Home Port Making a Berth for Your Boat
By Tamia Nelson
April 13, 2004
Are you the proud owner of a new boat?
Congratulations! Any day you bring home a new canoe or kayak is a
red-letter day. But where will your boat live between adventures? You can't
store it on your car's roof rack, after all, and not every berth is a safe
If you haven't given this much thought, you're not alone many
paddlers don't. They prop their boats against the side of the garage or
slide them under the lilacs in a corner of the yard, and then they hope for
the best. That's what I did with my first
canoe. Luckily, I learned better before it was too late.
A friend put me wise. One look was all Jack needed to begin ticking off
the shortcomings of my boat's garage-side berth. My boat was visible from
the road, a much-traveled state highway. The only thing missing was a sign
on it saying "Free Canoe!" Before long, Jack predicted, the boat would be
missing, too. Nor was that all. After every summer shower, runoff from the
roof soaked the canoe's ash rails, thwarts, and seats. The boat rested on
the ground. Weeds grew up around it, trapping moisture for days. Rot was
inevitable, Jack warned me. But the weeds didn't grow high enough to give
much shade. The noonday sun beat down remorselessly on my boat's upturned
hull. Jack pointed out that the glossy red finish would soon be a chalky
I didn't intend to let any of these things happen, though. I immediately
set about finding a proper storage place for my beauty. First, I moved the
boat to an old slate patio behind the house, out of sight of the road. A
small grove of young locust trees cast a welcome pool of shadow and acted
as a windbreak. Next, I got the boat up off the ground on two sawhorses,
padding the cross members with carpet remnants to protect the gunwales. A
well-guyed tarp completed the job. It protected the hull from sun and rain,
while the guy lines kept my boat from becoming airborne during summer
thunderstorms. In less than an hour, I was done. And I'd learned a few
valuable pointers in the process.
Canoes and kayaks are like pets if you want them to age
gracefully, they need care and attention. Neglect them, however, and
they'll die young. I wouldn't wish that on a dog, would you? I didn't think
so. OK. Let's take a look at your boat's needs.
First and foremost, keep your boat where it's safe from the ravages of
sun, wind, and rain, and shield it from unwelcome
attention. My grandfather called this "keeping honest men honest." It's
only common sense.
Sun, wind, and rain. They're what makes paddling worthwhile, aren't
they? Yes. A sunny day is a glorious thing, to be sure. But sunlight is as
hard on your boat's skin as it is on your own. After too much time in the
sun, once-resilient plastics become brittle. This is not good. When the
rocks that you once wobbled over start generating ominous cracking noises,
you'll have to retire Old Faithful to Golden Pond. The sun's rays also
weaken nylon painters and grab loops. Polyester
line fares better, but it's best to keep all cordage out of the sun
There's more. While the sun's ultraviolet rays weaken the bonds in your
boat's plastic hull, the sun's heat can actually make its keel droop. Early
polyethylene boats sagged so noticeably that they were christened "spastic
plastic." Newer boats are less vulnerable, but no plastic boat and
remember that a fiberglass boat is a plastic boat is completely
immune. Even aluminum canoes can suffer from too much sun. Over time, the
sun's heat can damage the rubber sealant along a tin tank's keel. The
resulting leak, though seldom catastrophic, is a nuisance that no canoeist
boats, too, should be kept out of the sun when not in use. Hot air
expands, and the increased pressure can strain seams.
And what about rain? Water is a boat's natural home, isn't it? Once
again, yes. But no boat likes being wet all the time. Wet wood trim
will rot, and water can also infiltrate the hulls of fiberglass and
Kevlar® boats, weakening the bonds between layers in the laminate.
Freeze-thaw cycles are particularly damaging. Happily, good air circulation
helps prevent moisture damage. Allow your canoe or kayak to dry completely
after each trip, and store it out of the weather. If you don't have space
in the garage, at least cover your boat with a tarp. This applies to
aluminum canoes, too. While the tin tank may appear invulnerable, it's not.
If an aluminum canoe is stored in the open, water can collect in its seams.
Later, when the water freezes, it pushes the seams apart. Over many years
and many winters, the seams can open. The result? A leak. Keep your tin
tank dry between trips, though, and your knees will stay dry as well.
Is that the whole story? Not quite. Too much of a good thing can
too much. Air circulation is good, but too much air
moving too fast can carry your boat into the next county. Always tie your
canoe or kayak down when storing it outside. Then you'll be sure it
won't get carried away. Don't be fooled. Size is no protection. Though pack
canoes and other lightweights are quickest to get airborne, even freighters
will take flight in a gale. And now that you're thinking about airborne
hazards, look up when you choose your boat's berth. Wind-blown
debris falling limbs, sections of metal roofing, even highway grit
can damage any boat. So can toppling piles of cordwood. Farwell
learned this early in his paddling career.
Wind, rain, sun. They're the Big Three, but not all threats are
inanimate. Insects and wildlife are almost certain to set up house in your
boat if you don't take
steps to discourage them. Preventing rot and touching up the varnish on
wood trim when needed will deter many insect pests, but the sheltered nooks
and crannies in canoes and kayaks look a lot like home to mice, squirrels,
and other small animals. Salt from sea water or sweat can attract
porcupines, too, and few creatures can resist the temptation of a free
lunch. If you'd rather watch wildlife at a distance, therefore, it's best
to remove any leftovers from yesterday's
waterside picnic without delay. In fact, it's a good idea to rinse off
your boat with fresh water after every trip. Allow it to dry thoroughly
before covering it up, however. A
cover will discourage small critters from moving into a stored kayak,
but don't cinch the cover in place until the boat is dry inside and out.
Of course, finding a place to store your boat is only half the battle.
The other half is getting it off the ground.
The best place to berth a boat is on a rack in a large, airy boathouse,
but if you don't happen to have a boathouse handy, don't worry. The
catalogs now offer a wide array of "storage solutions" that permit you to
make the most of the space in your garage or basement or even your
apartment. Farwell and I once used a pack canoe as a coffee table in our
living room. It worked fine. If you're thinking of trying something like
this, however, be sure to measure the available space first. Even a pack
canoe starts looking mighty big when you bring it into a tiny apartment.
Handy paddlers and do-it-yourself types may want to build their own
storage solutions. After all, a boat rack is no more difficult to make than
or a deadman.
If you're in need of ideas to get you started, take a look at the sketch
below. Want more detailed plans? You'll find them in old editions of
Canoeing, by the American National Red Cross. Chances are you have
the materials you need already. The scrap lumber left over from your last
building project, for instance, or the lengths of PVC pipe from the time
when you remodeled the bathroom. Rope and webbing can also be used to
suspend boats from ceiling joists in the garage or basement. Kayaks are
usually stored upright often on shaped cradles while canoes
are typically inverted and placed on their gunwales. These rules aren't
carved in stone, of course, but use your common sense. Never store
any boat upright where it can fill with water. Water is
In a hurry? You can always use sawhorses.