Boat Repairs For Small Fiberglass, Aluminum & Plastic Craft

I’ve owned numerous small boats in decades’ worth of boating and fishing. I’ve made lots of fiberglass, aluminum, and plastic boat modifications over the years – elective actions to suit my fishing activities and needs. And I’ve been fortunate to require mostly minor boat repairs and fixes, which I did myself. In fact, I’ve probably had more serious repairs to trailers, most of which had to be addressed professionally.

Nevertheless, in the past 18 months, my diy boat repairs have included fixes to a fiberglass skiff, an aluminum jonboat, and several polyethylene kayaks. Let’s address some of the boat repairs you may encounter with these watercraft.

Polyethylene Kayak Repair

Last winter during a morning of speckled trout fishing in Florida my friend Gus noticed a lot of water seeping into his kayak. Kayaks don’t usually need much in the way of repair. While unusual, this episode indicated a hole somewhere below the water line. Turns out that for a while he’d been dragging his kayak to the water, and that morning he dragged it for a short distance over pavement. Without keel protection, a small hole developed.

Gus went to a local marine supply store, got a plastic boat repair kit, and patched the hole. He had to let it sit for 24 hours, but it did the job. He was planning to later purchase and install a keel guard. These kits and guards can be found with an online search and are not expensive. I have manufacturer-installed keel guards on several of my kayaks, and have had no such problem despite a good deal of dragging (on grass and sand), but this episode is a reminder that you should carry a kayak or use wheels where there are hard surfaces to traverse.

It’s more likely that you’ll need to repair the side or back fasteners, buckles, and straps of a kayak seat; carrying handles; elastic bow or stern tiedowns; hatch covers; and the paddle drip rings. All of these are parts that can be purchased, sometimes from a retail store, or more likely from online suppliers, and replaced without much difficulty. Check with the product manufacturer or search online. I’ve found Austin Canoe & Kayak a good parts source (I have no relationship with them).

On a couple of occasions I’ve had to replace strap clips that had been riveted to the kayak, or install rod holder or holder bases. For the latter, I’ve eschewed screws in favor of stainless steel nuts and lock nuts and washers, making sure that they are short enough not to protrude into the cockpit. I’ve drilled or cut the rivets out and replaced them with the same hardware when installing a new clip.

Aluminum Boat Repair

Leaks are the major problem encountered with aluminum boats, likely the cause of running aground, hitting a rock, or bouncing on a trailer roller. A large hole has to be repaired by a shop that can do heliarc welding. I needed that many years ago on the bottom of a 12-foot jonboat. That boat, now 40 years old, is still in use, but it developed a minor leak a few years ago at the weld site, and at a rivet point. I did diy boat repairs with an aluminum boat repair epoxy stick, which is heated with a propane torch and applied to the site.

I also used the same method to fix a crack in an aluminum canoe. This item, and other types of repair kits for aluminum boats, can be found in marine supply stores and from Internet sellers. Do a search for the latter using these words: aluminum boat + leak repair + stick.

Other typical boat repairs for small aluminum craft include replacing or reconnecting bow and stern handles. I’ve successfully used stainless steel hardware to accomplish this, and recommend applying marine-grade silicone sealant to the hardware and under the handle attachment points.

Fiberglass Boat Repair

A leak in a fiberglass boat indicates a serious problem, perhaps needing professional attention. The fiberglass on the hull of my skiff was worn down two years ago and beginning to have exposed areas. Perhaps I could have done the sanding and fiberglass patching, etc. myself. But the prospect of having to get under the boat and the trailer it sits on to do it sent me to a repair shop.

Nicks and dings and discoloration, however, are more easily diy-remedied with caulks and putties made for this job and available in stores and online. Application, sanding, painting, buffing, etc. will likely be necessary, and the repair metric to consider is how necessary this is and whether such work is purely cosmetic.

If your fiberglass boat is discolored and power washing doesn’t remove what have essentially become stains, try Starbrite Instant Hull Cleaner. I have no affiliation with the manufacturer, and it was a friend who recommended it to me when I groused about the discoloring on the stern and gunwales of my skiff. This product did a fine job of removing the stains. You can find it in a marine supply store or online.

For a complete list of seasonal and year-round maintenance tasks, be sure to visit Discover Boating’s Basic Boat Maintenance Guide.


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Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar., and his writing has appeared on various websites for nearly two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com.