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One Man Raft Kickboat: An Inflatable Raft Better Than A Drift Boat

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How to buy a used raft
- by Dave Inks

The first thing to do when considering buying a used raft is to inflate the raft to a usable hardness (this means that the raft is full of air and does not wrinkle when you row). If you do not know how to properly inflate a raft check our raft inflation guide.

Check all of the D-rings and other parts to make sure they are solidly attached to the raft. Any loose parts can be cleaned and re-glued so this is not a serious problem, however, too much of that would certainly affect how much you should ultimately pay.

Next take a spray bottle and put liquid soap in it (a teaspoon or so of liquid soap will do), and fill the rest of the spray bottle with water. Shake it up a bit and then spray the entire raft with a liberal amount. If there are any small, pinhole leaks any leaking air will form a bump of foam exactly where the air is coming out. Mark each one of these leaks to keep track of where they are. (Do not use a ball point pen because the ink will be hard to remove later.) A white grease pencil is best or simply make an X over the leak with duct tape.

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Then let the air out of each chamber separately and see if the internal baffles hold air in each chamber without leaking into the one you let air out of. Leaky baffles are not a serious problem as long as the raft does not get a big tear in it and you need to get to shore quickly. Putting some internal sealant in it while the raft is inflated can seal slow internal leaks.

Take a close look at all of the seams on the raft. Older rafts will have glued seams and glue deteriorates with age. If the raft appears to be quite old it may be need to be completely re-glued. This takes time and knowledge and may not be worth the effort. Newer rafts are now hot air welded but can still have leaks. Check all seams carefully with water and soap solution spray. If an inflatable raft has a large leak the leaking seam can be pried apart a bit and re-glued to adequately repair it.

Pinhole type leaks will blow the soap and water solution off the raft fabric immediately and are therefore harder to find. Consequently, to find pinhole leaks you may have to use your hand to feel the leak by moving your hand closely all over the raft. You can also hold your eye close to the raft fabric to feel any escaping air. Being more sensitive than your hand, your eye can be more effective in locating an air leak.

Check the general condition of the raft's fabric for worn spots - especially on the bottom. Any cuts or rubbed area can leak - especially if the fabric shows through the fabric coating. These types of leaks can be patched over quite easily. Patches on a raft do not affect their performance quality provided they are applied properly. Rafts made of PVC can be hot air welded and Hypolon raft material must be glued.

Both glues and the Hypolon material deteriorates with age so look carefully at the used raft you are contemplating buying. If the raft's fabric has too many checks and cracks in it it is probably best to pass on the purchase and look for one in better condition or even buy a new one.

When you patch a raft use MEK or lacquer thinner to thoroughly clean the parts. Several coats of solvent on a rag clean well, open the pores of the fabric to except glue, and facilitate bonding. Thin coats of glue are best being careful that there are no ridges in the glue. This application method helps insure that the glue dries evenly. Be sure to use fresh, new glue as it has a short shelf life.

If you are diligent about inspecting a used raft as described above, you may end up with a very serviceable raft and will soon you will be floating and having a great time. Always wear a life jacket!



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