How To Paint A Kayak

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Have you had enough of the current color of your kayak? Or do you just want to make it look a bit better? Painting your boat can be a relatively inexpensive way of improving its aesthetics, especially if its age is beginning to show.

So should you do it yourself or have someone do it for you? Where do you even start? We have put together this helpful guide to show you how to paint a kayak so you can bring some life back to your boat.

Paint A Kayak? Why?

Painting your kayak can make you feel like you’ve got a shiny new vessel. Sometimes when we’re out on the water, we accidentally hit rocks and other things that can scratch the surface of our boats. 

Dragging a yak along the ground or knocking it against objects during transportation can also cause some significant aesthetic problems. And sometimes you’ll find the sun will fade your yak’s original colors, so painting 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.

 Click here for our guide to fishing kayaks.

With inexpensive recreational kayaks frequently available in very bright colors, it can be offputting to anyone who is trying to hunt or fish, so this can often be a reason for people wanting to paint their kayaks in more nature friendly colors.

If you’re painting your craft, keep in mind that the paint job may not always last as long as you’d hoped, simply due to the wear and tear your yak will see every time you paddle, so you may find yourself having to repaint it at some stage.

Using A Paintbrush

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

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

However, if you’re looking to add more of an intricate design to your yak, brushing might be a better way to go, especially if you want to show off your artistic flair.

Paint Spraying

Spray painting can be a lot easier than using a brush, as a larger area is covered in the paint at the one time, giving you a more even coat and 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.

Spraying can also be rather a messy way to apply paint, 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 is to make sure you’re in a well ventilated area, as spray paints can cause a lot of fumes as the paint particles go airborne.

Don't Forget About Preparation!

In order to prepare your vessel to be painted, you will first need to sand it down with sandpaper. Sandpaper varies in grit levels for different uses. Sandpaper with a grit of between 100 and 220 might be a good choice for a kayak.

When it comes to choosing your paint, you should make sure that it’s water-resistant and suitable for plastics, as you might find that standard paints won’t stick to plastic. You will probably find that giving your yak two coats of paint will be sufficient. 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 wooden, polyethylene and fiberglass kayaks, as long as you choose paint that is suitable for they type of craft you have.

How To Paint A Kayak

First off, here's a list of what you’ll need before you even think about applying your favorite color(s):

  • Marine safe spray paint for plastics
  • Sandpaper
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Water
  • A few clean cloths
  • Acetone
  • Marine Wax/Clear Finishing Spray Paint
  • Painting Mask

Step 1: Strip Back Your Yak

Apologies for the cheesy intro, but yes, you need to strip off....stuff.

The first thing you will need to do is to remove all the parts of the kayak that you don’t want to paint, such as your seat (if it’s removable) and any accessories, including any screws and hardware. You don't want to paint anything other than the base shell, otherwise you're going to end up with a very unattractive floating "thing". That's no good!

Also, make sure you and the kayak are in a large, open area; somewhere with good ventilation. You only have one set of lungs!

Be careful of the environment you're painting in as well. This is particularly the case with spray painting. A little wind and you could end up painting, well, anything in the area. Including your neighbor's possessions. You don't want to fall out with the locals (assuming you already get on with them!) 

Step 2: Give It A Good Clean & Sand Down

The next thing to do is wash your craft with dishwashing soap and water to make sure it’s clean and free of any dirt or residue, then leave it to dry.

Now that your yak is completely dry, grab your sandpaper and sand it down to smooth out all the surfaces of the yak that you intend to paint. This will provide a better surface for paint to stick to.

Step 3: Wipe It Clean

This is where the acetone will come in handy; apply some to a cloth so that it’s damp. Then wipe over your entire kayak. This will help to remove any oils that may prevent the paint from sticking.

Step 4: It's Time To Start Painting!

You can finally get down to business with your marine safe paint. Make sure you put your mask on for any painting!

Spray your 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 it a couple of coats before you hit the exact color you’re hoping for.

If you’re looking to add a design, you can use a brush after you’ve reached your main base color to add your personal touches. Stencils can work too, if you’re not too artistically minded.

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

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

Step 5: Give It A Clear Coat

You may want to give your yak a final coat in a clear finishing spray paint. This will give it that extra layer to protect your new paint job from being scratched easily. However, you can choose not to do this.

Step 6: Re-Rig Your Yak

Once all the paint is dry you can then 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 dishwashing soap and water to give your yak a final wipe down, so it’s completely clean. To give it a finishing off, you can use marine wax once your craft is dry. This will just give the paint that added protection against damage.

Can I Stick A Decal On My Kayak?

Well, first of all...

What Is A Decal?

So you’ve heard the term, but what is it? A decal is basically a sticker that you can attach to surfaces, 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.

How To Stick A Decal On Your Kayak

Getting a decal onto any surface can be a tricky business. Bubbles can form between the decal and the surface of your yak. 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.

Step 1: Sand The Area

Grab a sheet of sandpaper and gently sand down the area where you want to stick the decal. 

Step 2: Clean Your Yak

Just like you would do with a 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. 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; 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 out of the way, you can now 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

After reading this article you should now know how to paint your kayak and add a decal, so now you can personalize your vessel to suit both your style and your sport. 

Giving your vessel a personal touch 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 job and keep your handy guide sheet close to hand.

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!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 30 comments
Oliver McRae

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!!

    Kayak Guru

    Hi Oliver,

    We’re sorry you didn’t get the information you were after. We provided a how-to on painting your kayak and applying decals, and linked off to a video.

    Was there something else you needed to know? Let us know, and we might be able to cover it.


      Bilal serlaman

      you did a fantastic job in explaining. Lots of words, but detailed.
      A real treat for serious kayakers!.Thank you.


    All this post does is explain the process in a way that most DIY


      would already know. How about some info on the kinds of paint, what will stick and what won’t, etc.

Claire farnell

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.

    Kayak Guru

    Hi Claire,

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


Good info! Thanks!

    Kayak Guru

    Glad you enjoyed it 🙂


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?

    Kayak Guru


    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

Steve Lawes

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

    Kayak Guru

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for letting us know. We love helping you guys out!

Nettie Louise

Thank you so much for this information! Looking forward to upgrading my kayak now.

    Kayak Guru

    Our pleasure!

Jill Pierce

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

    Kayak Guru

    Good luck Jill!

Jim Riley

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.

    Kayak Guru

    Hi Jim. Thanks for dropping by!

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

[email protected]

thanks a lot for the tips


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.


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!


    Free advice, links to the suggested paints and ungrateful idiots like you still find something to moan about. Get a grip.


Thank you, I found this extremely helpful! I just bought 2 that need some serious overhaul and I had no idea where to start!

    Kayak Guru

    Good luck with it Lori! Let us know how it goes 🙂


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!

Desiree Townsend

How many cans of spray paint should I need for a 10 ft kayak?

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