We took the opportunity recently to fix some issues with our raft, an NRS Outlaw. Namely, the handles were pulling off of our raft. We also wanted to add additional handles to the front and back of our raft, in order to make it easier to lift the boat out of the water. Patching a raft is a useful skill, and adding more handles, D rings, or foot cups to your boat is a good way to practice the techniques and make sure you have everything you need. You don’t want to end up stranded on a multi-day trip with a hole in your boat and no idea how to patch it! (Note, there are no affiliate links in this post; we’re simply pointing you to resources you might want to check out if you’re embarking on a raft-patching mission.)
Use the right raft material
Start by figuring out what material your boat is made of because the patch or accessories need to be made of the same material in order to bond correctly to your boat. If you bought the boat new, you probably already know what material it’s made of as this factor would have been a big part of your shopping criteria. Hypalon rafts are more expensive than PVC because the material lasts longer.
If you don’t know what material your raft is, you should be able to look this up in the information that came with your boat or just do a quick search online. If you bought it used, you can usually tell based on the brand: Avon rafts are made of Hypalon, for example, while Rocky Mountain Rafts are PVC. Again, if you paid for the boat yourself, you will likely know very well whether your boat is Hypalon or PVC as the price difference between the two materials is significant. This article will cover patching a PVC raft, since our NRS Outlaw is made of PVC. Although the materials for patching a Hypalon boat will be different, the basic technique is the same.
Where to get your raft patch material
If you don’t have patch material passed along from the previous owner or from the manufacturer if you bought the boat new, you can buy raft patch materials from raft gear outfitters like Down River Equipment (DRE) in Denver or NRS. DRE offers various raft patching materials, including Hypalon repair kits, PVC fabric, and various add-ons such as handles, D-rings, and foot cups.
Pick a fair-weather day to patch your raft
It’s important to choose a good weather day (if possible) for your raft-repair project. You want a sunny day that’s not too hot, and it’s good to be able to leave the boat out and inflated for 24 hours after the patch is applied. Ideally the boat will not be in direct sunlight because direct sunlight and heat can make your newly applied patches bubble. However, it is important to work in a well-ventilated area. Mild temperatures, no chance of rain, but a bit of an overcast sky make the perfect raft-patching situation.
Materials needed to patch a PVC raft
- Raft cleaner (such as NRS Inflatable Boat Cleaner)
- Sandpaper — 120- to 180-grit
- Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK)
- PVC adhesive
- Patch material (you might have received some with your boat, or you can order from the manufacturer or from a raft equipment outfitter)
- Respirator mask (KN95 mask) to protect you from fumes
If you can’t find PVC adhesive, it’s possible to substitute with Stabond instead. However, Stabond is not a good choice for your repair kit, because it involves mixing glue with an accelerator. The accelerator comes in a glass bottle, which is difficult to keep safe in the repair kit.
Steps to patching your PVC raft
You can use the process below to either patch a hole in your raft or add or replace accessories like handles, extra D-rings, or foot cups.
- Clean your raft. I like to give the whole raft a good scrub with NRS Inflatable Boat Cleaner.
- Measure and cut out out a patch from your patch material. Make sure the patch covers the hole and extends at least an inch on either side. Cut a rounded patch—corners and straight edges will peel up more easily. You’ll notice that the edges of the handle I’m applying in these photos are rounded for that reason.
- Lay your patch over the hole—or position the handle or other accessory where you want it on the raft. Trace around the patch with the marker so you know where to lay the patch.
- Rough up the patch area and the back of the patch a little with sandpaper. You don’t want to go through the coating down to the fabric—rather, just take off the gloss. If you’re patching a Hypalon boat, this nifty tool from DRE is specifically designed to rough up the Hypalon fabric. Plus, you can use the roller side to ensure a tight bond after you apply the adhesive.
- Put on your respirator!
- Clean up the patch area and the back of the patch with MEK.
- Apply PVC cement to the patch area and the back of the patch.
- Wait about 5 minutes for the cement to dry slightly.
- Apply a second coat of PVC cement to the patch area and the back of the patch.
- Lay the patch over the patch area and smooth out all the bubbles. Make sure the edges get stuck down! You can use the roller tool mentioned above to smooth out bubbles.
- Wait 24 hours while the cement cures. After 24 hours, you can roll the raft and the patch should stay.
Learn how to patch your raft
Patching a raft is an essential skill for multi-day trips. And it’s more fun to learn when you’re not in a high-pressure situation on the river. A great way to practice patching—even if your raft is in great shape—is to think about those times you wish you had an extra D-ring or foot cup here or there, and get those accessories added.