DIY Step-by-Step Guide On When & How To Paint A Kayak

by Jason | Last Updated:   May 30th, 2022
DIY Step-by-Step Guide On When & How To Paint A Kayak


Have you grown tired of the color of your kayak? Has the paint started to fade? Are you trying to hide some scratches? Or maybe you’re just looking to customize it?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you’re probably wondering how to paint a kayak.

Painting your kayak can be a fun DIY activity for the winter months while the lakes are frozen and the rivers are too cold.

The problem is:

You probably have no idea how to paint a kayak unless you’ve done it before. And that’s what I want to explain in this article.

Today, I’m going to be talking about what paints you should use, what you need to paint a kayak, how to prep the kayak, and of course, how to paint your kayak.

So don’t go anywhere; this article is going to explain everything you need to know:

What Kind Of Paint Do You Use On A Kayak?

The key to successfully painting your kayak relies on finding and using the right paint for the job. Ideally, you’re looking for water-resistant paint that adheres to the hull’s surface.

And as long as the paint has been formulated for the given material, it won’t matter if you have a plastic or fiberglass kayak. Hell, you could have a wooden kayak, and it still wouldn’t make a difference.

But there is one more thing:

When you’ve finished painting your kayak, you should always finish the kayak with a clear coat Krylon 1311 to protect the color.

In this section, we will cover the differences between water-based and oil-based paints. And we’ll also be touching on whether you need to use marine-grade paint to get the job done.

Water-Based Vs. Oil-Based

Water-based paint

Oil-based paint

When you’re looking at what style of paint to use for painting your kayak, your first choice might not be water-based paint.

And I understand why you might think water-based paint isn’t excellent for a recreational product that will be spending most of its time in the water.

But here’s the thing:

Water-based actually holds up very well for exterior applications and maintains a better sheen for more extended periods when compared to oil-based paint. 

When talking about oil-based paints, you’ll notice that they dry a lot harder, which means they offer more resistance to wear and tear.

This does come with a downside, though:

Because the paint dries a lot harder than water-based paints, they tend to be more brittle, which means they are more likely to crack when applied to rounded surfaces.

And this is why I’d suggest looking at water-based paints instead of oil-based paints.

It performs very well in water, but it also adds a little extra UV resistance to your kayak, which is excellent.

So You Need Marine-Grade Paint?

One of the most common questions is, “Should I use marine-grade paint?And if you ask people that are experienced in refurbishing kayaks or other styles of boats, they will say yes.

And they always recommend the same paint. And that’s one-part marine-grade polyurethane paint.

And it’s hard to question their logic. Marine-grade paint is more durable, super easy to apply, and leaves a beautiful glossy finish. 

If you’re working on an old kayak, you might not want to spend the money on the paint; it’s not cheap. And this is why people tend to save it for their high-grade kayaks when they need a bit of TLC.

If you’re looking to do a quick repair job, you can do it with very little expense by using regular spray paint.

Another thing to mention is that it doesn’t matter which kind of paint you’re using; you’re still going to need two coats to get the job done.

Spray Paint Vs. Paintbrush: Which One Is Better?

Another thing you need to think about is what method you want to use before you start painting your kayak.

So, in this section, I’m going to explain a little bit more about the two methods: 

Using a paintbrush can quickly turn into a time-consuming process and can feel a little bit tedious.

And this is because it takes a lot more skill and time to use a brush than it does with a spray can. That being said:

Kayaks are pretty small, so the extra time might not feel too bad, especially when considering how messy it is to use a spray can. So, if you’re looking to make some intricate designs, you might want to pick up a paintbrush.

Another downside of spray paints is that they expose you to VOC fumes. And this means you need to wear a mask and use it in a well-ventilated room.

In the end…

There’s no wrong or right choice; you just need to think about which one works best for you.

So, let’s break it down quickly:

  • Paintbrush: More time-consuming, but it’s less messy, you can make more intricate designs, and you’re not exposed to VOC fumes.
  • Spray painting: It takes a lot less time and is easy to use, but it exposes you to VOC fumes and can be pretty messy.

I hope this section has helped you decide which method you’re going to use; remember, it really comes down to which method you feel more comfortable with.

What Will You Need To Paint Your Kayak?

It’s not just about choosing the right paint for the job. You’re also going to need a few supplies to help you paint your kayak. Because I’ve already spoken about the paint, I’m not going to mention it in this section.

But…

In this section, I’m going to list all the pieces of equipment you’re going to need to paint your kayak:

#1 Brush Set Or Spray Gun

Which one you’re going to need depends on how you paint your boat. If you’re looking for a quick method, you’ll need a decent spray gun.

