Dry Bags, Waterproof bags, and River Sacks
To keep your gear secure and dry while out on the water.
Dry Waterpoof Bags – Ideal Storage On The Water
There’s an old saying: “You can never be too rich or too thin.” Tubers and tooners could just as well say “There’s no such thing as too much pocket space.” It seems that no matter how big
the pockets, or how many you have, there is never enough storage to stash all your stuff. The size, shape and utility of the pockets can be more important than the total volume. Some craft are designed for fly fishermen…with pockets only large enough to hold a few small fly boxes and the miscellaneous knickknacks used by fly flingers. These small compartments frustrate tubers and tooners who need to carry larger lure boxes. Some pocket designs defy logic and were not likely designed by real fishermen.
For example,there are tubes with large pockets that are divided up into multiple small pockets with limited use. These partition pockets cannot hold much and they actually create the potential for misplacing
something you need but can’t find. Small pockets are for vests… not tubes and toons. Then there are the craft with large tackle pockets that can comfortably hold several full lure boxes as well as a multitude of other essentials. The challenge here is to avoid carrying too much tackle. Tackle overload adds both bulk and weight making it more difficult to carry your craft between vehicle and launch site.
Another problem with carrying too much gear is “overflow”. With a lot of gear on board the tendency is to get sloppy. Unstowed boxes can slip overboard when you are rocked by waves, or in the excitement of landing a fish, or from a careless bump with an elbow. Tackle pockets should be strategically placed and at a comfortable height. Float tubers usually sit lower in their craft. The dry bags on either side double as arm rests. They should be large enough to hold plenty of gear but not so high that they force the angler to fish with arms in awkward positions. The top surfaces should also be smooth so that tubers fishing with bare forearms can rest them on the tops of the pockets without irritation or discomfort. Pontoon anglers sit up higher than tubers. They need to be able to easily reach their pocketswithout straining their backs or falling overboard. With the larger surface area on most pontoons, it is possible to add pockets with the creative use of some Velcro and some small storage bags.
Hopefully, you get a craft that has “dry storage”…waterproof bags into which you can stuff extra layers of clothing or other items you wish to keep dry. If you don’t have such pockets, but have either a storage deck or open area behind the seat you can improvise. Go to a surplus store or good outdoor outfitter and buy a “dry bag” like those used by river runners. These can be sealed against waves and splashes and stowed wherever you can find the space. Of course, you can simply stuff your stuff into a plastic bag and put it all in a pocket. However, a flimsy plastic bag may not remain waterproof very long.
Most pontoons and some float tubes have space to store a small bag full of clothes, extra tackle or whatever. Toons have rear cargo decks and many V-boat tubes have an open area between the seat back and the pointed bow/stern. The cargo deck on a toon rides high enough to keep things mostly dry except in high waves or rain. The space behind the seat of a float tube is definitely not “dry storage”. Anything you put back there unprotected is going to get wet. You can solve the problem of keeping your extra clothes or other goodies dry on your craft by putting them in a “dry bag”. These are special rubberized bags made for river runners who need waterproof storage to keep food and clothes dry on whitewater trips. They work great for tubers with soggy storage problems too.
If you don’t have a dry bag you can improvise for a trip or two by stuffing an extra layer of clothes in a single or double heavy plastic garbage bag and then tying the ends securely. The flip side of that is that you can carry a couple of folded empty bags along with you. If you need to remove a layer or two when it gets warm, stuff the extra layer(s) in a plastic bag and stash it behind the seat. If the stowed layer gets damp in the thin bag, toss it in the dryer when you get home. Oh yeah, the extra plastic bags can also suffice as impromptu rain gear. If you get caught in a sudden downpour, you can pull one down over the top of your body and stay dry until the deluge passes. If the rain lingers just cut a hole in the bottom seam for your head and two more on the sides for your arms…to make a plastic poncho…and keep on tubin’.
Zippers and Seams
The quality of a floatation craft is only as good as the components and methods used to put them all together. You should always look for the best quality zippers and stitching. High denier nylon covers should have multiple rows of stitching with nylon thread. Nylon resists sun damage and rot. Some other threads don’t.
Over time, even good nylon stitching can degrade. Sun, ozone, fluctuations in heat and cold and the affects of soaking and drying can weaken seam integrity. Add in some fraying from dragging your craft on rough surfaces and you are at risk for seam failure. It’s bad enough to have a seam rip out as you are airing up your craft before a trip. It is worse when it happens on the water. Not only will it ruin your fishing but it could result in equipment loss…or worse. The zippers that close up the cover and hold in the air chambers are something we usually take for granted and hope for the best. The wrong time to find out that you have a bad zipper is when it suddenly fails…or won’t close properly when you are trying to get ready to go fishing. We need to pay attention to all of the zippers that secure the various pockets and other compartments on our craft as well. Get good zippers and then don’t abuse them by trying to force them closed when you have the pockets overloaded. Compartments that won’t close can result in lost tackle and accessories that were stored in them.
Fortunately, most tubes and toons on the market today have good zippers as part of theirstandard construction. The lower the price the more likely that zipper quality will be an area on which the manufacturer has cut corners to keep the price down. Believe me, it is better to spend a few dollars more to get a craft with good sturdy zippers.
Unfortunately, there is no set of guidelines for evaluating zippers before you buy. You just have to look at them, work them a few times and watch out for lightweight nylon zippers that can fail easily under repeated stress. Once a flimsy nylon zipper has failed it weakens and will seldom hold well ever again. Metal zippers are better but there are some heavy duty synthetic ones.
