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How to Paint a Kayak? Step by Step Instructions & Supply List

Perhaps it’s never occurred to you before but you can actually paint your kayak. Paddlers paint their yaks for different reasons and if you are considering giving your vessel a fresh coat of paint, I’m here to help you. Painting a kayak is more than just buying any paint you come across at the store and just applying it all over your yak.

If you are a DIY person or just love to work with your hands, you are bound to have a lot of fun painting your kayak. Continue reading this article as I take you through the step-by-step process of painting your kayak.

Why Would You Paint Your Kayak?

What’s your reason for wanting to paint your kayak? For most people, it’s all about aesthetics. The former paint could have worn off or the paddler decides the color isn’t as pleasing as it used to be. And the shiny color the kayak radiates at the end of the painting process makes the effort put into the process worth it.

Painting your kayak can also boost its resale value if you ever decide to resell as it gives the impression of a vessel that’s well taken care of.

Perhaps your reason for wanting to paint your kayak is to ‘mask’ cracks that have disfigured to vessel. Cracks can occur due to several reasons such as knocking objects against your kayak or dragging it along the ground. And if you want to get rid of any crack, you’ll have to paint your kayak.

I’ve seen paddlers that paint their kayaks to make them blend in on fishing trips. These paddlers use camouflage paints on their vessels and it seems to be working well for them.

At the end of the day, paints do more than just beautify your kayak as they protect the body of your kayak from corrosion thereby preventing structural damage. So, it’s always a good idea to paint a kayak if the current color has worn off.

Can You Actually Paint a Kayak?

The answer to the above question is yes otherwise there’s no point in me writing this article. You can paint most kayaks regardless of the materials they are made of – wood, polyethylene plastic, fiberglass.

The key to successfully painting a kayak is to choose the appropriate paint. If you use the wrong paint, all your effort will be in vain as the paint will peel in no time leaving you with a messy kayak.


What Type of Paint Should You Use?

I said earlier that it’s important to choose the appropriate paint for your kayak and I’m sure you must have wondered how to choose the right paint. The type of paint you choose depends on the material of your kayak. Some paints are better suited for one surface or material than the other.

Choosing the right paint ensures that the paint adheres to the surface of your vessel. Since kayaking is a water sport, the paint will also have to be water-resistant. Any brand of paint that meets these two criteria – water-resistant and adheres to kayak surface – can be used on your kayak. It’s recommended you also buy a paint finish to protect the color of your paint.

Oil-Based Vs. Water-Based Paint

When it comes to paint selection, you have a choice to make between oil-based and water-based paint. I’ll be comparing the characteristics of oil-based and water-based paint below:

Oil-based paints typically achieve a higher sheen level than water-based paint. However, the sheen of oil-based paint becomes duller over time. On the other hand, water-based paint achieves a lower sheen level but maintain this level for longer.

Oil-based paints dry harder than water-based paints which makes them more durable due to increased resistance to wear and tear. However, this attribute also becomes a disadvantage as the rigidity of oil-based paints makes them highly susceptible to cracking, becoming brittle, or chalky over time. Oil-based paints are more flexible and are better able to resist cracking.

Water-based paints perform excellently on exterior applications mainly due to their increased resistance to UV rays. This is why water-based paints can retain their color and sheen levels for longer. Oil-based paints, on the other hand, aren’t as resistant to UV rays as their water-based counterparts.

Winner: Oil-based paint. It’s obvious the choice of paint for your kayak should be a water-based one due to the reasons I’ve mentioned above. If you are still a doubting Thomas, feel free to do some more research.

Do You Need Marine-Grade Paint?

Marine-grade paint is special paint designed for watercrafts and as a result, boasts superior performance and protection compared to normal paint. But there’s a catch to marine-grade paint. And it’s that they are expensive.

So, if you have the budget or have a high-end kayak, you should consider buying marine-grade paint as they are super durable, produce a glossy finish, and are even easier to apply. What’s not to like about marine-grade paint? Maybe the price, haha.

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Using a Paint Brush vs. Paint Spray

When it comes to the method of applying paint to your kayak, you have the option of using a paintbrush or a paint spray. Paint sprays have the advantage of being very fast. You can cover large surfaces with a paint spray in no time. Also, it’s easier to get into difficult places when using a spray.

