Float Tube Repair Kits
Tubers and tooners need to be able to repair leaks not only in the air chambers of their craft, but sometimes in their waders too. You should carry the appropriate patch kits for both. There are special repair tapes that will make serviceable quick repairs. Unfortunately, some of the more permanent repair adhesives take a while to cure…putting you out of business for at least a few hours. However, if you are on a multi-day trip you can usually have your tube, toon or waders repaired soon enough to salvage the trip. Be sure to read the chapter on Care, Repairs & Mods.
Sooner or later you will have to repair a leak in an air chamber. It is inevitable. If it is just a “pinhole leak” the task is generally simple. If the hole is a “knife wound” or a split seam, the repair can be more difficult. The first step in repairing any leak is to find it. The search begins by removing the bladder and inflating it to the max outside the cover. If you know exactly where a fish bounced off your tube or toon, or where you stuck it with a fishhook or knifepoint, you have an idea of where to start looking. If not, you need to make a systematic search to find the hole. If the hole is large enough you can sometimes find it by following the sound of escaping air or by feeling it when you move your hand just above the surface. Count yourself lucky if that is all it takes to find the leak. This tooner had his fishing day shortened by a leaking bladder. The problem was worsened by
building wind. He was fortunate to make it in to shore, with his nice trout, before he rolled over and lost gear. This picture was taken on Deer Creek Reservoir in Utah.
If plan A doesn’t work, plan B is to immerse the inflated air chamber in water and look for escaping bubbles. If you are still on the banks of a lake or stream that is simple. But, if you are at home you will need a big tank or tub that you can fill with water. Of course, having a swimming pool…or an understanding neighbor with a swimming pool…can make that process easier. It is virtually impossible to hold a fully inflated bladder completely under water while checking for leaks. You have to immerse one section at a time until you find the stream of bubbles. If you do not have any kind of “dunk tank” available you will need to try option C or D. Option C is laying the fully inflated bladder on the lawn and then running a slow trickle of water over the outside, one area at a time, watching for the telltale bubbles. Option D is applying soap solution, either by hand, from a bowl, or by using a spray bottle. Even the tiniest pinhole will make bubbles in the soap solution. Before looking for the hole you should have something to mark it once you find it. This insures that you can find it easier after deflating and drying the air chamber so that you can make the repairs. There are waterproof wax crayons that will work, but a red permanent marker is better. You may have to wipe the surface partially dry to get the mark on the bladder, but it will
stay and show up well once it is marked. After finding and marking the hole don’t stop looking. If the leak is the result of a fish bouncing off your craft there may be several small spine holes in the same area. Better to find and
repair them all at once than to have to go through the whole process again when your craft still loses air after you have “fixed” it and put it back together.
Once you have located and marked the hole(s), deflate the bladder and prepare to patch it. Depending on what kind of material the air chamber is made of you will need different materials and procedures.
In the “olden days” virtually all float tubes had truck tire inner tubes for bladders. There are still some of those around. To repair the black rubber tubes you need special patches and cement. Tire repair kits are available in auto parts stores or bicycle shops but are increasingly difficult to find. Most auto tires these days are tubeless. The first step in repairing an inner tube leak (after locating it) is to roughen the rubber surface around the area of the hole. This helps the special patching compound get a good grip on the surface so it will hold the patch. Patch kits usually include a small roughening tool. If not, you can use sand paper, a small file or even an emery board. Roughen an area about an inch or so across, with the hole in the middle.
The next step is to lay the deflated and prepared tube on a flat surface and to apply some of the special rubber patching liquid to the area to be patched. Most patch kits advise using only enough to wet it well, and to work it into the rubber with the edge of a knife blade or screwdriver. While the patch goop is drying, remove the covering from one of the special patches from the kit. These have a specially formulated surface that forms a bond with the patching compound and the rubber tube. Place the patch over the hole, with the hole in the center of the patch. Press the patch down onto the prepared surface and use a roller or the back of a screwdriver handle to stick
it even more firmly. After the patch has been allowed to cure for an hour or so, air the tube up high and check the patch to make sure it is not leaking. If it holds air you are good to go. If it leaks, go back to square 1. Check for leaks around your patch or look for another hole that you missed finding. Most of today’s tubes and toons have bladders made from either vinyl or urethane. Some are very tough and are less prone to developing leaks. Others are thin-walled and seem to get pinhole leaks far too easily. The good news is that they are easier to fix than rubber inner tubes.
Just as with inner tubes, the first step in the repair process is to find the leak(s). If you have a urethane or vinyl bladder you can repair the leak quickly with a special urethane tape repair kit and be back on the water quickly. These kits are sold by several manufacturers of floatation craft. They are easy to use and actually bond to the bladder material. Most tubers and tooners rely on making liquid patches from Aquaseal or some similar compound. Many modern craft come with a small tube of this stuff and some patches. It works great for repairing not only air chambers, but also most types of waders too.
Wherever Aquaseal is sold, you can usually buy small bottles of an “accelerant” called Cotol. Mix a small amount of the accelerant into the urethane repair liquid and it will shorten the curing time from a full day to only a couple of hours. That can be a trip saver if you get a leak while on a fishing expedition and don’t have any of the faster working urethane tape. For most pinholes and small leaks you do not need to use any patching material with the urethane repair liquid. You simply squeeze out enough to form a small puddle, over and around the hole, and let it cure into a flexible and durable patch all by itself. To help keep the patch level and prevent running off to the side, or spreading out too thin, you can place the repair project over the top of a small can or bowl and secure it in place with a rubber band while it cures. Repairing cuts or seam splits on vinyl or urethane bladders is more difficult and complicated. This is where you will appreciate having the urethane repair tape. It is better at aligning the bladder material on either side of the split and bonding everything together. You can fix some smaller cuts using only the liquid urethane repair. However, you may need to layer the repair. First spread a thin layer of the liquid and let it partially cure. While it is still slightly tacky lay on a piece of the repair patch material. After the stick-down patch cures, finish with a final layer of liquid urethane repair. Make sure of a good seal by spreading the final layer of liquid slightly over the edge all around the patch material. A “patchless” repair will often work just fine. The inflated air bladder is not under all that much pressure and is supported and contained by the cover of your craft. However, if you can’t get the mend to work without a patch you will need to remove as much of the repair job as possible and start over…this time using a patch.