What Is Kayak Oil Canning And How To Fix It?

What Is Kayak Oil Canning And How To Fix It?

Oil canning is a common problem that affects plastic kayaks. It refers to indentations in the material of the kayak, causing the hull to curve inward and warp.

It’s important to know how to deal with oil canning and fix it so it doesn’t reduce the performance of your kayak. Furthermore, with the right care and maintenance, you can prevent oil canning from happening in the first place or at least make it less likely to happen.

The short version: Oil canning refers to denting and warping in the hull of a plastic kayak, caused by storing it on its hull, dragging it on the ground, leaving it in the sun, or tying it too tightly to car racks. You can fix it by using heat or hot water to soften the kayak and push the dent back in place.

If you want to learn more about oil canning and how to prevent it, read on!

What Is Kayak Oil Canning?

What Is Kayak Oil Canning?

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Kayak oil canning is a kayak slang term that refers to the denting and warping of plastic kayaks. Oil canning is a broad term that usually refers to the bending, buckling, denting, warping, and waving of metal sheets and other construction materials.

It has been borrowed by the kayak industry to refer to kayaks as well. Typically, you can simply push on a dent to pop it back in the other direction, similar to the way an oil can would pop under pressure, hence the name.

Oil canning is usually easily spotted as a dent, bump, or depression in the hull of the kayak. It may pop in and out as you move on the water or when you apply pressure to it, and the dents can vary in size.

Kayak oil canning can occur due to several reasons, including improper storage or prolonged storage without use.

Here are some of the main reasons for kayak oil canning.

Prolonged Sun Exposure

Most kayaks these days, especially quality plastic kayaks, come with some sort of UV ray protection to protect the material from the sun. However, there’s a limit to how much it helps – that depends on the specific model and how long you left the kayak in the sun.

Plastic kayaks are usually made from polyethylene, one of the most common kayak materials, which can get damaged in the sun. It’s not like your kayak is going to melt into one massive plastic blob, but the material can degrade, and prolonged sun exposure can certainly lead to denting and a weakening of the kayak material.

Improper Storage

Improper Storage

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Storing your kayak on its hull for too long can also lead to warping. If you put your kayak away for the winter and then forget about it, you may discover some warping when you do decide to use it again.

Improper Transportation Methods

Improper Transportation Methods

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There are many ways to transport a kayak. Some of the most popular methods include using kayak racks on the top of your RV, car, or another type of vehicle.

That’s a great way to transport a kayak, but if you tie it to the rack too tightly, you may discover that the kayak starts to dent in the spot where it is lying on the rack.

Dragging the Kayak

Dragging the Kayak


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Another reason kayaks get dents is due to dragging the kayak on the ground, especially on concrete. This can wear down the hull of the kayak and weaken the material, leading to warping in the future.

Effects of Kayak Oil Canning

Oil canning might seem like a harmless nuisance, but it can have certain detrimental effects on your kayaking performance. Let’s explore the different downsides of oil canning.

Creates Drag

Oil canning can create drag under your kayak. This will force you to paddle harder to combat this extra drag.

Drag, also called hull drag, refers to the pressure and resistance exerted on the boat as it travels on the water.

There are a lot of things that can increase drag. For example, more weight on the kayak will cause it to sink lower in the water, which means it will experience greater pressure from the water.

A lighter kayak, though, with less load, will experience less drag.

A damaged hull is another factor that can contribute to drag. Your kayak’s hull is designed a certain way for a reason – the design is meant to increase performance and reduce drag.

When the kayak gets dented or warped, the shape changes a bit, and that can increase drag and lower the overall performance of your kayak.

Reduced Buoyancy

Reduced Buoyancy

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In addition to creating drag, a kayak with a warped hall might not be as buoyant. The design and shape of the kayak helps create buoyancy, which prevents your kayak from sinking, as long as you don’t exceed the stated weight limit.

If the kayak’s shape gets warped, it might become less buoyant. That can lead to an increased risk of the kayak sinking or tipping over, and it may also mean that you can’t load the same amount of weight on the kayak as before.

