11 Steps How to Paint a Kayak & Add Decals


Different people have their reasons for wanting to paint their kayaks. Some may want to do so to hide or repair the scratches on their boat’s surface, while others may simply want a fresh, new look for their kayak. Regardless of what your intention may be for wanting to paint your kayak, the following series of steps and procedures on how to paint a kayak correctly will help you achieve your desired look for your vessel.

1. Collect Your Materials

The first thing you want to do is to gather all the equipment and supplies that you’ll need to paint your kayak. You’re going to need:

  • The marine-grade polyurethane paint
  • 50- and 100-grit sandpaper
  • Painter’s tape or masking tape
  • Foam roller and brush or a spray gun
  • Screwdrivers and drill
  • A small plastic bag or box
  • Water
  • Dishwashing liquid or detergent
  • Clean rags

After you have collected all the necessary tools and supplies, you can now start working on preparing your kayak for painting.

2. Remove All Detachable Hardware

Using your screwdriver, remove all detachable components from your kayak. These include the foot braces, paddle holder, removable kayak seats, and everything else that you don’t want to be painted. Some of these may be riveted so you’ll have to drill them out.

In any case, you’ll want to paint only the shell of the kayak and nothing else. And if you do decide that you want to paint some of the detachable kayak components as well, it is advised that you still take them out of the kayak and paint them separately.

Make sure that you put all the screws, nuts, and bolts in a waterproof small bag or box and label it accordingly. Also, put away all the removed hardware properly so that they don’t get damaged while in storage.

3. Clean and Dry Your Kayak

Once all the detachable hardware is removed and safely stored, clean the kayak using a detergent or dishwashing liquid mixed with water to get rid of any dirt buildup of contaminants on its surface. Use a clean rag or a sponge to wipe the kayak, and if necessary, use a toothbrush to remove stubborn dirt.

If your kayak has old decals on it, you’ll want to remove those as well. To remove old decals, warm them with a hairdryer or a heat gun first. This will soften the glue attaching the decal to the kayak and make it easier for you to peel the decal off. If there’s glue residue left on the kayak, you can wipe it off with alcohol.

After washing, rinse the kayak thoroughly and make sure that you wash away all soap residue from the surface since this will affect how well the paint sticks to the kayak. After rinsing, wipe the kayak with a clean dry cloth and let it dry.

4. Sand It Down

Once your kayak is completely dry, you can start sanding it down.

  • Inspect the kayak and look for uneven surfaces or deep scratches. These are usually caused by pulling your kayak over rocks or pebbles. To avoid such damages in the future, we recommend using a kayak trolley when moving your kayak on river banks or pebbly beaches.
  • Sand the uneven surfaces using a 50-grit (coarse) sandpaper to smoothen them out.
  • After you’ve smoothed out all the uneven surfaces, and the entire surface of the kayak to be painted with a 100-grit (fine) sandpaper. Avoid using a 300-grit or even 600-grit sandpaper. This will leave a very smooth finish which will make it difficult for the paint to adhere to the kayak’s surface.

After you’ve sanded down the kayak, wipe the kayak down with a rag to remove the dust or any particle that may be stuck on its surface.

5. Tape Areas You Don’t Want to be Painted

Unless you are painting the entire kayak (from top to the bottom of the hull), then you should tape off those areas that you don’t want to be painted. You can use painter’s tape or masking tape and some old newspaper to cover these areas.

Make sure that the edges of the tape are stuck firmly to the kayak; otherwise, wet paint might seep into the tape and onto the covered surface.

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6. Prepare the Paint

There are several types of paint available for you to choose from. There are old-fashioned marine enamels as well as water-based marine paints, both of which are available in hardware stores that sell marine supplies.

However, most boat builders would look for and choose to use one-part marine-grade polyurethane paints. This particular type of paint is more suitable for watercraft, from boats to kayaks and everything else in between. There are several other reasons why you should consider using this kind of paint.

For one, it is more durable than the other types of paint mentioned, and it is much easier to apply, too. It also leaves a nice, glossy finish which can help make your kayak look new. It may cost more than other types of paint, but it will certainly give you your money’s worth.

Whatever type of paint you’re using, be sure that you mix the paint well to get the sediments at the bottom of the paint can.

7. Paint Your Kayak

There are two methods that you can use when it comes to painting your kayak; the first one is called ‘roll and tip’ and the second is by spray painting.

Roll and Tip

When using this paint application technique, it is best to use foam rollers because ordinary rollers will leave roller marks and dimples (like those seen in an orange peel) on your kayak’s surface. Also, foam brushes are recommended over ordinary brushes since they don’t leave any brush marks. To do this, you need to:

  1. Apply the marine paint thinly and evenly using the foam roller. Applying too much paint at any given time will cause it to sag or droop.
  2. Depending on how quickly the paint is tacking up, stop every two feet or so.
  3. Tip-off the roller marks using the foam brush.

