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How To Paint A Kayak

Mark Armstrong
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Painting a kayak can be a fun DIY project and a relatively inexpensive way of improving the aesthetics, especially if your kayak’s showing some wear and tear.

So should you paint a kayak yourself? We have put together this step by step guide to show you how to paint a kayak so you can bring some life back to your boat with a fresh coat of paint.

Why Paint A Kayak?

Painting a kayak can make you feel like you’ve got a shiny new boat with no wear and tear. Sometimes, out on the water, we accidentally hit rocks and other things that can scratch the kayak’s surface. 

Dragging a yak along the ground can also cause some significant aesthetic problems. And sometimes you’ll find extreme weather conditions and the sun will fade your kayak’s original colors, so a paint job can be a good way of injecting a little life back into your craft.

If you’re looking to use your craft for fishing, giving it a camouflage paint job can be a good idea. Painting a yak with a camouflage print is popular with people who want to create an inexpensive fishing yak by using a recreational yak and kitting it out to suit their sport with a fresh coat of paint.

With inexpensive recreational kayaks frequently available in very bright colors, it can be offputting if you’re trying to hunt or fish, so this can be a reason for people wanting to paint a kayak in more nature-friendly colors.

If you’re painting your craft with a new coat of paint, keep in mind that the paint job may not always last as long as you’d hoped, simply due to wear and tear. So you may find yourself having to repaint your trusty kayak eventually.

Before You Start: Different Ways To Paint A Kayak (and prep work)

Using A Paintbrush

Painting your kayak using a brush can be a time-consuming process, because it takes more skills and your brush just can’t cover the same area with the speed that spraying can.


But with kayaks being pretty small, this may not be an issue. On the other hand, you might find you have more control to paint a kayak with a brush compared to spray paint.

However, if you’re looking to add more of an intricate design to your paint job, brushing might be better for your painting project, especially if you want to show off your artistic flair in your coats of paint.

Paint Spraying

Spray painting can be a lot easier than using a brush, as a larger area is covered at one time, giving you a more even coat of paint, without any brush lines.

However, the downsides to spraying can be that you will use up a lot more paint in comparison with brushing, as a lot of the can’s contents can end up in the air, known as overspray.

Spray paint can also be a rather messy paint job. So you will need to make sure you are in a large enough area, away from other objects, and have covered all the zones that you don’t want to be covered in paint, including yourself. 

An another important thing before you paint a kayak is to make sure you’re in a well ventilated area, as spray paints can cause a lot of paint fumes as the particles go airborne.

It can stick to both the material you want to paint and everything else in its path.

You may also still require several coats of paint.

Oil-Based Vs. Water-Based Paint

Water-based paint can be a better option to use for a paint job on a kayak compared to oil-based paint. This is because oil-based paint can be less durable under outdoor conditions. This type of paint can often crack in extreme weather conditions and is susceptible to UV damage.

You may need to add paint thinner to use oil-based paints as spray paint, and to clean up after paint spills.

Water-based paint tends to be more flexible, retains its sheen, and can withstand exterior applications better, with UV resistance. Marine grade paint will often be water based paint.

What Types Of Paint To Use

When it comes to choosing your paint, you should make sure that it’s water-resistant, suitable for plastics, and exterior applications, as you might find that standard paints won’t stick to plastic which can ruin your paint job.

A marine grade paint can be suitable for some kayaks but can often be more expensive than regular paints. You may also find some specific kayak paints that can be the right paint for certain kayaks.

You will probably find that at least two coats of paint will be required, even if it’s marine grade.

You can always finish with a coat of a clear paint, such as Krylon 1311, to give it a third and final coat to help protect the color and your hard work.

You can paint a wooden kayak, polyethylene or fiberglass kayaks, as long as you choose the right paint that’s suitable for the type of craft you have.

Don’t Forget About Preparation!

To prepare your vessel for a paint job, you will first need to sand it down with fine grit sandpaper. Sandpaper varies in grit levels for different uses. Fine grit sandpaper between 100 and 220 can be a good choice for a kayak.

How To Paint A Kayak – DIY Guide

For a successful paint job, here’s a kayak painting supplies list of things you might need before applying two coats of your favorite color(s):

  • Marine-safe or marine grade spray paint for plastics
  • Sandpaper
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Water
  • A clean cloth
  • Acetone
  • Marine Wax/Clear Coat Finishing Spray Paint
  • Painting Mask

Step 1: Strip Back Your Yak

Firstly, remove all parts of the kayak that you don’t want to paint, such as your seat (if it’s removable) and any accessories or foot braces, including any screws, rod holders and hardware.

You don’t want to paint anything other than the base shell. 

Begin your kayak paint job in a large, open area; somewhere with good ventilation. You only have one set of lungs!

