Articles, Skills

How To Paint a Kayak (8-Steps Guide)

Have you grown tired of your kayak’s color? Does it not appear as vibrant as it once did? Or, is your kayak already worn, tattered, and battered? In any case, a DIY kayak paint job is the best option. Painting a kayak is a low-cost way to improve its appearance, especially when it’s getting old. Also, it allows you to customize it into your desired look and style.

Don’t know where to start? In this article, we’ve put together a handy guide to show you how to paint a kayak so you can breathe new life into it.

What Paint to Use for Your Kayak

paint to use on kayaks

A water-resistant paint that adheres to the hull’s surface is essential for a successful paint job. It works for all types of kayaks, whether polyethylene, fiberglass, or wooden.

Marine-Grade Paint 

I recommend you use marine-grade polyurethane paint for your kayak. Why?

Marine-grade paint lasts longer, is easier to apply, and has a nice, glossy finish. It emits copper, which can help to reduce marine buildup on the kayak’s hull. A good marine-grade paint should also be flexible and include UV resistance, color retention, and durability coating. These characteristics will protect the paint from cracking, chipping, or peeling.

Water-Based Paint

Also, I recommend using water-based paint rather than oil-based paint. This is because oil-based paint dries harder and is more prone to brittle and cracking.

Water-based paint is far superior for exterior use. It has increased UV resistance and typically retains its sheen levels for longer periods. Furthermore, water-based paint is more flexible while maintaining wear and tear resistance. It expands and contracts with your kayak’s hull in extreme weather conditions, making it less likely to crack.

Paintbrush Vs. Spray Paint: Which One to Use? 

paint brushing kayaks

Spray painting is much easier because the paint is applied to a larger area at once, resulting in a more even kayak coating and no brush lines. However, because many paints can end up in the air, spraying may use more paint than brushing. Also, spray painting can be messy, so work in a well-ventilated and open area. When you spray paint, the paint particles become airborne and emit many fumes.

If you want to add a more intricate design to your kayak, you should use a paintbrush. It allows you to demonstrate your artistic talent while also giving you the control and precision you require. However, using a brush will undoubtedly turn a simple paint job into a time-consuming and tedious process. It’s because it requires more skill, and your brush can’t cover the same area as quickly as spraying.

But, in general, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Go with whatever suits your DIY kayak paint job. Also, you can apply both, use spray paint for an even paint job, then use a paintbrush afterward for additional designs you want.

Reasons Why You Would Paint Your Kayak

A fresh coat of paint could make your kayak appear brand new and shiny. However, simply giving your dependable kayak a makeover to improve its appearance is only part of the story, and there’s more to painting a kayak than just cosmetics.

Here are other essential reasons why you should consider painting your kayak:

Scratches and Dents

Hitting underwater obstacles, dragging the kayak to and from the launch location, or slamming it against something during transportation causes damage to its body. Regular painting and refurbs may be required, especially after significant repairs and fix-ups.

Camouflage Paint for Hunting

camouflage paint on kayak

Recreational kayaks mostly have bright colors, making them unsuitable for fishing and duck hunting. Instead of purchasing a new kayak, you can transform your old one with a DIY camouflage paint job.

UV Damage

Direct sunlight, specifically UV radiation and heat, can damage and lose the beauty of its original paint. With that, a fresh coat of paint combined with a UV protectant spray will restore the colors of your kayak. (1)

Customize to Your Desired Style 

customized paint and design for kayak

If you’re into art and want your kayak to stand out, consider a full-fledged custom kayak paint job. With little creativity and effort, you can create an unlimited number of custom paint-on designs and patterns.

Supplies Needed for Kayak Painting

Before you start painting your kayak, make sure you have all the necessary tools, supplies, and safety equipment. With that, you’ll need the following:

  • Marine-grade or plastic paint
  • Sandpaper
  • Foam paint rollers, paintbrushes, spray gun
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Water hose and water supply  
  • Clean cloth and rags
  • Acetone
  • Painting mask
  • Pair of protective gloves
  • Marine wax/ clear finishing spray paint
  • Tarp or paint drop cloth
  • Sawhorses
  • Painter’s tape

8-Step Guide to Paint Your Kayak

After you gather all of the necessary materials, follow this eight-step guide. Please remember to don’t rush, take your time, and don’t skip any step!

Step 1: Prepare the Painting Area 

Preferably, you should do kayak painting outside on a calm and windless day. However, if you choose to paint your kayak indoors, make sure that you have a well-ventilated, dust-free area. You do not want any airborne particles to ruin all of your efforts.

If you’re painting in a confined space, you should open all windows and turn on ventilation and a fan. Furthermore, place your kayak on a tarp or drop cloth or set it up on sawhorses for better paint coverage.

