How to keep your kayak from sinking using a burrito and band-aids

No duct tape for me, although I was wishing for some at first. I’m glad now that I didn’t have any. It forced me to become so creative that my girlfriend accused me of going “all MacGyver” when I told her about my morning adventure of “the sinking kayak.” Umm-hmmm. That’s right, a sinking kayak, but luckily not sunken.

I noticed my peril just in time to paddle furiously and sprint the last few hundred yards to shore. And not the shore I started from. To get back to my truck and where I started I would have to cross a mile and a half of open water, with no chance of land fall anywhere in between… A sink or swim situation to get home, if I couldn’t figure out how to do a some sort of fix on my kayak. (Oh, and did I mention that it was so early in the morning that it wasn’t even all the way light out yet?)

Here is the hole that I found in the stern of my boat, just under the rudder... at what is one of the lowest points in the boat, and only reachable from the outside...

While draining many, many gallons of water from my kayak, I did a quick mental inventory of everything I had in my kayak with me, trying to think of a way to keep myself afloat long enough to get me home.

  • Two layers of clothes (no worries about freezing if I was to be stranded for days)
  • Expensive camera equipment (useful for documenting the dilemma not resolving it)
  • Burrito (at least I wouldn’t starve)
  • Metal water bottle full of water (I didn’t need more water in the kayak)
  • First aid kit
  • Spare paddle
  • Towel
  • Tools (Ummm… left them in my other jacket?)
  • Patch kit (Do they sell those for my types of kayak?)
  • Plugs (Been on my “to buy” list for a couple of years now)

Unless I could devise something from what I had, my plans for the day were shot (plans like surviving). You know, this  really is starting to sound kind of like MacGyver.(Perhaps I too could have been an eighties icon… MacLeeds or MacGalen… Sounds so Scottish… Maybe a Sean Connery accent?) I thought in circles for a while before I came up with the aluminum foil wrapping from the burrito and some fancy band-aids that I always carry in my first aid kit as the perfect method for repair. No tools required other than imagination.

You can see the shore stretching off from my impromptu repair shop. Lots of grey foggy water, and it was finally getting lighter out

I bunched up some of the foil to make a pointed plug that I could stick into the hole, nearly the same diameter as the nearly dime size gaping wound in my kayak (I put my finger in the photograph to give it a little scale, and then thought since I was using my finger for scale I might as well point at whatever part of the repair job I was working on). I pushed the foil in tightly, letting the gash compress it as I pushed it in. I made sure to keep some of the foil on the outside however, because this is the key to the (w)hole repair right here- I flattened out the extra foil on the outside of the kayak, molding it to a small area a little larger than the damaged area itself.

The foil is smushed against the kayak, molded to an area a little larger than the hole (notice the finger for ongoing scale comparisons?)

I thought of it like this. The water wanted to get into the boat. If I made something that was in the water’s way (like a piece of smushed foil) the water couldn’t get in. In fact, the more the water would push against the foil, the more firmly it would push the foil into place, increasing the seal, and making it harder for the water to actually get in. The bandaids? I’m not even sure that they were really necessary, but I figured they were just a little extra insurance against the foil plug somehow popping out or from getting scraped off by rocks or sand (which is how I think the hole came to be in the first place… being dragged on rocks and sand as I pull the kayak on and off of the beach). That and they were really good, fancy second skin style bandaids, which are rubbery and can kind of seal water out on their own (hydrocoloid bandaids for burns). So, taking some of the sterile cotton gauze from my first aid kit, I made sure the foil and the kayak were dry enough for the band aids.

First I placed one bandaid on, but it barely covered

So I added a couple more to make sure it was well sealed and protected

I wouldn’t have trusted the bandaids on their own not to have come off or to hold their seal on their own. With the foil on there though, plugging it in a mushroom or rivet style, I suddenly felt very confident in my repair. So I decided to throw caution to the wind, and instead of paddling directly back to my truck (mile and a half over open water remember) I decided to just go on with my morning paddle, and to keep taking pictures.

I put back in the water and paddled away from my car

...and found a beautiful mix of water, fog, and early morning sun...