Be careful of your surrounding environment. This is particularly the case with a spray paint job. A little wind and you could end up painting everything in the area. Including your neighbor’s possessions. A reasonably sized tarp may not be sufficient.

Step 2: Give It A Good Clean & Sand Down

Next, wash your craft with dishwashing soap, a clean cloth and warm water to make sure it’s clean and free of any dirt or residue, then leave it to dry completely. You don’t want to use abrasive soap.

Now that your yak is completely dry, grab your fine grit sandpaper and give your kayak a sand down to smooth out the entire surface.

This will provide a better surface for paint to stick to, as it creates a rougher surface for a stronger bond, and is often a step used when refurbishing kayaks.

Step 3: Wipe It Clean

This is where the acetone will be useful; apply some to a cloth so that it’s damp. Then wipe over your entire kayak and wait for it to completely dry.  You might want to use disposable protective gloves and a reasonably sized tarp for this.

This will help to remove any oils on the hull’s surface that may prevent the paint from sticking, ruining your paint job.

Step 4: It’s Time To Start Painting!

You can finally begin your marine grade paint job using the rest of the items from the kayak painting supplies list.

Make sure you put your mask on for the painting process!

Spray paint evenly over the entire kayak and continue until you reach the shade that you’re looking for. 

You might find you need to give your kayak at least two coats before you hit the exact color you want. Let the base coat paint cure and dry completely before you give your kayak a second coat or any more fresh coats.

If you’re looking to add a custom paint design, you can use a brush after you’ve reached your main base color (and let the paint cure) to add your personal touches. Stencils can work too.

If you’re looking to add a camouflage design, using a sponge dipped in a different shade of paint from your base color spray paint will let you add a simple camouflage print for a custom paint job.

Video: Spraying A Kayak (please wear a mask for this!)

Step 5: Give It A Clear Coat

As an optional step in the painting process, you may want to give your kayak a clear coat of finishing spray paint or UV protectant spray over your painted surface.

This will give it that extra layer over the entire surface to protect your new paint job from being scratched easily, as well as extra UV resistance.

However, you can choose not to use finishing paint.

Step 6: Re-Rig Your Yak

Once the paint is completely dry you can start putting everything that you took out back onto your yak. This means you can put all your mounted accessories and screws back in, as well as your seat.

Step 7: Wash And Wax

Use some more of the dishwasher soap and water on your kayak to wipe it clean, so it’s completely clean. To give it a finishing off, you can use marine wax once your craft is dry.

A clear coating of marine wax will give the finishing paint and your trusty kayak that added protection against damage and a sleek finish like a new kayak.

Bonus: How To Stick A Decal On Your Kayak

A decal is basically a sticker that you can attach to a hardened surface, such as glass, plastic or metal. But unlike a traditional sticker, a decal is usually more flexible and can be easily removed and reused elsewhere.

Getting a decal onto any surface can be a tricky business. Bubbles can form between the decal and the kayak’s surface. Not only will this not look very good but it also means that there is air stuck in there, which will affect the bond between the decal and the surface it’s stuck to.

Having air bubbles between your decal and your kayak might mean that your funky new decal won’t last very long, as only part of it is attached.

Have you given your kayak a name? Decals can be a great way of showing off your “baby’s” name 🙂

Step 1: Sand The Area

Grab a sheet of sandpaper and gently sand down the area where you want to stick the decal, as you did before the paint job. This creates a rougher surface for the decal to stick to. 

Step 2: Clean Your Yak

Just like you would do with a spray paint job, it’s a good idea to put some acetone or alcohol onto a cloth and wipe over the area that you sanded in preparation for the decal to remove residue.

This will make sure that the area is clean and free of any debris or dirt that might affect the decal sticking properly.

Step 3: Heat It

You can use a hair dryer for this, and simply warm up the area where you plan to attach the decal. If it’s the height of summer, you probably won’t need to do this. But the heating allows the decal to stick better, especially in a cold winter.

Step 4: Dampen It

While your yak is warm, spray it with water in a spray bottle. The kayak shouldn’t be soaking or have water dripping down the sides as this will extend the water evaporating; it should just be damp. If you don’t have a spray bottle, a damp cloth will do fine.

Step 5: Attach The Decal

Carefully attach the decal in the position you want and press down gently in the center portions of the decal, easing out to the edges to limit the amount of air bubbles from being trapped inside.

Use a squeegee, or other similar flat edged item, to flatten the entire decal so that every part of it is flush against the side of your kayak. Do this from the center, moving outwards.

Step 6: Remove The Backing

Now that your decal is in the position you want, with all the bubbles removed, you can slowly and gently remove the decal’s backing. It should peel back quite easily but be careful not to pull away the main decal. 