The good ol’ paintbrush requires you have some skill or experience for a consistent finish. While using a brush is more tedious and time-consuming, there is the benefit of having complete control over the painting process which can come in handy when you are adding designs to your kayak.

In the end, the one you go for will depend on your preference. There’s no right or wrong method of applying paint to your kayak.

What Will You Need?

Let’s get down to business. You are definitely going to need a few things when painting your kayak and it’s best you have everything ready before you start the painting process. Except you want to be searching or shouting for some acetone, a clean cloth, or any other materials in the middle of a paint job, below is the list of supplies you should have:

  • Paint, obviously.
  • Paint brushes and foam paint rollers. You can use spray guns if you like.
  • Sandpaper.
  • Acetone.
  • Source of water and water hose.
  • Dishwashing liquid or boat-wash
  • Painting mask, especially if you are using a spray gun to prevent the inhalation of the fumes.
  • A pair of protective gloves
  • Clean cloths and rags
  • Marine wax (or clear finishing spray paint)

painting a kayak

How to Paint a Kayak?

Preparation Work:

The first approach to painting your kayak involves preparing the kayak itself and the space you’ll be using for the painting job. Your painting space should be well-ventilated and free from dust and debris.

A well-ventilated space is even more important when you are using a paint spray. If you are in an enclosed area, open all the windows and put on a ventilation fan if there are any. You should also lay a reasonably sized tarp on the floor of the space.

To prepare your kayak for a paint job, you have to remove or strip your kayak down. Anything you don’t intend to paint such as the seat, foot braces, mounting hardware, rod holders, and so on should be removed.

Some accessories may not be removable. For example, such kayaks come with non-removable seats. You can put an old newspaper over such accessories to protect them from getting stained.

Step 1: Clean and Sand Your Kayak

Surfaces to be painted should be clean and free from debris and this necessitates the need to clean your kayak. A mixture of water and detergent or dishwasher liquid will do the job and help you remove dust, dirt, and other stuff that can affect the painting process or result.

Wait for the kayak to dry. After it is completely dry, it’s time for the sanding operation. Using sandpaper, smooth out all the surfaces of the kayak. Doing this makes the paint adhere better to the surface of the vessel.

Step 2: Clean the Kayak…Again

After using sandpaper on your kayak, there’s a need to clean your kayak again to remove the particles on the surface. This time, you’ll be using acetone to wipe the surface of your kayak. Put some acetone on a clean cloth and use it to wipe down all surfaces that you sanded.

Step 3: Paint Away

It’s time to get the party started and apply paint to your kayak. If you are using spray paint, you have to put on a painting mask in addition to wearing gloves to prevent the inhalation of the paint fumes. Apply the paint in layers. Chances are that you’ll need two coats of paint to achieve the desired texture.

If you are using a paintbrush, you’ll also likely need two layers of paint and your painting process will take longer compared to using a spray. Any design to be added needs to be done using a brush.

Step 4: Use a Painting Finish

You can decide whether to add a layer of finishing paint or not. It’s up to you. However, there are benefits to applying a painting finish as it forms a layer that protects your kayak against scratches and harsh weather conditions. Only apply a painting finish after the initial paint has competed dried.

Step 5: Re-rig Your Kayak

After the paint is completely dry, the next thing to do is to return all the accessories you had removed. The kayak seat, rod holders, foot braces, mounting accessories, and so on should be put back in the kayak. You should also remove any newspaper used to protect an item from getting stained with paint.

Step 6: Wash and Wax

Your kayak needs a final wipe down. All you need is a mixture of water and detergent or dishwashing liquid. Use this mixture to wash the kayak and make it completely clean.

After the kayak is dry, you can now finish the entire process by waxing your watercraft using a marine wax which will provide additional protection to your vessel against scratches and other damage.

Final Thoughts

Painting can do wonders for your kayak and make it look brand new or aesthetically pleasing. And the good news is that it isn’t difficult to paint a kayak especially if you have some DIY experience.

Even if you’ve never painted anything before, you can still do a decent job of painting your kayak as long as you follow these steps to the letter. You’ll also need to watch videos of kayaks being painted to see how things are actually done and gain the necessary confidence to apply some paint on your vessel.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the comment section.

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