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Raft Repair

Rafting is fun but, occasionally you can get into trouble. On a one day trip you can do emergency gray tape repairs that will allow you to get to the take-out before dark. A cut (rip/tear) in your raft on a long wilderness trip can cause an unwanted delay; after all you are there to enjoy yourself and the river.

Small cuts or punctures | Large cuts | Valves | Cleaning valves | Replace valve boot | D-ring repairs | Repair leaky valve | Cleaning | Raft repair kit | Home repair kit

A field repair is most of the time performed under poor conditions. Sometimes rain and temperature can aggravate what is already a difficult situation. Move your raft to a safe location and dry it off. Instruct everyone who is going to assist you (2-3 people is ideal) on what you are attempting to do. I have seen a bystander accidentally kick sand onto a patch just as it was to be applied. Remove all the water and sand inside the tube and dry it out. If your cut is large, place gray tape on the inside to align the tear after it is dry. Place a board or box under the raft where the cut is to give you a hard flat surface to work on. Now you are ready to begin patching your raft.


Use only the type of adhesive recommended for your raft material. New adhesive should be purchased before going on wilderness trips if it is out of date, check the stamp on the can. Shelf life of adhesive is usually very short. Store adhesive in plastic bags in your repair kit. To avoid waste, mix only the amount of adhesive that can be used in 30 minutes. Mix small batches in dixie cups and stir with a clean stick, cover the adhesive for a longer working time. Be sure you are aware of all hazardous materials handling requirements for adhesives and toluene/solvents.


  1. Make sure the surfaces to be joined are clean and dry.
  2. Cut a patch with scissors to cover the cut area with a 2-inch overlap in all directions. Use a can bottom to outline round ends for a neat patch shape. Do not have square corners as they can allow easy lifting of a patch.
  3. Place your patch over the cut and outline the patch with a ball-point pen on the raft, making sure all edges of the patch are at least 2 inches from the hole. This gives you an outline to buff* on the raft. Avoid overlapping a seam or D-ring patch, which can leave a space open capable of leaking. If necessary lift the edge of a D-ring and glue your patch directly on the tube, then glue the D-ring patch on top of the repair.
  4. Buff* thoroughly with course sandpaper the outlined area on the raft until all of the shiny surface is dulled. Sand just beyond your outlined area to allow for a misaligned patch. Also buff the side of the patch you are going to glue. Avoid touching the newly sanded surfaces with your bare hand, they are clean and ready for gluing. Wear surgical gloves whenever possible.
  5. Apply a THIN coat of adhesive on the raft and patch brushing from the center out to the edge. Glue beyond your outline to allow for a misaligned patch. Swirl your brush in small circles. Let the adhesive dry until it is no longer tacky to the touch.
  6. Repeat above procedure to apply a second THIN coat of glue and again let it dry until it is no longer tacky to the touch.
  7. Carefully apply the patch on the raft starting from the center and working toward the edges to prevent bubbles.
  8. Press the entire patch very hard with the edge of a blunt tool starting from the center or use a roller to apply pressure on the patch. Be sure the edges of the patch have enough glue and are pressed down VERY hard.
  9. Clean excess glue from around the patch by rubbing very hard with your fingers and a small amount of toluene** on a rag. At the same time, smooth out the edges of the patch.
  10. Let the patch cure at least two hours, but preferably overnight. If you must get on the river just don't put much air in the tube.


  1. For best results the inside of the tube cut should be reinforced with gray duct tape or an inside patch to prevent wrinkling when applying the outside patch. Inside patches are not easy and I would recommend using gray tape in the field. When placing gray tape on the inside be sure to cover all parts of the cut to avoid gluing the inside of the tube together.
  2. For an inside patch, shape the patch using round corners that will overlap the cut THREE INCHES on all sides.
  3. Buff* the patch on one side and the inside of the tube for an inside patch. This part is difficult depending on the size of the cut. Shape a patch to cover the cut area for an outside patch with a 2-inch overlap in all directions. Outline the outside patch and buff.
  4. For an inside patch introduce the patch through the cut and place it inside the opposite wall of the tube as flat as possible. (use a board under the raft)
  5. Apply a THIN layer of adhesive on the patch, leaving it inside the chamber, then apply a THIN layer of adhesive around the inside of the cut on the inside of the tube. Let it dry until it is no longer tacky.
  6. Apply a second coat using the same procedure.
  7. Position the patch exactly under the tear. (tricky part requires a lot of hands helping)
  8. This is the very tricky part.... Holding the tear closed by pulling at each end, press the tube onto the patch inside the tube. BE VERY CAREFUL TO AVOID WRINKLES. Apply pressure.
  9. Apply another patch on the outside of the raft as per "SMALL CUTS" INSTRUCTIONS.
  10. Let cure for three hours before testing, or overnight. The inside patch will require much longer to cure than the outside patch.


Early rafts came with Schrader metal valves which should be kept lubricated to prevent corrosion build-up on the valve seat and leaking. To clean the valve use a stainless steel brush or brass wool. DO NOT use any other metallic abrasives. Spray Armor All inside valves to protect and prevent corrosion.

Check with your raft manufacturer for the proper maintenance for your valves.


