How To Paint A Kayak: Step-By-Step Guide For A DIY Kayak Paint Job

Maybe you’ve had enough of your kayak’s current color, or it no longer looks as vibrant as it used to when you first got it. Perhaps you want to “mask” that ugly crack in the hull you repaired recently. Or maybe you’re looking for a way to make your kayak blend in on fishing trips or duck hunting outings – with some camouflage print.

Whatever the case may be, knowing how to paint a kayak could come in handy. 

So, if you’re up for a DIY kayak paint job, stick around for some tips on paint selection and a step-by-step guide!  

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First Things First: Can You Paint A Kayak? 

Can you paint a kayak - tin of red paint and collection of brushes

If you came here wondering whether painting your kayak – be it one made of wood, fiberglass, or polyethylene plastic – is even an option, know that yes, it can be done

That’s the short answer, though – and an oversimplified one, at that. 

Now, this is where the answer gets a bit more complicated: 

You can paint a kayak, but it’s not something that should be done on a whim with whatever leftover paint you may have from your previous DIY project. 

Taking the time to prepare your kayak for its makeover and choosing appropriate paint is crucial. Otherwise, you’re in for unsightly peeling and chipping that will leave the kayak’s paint job looking like a mess. 

Here’s what you need to know about choosing the paint that’s suitable for and will stick to kayaks! 

What Paint Should You Use On A Kayak? 

Selecting the right type of paint – one that’s water-resistant and adheres to the hull’s surface – is the key to a successful paint job. As long as it’s specifically formulated for the given material, it shouldn’t matter if you have a polyethylene, fiberglass, or wooden kayak. 

Oh, and one more thing: 

Whatever paint you end up using, finish it off with a clear coat – Krylon 1311 is one highly-recommended option – to protect the color. 

Do You Need Marine-Grade Paint?

If you ask around a bit, you’ll probably come across fellow paddlers experienced in refurbishing kayaks and other boats. And I’m willing to bet that, in 9 out of 10 cases, they’ll recommend the same thing: 

Use one-part marine-grade polyurethane paint for your kayak. 

I have to agree; marine-grade paint is more durable, easier to apply, and leaves a nice, glossy finish. And if you’re working on a high-end kayak, then yes, high-quality marine-grade paint is what you want to use. 

It costs more than “standard” types of paint, though. 

If you’re hoping for a quick, inexpensive DIY kayak paint job, regular spray paint will do – especially if you pair it with a clear finishing coat. 

Oil-Based Vs. Water-Based Paint 

Oil-based paint may seem like an obvious choice at first, as it tends to dry harder and, as a result, provide better resistance against wear and tear. But since it dries harder, oil-based paint is also more prone to becoming brittle and developing cracks. 

It doesn’t hold up well in exterior conditions and breaks down when exposed to UV rays, though. 

That leaves you with water-based paint as the preferred choice for kayaks

For starters, it’s much better suited for exterior applications. It packs some extra UV resistance and will typically retain its initial sheen levels for more extended periods. 

Moreover, water-based paint tends to be more “flexible” while still ensuring wear-and-tear resistance. It can expand and contract with your kayak’s hull in extreme weather conditions, meaning it’s less likely to crack. 

Paintbrush Vs. Spray Paint

Using a brush will likely turn a simple paint job into a tedious, time-consuming process. 

It’s not even a matter of skill; brushes can’t compete with spray paint in terms of speed. The spray-on application covers more extensive areas in one go, which is a huge plus when you’re applying more than one coat – as you would with kayaks. 

But on the other hand,  spray painting can get a little messy and “unpredictable“ at times. 

If you plan on adding any designs to your kayak and show off your artistic side, a paintbrush will be an indispensable tool, as it can give you the control and precision you need. 

Another potential downside of spray paint is exposure to VOC fumes. You must work in a well-ventilated room and wear a protective mask. 

But overall, there’s no “right“ or “wrong“ choice; go with whatever fits the kayak paint job you have in mind. 

Why Would You Paint A Kayak, Anyway? 

Weathered blue Kayak requires painting

Sure, a new paint job can make your kayak look all brand new and shiny by covering up any signs of wear and tear that may have appeared on the hull. 

But giving your trusty kayak a makeover for the sake of improving its looks is only part of the story; there’s more to painting a kayak than mere aesthetics. 

Here are a few other reasons why painting your kayak might be a good idea

  • Scuffs & Scratches – Hitting underwater obstacles, dragging the kayak to and from the launch spot, or knocking it on something during transportation can all cause scratches, dents, and even cracks. Regular painting and refurbishing, especially following fix-ups and significant repairs may be necessary. 
  • UV Damage & Fading – Direct sun exposure, namely UV radiation and heat, can damage and fade your kayak’s original colors, the same way it does your car. Fresh coats of paint, combined with a UV protectant spray, will restore your kayak’s colors. 
  • Camouflage Paint – Recreational kayaks are, more often than not, brightly colored, which isn’t ideal for fishing and duck hunting purposes. Rather than getting a new kayak, you can transform your inexpensive recreational ‘yak with a DIY camouflage paint job. 
  • Customization – If you’ve got an artsy side and want to make your kayak stand out, why not go for a full-blown custom paint job? There’s no limit to the custom paint-on designs and patterns you could create with a little bit of effort and creativity. 

