NDK owners – check your backband mounts

Yet another cautionary tale.

My better half bought an NDK Explorer LV a few years ago. She got it from a primo dealer who is known for sending defective boats back to NDK and refusing to sell them, so we knew we were getting a “good” one. The dealer is really great, and I have nothing but high praise for them. He worked with her at the time of purchase, and didn’t let her leave until the boat was outfitted properly for her. He also gave her a loaner for 2 weeks prior to sale, just to be sure it was the boat she wanted. Great guy, and we’d not hesitate to buy another boat from him.

Well, “good” is a relative term, it seems, as far as the boat itself goes. There have been skeg issues, a leaky hatch rim, the deck spider cracked badly at the rear dayhatch bulkhead within a month of purchase, and now the backband issue. And this on a boat that has been babied and not used in what I would call rough water much at all.

Now the boat she bought came custom without the glassed-in factory seat, which was a big plus in our minds, because we have seen many of them fail that were owned by others. The boat has a foam seat glued to the bottom of the hull, and no seat hangers or cheekplates.

We were out paddling at the lake near our house last weekend, and were just getting out to go home, when she tried to exit the kayak, and heard a loud “pop”. She looked back, and the backband mount had pulled clean through the deck, leaving a hole. The mounts were bolted into small holes drilled into the deck next to the cockpit rim. As I recall, it came from the factory that way. It was a stock NDK backband.

I took a better look at it after we got the boats back to the car. The mounting bolt had a tiny head on it, and no backing washer on top of the deck to spread the load. The hole had also not been sealed with epoxy or other sealant, and the glass around the hole felt like it had rotted (I know better than that, but it was all soft and fractured). The hardware that was there was also heavily rusted – definitely not marine-grade stainless.

I checked the mount on the other side, and the bolt head was in a concave depression in the deck – getting ready to fail as well.

So, I now have to re-glass and reinforce both mounting areas with proper glass cloth, re-drill the holes and seal the layup with epoxy after drilling to prevent water intrusion into the layup, and re-mount the backband with marine-grade stainless hardware, which will include washers on the surface of the deck, so that the load is spread better. I’ll also load the whole connection up with Lexel. This is how it should have been done in the first place, IMO.

If you are an NDK owner (Or any other manufacturer for that matter) with a similar backband mounting arrangement, I’d strongly suggest that you check your backband mounts, and make any needed deck reinforcement and modification of the hardware before you also hole your deck for no good reason.

My Explorer LV
Hi Wayne. Just a quick reaction - I’ve had my Explorer LV for a good bit longer with no such problem, but I have the hung carbon seat (like the older Elite layups) so the backband is hung off the cheek plate. Everything has held together fine and I’d wager I got the boat from the same dealer as you did.

I would suggest that you go a different way in repairing the boat. Rather than hanging the back band off the deck, or any direct part of the hull, I’d suggest you put in a carved foam back instead. If the boat has a foam seat in there anyway it seems a better match, and frankly hanging a back band directly off of the deck or hull sounds like a fairly bad idea over time. (especially if she has an Elite layup)

I would do that, but
she wants a backband. I can reinforce the deck so that it’s more than strong enough, and use marine-grade stainless hardware. It’ll be OK. I did the same mount on my BBK Recluse when I put a backband in that (I don’t like foam seatbacks a whole lot, either).

Hers is the standard layup made to the dealer’s specs, not the usual NDK standard, which would be 10-20 pounds heavier and not any stronger. You bought from the same guy - really good dealer.

same here
Still rock solid, just like the fg seat bucket.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump…
…“An NDK boat is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get.”

Take heart in the fact that your repair will probably be higher quality and much stronger than the factory construction. BTW, I suspect that what happened was that the mounting screws were over-tightened, crushing the resin-rich layup, which eventually failed.

but not really funny, if you know what i mean. feel comfortable in the fact that at least the guy who put in those screws can afford to drink heavily at the pub whilst watching the football game before he works at the very easy going kayak factory, and no one rides his ass about trivial details.

not just NDK
while reports of bad workmanship on SKUK (NDK) are more common than from other manufacturers I have repaired several weak decks on a few different brands.

Manufacturers of kayak use the cheap option of chopped strand for the lay-up of decks.

While chopped strand works very well in heavy lay-ups, it is very weak in a thin deck.

I have reinforced ALL of my kayaks, regardless of brand, in the thigh brace area too.

The decks crack too easily when aggressively edging/rolling a kayak.

But what really bothers me is the insanely thin and flexible deck of a highly regarded British boat.

Glitter finish seems to be its selling point but the deck is just too thin.

I have seen several cracked decks, coamings, seats and foot braces in those kayaks.

You want light? it better be a high end lay-up, and chopped strand is not one!

Any woven cloth (even good old plain E-glass) is better than chopped strand when thin.

chopped strand mat
Works ok as an intermediate layer between layers of woven glass, even in thick layups though it’s still crap, has little strength.

NDK’s quality is fair at best and I’ve got one. Gelcoat is grossly too thick and the glass is fairly poor.

I love the design, I’m not in love with the construction.

At some point I’ll build a strip version of this boat (Greenlander) and sell the original.

Bill H.

My take
I am guessing that your request for that custom seat arrangement is not a common request. If they commonly got that request and fulfilled it the same way as they did for you they would already know that their procedure did not work. So the question is, why did they do it that way when even someone like me can see it was bound to fail. And why do you have to make the adjustment rather than them? NDK could have said to you, “we don’t recommend this because it may fail sometime in the future and leave you out there with a hole in your boat. But if you insist …” In which case you would have made a bad decision. Since they didn’t say that (but should have) it is reasonable to assume they did not anticipate the failure and hence took responsibility for it. They should arrange for and pay for fixing it in an acceptable way.

we did not order it that way - it was a custom order by the outfitter for one Explorer LV, and NDK sent them two identical ones with the same features. We bought the second one a year after they got it in stock, so what there was is what we bought.

