Advice on heavy scratches on Kevlar-Carbon Impex Force 3

Hi all,

New to sea kayaking (former whitewater boater). I just bought a used Kevlar-carbon Impex Force 3 in beautiful condition from a guy who said he only used it once and is selling because it is too much boat for him. I used it just once for a very short kayak-climbing trip. We took the kayaks out on the only accessible spot which was very rocky - and the result was very heavy white scratches all over the previously pristine hull (shows the beautiful weave pattern of the composite material). Does this mean that (aside from my poor boat management skills) my boat was never gel-coated? How do I fix and prevent these scratches, or do I accept that since I intend to use this for similar rock-infested adventures, I just have to live with a well-scarred boat? Is this just a cosmetic issue, or do I need to fix these as they occur for any structural reasons?

Thanks all,

A Newby

You don’t have a typical protective gel coat layer. You have some clear coat covering your composite layers. Gel coat is a great protective layer for the composite structural layers. But for light weight and looks, a maker can just apply a clear coat.
It seems like the most durable composite boats for rock impacts are not the finely constructed ones that give you the lightest weight and best performance on the water. As an example, I picked up a Mohawk canoe, I think $150.00, a couple years back. You see them around this area quite a bit. I contacted Mohawk just asking about the canoe. Here’s the response: “Our records say its a Blazer16 made in 2000. It looks in pretty good shape. Mohawk composite boats were generally made and sold to a lower price point than most other manufacturers of the time, it probably sold new for 3-4 hundred bucks.” The durability speaks for itself. There’s a lot of them around. They’re heavy. They were not made with the finest techniques and materials.
Switch over to something like a super light carbon surfski. I’ve seen one, just under its very own light weight with no paddler in it, have a small shoreline wavelet just tink it into a corner point of a rock, and it cracked a hole right through.
These are just anecdotes I’m using to make a broad generalization. The most expensive, stiff, lightweight composites are all about on-water performance. If you care about that performance on the water, you’re typically willing to take the necessary care around and off the water that enables you to take advantage of what they offer. You can have a more durable layup and actually require less care, use a less labor intensive process. You can use cheaper composite material, cheaper resin, and much less care and precision with putting it all together, and end up with a heavier but more durable hull. All hulls are very labor intensive, so when you use processes where you can be less precise and quicker, you can make things cheaper - like this Mohawk canoe. You can make things lightweight and still very strong, but it takes much more care.
What you have should be much more durable than an ultralight surfski. Even so, you will likely need to be careful around rocks. A hull on the water distributes the weight of you and your supplies fairly evenly across the entire portion of the hull under the waterline. Plenty strong. Now you take all the weight, and support it on a sliver of the hull against the edge of a rock, and even more, you put everything in motion and then impact all that weight on a sliver of the hull against a corner of a rock, and you’re asking a lot.
If you clean up the scratches and you see the composite material uncovered and the resin crushed away so that you’re just left with exposed carbon and kevlar material, you have done some damage. It’s the combination of the material and the hardened resin that provide structure. If there is no softness there, it could just be surface damage. You could prep try to get a thin coat of resin back into the exposed material, and then apply clearcoat over everything, and it should all look nice again and have that protection. Or you might decide that your use for the boat will involve lots of rock contact, decide to take what care makes sense to you, and use it and see how it holds up for you. No sense in worrying about it looking nice in this scenario. And preparing to and then applying resin and clearcoat is a time consuming process, so you’d use up all your fun time messing with boat maintenance that way. So you just use it as long as it’s usable and tell the tale of how it held up. But durability is not the paramount consideration in a clear coat carbon kevlar hull. Light weight, stiffness, and on-water performance are given the nod in that type of layup at the expense of some durability. Is it durable enough for you? You can put it to the test.

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Thank you CapeFear, that was very helpful information. Much appreciated!

The damage appears to be superficial, there is no exposure of the underlying fibers. Though I don’t plan to spend much of my time babying scratches, I do anticipate having to do some repairs over the coming years. I aspire to being careful with my gear - but the reality is I am rough on my toys… Where would I find the resin and clearcoat materials you mentioned? Do I have to match the resin and clear coat that the manufacturer applied - or are these materials agnostic and interchangeable?

Also, if these scratches are superficial and I were to do just the clear coat, do I have to prep the surface, or do I just paint the clear coat over the scratches (as you suggest, and per my own inclinations, that may not be the best use of my time).

Thanks again!

Be Newby

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Wow, CapeFear’s response is so good I don’t really have anything to add. I’ll just say that I’ve paddled an Impex F3 in kevlar and it’s a fantastic boat. You might find it worth hopping out while the boat is still fully floating and then carrying it ashore. It’ll definitely be worth getting your pants wet to extend your time with that boat, and it’s so light it shouldn’t be too much of a hardship to carry it.

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Gelcoat can be black, white, or clear, in addition to gelcoats that are a neutral color to be used with color additives to create almost any color that you want. Even metal flake. The terms clear coat and clear gelcoat are often used interchangeably, but clear gelcoat is usually more abraison and UV resistant as well as a bit heavier per ounce and a bit thicker when applied.

Unfortunately composite boats are often not the best choice for rocky rivers and coastlines. Here is where rotomolded boats reign supreme, although they are a lot heavier.

For composite boats carbon/Kevlar is the best option for being both lightweight and durable, although expensive. You are extremely unlikely to put a hole in a carbon/Kevlar hull, in spite of extensive damage to the gelcoat and epoxy. The boat will generally remain seaworthy enough to get you home. Repair is generally the same as for fiberglass, and often small repairs are made with fiberglass as Kevlar is very difficult to cut.

Pure carbon fiber boats are very fragile and generally used exclusively for racing and competitive activities. They are more fragile than fiberglass and the hulls are easily broken on impact. Likely due to their very high cost and fragility, I have never seen a pure carbon fiber boat in person.

As far as cosmetic scratches, my attitude is that it’s just a boat, not a fine piece of furniture.

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Scratches on your boat? Experienced paddlers consider scratches badges of honor; they show we’re “canoeists” not “canoers”. Honestly, you won’t develop skills for paddling difficult water without scratching your boat. Best plan is to just leave them alone. Repair (resin) them, and you’ll just add weight. However, if you apply 303 Aerospace Protectant, those scratches will largely (well, somewhat) go away.

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