Flush valves occasionally with fresh water, attempt to clean the back of the plate while doing this. If leakage has occurred, use a small "L" shaped tool to scrape residue from the backside of the metal diaphragm.


If you need to replace an entire valve boot and not just the valve in the boot.

  1. Slowly work loose one section of the gray ring around the valve using heat from a hot air gun or hair dryer.
  2. Remove the valve and ring together.
  3. Clean any remaining glue or material off with toluene** solvent.
  4. Buff* the surface of the raft around the hole.
  5. Proceed with the usual gluing procedure to install new valve boot.


Repairing D-ring patches is easily done. Sometimes the fabric D-ring edges work loose. If a corner comes up, glue it back down, but if the whole D-ring seems insecure, it is best to remove it, clean the surfaces and reglue it. You must buff* both surfaces, but be careful not to cut through many threads on the D-ring patch. You can use a power drill motor or a Dremel Tool with a pointed stone for getting under the D-ring patch for buffing.

When installing new D-rings on a raft inflate the raft and mark with a ball-point pen where you want the patch. Deflate the raft and buff* the outlined area and the D-ring patch. Buff* beyond the outline to allow for misaligned patches. Glue as outlined above.


Inflate the raft to 3 psi. Using a tracing solution of soap and water in a spray bottle to find the area where bubbles are the largest. At this area use a hot air gun or hair drier, and carefully pry the rubbing strake loose in an area approximately six inches long (use a 2" putty knife with rounded corners to pry). Underneath a lap seam will be visible. Apply the soapy solution over the seam and look again for bubbles. When the main seam leaks, the air travels along under the chafing strip to a place where it can escape. Usually the easiest place for it to come out is where a vertical seam goes under the rubbing strake. The bubbles will appear to be coming from under the rubbing strake. Continue to pry the rubbing strake loose in the direction the bubbles are coming from. Check the newly exposed seam with soapy water until the leaky area is located. Use the hot air gun and pry the seam loose in the area without completely separating the overlap.

Completely deflate the raft. Clean the fabric and buff*; clean again and re-glue. Allow adhesive to dry overnight and pressure to 3 psi. Test with soapy water again (let sit overnight to see if pressure is lost). After all tests are done re-glue the rubbing strake in place.


For Hypalon rafts, clean rust and dark marks from the fabric or chafing strips use SOS pads and spray with Armor All*** and wipe dry to restore the luster. Wash off your raft on top of the tubes of all excess Armor All*** to prevent a slippery surface. Check with your raft manufacturer for any special instructions for your material.

*BUFF - When making shop repairs you may use drill motors for sanding with a small drum sander.

**TOLULENE - Is a hazardous material it is flammable and an eye irritant. Use a respirator when using it as inhalation will irritate the respiratory tract. Follow all directions given to you with the purchase of this solvent.

***ARMOR ALL - Over the passed 10 years or so a new product called 393 protectant has been found to do a better job than Armor All. For one thing, it doesn't make the treated surface slippery at all. Another is that 303 protectant is a noticeably better fabric cleaner and seems to do a better job of anti-sunlight protection.


You should carry this kit along with an air pump on every trip. Adapt it to meet your needs. Another great piece of equipment for your vehicle is a LVM Blower, 12 volt air pump, for inflating your raft.

  1. 1/2" stiff bristle brush - (acid brushes)
  2. Paint can opener - (for opening glue can)
  3. Roller w/wooden handle - Northwest River Supplies
  4. Roller and rasp w/metal handle - Northwest River Supplies
  5. Ball Point Pen
  6. Dixie cups
  7. Scissors
  8. Emery cloth - for sanding raft material
  9. Clean rags
  10. Pliers/ vice-grips
  11. Screwdriver
  12. Putty knife, w/rounded corners (2" wide)
  13. Stir sticks / Tongue depressors
  14. Extra 2-1/4" radiator hose clamps for clips
  15. 2 rolls quality duct (gray) tape minimum
  16. Patching material for your type of raft for tubes and floor
  17. Glue for your type of raft/material
  18. Toluene or acetone solvent in a small plastic bottle
  19. Surgical gloves - for glue and solvent hand protection
  20. Extra clip and pin
  21. Wrenches for frame
  22. Extra "D" ring
  23. Spare bolts for frame
  24. Valve
  25. Valve and boot
  26. Patching instructions
  27. 50 cal. waterproof ammo box for all the above to take with you.


These are in addition to your river raft repair kit for your maintenance and home repairs.

  1. Drill motor, variable speed or Dremel Tool
  2. Brush - for removal of old glue for drill motor
  3. Clean'n Strip Brush, #7770 by 3M
  4. Sanding drum, 1-1/2" dia. x 1" face, Sears #2497
  5. Abrasive sleeve, for sanding drum Medium (60 grit) 1-1/2" dia. x 1" wide
  6. Air pressure gauge - (to fit in raft valve only has to go to 3lbs.)
  7. Utility knife
  8. Heat gun or hair drier
  9. Soapy water in plastic spray bottle
  10. Lettering paint - quart, ($15.00) for identifying your raft
  11. GACO Gray Paint - quart, ($15.00) for plugging pinholes in bad fabric
  12. GACO thinner - quart, ($11.69)
  13. SOS pads for cleaning raft.

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