As to having to repair it, it’s no big deal for me. I used to work for an aerospace composites company, and I can do a better repair job in my sleep than the manufacturer did building the boat. And if you know anything about their reputation for questionable quality control, NDK doesn’t warn you about anything to begin with. And, the boat is out of warranty, so if we made a major case out of it, the dealer would be our only recourse, and he didn’t cause the problem.

The spider cracks on the deck upset her more than the backband mounts pulling through did.

I just posted my original message so that others with similar mounting arrangements could repair their boats before they failed, and avoid the same issue. It’s just another in an ever longer list of design and build quirks for this boat.

NDK doesn’t even use mat…
…they use a chopper gun, which is pretty mind-boggling.

New layups and processes for SKUK/NDK
There is a cohort who love NDK designs but know the need for better build quality working on advanced layups with some folks at RIT. The man from whom you bought the Explorer LV is part of this cohort (as is at least part of the team responsible for Necky’s advanced layups) and had with him at the Downeast Symposium the bow section of an Explorer made with these new materials.

The talk is of a super strong Explorer weighing only 35 pounds fully outfitted. As I recall the problem is the cost. These materials and processes are expensive. Though, unsaid, I guess that getting Nigel to agree to the new process/materials and the change of locale of build, might also be a problem.

Personally I would love a standard hulled Romany with knee bumps that was as light as my Elite one but stronger… I just don’t know if I would or could spend $5000 or more to have it…

This also happened to my Explorer LV

I’m involved in that
We built an Explorer that weighed 37 lbs. and so far seems to be holding up well. A new material that appears to require infusion and post cured epoxy process. Some excellent properties but also some challenges. There are no current plans to build these, as Lendal has taken priority. It was just an experiment for Nigel. A USA team will be developing an Elite paddle for Lendal, but this is all in its infancy. Nigel seems to be progressing with Lendal nicely in the UK but I’d expect a slow methodical approach.

Certainly very light and strong kayaks of any brand are possible at a “cost”. New materials may be compelling, but may also present engineering challenges that need to be overcome. Sometimes the processing of such materials makes them cost prohibitive. I liked a lot about this particular new material and think it may have a future in kayaks. Can’t say anymore right now.

Tell Nigel to get the basics right first

– Last Updated: Nov-10-10 6:32 AM EST –

How about taking some sensible and realistic steps like:

- Using S-glass and vinylester resin, like the rest of the industry, instead of a chopper gun and polyester resin

- Switching to vacuum bagging or resin infusion, like the rest of the industry

- Setting and enforcing some quality standards, like the rest of the industry

Other companies in the UK (and elsewhere) do this and produce boats in the same price range as current NDK products.

While the talk of advanced materials is great, it's unrealistic to expect that to happen unless someone else builds the boats (which is probably the best idea). You can't go from crawling directly to running, you have to learn to walk first. NDK is still on its hands and knees when it comes to boat manufacturing.

The first thing I did with my Romany S
was to cut out the seat and put in a minicell seat,backrest, and bulkhead with foot pads. So far this boat has been great, and I am generally pretty hard on my boats. The inside of my hull looks to laid up with mat and not chop. Is the chop being used between the mat and gelcoat? Bill

Ya know what?
I think everyone who’s been here any length of time knows how you feel about NDK. Your points are well documented and valid to an extent. Yes, the boats are crude by many standards, but as has been pointed out over and over they have served some of the worlds finest expedition paddlers well on maybe more expeditions than any other brand with the possible exception of Valley. So, they’ve gotten the job done.

I’m not going to tell Nigel Dennis what to do. I like the man, respect him, and think he’s a great ambassador to the sport.

Reality check: I’ve seen world class infused lay-ups joined by shitty seams… and many achilles heels on otherwise decent boats. They all have had issues at some point. Look at Necky. They went from decent functional hand lay-ups in BC to Stoddard, to Fast Passage, to Old Town (internal) to Cobra Int. in Thailand. There were issues with all of the above at some levels, Old Town being the most troublesome. Only now has JOI made a “better” than Neckar composite boat after years of fussing about. That says a lot about the Thai build quality and ultimately JOI getting it together with composites. The Old Town boats were some of the worst I’ve ever witnessed, yet they went from terrible to world class in one move.

In the case of the 37 lb. Explorer, it’s a test only boat. There’s much to be learned and evaluated and my guess is if such a boat was ever built in production it would be done here in the USA under contract for Nigel. Don’t read into that folk, as there’s no such plan at this time.

New Pilgrim Expedition
I’ve paddled a Pilgrim Expedition during some trainings with Kayak Waveology, and am seriously wanting to buy one. I’d just read a previous thread on NDK quality, so I closely inspected the boat inside and out and found no evidence of chopped strand or poor workmanship anywhere.

Didn’t P&H make a full carbon pre-preg molded Quest & Bahiya that weighed 35lbs or so and were also pretty tough? Yea they cost $4800 but what the hell if you’re willing to spend the $.

No idea
Graham is a smart guy and they may have. It’s all about cost, and in the days of outsourced asian built boats (some horrific - some world class) it’s about what people will pay. Virtue and Internet philosophizing about Asian outsourcing tend to fade as the wallet gets pulled out…so I’ve discovered.