What You Will Need: Kayak Painting Supplies List 

kayak paint equipment and supplies

Before you get down to business, you want to make sure that you’ve gathered all the necessary tools, supplies, and safety equipment you’ll need for painting your kayak. 

You don’t want to find yourself frantically searching for a clean cloth or some acetone in the middle of a paint job. 

Anyway, here’s a list of equipment and supplies you’ll need to get started: 

How To Paint A Kayak: Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners 

DIY painting of kayak guide - view looking down of a pair of feet, spray can and paint

So you have your supplies, what next? Well, it’s time for our easy- to-follow 7 step guide on how to paint a kayak.  And remember, take your time, don’t rush and don’t skip a step!  Good luck!

Step #1: Prepare the Area

Make sure you find a well-ventilated, dust- and debris-free space to do this and set your kayak on a reasonably-sized tarp before starting the paint job.  You don’t want any airborne particles ruining all of your hard work.  If painting in an enclosed space ensure all windows are open and a ventilation fan is running.

Step #2: Strip It Down 

An effective paint job begins with a “clean canvas.” So, start by stripping your kayak down to a bare shell. 

The seat, foot braces, rod holders, other accessories, mounting hardware – anything you don’t plan on painting should be removed. 

Step #3: Clean The Kayak And Sand It Down 

Cleaning the kayak with a mix of water and detergent or dishwasher liquid is essential for preparing it for the paint job. You want to get rid of dust particles, built-up dirt, and other potential contaminants that could affect how the paint adheres to the surface. 

Now would also be a good time to peel off old decals and repair any dents or cracks in the hull. 

Wipe the kayak down, and while you’re waiting for it to try, take the time to inspect the hull for uneven surfaces and deep scratches. You’ll want to smooth these out using medium or fine-grit sandpaper before painting the kayak. 

Sand the entire kayak down with fine-grit sandpaper; the paint will stick better. 

Step #4: Wipe It Clean (Again)

Once you’ve sanded the kayak’s hull, you’ll have to clean it once more – but this time around, you should use acetone. Removing any remaining oils from the hull at this point is crucial, as oils can prevent certain paints from adhering to the kayak’s surface. 

Apply some acetone to a clean cloth and wipe down the surfaces you previously sanded. 

Step #5: Paint The Kayak 

Unless you’re giving your kayak a top-to-bottom makeover, you should cover the areas you don’t plan to paint with painter’s tape and old newspaper. 

And now, we get to the actual paint job. If you took the previous steps seriously and did everything to prepare your kayak, this part should be a breeze: 

Put on your gloves and painting mask and start applying the paint in thin, even layers to prevent runs and clumps. You’ll likely have to use at least two coats of paint to achieve the desired shade – but make sure you wait at least a couple of hours in between coats. 

Also, give the kayak a full 24 hours to dry completely before moving on to the next step. 

Step #5: Apply A Clear Coating 

A clear coat of finishing paint, such as Krylon 1311- the third and final coat of paint you’ll apply to your kayak – will act as protection against scratches and harsh weather conditions. In short, it can maximize the paint job’s longevity. 

Make sure that the initial two layers of paint are completely dry before applying the final coat of finishing spray paint, though. 

Step #6: Stop! – Let The Paint Cure

Yes, the paint might be touch dry or dry enough to apply a second coat within a matter of hours, but don’t throw away all hard work by not letting the paint cure.

Curing is the process of the solvents and water evaporating from the painted surface, during which the coalescing agents in the paint cause film formation –  which develops into a hardened surface.

Step #7: Clean And Wax Your Kayak 

Once all the hardware and accessories are re-installed, use dishwasher soap and water to give your kayak one final wipe down to ensure that it’s clean. You are now free to reapply a decal if so wish. 

Now, this next step is optional, but I’d recommend applying marine wax as the final touch. 

Waxing your kayak will protect the fresh paint against scratches, improve its longevity, and enhance the hull’s shine. 

How To Paint A Kayak: Summary 

Freshly painted and waxed kayak

You’d be surprised how much difference a fresh coat of paint can make to an old kayak. 

It helps the kayak stand out, transforms it into a mean-looking fishing platform, hides signs of wear and tear, and gives an average-looking recreational ‘yak a personalized touch. 

Plus, it makes the whole kayaking experience that much more exciting and makes you feel more confident, too! 

Now that you’ve learned how to paint a kayak, are you up for a fun DIY project? 

If you want to paint your kayak then as long as you prepare everything and follow the information and instructions provided in this guid, I’d say you’re ready to give your trusty kayak a well-deserved makeover!