Once the backing is off, you’re basically ready to get out there and have some fun!

Video: Sticking A Decal On A Kayak Paddle

> How to repair oil canning


After reading this step by step guide you should now know how to paint a kayak and add a decal, so now you can personalize your boat to suit both your style and your sport with a fun DIY project. 

Giving your vessel a personal touch with a new paint job can add even more fun to your paddling experience and make you stand out on the water, unless of course you’re planning on giving your craft a camouflage makeover.

Just remember to have everything you’ll need for the DIY paint job and keep your handy guide sheet close to hand (and a few pairs of hands if you need help).

We hope you enjoyed our step by step tutorial and if you have any questions or comments, just let us know. And if you think your fellow paddlers could benefit from this guide, feel free to share!

How To Paint A Kayak - and decals sticking - Pinterest ImagePin

29 thoughts on “How To Paint A Kayak”

  1. Amazing! Astounding!!

    So many words, so much talk, so much blah blah blah
    for almost no information!

    This is the 21st century “guru”!?!??

    And the poor guy doesn’t even know it!!

    THIS is what gluts up the internet!!

  2. Found the info great. Bought a used polyurethane kayak as a gift for my delightful husband. He would hate all the garish colours out there and now he can paint it himself.
    Thanks for the info kayak guru.

    • Hi Claire,

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, the beauty is you can paint your kayak or canoe exactly how you like. Enjoy!

  3. You’ve mentioned sanding several times- anencephaly never mentioned a grit spec.

    Also- you said we should sand and prep for a decal but the video did not. Discrepancy?

    Are you sure we should sand?

    • Hi,

      Thanks for asking.

      Definitely sand before painting (100-220 grit, maybe even 80). You don’t have to go crazy with this. Just enough to provide a “key” for the new paint.

      Very lightly sanding (with fine paper) before applying decals doesn’t do any harm, but probably isn’t essential. Of course, make sure you only sand the exact area the decal will be applied, to avoid potentially ruining the beautiful paintwork that will still be exposed around it.

      • Actually you should read again, he mentioned the sand paper grit in the beginning. Your information was awesome very helpful thanks so much. haters are going to hate.

        Thanks Again
        Tami Setterlund

  4. I’m just about to start freshening up two composite kayaks and found this very helpful, particularly in confirming what I already thought I had to do.
    Thank you

  5. Thanks for posting this great article on the how to paint your kayak . great info and step by step just what I needed. Now I feel confident to start painting my yak . thanks

  6. Sir,
    Your explanations are great.
    Where do I get the Krylon water resistant paint that will adhere to HDPE plastic ???
    The minimum wage employees at paint stores do not have a clue.

    • Hi Jim. Thanks for dropping by!

      If your local stores don;t have it, you can always order online. Amazon stocks it.

  7. Hi there,
    The info you have just provided is completely sound and extremely practical, to one, follow and two, to actually do alone by yourself, all safeties applied of course. Unlike many painting tutorials I have sadly recently encountered.
    I do however, sadly have to disagree with the grade choice and use of sand paper though, calling out at 100 or even as low as 80 Grit. This would be in my opinion too much for the yak’s carcas to tolerate being so thin as it already is and it would obviously then leave nasty scars that would not go away regardless of how many layers of undercoat/paint used to fill. I personally speaking as a polycarbonate/fibreglass designer, engineer and fabricator and now because of the modern technologies about into all forms of different types of cold modular plastics and other similar mediums especially since the new plastics and Poly carbonate types are now gradually showing themselves all the more frequently. I would as a tip never meaning to order anyone to do something they did not wish to do, I’d never use anything less that perhaps a 120-150 grit wet and dry never just sandpaper always wet and dry keeping it always wet with an orbital sander or by using circles with your hands whilst sanding never just back and forth always in circles some small/tiny by the edges and larger when no borders or obstacles in the way always at the same pressure also stopping every so often to check your advancing progress stopping when you feel you have done enough and having retained plenty of plastic between the inside and outside skins on your yak. the sanding laborious as it is I know this only too well but however, it does I know take a touch longer, but is well worth the effort and wait looking at your crisp new paint job. I hope this helps in some way those who are stuck or not sure or even not knowing what to do or how to go about it. I do not mean to offend just educate those not in the knowledge. God bless.

  8. I am surprized that you do not discuss what kind of paint is needed. This is a CRUCIAL issue, because wrong paint (which is most paints) will make the kayak look miserable later. The kayak may look good first. Suitable paint depends on the kayak’s material.
    You should not be giving these advises if you do not know what you are doing!

  9. Thank you for this helpful info. I saw the video about attaching a decal to a paddle. Can I attach a decal to the high density polyethylene kayak? Also, is there a source for custom made, marine grade decals with my own artwork? Thank you!


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