If you’re looking for a more intricate design, you should check out a decent set of brushes of different sizes.

Some people might choose to have both so they can use the paintbrushes to touch up any bits they missed with the spray gun.

#2 Sandpaper

Before you paint your kayak, you need to make sure everything is smooth and clean. And using sandpaper lightly on the surface of your kayak will help smooth everything down.

A smooth finish will help the paint stick to the kayak and create a stronger bond between the kayak’s surface and the paint.

#3 Dish Soap

Many people think you need to use a heavy-duty cleaning agent to remove any residue from your kayak’s surface. 

But…

If I’m honest, with decent high-quality dish soap and warm water, you should have no issues taking off any dirt and grime you come across.

#4 Acetone

Even with a heavy-duty cleaning agent, there’s a good chance there will be some leftover oils on your kayak.

So, an excellent solution to get yourself around this is to clean your kayak with acetone before you paint it.

It will help break down the leftover oils on your kayak and create a better bond between your kayak and the paint.

#5 Cloths

During the preparation stage of painting your kayak, you need to clean and dry it. So, having some clothes or rags to hand can benefit the process.

Not only are they excellent for cleaning and drying your kayak, but they can help with cleaning up any paint spills or accidents if they occur.

#6 Marine Wax

Once the paint has dried and you’ve cleaned the kayak for the final time, you might want to increase the glossy and sleek finish. And this is where you can apply a coat of marine wax to your kayak.

The marine wax will protect both the material and the DIY kayak paint job while giving it an excellent finish. It is an optional extra, but it’s definitely worth it when you see the finish it provides the kayak.

#7 Painting Mask

Protecting your lungs should be an essential factor for you, especially when using a spray gun to paint your kayak. And to do this, you’re going to need a good quality painting mask to protect your lungs from the fumes.

#8 Gloves

This is another optional item, but if you don’t like getting paint on your hands, you’re going to need some gloves.

Of course, some people don’t mind this, so it doesn’t apply to them. They can just use some sort of paint thinner or a heavy-duty soap to get the paint off. 

But, if you have sensitive skin, you should probably just wear a pair of gloves. Paint thinner and abrasive soaps can be pretty harsh on your skin.

#9 Tarp

You don’t want to end up with a load of paint all over the floor, so I recommend you use a tarp underneath your kayak.

It will prevent any paint from spraying or dripping onto your floor. Make sure it’s a reasonably good size, and you place it down before you start painting. 

#10 Sawhorses

This is a must-have if you want to make your life easier when painting your kayak. So, instead of placing your kayak on the ground, why not try using sawhorses? 

I like to use them because it makes it easier to work around the kayak than when it’s on the floor.

#11 Water Hose

Because you need to clean your kayak before and after you’ve painted your kayak, you’ll need access to water. And the easiest way to do that is to use a water hose so you can rinse off the soap.

#12 Krylon 1311

Once I’ve finished painting my kayak, I like to use Krylon 1311. It’s a clear coating of finishing spray paint that helps to protect your kayak from UV rays and stops the color from fading. 

The Complete Guide For Painting Your Kayak

How To Paint A Kayak

Okay, you know what paint you need, and you know the other supplies you’ll need to paint your kayak.

But…

We still haven’t talked about how to paint a kayak. And this is what we’re going to be doing in this section.

To make it easier for you to digest, I’ve split it into 7 simple steps. So, let’s take a closer look:

#1 Pick & Prepare Your Area

The first thing you need to do is pick and prepare the area you will be painting. Ideally, you’re looking for a well-ventilated space free of dust and debris.

You’ll also need to make sure you have enough room for your kayak to move around freely. I’d also look for a pretty enclosed place to prevent airborne particles from ruining your process.

If you’re painting inside, make sure you get plenty of ventilation and a fan running.

Once you’ve found your location, place the large trap on the floor to prevent any paint from falling on the floor. And if you’re using sawhorses, put them on top of the tarp.

#2 Prepare Your Kayak

Before starting the job, you need to prepare the kayak. And this means creating a clean canvas for your work. 

And to do this, you need to strip your kayak down to its bare shell.

This means removing the seat, rod holders, foot braces, mounting hardware, or any other accessories you have on the kayak. Basically, anything you’re not going to paint needs to be removed before starting.

#3 Clean & Sand Your Kayak Down

The next thing you need to do is clean your kayak. To do this, you will need to mix some warm water with your detergent. 

Cleaning your kayak removes any dust and dirt particles that have built up over time and any other contaminants that can affect your painting.

At this point, you should think about removing any stickers or decals you have on the kayak.