“Old timey” float tubes had covers made of anything from plain canvas to plastic coated fabric. They were stitched together with varying sizes and grades of threads, from cotton to nylon. Sometimes everything held together. All too often they literally came apart at the seams. Modern tubes and toon covers feature state of the art materials and usually have several rows of sturdy stitching with rot resistant nylon threads. The fabric is typically high denier nylon but more and more air chambers are covered partially or completely with tough PVC. Seam separations are not common on modern craft. Some cheaper “offshore” models are more prone to this malady. “Price line” tubes and toons are also more likely to include lightweight pocket zippers that do not hold up well. If the pockets are not sturdy to begin with, overstuffing them with a lot of gear is a sure invitation to ruined zippers.
The biggest enemies of stitching, seams, zippers and covers are over inflation, ultraviolet sunlight, heat, prolonged moisture, rot and mildew, petroleum product residues and salt water corrosion. The simplest remedy for all of these things is to keep your craft clean and store it partially deflated in a cool and dry location, out of the sun. Wash your craft well with fresh water after every trip, whether it has been in fresh or salt water. If your craft develops heavy mud or oil/gas stains, spray the cover down with a pre-spotter or degreaser and give it a good brushing before rinsing it off. Of course tubes and toons with PVC covers are much easier to keep clean than those with nylon fabric covers. The PVC can usually be cleaned with a simple spray and wipe, using almost any good cleaner. If a fabric cover gets covered with crud, as it can after a few trips, remove the air chamber, clean out the pockets and run it through the washer. A good idea is to soak it in a heavy cleaning solution for a few hours before putting it in the machine. Of course, you can also “hand wash” it in a large tub, using hot water, detergent and a stick to agitate it. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly before
hanging it up to dry…OUT OF THE SUN.
Over inflation is probably the single greatest cause of seam failure. This terminal condition most often results NOT from pumping in too much air but because fully inflated craft are left out in the sun or in hot vehicles. Many tubers and tooners have experienced “split seam syndrome” when they left their craft on top or inside of their vehicles without reducing the air pressure. Air expands when heated. No matter how good the quality of the materials and/or workmanship there are limits to how much pressure the seams can withstand. When those limits are exceeded, something’s gotta give. You should partially deflate your craft before putting it inside a vehicle whether on the way to the lake, for the ride home or just to another launch location. It only takes a few minutes in a hot enclosed space for air chambers to expand beyond the safe level. Onboard explosions are most
unsettling…and costly Partial deflation is also a good idea if you are transporting your craft on top of your vehicle or in a truck or trailer. This is more important on hot sunny days. You might think that the moving air would keep everything cool but the radiant heat of the sun can still warm and expand the air chambers beyond their safe inflation levels. Tubes and toons can also suffer from hyper-inflation while on the water. You may have to
add extra air to tighten the cover on cold mornings, or when launching into frigid waters. But, once the morning sun begins to warm things up you should monitor the pressure. Bleed off some air if the sun gets intense and the cover becomes too rigid. Also, don’t leave your inflated craft unattended in the sun. Even if you are only going to be out of the water for a few minutes, for lunch or a “nature call” let some air out of your craft or leave it under a tree or some other shady spot. It only takes a couple of minutes to top it off again, but the few minutes out of the water and in the sun can be enough to cause damage on a hot day. In the same vein, don’t bring your tube or toon into a warm environment, like your home, after fully inflating it outside or in a cold garage. A few degrees difference in ambient temperature can be enough to cause expansion and seam failure…or worse.
What do you do if a seam splits out? The first order of business is to check your warranty. If the damage is due to defective material or workmanship you may be able to get a refund or replacement. If you are responsible, through negligence or over inflation, you could have a problem. Some manufacturers are more lenient than others. If you bought your ride locally try getting the store involved. Sometimes they will replace your damaged craft and then deal directly with the manufacturer to get a replacement. If your craft is out of warranty, or the damage was your fault and not covered, you have to either buy a new one or repair it yourself. First, remove the air bladder and turn the cover inside out to assess the damage. Then, try to find a friend who has a commercial grade sewing machine. Use heavy nylon thread for seam repairs. Another option is to make a deal with a company that makes boat covers or awnings to do the sewing for you. Pretend you are in the market for one of their products and they might give you a better deal.
Your court of last resort, for sewing seams and pockets, is to get a heavy sewing needle and some stout nylon thread and stitch the separation back together yourself. Not fun and usually not pretty, but you should be able to make a repair that will hold together. After you complete the fancy needlework squeeze some waterproof epoxy or Aquaseal on the stitched area. That should help provide extra insurance against a future seam failure at that spot. Failed seams are one thing. Broken zippers are another. Sturdy metal zippers seldom fail over the life of a tube or toon. Flimsy zippers with small nylon “teeth” sometimes start coming apart within a short time after being put into use. And, once the teeth fail to hold when zipped the situation only gets worse over time. They are not self-repairing. If your zippers fail…either on pockets or the main air chamber closure zippers…check the warranty and try to get a replacement or refund. If you are able to get a replacement hope that you just got a bad zipper on the first one and that the problem is not typical of all their craft. If the second one fails you should consider upgrading to a better craft. Replacing bad zippers is more difficult than making minor repairs on a few popped stitches on a seam. It takes skill and a good sewing machine to put in a new zipper. Of course, you also
have to find and buy the right size and kind of zipper. The time, trouble and expense of replacing a zipper on a tube or toon is generally not worth it.