It Looks Bad

Besides, a warped kayak just doesn’t look good cosmetically. If you want a nice-looking kayak, you should try to fix the indentations.

A warped kayak may also experience other cosmetic issues, such as discoloration at the points of warping or scratches if the oil canning was caused due to improper portage or dragging on the ground. Proper storage and transportation can help prevent both oil canning and discoloration.

Reduces the Value of Your Kayak

Oil canning reduces the value of your kayak, both because it looks cosmetically bad and because it reduces performance.

If you ever want to sell your kayak second hand and buy a new one, you will have a harder time selling it or getting a good price for it. That’s why preventing oil canning is so important.

Fixing oil canning can help increase the value of the kayak, up to a point. To maintain your integrity, you should always be honest about the history of the kayak and disclose past oil canning, even if it is no longer visible.

In the next section, we’ll discuss the best ways to prevent oil canning from occurring in the first place.

Preventing Kayak Oil Canning

It’s not always possible to prevent all instances of oil canning. The older a kayak gets, the more the chance of oil canning occurring increases, especially as you have to store your kayak over prolonged periods when you are unable to kayak.

However, there are some things you can do to greatly increase the lifespan of your kayak and reduce the chances of oil canning.

Store It Properly

Store It Properly

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Make sure you are storing your kayak correctly.

Avoid storing the kayak on its hull, because that is one of the major factors that causes denting. Instead, store your kayak vertically.

Even better, get an indoor storage rack or some sort of suspension system to store your kayak, so it doesn’t have to sit on the ground.

Avoid Excessive Sun Exposure

Avoid Excessive Sun Exposure

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Don’t leave the kayak out in direct sunshine when not in use. Instead, put it indoors, in your garage or shed.

If you can’t do that, buy a kayak cover that will protect your kayak from the sun or move it to a shady area, such as under your porch or under a tree.

Transport It Carefully

Transport It Carefully

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When putting your kayak on a J-rack or another type of transport rack, don’t tie it down too tightly.

I understand why people overdo it by tightening their kayaks to their car racks. They don’t want their kayaks sliding off while in transport.

However, securely tying a kayak to a rack doesn’t necessarily mean you have to tie it so tightly that it causes damage.

There are some other things to keep in mind when transporting your kayak on a roof rack. For example, don’t leave it on the rack for too long, as that will lead to a greater risk of indentation.

When you come home, take the kayak off the rack as soon as possible and store it correctly. Don’t leave it overnight on the roof of your car.

Some people leave their kayaks on their racks for too long because it’s hard for them to take it on and off, especially if they are by themselves and don’t have anybody to help them with that. Fortunately, lift-assist racks do exist, and they make it a lot easier to get your kayak on and off the car rack.

Check out our Easy Load Kayak Roof Racks Reviews – & Buyer’s Guide for more information.

Don’t Drag It on the Ground

Don’t Drag It on the Ground

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Finally, don’t drag your kayak on the ground. Of course, you shouldn’t drag it on concrete, but even dragging it on grass or dirt can cause damage, as it can scrape against rocks.

Instead, if you need to transport your kayak, and you are just one person, without someone to hold the other end of the kayak, I would recommend getting a kayak cart. Kayak carts make transporting kayaks overland easy and prevent damage to the kayak.

How to Fix Kayak Oil Canning?

Fortunately, fixing oil canning is possible with a few simple tools and techniques. Here are the top ways to fix oil canning.

Apply Heat or Leave It in the Sun

Apply Heat or Leave It in the Sun

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Leaving the kayak in the sun for a few hours can help the plastic soften somewhat until you can pop the dent back into place. You can then let the kayak cool off.

If you don’t have a way to leave the kayak in the sun – it’s too cloudy and cold outside – you can apply heat in other ways. For example, a heat gun or a strong hair dryer might also do the trick.

However, when using a heat gun, you have to be careful not to apply too much heat, as that will just cause the kayak to melt. Apply just enough heat so that you can push the dent back into place and then let the kayak cool off.

Turn the kayak upside down when applying heat via a heat gun or hair dryer.

Also, it might be hard to push the kayak material back into place with your bare hands. A rubber mallet can help, but use it gently; avoid metal hammers that could damage your kayak.

