Cottage Q&A: Patching a torn inflatable

A man floating in the lake on a black inflatable tube By Annette Shaff/Shutterstock

How do I patch a torn inflatable? We have a large vinyl one with a tear about 1-2 inches long, in a seam. I would love ideas for patching this. I have researched quite a bit, but I still don’t know the best solution.—Barbara Peel, via email

That’s because there really isn’t one. A tear along a seam is not the same as a hole or tear elsewhere on the inflatable; we’re talking a wound that needs surgical sutures vs. a cut on your finger. “And two inches is a pretty significant tear,” says Donna Rork, the owner of Cottage Toys. As you may have already discovered, “a regular patch kit, like the one that usually comes with a new inflatable, doesn’t work on seams. It won’t reliably hold the two edges together.”

The seams of inflatables are typically welded to each other in what’s called a “butt seam,” says Jamie Small of CO2 Inflatables in Oakville, Ont. (Inflatable boats, on the other hand, usually have “overlap” seams. Overlapping the material makes the seam more repairable, and stronger to begin with.) Unfortunately, “like most items in today’s society, inflatables are disposable,” says Small.

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We understand why you don’t want your water toy to end up in a landfill without at least trying to salvage it, especially if it’s a multi-person towable that cost $800. To DIY it, Sarah Millar, the owner of All Sewing Customs, suggests a heavy-duty vinyl adhesive such as HH-66 Vinyl Cement. You could attempt to pinch the seam together, let the adhesive dry, then put a patch overtop. Or, she says, a tape such as Fix My Tear, often used for bounce houses and inflatable water slides, might work. But ultimately, “you’re trying to sew without sewing,” says Millar. “It’s finicky. It takes patience. It might involve swearing.” And there’s a strong chance it won’t hold. 

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Alternatively, you could take the floaty to a repair expert, who will have access to better materials and welding or heat application methods. If the seam holds for another two summers? Worth it. But your inflatable will always be weaker at that seam, and an honest person wouldn’t give you any guarantees.

“We could likely get it to hold air, but how long it would last is a guess,” says Small. “Which is why we don’t do them.”

If this water toy is old, it could be time to say goodbye. If it’s new, check your warranty, says Donna Rork. It might still be covered.

This article was originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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