"When you're looking at combining different materials, like wood trim with a plastic or composite hull, you can extend its life by bringing it in to some sort of shelter. It all depends on the material of the boat. If you've got an aluminum canoe, you probably don't need to worry about it."
-- Lili Colby,
Confluence Water Sports
Stowing canoes and kayaks for the winter can be a challenge, but considering the investment in a good boat, it makes sense to put in a little extra effort before putting it in dry dock until next spring.
In a perfect world, boats could be stored inside, safe from the cold and snow of an Alaska winter.
"Hang it over your bed -- you can gaze at the beautiful woodwork on those long winter nights. Just don't hang from the thwarts," joked Lili Colby, a customer service manager with Confluence Water Sports, makers of Mad River canoes, Wilderness Systems, Wave Sport and Trinity Bay kayaks and Voyager paddling accessories.
"When you're looking at combining different materials, like wood trim with a plastic or composite hull, you can extend its life by bringing it in to some sort of shelter," Colby said. "It all depends on the material of the boat. If you've got an aluminum canoe, you probably don't need to worry about it. Polyethylene probably doesn't need to stay inside, but if you let it bake in the sun, the color will fade."
Colby said that one combination in particular -- canoes with Royalex hulls and wood trim -- has a tendency to crack when subjected to a sudden drop in temperature.
"If it gets cold suddenly, especially if there's any moisture in the grain (of the wood), the wood expands like an ice cube and the plastic starts going in the opposite direction," Colby said. "You can get a cold crack, where the plastic material cracks. Usually it's in a straight line down from the screws."
Colby said cold cracks can be prevented simply by backing out the screws that secure the woodwork to the hull, something the company advises in its owner's manual. Backing out the screws allows the hull to contract independently of the wood trim. The cracks are repairable, but getting a repair kit to Alaska can be tricky because of restrictions on shipping hazardous materials from the Lower 48.
The material can handle cold temperatures -- Colby said the company's warehouse in Vermont is unheated, and that area frequently has subzero cold snaps, but the temperature in the warehouse doesn't rise or fall dramatically.
Colby said canoes and kayaks should not be stored with the weight supported only at the very ends. Instead, move the supports in toward the center of the boat.
"If you put too much pressure on the ends, over time, it's going to warp the boat. The same thing will happen with a canoe leaning on its side," Colby said.
If a boat is to be stored outside for the winter, Colby suggested that the owner take a careful look at the snow load, and where it may fall when it slides off the roof.
If a boat does end up buried, it may be best just to wait for breakup, rather than trying to dig it out.
"Royalex gets brittle when it gets cold," Colby said. "I heard a story about a fellow who tried to dig his boat out, and he hit it with the shovel in the process and the hull shattered."
Placing a tarp over a canoe or kayak for the winter is a good idea, but Colby cautions paddlers not to lay it directly on the hull. Leaving some space for air to flow will prevent mildewing on the hull.
Wilderness Way Outfitters of Soldotna owner Walter Ward added one more thing to consider before storing a boat outside -- make sure the kayak or canoe isn't in danger of being trampled or kicked should a moose trot through the yard.
As for life jackets, Colby recommends treating them with a product called 303 Protectorant, a sort of water-based version of Armor-All.
"It's great to put on your hull," Colby said. "For your PFD, you can prepare a 50-50 bath of water and 303. Outfitters dunk their life jackets. It prevents the nylon from rotting, fading and wearing out."
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