And it seems like I made the right decision. There is a hatch in my kayak that I can open to peer into the hull, and while there was a tiny bit of water left inside that I hadn’t been able to drain out before my repair, there was no new water. It was the most water tight my kayak has been for months (I had had just a slight leak before, but nothing to really worry about, a couple of cups of water after an five hour kayak).

See, no more water




It was a beautiful and enjoyable morning after that. I photographed and filmed Willits, Harbor Seals, Cormorants, and so much more, thanks for my emergency kayak repair of aluminum foil and band aids. From now on, a spare piece of foil will live in my kayak, and another in my kayaking bag. It’s magical, and it really saved my bacon this morning and kept it from becoming very soggy bacon.

One of the curious harbor seals that came to investigate my MacGyver-esque repair

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in emergency kayak repair, kayak photography, nature photography, photography, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to How to keep your kayak from sinking using a burrito and band-aids

  1. Chris Knowles says:

    Well done McLeeds!

  2. I have a plastic welder if you need to borrow one

    • Thanks John. I am actually going to use a special epoxy that I have heard great reviews about for repairing kayaks. It’s a flexible marine grade epoxy that is supposed to be super strong. This way I can also build up a little extra protection on the tail of my kayak where I sometimes drag it when pulling out of the water.

  3. This dilemma would have had me in a tizzy and I am trained to think solutions too. I am amazed you remained calm enough to think your way out of the mess. Your seal friend is a lovely capture. I wish I had otters and seals around here. They are such animated and expressive creatures.

    • I am imagine it would have had you in a tizzy and a wee bit flustered, if for no other reason than your feelings for boats and sea sickness. Thankfully I have spent so much time kayaking, and especially on that bay, that I knew that somehow I would be all right. I did have some bad moments though, but it was act or… I’m not sure what. Possibly waiting for hours for a boat fishing boat to come close enough to wave down and ask for a lift. It was a beautiful morning and a grand adventure that gave me great fodder for writing today’s post.

      And any day that I see seals is a great day. Thanks for reading

  4. Cee Neuner says:

    You are a fabulous writer, photographer with a lot of creativity!! I’m s glad you adventure today ended up being a fun adventure!! Great work as always! I’m so glad you could post today!

    • Thanks Cee. I always have ao much fun with these near disasters. They make some of the best stories after all. I was practically bouncing with excitement as I shared this story for the first time today. And then I was relishing it again as I began to type it into my blog. I am very glad I was able to post today too, as there is a slight chance of rain tonight. Camping on the beach is fun…when I am fully prepared for it

  5. Mattie Ivy says:

    Well, MacGyver err… MacLeeds… this particular girl was very happy to see you home safe and sound from adventuring on the bay! Your ingenuity (and the burrito) saved the day.

  6. Funny storytelling and I learned something too. Can’t wait to hear more of your adventures.

  7. Vicki says:

    Great adventure & ingenuity, great photos & story = great guy & memories!

  8. Victor Ho says:

    Great story. Good solution. How did the hole come to be there? Manufacturing? Or user? Nice that you took the time to document the repair. Did the bandaids stick till your were done? Thanks for sharing.

    • The hole came to be there through constant wear- the tail dragging in the sand as I would pull the kayak in and out of the water had worn the material very thin, thin enough that it looked like a point on a rock had punctured it. The band aids worked great, but I think that was largely because of the type of bandaids. The hydrocoloids are made to be stickier and to deal with fluids to some degree. They are actually for burns. In fact, they stuck so well that I actually had some work removing them a few days later.

      Thanks for stopping by

  9. bluebee says:

    Very resourceful :-D Love the seal photo. It’s summer here now so we’ll be getting back in our kayaks to explore again shortly, but after trashing my mobile phone with sea water a couple of years ago, I’m at all not confident about taking any of my cameras along for the ride and I only have a rather bulky underwater housing for one of them

  10. flyinggma says:

    Very creative solution. My husband almost sank our boat yesterday. He thankfully realized half way across our lake that the boat was filling with water because the drain plug had been jarred out of place on the boat lift. No burrito or bandaides available. He just made a quick trip back to shore and counted his blessings that he and our two year old grandson made it back to shore before the boat sunk into the frigid Minnesota waters. He had his cell phone with but a dead battery and not much gas in the tank. Famous last words are usually “We should have enough gas for today, I’ll put some more in tomorrow.”

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