Canoe Repair, Maintenance & Care Tips: Aluminum, Wood & Royalex

Many of you either bought your canoe, built them by your own or with the help of plans available online.

Regardless of how much you paid for your plans (or who you got them from), the combination of the material costs and the time put into building your boat work of art, makes this an investment worth protecting and caring for on a regular basis.

Here are a few tips to help you keep your boat in great condition for years to come.

Oiling the Brightwork

Wooden Canoes

Some of these canoes are 100 years old: source

One of the advantages of oiled wooden rails is they are much more flexible than those coated with varnish. If you are maintaining your custom canoe on a regular basis, just about any finishing oil will help to restore the surface.

If you are really abusing the boat and want to help protect the surface for longer periods of time, be sure to apply some tung oil and high gloss linseed over the finishing oil. If you are looking to provide your boat with that rich, high gloss, superior shine, consider these step-by-step techniques:

  • Step 1: Strip away all of the varnish, then begin removing any dings, gouges, or dents with a hot iron and whiskering that wood.
  • Step 2: Soak a rag with water, fold, and set over the dent or ding on its surface.
  • Step 3: Iron that cloth until the steam stops. The grain of the wood will rise and be flush with the rest of the boat.
  • Step 4: Use 80/120 grit sandpaper and gently rough up the surface. Apply stain to darken the wood.
  • Step 5: Using a lint free rag, apply finishing oil to the wood and wipe off any excess. Polish as you proceed with a clean cloth.
  • Step 6: Before you store the canoe, leave upside down to dry in the sun for several hours.

Repeat the process as needed until the surface of the wood is a deep rich color. Steel wool soaked in Watco Oil can be used after several applications to lessen the thickness of the coating.

Weathered Woodwork Restoration

Brightwork Cedar Strip Canoe

Cedar Strip Canoe by Chestnut Bob

The process of restoring the weathered woodwork on your custom canoe does not have to be a huge chore. Take a close look at the cross section on the surface of the woodwork, you will notice that there are several valleys and peaks that are part of the natural makeup of the wood.

The peaks in the wood are what is typically called the winter growth, while the valleys are softer and are called summer growth. When you don’t make use of a sanding block, your fingers follow these peaks and valleys and push further into the softer areas.

Sanding with a firm sanding block trims the top of the peaks and allows those deeper valleys to fill with varnish. After several coats of varnish, all those valleys rise up to meet the peaks and the surface will flatten out. Use a TSP, trisodium phosphate cleaner, to prepare the surface with a firm brush, allow to dry, then rinse.

You can apply the same care to a wooden kayak.

Now your woodwork is ready for varnish. If you have any fiberglass surfaces, you can use a commercial grade hull cleaner like StarBrite to remove stains or scum easily. Lemon Pledge and 303 Protectant are also great resources for hiding scratches.

Royalex Canoes

black royalex canoe

A work in progress: source

Custom canoes made with the composite material Royalex need to be cared for and repaired in a different manner completely. The reason this surface requires different caring procedures is because the outer layer of hard ABS, hard acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic, and vinyl lie on top of the ABS foam.

These layers are very durable and are bonded together by way of heat treatment. As long as you are not storing your canoe in the sun, it will most likely outlive you. Applying a UV protectant to the rails and hull will aid in protecting the surface for many years to come.

If you notice any damage to the surface, here are some simple steps for making quick repairs to your custom canoe.

  • Step 1: Around the damaged area you need to sand off all the vinyl, epoxy will not adhere to the vinyl.
  • Step 2: Epoxy at least two fiberglass patches to the damaged location.
  • Step 3: Once the patches are cured, sand the area smooth.
  • Step 4: Once sanded, paint to match the rest of the hull.

While the Kevlar skid plate will provide added protection, they have a tendency to slow down the canoe.

Aluminum Canoes

aluminum canoes

These beauties are waiting on their next adventure.

One of the ways you can transform that aluminum canoe into a crafty custom canoe, paint the entire surface with flat black paint. Not only will it reduce the glare from the sun, it will provide you a one-of-a-kind boat that will demand attention.

Before you paint, simply prime the surface with vinegar, let it set overnight so that it can easily etch with the aluminum surface.

By applying auto paste wax along the hull, the vessel will glide over the tops of rocks much more easily. Remove all the aluminum yokes and thwarts, replace with varnished wooden ones instead.

As far as keeping it clean and removing white oxidation from previous neglect, use Krud Kutter.

Canoe Paddles

Yes, the paddles need to be cared for too if you want to help preserve its smooth surface. Too many canoeists pay so much attention to caring for the canoe, then, simply toss the paddles in the garage until the next trip on the water.

Well taken care of paddles are an important part of an enjoyable riding experience, and keeping them in excellent condition will help to lessen your workload. Be sure to clean them after each use, checking for any holes or nicks. Any minor damage can easily be fixed by sanding.

If you have an emergency out on the water, duct tape can fix the trouble until you are safe on shore.

Never use the paddles to help push the canoe or to pry rocks you encounter on the trip. Protect the paddles from harmful UV rays by placing in a storage bag specifically made for paddles.

Properly Storing Your Canoe

Regardless if you are storing your canoe for the season or for that overnight camping trip, remember to always dry it first. Simply turn it upside down and raise it off the ground. Keep it out of direct sunlight if you are storing for the day.

When storing your canoe for the season, place a large tarp over it and allow proper air circulation to reduce the likelihood of mold growing. Never store it on the side for extended periods or place anything on top of it or you risk warping the vessel.

As you already know, the better you maintain your canoe, the longer it will serve you on the water. Take the time to follow these simple steps outlined above to protect your investment for the long-term.

I recently started getting fascinated by their old world, almost vintage, look & feel. This year we are planning on reviewing a few cedar pine canoes and other types from aluminum to plastic, and plan on sharing the findings with you on this site.