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Troubleshooting Fishing Kayak Problems

Marine electronics have a tendency to stop working before their time is up. Constant exposure to saltwater often eats away at connections in plugs and wiring creating frustrating shorts in your system. Fishing kayaks see more of these problems than powerboats because the electrical systems are much closer to the water and often get submerged while in the surf. When a short occurs in your system you could take your kayak in and pay to have it inspected, or you can learn where to look so that you can fix the problem yourself and learn how to help prevent it in the future.

BWE Photo credit: dgax65

By following this guide, one should be able to easily troubleshoot their bait tanks, lights, sonars, and other electronic devices with ease. Before you go tearing into your wiring, please be sure that your battery is fully charged and holds a charge. Doing so will keep you from replacing all your wiring only to find that the battery was the problem. Also on light systems be sure that all bulbs are not burnt out. If you find a bad bulb or battery replace it and see if the problem persists. If it is not resolved check the following areas for bad connections and corrosion.

Fuse and Fuse Holders

One of the most common problems in marine electrical circuits is corrosion on the fuse or fuse holder. The first item that should be inspected is the fuse. Be sure that the fuse is not blown. If it is replace with a new fuse of the correct size. Also check the fuse and the connectors inside the holder for corrosion. If any corrosion is found clean the connections with Fluid Film or a similar product. If there is a large amount of corrosion it is often best to simply replace the holder and fuse with a new Marine Grade holder.

Plugs and Battery Connections

Plugs and battery connections are very simple to check. However, they are often overlooked. When checking plugs and female connectors leading to the battery simply look for any corrosion. If corrosion is found on female connectors simply cut off and replace. If they are found on plugs leading to bait tanks, battery boxes, or your sonar/GPS unit, clean the corrosion off and coat with Dielectric Silicone Compound. This will help to prevent further corrosion and should be reapplied periodically.

Dialectic Silicone Compound

Splices in Wiring

Connections between multiple wires are a weak point in your circuit. These areas should be checked often for corrosion and rust. Once again if any corrosion is found, the connection should be cut off and replaced. Butt connectors are the most common way to make these connections however be sure to use Marine Grade connectors or you will have corrosion in the splice sooner rather than later. Marine grade butt connectors with heat shrink should always be used because they contain an adhesive that will create a watertight seal around the connection point.

By looking into these areas you should be able to find the problem in your electrical system. If nothing is found in these areas you will want to consider a complete rewiring of your system. When rewiring try to use as little splicing as possible and when you must splice the use of solder and shrink tube will help prevent reoccurring problems. Also coating connectors and pins in Dielectric grease will ensure that you will not need to rewire in the near future.

BWE Photo credit: dgax65

Leaks in your Kayak

Taking on water in your kayak can be one of the scariest aspects of kayak fishing, especially if fishing miles from the nearest shoreline as we often do. If you notice water in your kayak it is best to pay close attention to the amount and perform a leak test if you continue to get water in your hull, especially if the problem is growing. If your problem is a consistent small amount of water entering the hull chances are that you have small, unsealed holes (generally from mounting rivets, rod holders, and other accessories). You can usually fix these with some marine goop on/under the mounting hardware and accessory. Also remember that you may be dumping water in the hull when you open your hatches.

Checking Hatches and Accessories

It is important to remember that most kayak hatches are not 100% watertight. In surf situations it is not uncommon for your hatches to leak some water into the hull. If you believe it may be your hatches leaking you may want to check them for leakage. The easiest way to water test hatches is to simply close all the hatches, then using a hose spray water on and around hatches. It is best to spray one hatch at a time so that you can pinpoint which hatch may be the problem. Be sure that the inside of the hull is dry before doing this so you can tell if any water comes in. If you find that water is entering the hull through a hatch you will next want to determine if it is leaking from under the sealing ring or between the ring and the lid. If leaking from beneath the ring or mounting hardware simply remove the hatch and then reinstall using plenty of marine grade sealant (such as Marine Goop). Replacing rivets or tapping screws with bolts and nylon lock nuts will also help cut out some leakage in most cases. If you find the hatch lid is leaking check with the manufacturer to see if a replacement gasket is available. Over time gaskets become compressed and may need replacing. If no replacement is available from the manufacturer often times you can make your own using weather stripping from your local hardware store. Check accessories and their hardware in the same manner as hatches, running water over them one at a time to pinpoint any leaks. When leaks are found reseal hardware and any other holes with Marine Goop.

Cracks and Holes in the Hull

If your problem consists of a large amount of water you may have a crack or hole in your kayak. Luckily locating cracks and holes is fairly easy, as they tend to occur in specific areas of kayaks.
Before bringing water into the equation it is best to do a visual inspection of your kayak. With most large leaks you will be able to find the leak just by looking for it. Areas that most leaks are found include the scupper holes and the keel area (usually caused by dragging the kayak).

If you cannot find any holes in the daylight, try using a flashlight and look again in the dark. The light shining through a hole is easier to see.
If a visual inspection of your hull does not lead you to the leak we recommend checking the scupper areas by plugging the scupper from the bottom and filling it with water. Watch for a dropping water level and for any leaking into the hull from the scupper walls. Several layers of duct tape on the bottom of the scupper will also work to plug the scupper if you do not have scupper stoppers.
If no leaks are found after checking the scuppers you can then proceed to sit the kayak on a stand and fill with water. Please note that water is very heavy so you will want to be sure your stand can support the weight (saw horses will in most cases work well for this). As your Kayak fills with water, watch for drips of water. Some leaks are more obvious than others; pay close attention to any seams or scuppers in your kayak as well as the keel area and rudder mounts. When on any type of stand, only fill the kayak a small amount. If a leak isn't found, set the kayak on a dry section of concrete and fill completely with water. Let it sit for a few minutes and check for wet concrete around the kayak to pinpoint the leak.

If after water testing, you find no leaks you may want to check your hatches and accessories again as these are likely the source of your problem. Any leaks you do find should be fixed appropriately. For pinhole leaks a coating of marine sealant may suffice, especially in hard-to-weld areas such as scuppers. Any large holes or cracks should be welded and then rechecked for pinhole leaks.
Basic welds in polyethylene kayaks can be made using a soldering iron and heat gun if you do not have a plastic welder. To make a weld simply preheat the area to be welded along with the scrap plastic you will be filling the hole with. After the areas preheated use the soldering iron to scrape off pieces of your scrap plastic and apply it to the hole. Be careful not to overheat the plastic, as it will cause scorching make the area brittle. Also too much heat applied to thin areas of the kayak may cause deformation so be careful. If you do not feel confident about making these welds take the kayak to your local shop. Most shops will perform these repairs for a minimal charge.

We hope that this basic guide is of some help in troubleshooting any issues you may have with your kayak. Most problems we see are simple and can be fixed within a few hours or less using basic tools and the help provided in this article. Remember that we at Kayak Fishing Supplies are always a phone call away and can help guide you should you need any advice.