Repairing a Fibreglass Canoe was my husband, Mike’s 1st Cabin Project. The canoe was purchased knowing it needed a lot of work, but Mike was up for the challenge!
In May 2019 the old and beat up canoe was purchased for $100 from a lady who posted a Craig’s List ad. When we arrived to pick up the canoe it was in an old falling-down outbuilding on a large piece of property. We noticed that there were no seats in the canoe and the one that was found nearby was in rough shape. Two old oars were thrown in, and they will be repaired to use as a decoration in the cabin. The canoe had one visible hole and several delaminating fibreglass patches that indicated more holes.
The serial number helped to identify the canoe style and year it was built. This information was key to restore the canoe based on how it was new. The canoe is a Frontiersman made in the 1970s, with parts still available from Western Canoe Kayak in Abbotsford, British Columbia. The canoe was marked with number: ZLJ123160477.
HOW TO REPAIR A FIBREGLASS CANOE: 10 STEPS
1. SET UP WORKSPACE
Set up in a large enough area for easy access around the entire canoe. For this project, the side yard was perfect – about 3 metres wide between the house and fence.
This project started in June, so it was warm enough to work outside. This kept the mess, including the sanding dust, outside.
Two heavy-duty sawhorses were used for the project. Having a wide support permitted the canoe to be rolled over. This was important as repair work was needed on the inside and outside of the canoe.
Fibreglass work requires safety gear, including a ventilator to filter out liquid epoxy fumes and fibreglass particles. It is also important to use either disposable latex gloves or heavy-duty gloves and safety glasses.
2. INSPECT THE CANOE FOR DAMAGE
There were areas of the canoe that had been previously repaired with fibreglass and Bondo. To determine the scope of the damage to the Frontiersman some of these attempted repairs had to be removed. These were areas where the canoe was not structurally sound.
Removing material in three areas revealed that there was an additional hole in the stern, one high up on the side and one in the middle of the hull. The damage to the stern was expected as this is typical wear from beaching a canoe. The side damage was unexpected, maybe received from bumping up against some rocks in the river. At first glance, the hull damage was a big surprise. After removing the fibreglass cloth, resin and Bondo it turned out that the repair was for cosmetic purposes only and there was no hole in the middle of the hull after all!
Also, the rusted eyebolts in the nose caps were removed and the endcaps themselves were easily removed by removing the six stainless steel screws. Both end caps had damage that could be repaired as they are made of fibreglass. Another option was to purchase new end caps from Western Canoe Kayak.
Finally, the plastic gunnels were removed from the canoe as they were coming unglued in areas. New gunnels are also available from Western Canoe Kayak.
3. SAND ALL AREAS THAT REQUIRE REPAIR
After removing all the material in the damaged areas, it was time to get down to the monotonous task of sanding. Progressing from coarse (60) to medium (100) to fine (200) is the quickest way to remove the most material. Trial and error demonstrated that high-quality aluminum oxide sandpaper was the most effective as resin and fibreglass is very hard to sand.
A 5” random orbit palm sander was used to clean up the holes in the canoe and for removing dried resin that dripped down during application. Small block sanders were also effective and for final sanding, a sponge style sander worked the best. The sponge sander was also used between coats of paint.
4. REPAIR CRACKS AND HOLES IN FIBREGLASS
Fibreglass repair is fairly straight forward. A simple process of cleaning, sanding, washing, drying, wiping with paint thinner, applying fibreglass, then resin, letting cure and then repeating multiple times.
For a skilled craftsman, the process would likely mean two or three precise sequences. For Mike who was learning this skill, it was more like 10 times.
Bondo can be used after the resin coats address all the structural issues, but for this project, this step was not performed. The canoe will be used frequently, so we expect it to get scratched.
When the outside work was finished, the canoe was rolled over for the inside work.
5. PAINT THE INSIDE OF THE CANOE
The inside had only minor repairs compared to the outside. After washing and cleaning, the inside looked to be in good shape. There were a few visible repairs, especially around the seating area. For consistency, the entire inside of the canoe was painted using the existing grey colour.
A flat gray primer spray paint was used. Three cans of spray paint provided two coats.
6. ATTACH BRACKETS FOR SEATS
The original seating was wooden seats attached to wood blocking that was fibreglassed into the hull. When we acquired the canoe, the wooden blocking and most of the fibreglass structure attaching the blocks were missing.
The recommendation from Western Canoe Kayak was to attach angle aluminum brackets to attach new seats and that’s exactly what we did. The aluminum brackets and stainless steel rivets were reasonably priced and in stock.
The canoe was levelled and secured to the sawhorses, then careful measurements were made to ensure that the seat heights were correct to the original design. Seats were angled with a slight down-tilt towards the bow.
7. PAINT CANOE WITH MARINE ENAMEL
After some trial and error, the canoe was painted with a small roller. Marine enamel paint was selected for sheen and durability.
The technique for painting was to quickly paint one side at a time using a very small roller. From the keel in a ½ metre section roller horizontal rows and work successive rows down. Then move to your right and start another ½ metre section. This technique blended the rows and did not show any roller marks.
Three coats were applied to fully cover the original red colour with a new forest green colour that we preferred.
8. INSTALL THE NEW SEATS
The new seats were purchased from Western Canoe Kayak in Abbotsford, British Columbia. This business is about ten minutes down the road from us, and the staff there are so helpful. They provided advice on what seats to purchase and how to install them.
Once all the painting work was done it was safe to install the new seats. Webbing seats from Western Canoe Kayak were selected for comfort and low maintenance. These seats come in single and double widths, flat or formed. For the rear seat, we selected a formed seat and for the front bench, a flat seat was chosen.
Jigs were made to determine the correct angles and widths of the seat frames. After some fine sanding and trial fittings, the cut ends were sealed with a clear coat engine enamel. This blended in perfectly with the original factory finish.
The seats were then attached to the brackets and bolted in. When installing the seats, it was noticed that some of the rivets were weak and were beginning to fail with the bracket coming away from the canoe. Therefore, several rivets were replaced with stainless steel nuts and bolts.
9. REPAIR/REPLACE THE NOSE CAPS AND GUNNELS
Both end caps were damaged from use. New canoe end caps can be purchased from Western Canoe Kayak, but to cut costs they were repaired. Both required several fibreglass and resin coats to restore their original shape. After repair, they were painted with white high-gloss spray paint.
The eyebolts were replaced with new stainless steel eyebolts. Then the end caps were secured to the hull using six stainless steel screws.
The gunnels were removed from the canoe early on to examine the extent of damage and because they were coming unglued in several areas. After the inside of the canoe was painted the gunnels were cleaned and re-glued using expanding Gorilla glue – good stuff! The silicon bead was applied on the inside seam to prevent slime and mold from getting into the gunnel channel.
10. PADDLE THE CANOE TO TEST FOR LEAKS AND BALANCE
After letting the paint set for two weeks and purchasing two Grey Owl canoe paddles from Western Canoe Kayak we took the canoe to Cultus Lake for a test drive. With two people in the canoe, it was fast and stable. The seat heights felt good, and there were no leaks!
The entire investment was $500 ~ approximately one third the cost of a new fibreglass canoe. Here’s the lowdown: canoe $100, new seats, brackets and hardware $150, all paint, paint roller and paint brush $100, Gorilla glue $10, eye bolts $10, sandpaper $20, sponge $10, round for orbital sander $20, fibreglass, resin, disposable brushes and disposable safety gear $80.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Mike’s 1st Cabin Project – Repairing a Fibreglass Canoe! We are looking forward to several years of canoeing adventures out at our log cabin on Shuswap Lake.