Once you’re done, wipe down the surface and wait for it to dry before moving on to sanding.

While waiting, inspect the kayak for any uneven surfaces or scratches. If you find anything, use fine-grit sandpaper.

Once the kayak is dry, go over the entire kayak with a fine-grit sandpaper. It will help the paint bond to the kayak a lot easier.

#4 Clean The Kayak… Again

Yep, that’s right; you will have to clean the kayak down again. But this time, you’re going to use acetone.

Using acetone will remove any oils from the kayak, and this is essential because oils can prevent the paint from sticking.

Take one of your rags, apply some acetone, and wipe down the whole kayak.

#5 Paint Your Kayak

Now it’s time for the fun part, painting your kayak. Before you get started, you should tape up any parts of the kayak you don’t want to be painted.

After everything is covered up, it’s time to start putting on your gloves and painting mask to keep yourself clean and safe.

Start applying thin layers of paint to your kayak to prevent the paint from running or clumping. Make sure you spread the paint evenly throughout the process. You’ll likely have to put two coats on the kayak to achieve the color you’re looking for.

Just make sure you wait a few hours between each coat to give the paint a chance to dry.

Once your kayak is freshly painted with both coats, you need to make sure you let it dry for at least 24 hours before moving on to the next step. 

#6 Apply Your Clear Coating

One of the final steps is to coat your kayak in a clear finishing paint like Krylon 1311 UV protectant spray. It will work as the third and final layer of your kayak and help to prevent scratches and UV damage.

Basically, it will make your new job last longer.

Again, make sure you’ve waited until the paint is completely dry before you move on to coating it with Krylon 1311. In other words, you need to let the paint cure before you add the protective layer.

#8 Clean & Wax Your Kayak

The final step is to put everything back together and give your kayak its last wash with dish soap and water. 

Another great tip is to wax your kayak using marine wax. Not only does it give your kayak a nice shine, but it will also increase its longevity by preventing scratches.

Reasons Why You Might Want To Paint Your Kayak

Okay, before I leave you, I wanted to explain why you might want to paint your kayak. Of course, making it look fresh and shiny might be your number one reason, but there are a few important reasons you should paint your kayak:

UV Damage

One of the biggest causes of kayak damage and color fade is UV light shining on your kayak. And this can make your kayak look very dull, which is not something you want.

But, when you add a fresh layer of paint combined with a layer of UV protection, you can bring back the color and add some protection.

Scratches And Dents

Unfortunately, hitting objects with your kayak, launching into the rivers, or sliding them across your roof rack can scratch your kayak. And this means they’re going to need repairing, one to prolong the life of your kayak, and two, because it looks ugly.

And repainting and making some minor refurbs is always welcome, especially when considering how much your kayak costs.

Camouflage For Hunting

Most kayaks are usually painted with very bright and visible colors, making them pretty bad if you’re hunting or fishing.

And this is why you might want to paint your kayak with colors and markings that will provide you with some extra camouflage.

Check out this video on how to give your kayak a DIY camouflage paint job:

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Well, that’s about everything I know about how to paint a kayak. And I hope it’s helped you understand how to give yourself a successful paint job.

One of the most critical things to remember is to choose the right paint for the job, which is usually water-based marine-grade paint.

Another thing you need to remember is that you need to clean your kayak and sand it all down thoroughly. This will help the paint stick to your kayak and provide a cleaner, more sturdy finish to your kayak.

And finally, to add greater scratch and UV protection to your kayak, you should use clear paint to finish the job. Ideally, you should be using something like Krylon 1311; it provides an excellent finish.

And as a bonus tip, try using marine wax to give your kayak a nice shine and add further scratch protection.

If you’re looking for more kayaking information, why not check out this article on the best way for storing your kayak outside.

Frequently Asked Questions  

How Do You Get Paint To Stick To A Kayak?

One of the key methods to making the paint stick to your kayak is to clean your kayak thoroughly. You also need to sand the kayak before painting it lightly; this will help the paint adhere to your kayak.

Another tip is to let the paint cure; basically, leave the paint to dry for long enough, so it bonds to the kayak.

How Do You Paint A Plastic Kayak?

We’ve gone through the basic process of painting your plastic kayak above, but here’s a quick recap. First, you need to clean and sandpaper your kayak, then rewash it with acetone to remove the oils. You can then paint the kayak with water-based marine-grade paint. 

How Do You Change The Color Of A Kayak?

If you want to change the color of your kayak, all you need to do is re-paint the kayak. Just remember to get yourself good quality paint, so it lasts a long time without flaking or chipping away.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.