Use Boiling Water

Use Boiling Water

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Another great way to apply heat to the kayak so you can fix indentations is to use boiling water.

It’s actually safer than using a heat gun, so if you can, use this method. Why is that?

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (at sea level). Once it reaches that temperature, it stays constant, without getting hotter, no matter how long you boil it or how high you turn the flame up.

At that temperature, the heat from the water will cause your kayak’s plastic to soften but not melt. The melting temperature for medium-density and high-density polyethylene is from 248 to 266 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most commercial kayaks are made with medium-density polyethylene. However, even if it’s a cheap kayak that is made with low-density polyethylene, the melting range for low-density polyethylene is 221 to 239 degrees Fahrenheit, which is above the maximum temperature of boiling water.

A heat gun, on the other hand, can produce temperatures of up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit!

Pour the hot water in the hull, over the area with the dent. If there are multiple dents, pour hot water over each one.

Wait until the water softens the hull. Sometimes, the weight of the water will push the dent back into place, but you might need to push a bit on your end as well (using your hands or a rubber mallet).

Bring It to a Professional

If you are afraid of damaging your kayak with excessive heat, or if the kayak is badly warped and your methods aren’t working to fix it, consider professional repair options.

A professional kayak or boat repair shop will know how to fix your damaged kayak, if possible.

Additional Tips and Considerations

Here are some additional things you should know about oil canning in kayaks and how to prevent and fix it.

Preventing Oil Canning

Can you prevent oil canning on a kayak?

Yes. Rotomolded plastic kayaks are very durable and can easily last you a decade before you need to buy a new one.

With proper care and maintenance, it’s certainly possible to prevent most cases of oil canning. As long as you store your kayak properly and don’t expose it to the sun, tie it too tightly while transporting it, or drag it on the ground, you may never experience oil canning at all.

There are other factors that come into play, though, so there’s never a guarantee that oil canning won’t happen. Oil canning is more likely to happen in low-quality kayaks, such as imported kayaks from China made with cheap plastic.

Fixing Oil Canning vs Replacing the Kayak

Most of the time, you can fix a kayak that has experienced oil canning yourself. Buying a new kayak isn’t usually necessary and might just be a waste of money.

And, if you can’t fix oil canning yourself, you may be able to get a friend who is a bit more knowledgeable or a professional boat repair technician to fix it for you.

In some extreme cases, it might be better to simply get a new kayak. If the kayak is already old and banged up and the warping is really bad, a new kayak might be worth the investment.

Properly Maintaining a Kayak

Oil canning isn’t the only thing you can prevent with proper maintenance and storage. If you take care of your kayak properly, you can increase its longevity and get many more years out of your kayak, saving money in the long run.

Rotomolded plastic kayaks are among the most durable kayaks altogether, so if you have a plastic kayak, you already made a good choice.

I already talked about storing your kayak properly. Don’t store it on its hull and keep it out of the sun.

However, you should also be cleaning your kayak on a regular basis. This is especially important if you kayak in the ocean (as the saltwater can damage your kayak) or in lakes and rivers with a lot of mud and algae.

Properly Maintaining a Kayak

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Usually, I recommend washing down the kayak with a hose after each trip. Let it dry thoroughly before covering it, though, or else mold might start growing.

A few times a year, I would recommend washing it a bit more thoroughly. Some gentle soap and water and a scrubbing sponge is usually all you need.

Oil Canning in Kayaks – Recap

Oil canning in kayak refers to warping and denting that occurs due to improper storage and handling of the kayak. It typically happens in rotomolded plastic kayaks due to the way they are designed and manufactured.

It can happen if you tie your kayak down too tightly during transport, store it improperly, leave it exposed in the sun, or drag it on the ground.

By storing your kayak properly and using a kayak cart to transport it to and from your vehicle to the water, you can prevent oil canning.

Oil canning is usually a minor defect that is easily fixed with some heat or hot water. A boat repair technician can also help repair it, and I do recommend fixing the problem before your next journey to prevent performance and buoyancy issues.

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What Is Kayak Oil Canning And How To Fix It?

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Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.