Step 2: Strip Your Kayak 

An excellent DIY kayak paint job starts with a clean canvas. So, start by stripping your kayak down to its bare shell. Remove the parts of your kayak that you do not want to paint. This includes the seat, foot braces, rod holders, and accessories, such as screws and mounting hardware.

You don’t want to paint anything other than the base shell, or you’ll end up with a very unattractive floating kayak, which isn’t good!

Step 3: Clean and Sand Down Your Kayak 

cleaning and sanding down kayak

Cleaning the kayak with a solution of water and detergent or dishwasher liquid is necessary before painting it. You want to remove any dust particles, built-up dirt, and other contaminants that could interfere with the paint’s adhesion to the surface. Remove any decals from your kayak as well, as the new paint will not adhere to them.   

While you’re waiting for your kayak to dry, clean it with cloth and inspect the hull for extensive scratches and uneven surfaces. Use medium or fine-grit sandpaper to make those smooth before you start painting.

When your kayak is completely dry, take your sandpaper and begin sanding to smooth out all surfaces of your kayak. The grit paper leaves small marks on the surface, making it easier for the paint to adhere to it. You can use wet sanding because it reduces dust. (2)

You may want to check more details in this learning guide: How to Clean a Kayak

Step 4: Wipe it Clean Once More 

After sanding your kayak’s hull, you’ll need to clean it again but this time, use acetone. Wipe the entire surface of your kayak with acetone to remove any oils that prevent the paint from sticking. Furthermore, decal removal can leave behind residue, which this cleaner easily removes. If you don’t remove all your decals and sand the areas where they’ve been, it will ruin your paint job.

Tip: Using an adhesion promoter at this stage can help the paint to stick to your kayak that can flex and suffer wear and tear from everyday use. If you decide to use the adhesion promoter, it is best to apply it right before painting.

Step 5: Start Painting Your Kayak


Put your gloves and paint a mask on, and you can now begin painting with your marine safe paint. I recommend spraying over a foam roller or paintbrush for a more even and clean paint application. You’ll most likely need to coat the kayak 3-5 times. It depends on the type of sprayer you are using.

Spray your paint evenly across the entire kayak and keep going until you reach the desired shade. Wait for a few hours between coats of paint to ensure that each coat is completely dry before beginning the next. When you’re satisfied with how the kayak looks, let it dry for 24 hours.

If you want to add a design, use a brush after reaching your base color to add any personal touches. You can also use stencils if you’re not particularly artistic.

Tip: If you want to add a camouflage design, use a sponge dipped in a different shade of paint than your base color to create a simple but effective camouflage print.

Step 6: Give it a Clear Finish Coat

After you finish painting the colors, do a kayak coating using clear finishing spray paint. The clear coat will act as a barrier between the paint and the environment. UV rays, scratching, and weathering will damage the clear coat but leave the paint coating underneath unharmed. In short, it can extend the life of your kayak’s paint job.

Step 7: Let the Paint Dry and Re-Install the Fittings

Allow the clear coat to dry, which is generally 24 to 48 hours of waiting time before you can do anything to your kayak. When all of the paint has dried, you can begin reinstalling everything you removed from your kayak, such as mounting hardware and screws, seat, etc.

Step 8: Wash and Wax Your Kayak 

After reinstalling all the hardware and accessories, give your kayak one last wipe down with dishwasher soap and water to ensure it’s clean. If you want, you can now reapply a decal.

Now, as a finishing touch, I recommend using marine wax. Waxing your kayak will protect the fresh paint from scratches, increase its longevity, and improve the shine of the hull.

How to Paint Your Kayak: Final Thoughts 

Learning how to paint your kayak is a great way to spend your spare time. You’d be surprised how much a new coat of paint can transform your old kayak. You can customize and transform your kayak to your style.

It makes your kayak stand out and turns it into a mean-looking fishing boat. It conceals signs of wear and tear and adds a personalized touch to your unremarkable recreational ‘yak. It adds excitement to your kayaking experience and boosts your confidence too!

As long as you prepare everything needed, have a little time, effort, patience, DIY ingenuity, and follow the instructions in this handy guide, I’d say you’re ready to bring new life to your old and worn-out kayak.

Before we end, I am recommending the articles below for future reading, or you can bookmark them for later references. Until our next kayak article!

(1) UV –
(2) sandpaper –

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About Julian Thompson

cb787c59d2808e1f609076e790ca977e?s=90&d=mm&r=gCertifications: Certified Kayaking Instructor (AKA)
Education: American Kayak Association
Lives In: Denver Colorado

I am a kayaking expert/instructor who has been fishing for over 15 years. Fishing is my passion, but kayaking keeps me on the water. I love to share my knowledge of techniques and tips with others. I live in Colorado with my wife and two kids and own a small kayak rental business On Grand Lake where I rent and instruct.