I have owned numerous small boating and fishing boats for decades. I have made many changes to fiberglass, aluminum and plastic boats over the years – choices that suit my fishing activities and needs. And I've been fortunate enough to have mostly minor boat repairs and corrections done by myself. In fact, I've probably had more serious repairs on trailers, most of which needed to be addressed professionally.
Even so, over the past 18 months my DIY boat repairs have included repairs on a fiberglass boat, an aluminum jonboat, and several polyethylene kayaks. Let's address some of the boat repairs that can occur on these watercraft.
Repair of polyethylene kayaks
Last winter my friend Gus noticed on a morning spotted trout fishing in Florida that a lot of water was seeping into his kayak. Kayaks don't usually need a lot of repair. Although unusual, this episode indicated a hole somewhere below the waterline. It turned out that he'd been dragging his kayak into the water for a while and dragging it across the sidewalk for a short distance that morning. Without keel protection, a small hole was created.
Gus went to a local ship supply store, got a plastic boat repair kit, and fixed the hole. He had to leave it standing for 24 hours, but it did the job. He planned to buy and install a keel protector later. These kits and guards can be found by doing an online search and are inexpensive. I've installed keel guards on several of my kayaks from the manufacturer and had no such problem despite a lot of dragging (on grass and sand), but this episode is a reminder that you should carry a kayak or use wheels where there is hard surfaces too traverse.
More likely you will need to fix the side or rear mountings, buckles, and straps on a kayak seat. Carrying handles; elastic bow or stern fastenings; Hatch cover; and the paddle drop rings. All of these are parts that can sometimes be purchased from a retail store, or more likely from online vendors, and replaced without much difficulty. Check with the product manufacturer or search online. I have found Austin Canoe & Kayak to be a good source of replacement parts (I have no relationship with them).
On a few occasions I have had to replace strap clips riveted to the kayak, or install rod holders or holder bases. For the latter, I've avoided screws in favor of stainless steel nuts and locknuts and washers to ensure they are short enough not to protrude into the cockpit. I drilled or cut out the rivets and replaced them with the same hardware when installing a new clip.
Repair of aluminum boats
Leaks are the main problem with aluminum boats, likely causing them to run aground, hit a rock, or hop on a trailer roller. A large hole needs to be repaired by a workshop that can do Heliarc welding. I needed that many years ago on the bottom of a 12 foot jon boat. The boat, which is now 40 years old, is still in service but developed a small leak at the weld and one rivet point a few years ago. I have done DIY boat repairs using an aluminum boat repair epoxy stick that is heated with a propane burner and placed on site.
I used the same method to repair a crack in an aluminum canoe. This item and other types of aluminum boat repair kits are available from ship supply stores and internet vendors. Look for the latter with the following words: aluminum boat + leak repair + rod.
Other typical boat repairs for small aluminum vehicles include replacing or reconnecting bow and stern handles. I have successfully used stainless steel fittings to achieve this, and I recommend applying marine grade silicone sealant to the fittings and under the handle attachment points.
Repair of fiberglass boats
A leak in a fiberglass boat indicates a serious problem that may require professional attention. The fiberglass on the hull of my boat was worn out two years ago and was starting to have exposed areas. Maybe I could have done the sanding and fiberglass etc myself. But the prospect of having to step under the boat and the trailer it is sitting on sent me to a repair shop.
However, nicks and bumps, and discoloration, are easier to fix with seals and putty made for the job, available in stores and online. Applying, sanding, painting, polishing, etc. will likely be required and the repair metric to consider is how necessary it is and whether such work is purely cosmetic.
If your fiberglass boat is discolored and washing doesn't remove stains, try Starbrite Instant Hull Cleaner. I have no relationship with the manufacturer and it was a friend who recommended it to me when I complained about the discoloration on the stern and gun whales on my boat. This product removed the stains well. You can find it at a ship supply store or online.
For a full list of seasonal and year-round maintenance tasks, see the Discover Boating Basic Boat Maintenance Guide.