Spray Painting

Some people prefer spray painting over the roll and tip method because it gives a better finish. It also makes it easier to paint corners and rounded edges like those in the hatch covers. When spray painting your kayak:

  1. Choose a well-ventilated area for spray painting. Like other types of paint, marine polyurethane paints are toxic and exposure to it can lead to respiratory problems.
  2. Wear a mask, a pair of gloves, and an apron. Yes, you still should wear a mask even if you are spray painting your kayak in a well-ventilated area.
  3. Cover anything you don’t want to be painted including the walls to protect them from over sprays.
  4. Sweep the spray gun horizontally or vertically (choose and use only one direction) past the kayak’s surface. Don’t point and shoot.
  5. Give your kayak a couple of coats until the desired shade is achieved.

8. Remove the Tape

After you’re done painting, you can now remove the painter’s tape or masking tape and newspapers you used to cover/Kayak cover the areas of the kayak that you don’t want to be painted. Leave the kayak to dry for at least 24 hours before moving on to the next step.

9. Put a Clear Coat

You should consider applying a clear coat over the newly painted areas of the kayak. This will add an extra layer of protection over the new paint so that it doesn’t scratch easily. It will also give your kayak a shiny and brand-new look. After you’ve applied a clear coat to the newly painted surfaces, leave your kayak to dry.

10. Re-rig Your Kayak

Once the clear coat has completely dried, you can now start re-installing the parts and hardware that you removed from the kayak. Be careful when mounting them back onto the kayak so you don’t end up scratching the new paint. Also, make sure that the screws, nuts, and bolts are all tightened.

12. Clean and Wax

When all the hardware is installed back into the kayak, give it a final wipe down. After that, use a marine wax to buff your vessel. This will not only help protect the new paint, but it will also give your newly painted kayak a gleaming finish.

Applying Decal on Your Kayak

Applying-Decal-on-Your-KayakSometimes, applying a new coat of paint is not enough to achieve the look you want for your kayak. Aside from making it the color that you want, you may still feel that something is missing. At this point, you may want to consider putting on some decals on it.

However, applying decals onto your kayak (and other surfaces at that) can be quite challenging. For one, it is common for improperly applied decals to form bubbles underneath them. This by itself can ruin the nice, clean look that you worked so hard to achieve while you were painting your kayak. The air in the bubbles will also negatively impact the bond between the decal and your kayak’s surface, which means that your decal won’t stick to your kayak very long.

To keep this from happening, you need to make sure that you apply the decals properly. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Sand the area where you want to stick the decal using fine-grit sandpaper.
  2. Put some alcohol on a clean rag and wipe the sanded area with it to remove any debris or dirt that may prevent the decal from sticking properly onto the surface.
  3. Heat the sanded area with a hairdryer to warm it up before applying the decal. This will allow the decal to stick better to the surface.
  4. Dab the area where you plan to stick the decal with a damp cloth. Remember, you’ll want the area to be damp and not dripping wet.
  5. Carefully attach the decal to the area where you want it to go. Start from the center and ease out to the edges of the decal to limit the number of air bubbles trapped inside. You can use a plastic squeegee or a credit card to flatten the entire decal and make sure that every part of it is flush against the surface of the kayak. Use the squeegee or credit card in two passes: gently at first to position the decal and firmer the second time to ensure that it adheres well to the surface.
  6. Once the decal is in place, wait for at least thirty minutes before removing the backing because the adhesive used in most decals take a while to set up and dry.
  7. To remove the backing or transfer paper, gently pull up one corner, get a grip, and then peel it back towards the other end. Hold the peeled paper close to the surface and don’t pull it up and away since this will loosen the decal’s grip on the surface.


  • If you see a loose area, this means that the decal or the kayak’s surface wasn’t warm or clean enough. To fix this, use the transfer paper with the smooth side down to press the decal against the surface.
  • Small bubbles may be ignored especially since they are virtually invisible when looking at your kayak from a distance. Besides, most decals are porous, and after being soaked in water and exposed to the sun while kayaking, the small bubbles will eventually disappear.
  • Large bubbles, on the other hand, are pretty obvious and certainly terrible to look at. To fix this, prick a pinhole in the middle of the bubble using a pin or a needle. Then, press from the edges of the bubble towards the hole in the middle to expel the air.

The Bottom Line

You don’t necessarily have to bring your kayak to a professional to have it painted or styled with a decal. Painting and applying a decal on your kayak is something that you can do in your garage or shed if you have the right tools and knowledge about how to paint a kayak. Besides, this can be a worthwhile project and something you can do during the winter or while waiting for the next kayaking season.

More Kayak Accessories Guides:


  1. Spray Painting