig" depending on whether you have an inflatable dinghy (tender, fishing boat, Zodiac) or an inflatable kayak. If you have a regular canoe, consider our canoe sail rig. (red words are links)