At Crab Apple, each fall we carefully evaluate and store our fleet of hypalon rafts for the off-season. A crew of 3-4 workers take roughly one week to clean, dry, make repairs and store the whitewater rafts for the winter. A detailed inventory and repair history is made for each raft. A crew works at our Massachusetts base and a separate crew works at our Maine location. Hypalon rafts cost between $3,500 and $5,000 each, so the crews are careful to prepare the rafts well for their long off-season. If not stored properly, entire fleets can be damaged.
Eliminate All Moisture
Each day we inflate 8-12 rafts outside on a dry surface. Weather is ideally clear, warming into the 50’s or higher and a breeze is helpful. If the forecast is for overcast skies, wet weather or high humidity, then the work is postponed.
Each raft has its outside tubes and self-bailing floors inflated. Thwarts (interior cross tubes) are left flat. Each raft is thoroughly cleaned with mild detergents on the top and bottom. After being cleaned, rafts are wiped down and dried with towels. Careful attention to get all moisture out of the rafts is important. Open surfaces are easy to dry. However, moisture usually collects and is hidden under the thwarts, where the thwarts meet the outside tubes and along the edges of the floor where the floor meets the outside tubes. After towel drying a raft, it is left in the sun to dry further. It will be flipped over at least once to allow the sun to dry the inside and bottom thoroughly.
Hypalon Raft Repairs
As the rafts are drying, they are evaluated for any needed repairs. Valves and valve caps are checked and replaced if necessary. Ropes used for guests to hold onto as well as bow and stern lines are checked and changed if necessary. Handles for carrying the rafts are inspected and damaged handles are noted so they can be replaced. D-rings (metal rings placed around the outside of the raft to affix rope and gear to) and the material holding the d-rings are inspected. Damaged d-rings and material holding the d-rings are noted so they can be replaced. Floors are inspected on the bottom to identify excess wear that will need patching or replacement. Old patches, abrasions, etc. are carefully inspected and noted if they need to be patched or repaired.
The best way to detect a leak in a raft is to apply soapy water over the area in question when the raft is fully inflated. Escaping air will make bubbles and a hissing noise making the damaged area easily identifiable. If a leak is found, the area is cleaned again, dried and marked for patching later.
Hypalon Rafts Bind Together
After rafts are completely dry and their evaluations are done, rafts are dried further with a heat gun – corners, edges and tricky areas where moisture collects are dried carefully with heat. The goal is to put the rafts away completely dry so that the hypalon material will not stick to another hypalon surface that is wet. If two surfaces stick together and sit for months, it can be difficult or impossible to separate the two layers of hypalon without tearing one side. There are stories of outfitters stacking rafts for the off-season without drying them and finding them bound together in the spring. Separating them is tricky and we know of many rafts being destroyed in the process of separating them after the off-season.
Hypalon rafts that have been cleaned and dried and do not need repairs are brought inside to be stored. Each raft is put on a stack of other prepared rafts that have been deflated and are laying flat. Each raft is then deflated and a wet-dry vacuum sucks the air out each compartment of the raft. All air is removed from each chamber and each chamber is checked to be sure that it does not have water inside.
Water inside the closed chambers of a raft will break down the glues holding the raft together. All moisture must be removed whenever it is found in a raft chamber to protect the longevity of the glue holding the raft together. When sucking a hypalon raft dry, if water is found, the wet vacuum is held over an open valve until all of the excess water is removed. Next, the valve is removed and an inflation pump is placed in the hole left by the removed valve and air is pushed through the open chamber to completely dry the interior of the tube. Time to dry the tube will vary depending on how much moisture was found inside. Sometimes an hour or more of drying is necessary. When the tube is dry inside, the valve is replaced. When all tubes are found to be dry, the top of the raft is lightly coated with baby powder before it is deflated on top of the other rafts. Baby powder between stacked rafts ensures that the hypalon is dry and will not stick to other hypalon surfaces it is touching.
Rafts that need repairs or patching are brought inside and prepared for the necessary work. Patching is an extensive and tedious process done by trained members of the staff using specific techniques with glues, solvents and ventilation equipment. Patching at the end of the season usually involves minor issues, d-rings and cosmetic items. Rips and tears are rare with hypalon rafts, but when they occur during the season, they are patched immediately.
As raft repairs are completed over the next several days, the rafts that have been repaired are also added to the stack of flat rafts. Each compartment is sucked dry, checked for moisture and gets a baby powder layer.
The final stack of roughly 25-30 Crab Apple Whitewater rafts in both the Massachusetts and Maine locations are complete and stored for the off-season by late October. A detailed history for each raft is updated and filed. When the season opens again in April, the rafts will be 100% ready to go and in great shape to start the new season.
Frank Mooney, Crab Apple Whitewater Ownership Family/Deerfield River Manager
Deerfield River Raft Guide Since 1990
Registered Maine Whitewater Guide since 1991