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Duct Tape Kayak – The Design

Posted by on June 27, 2012

Today we held our first “meeting of the minds” in an attempt to bring our idea of a duct tape kayak to a more tangible and achievable design. As you could imagine there are a lot of questions to answer when designing a duct tape kayak. Looming large were questions like “What is the hull going to look like?” and “What materials will we use?” We also had to consider numerous constraints such as a short build time, limited wood-working experience, and a budget of only $200. The task ahead seemed daunting but thankfully, our many years of kayaking made most of the initial design decisions fairly intuitive. Here’s what we came up with:

First, we made the obvious decision to go with skin-on-frame construction. Just a week before we had been visited at the docks by a local carpenter who had recently completed his first traditional skin-on-frame kayak. We picked his brain for about an hour trying to learn as much as we could about the construction methods. Using duct tape for the skin would be easy enough but we balked at the idea of building a traditional wood frame. None of us have any real carpentry skills or the 100 hours of labor or the money to buy exotic woods. However we are willing to put in the work to build a sturdy and re-usable frame. What material could substitute for the wood?

Alex suggested that we look into PVC pipe as a frame material. This seemed like a logical idea and a quick trip to the Home Depot’s plumbing department confirmed it. Half-inch diameter, schedule 40 PVC pipe seemed to offer enough rigidity to provide a solid frame while being enough flex to bend into the curves of a kayak! Not only that but we were able to locate a distributer of furniture-grade PVC fittings online with near whole-sale pricing and bulk discounts. Some of the more exotic fittings and a nifty little pipe cutter would allow for painless, “plug-and-play” construction! We were on our way!

Back at the shop, we broke out the pen and napkin and started sketching out the hull shape. We knew that we needed a long waterline (fast) and minimal rocker (tracks straight) in order to end up with a competitive kayak to race in the touring class. Our past racing experience took us immediately to a specific model for inspiration. The Wilderness System Artic Hawk: an 18ft-long, 22in wide Greenland-style kayak designed by the great Mark Rogers. Its long water-line, minimal rocker, and V-shaped hull make the Arctic Hawk a racing machine (both Alex and I have blue ribbons to prove it)! Granted, we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) copy the Arctic Hawk hull exactly but the PVC frame materials would allow us to get pretty close! Even better, after a rough calculation of how many fittings we’d need we found that the cost of the frame would be under $150.00 which was well within budget. We’re getting closer!

There were two things that we were concerned about and both revolved around the durability of the duct tape skin. First, we were concerned that car-topping an 18ft kayak made of duct tape at highway speeds would damage the hull. Second we were worried that even a small compromise in the hull would sink the craft. These concerns lead us to the idea of building the kayak in three distinct sections. The bow and stern sections will contain air bags to displace volume and provide floatation in the event of a leak. The center section will have duct tape bulkheads to isolate it from the other sections in the event of capsize. Furthermore, these 6ft long sections would allow for the entire kayak to fit into the bed of Brett’s pick-up truck for safer transport to events. Now we’re in business!

We left the shop confident that our initial design would provide us with a competitive skin-on-frame, duct tape kayak! Sure, there are a lot of details to work out like cockpit placement and outfitting but creating a sturdy PVC frame to build around will be our first priority. The PVC fittings are on their way so check back soon to see the first pictures from our build!

-Kayak Dave

Click here to donate to the Kayak Dave’s Duct Tape Kayak team and help support Stand Up 2 Cancer!

4 Responses to Duct Tape Kayak – The Design

  1. Noah

    I’ve just recently begun investigating the possibility of using PVC (though I’m thinking schedule 80) to make a collapsible kayak. I’ve found some sources but yours is the closest for what I’m planning. If you don’t mind, what retailer did you use for the specialty fixtures? The top middle one in the picture I think is incredibly important to my tentative plans.

    • arrudad

      Hi Noah:

      We utilized a company called AFC Greenhouse to buy our specialty PVC fittings. They carry the slip-Ts and 4-ways that you can’t find at the local hardware store. Their prices were very good too.

      If I may make some recommendations to help you get started (and to learn from our mistakes):

      1) Buy more fittings than you think you’ll need to make up for mistakes.
      2) Have a pipe-cutter (they sell one for $10), heat gun, and dremel tool handy.
      3) Aggressive angles don’t work so well. Make sure that all angles closely match those of the fittings (90, 45, 22.5, ect).
      4) The 4-ways seemed like they would be super important but we only ended up using a few in the end. Standard T fittings and Slip-Ts will be your best friend otherwise!

      The PVC really worked great for our frame. It seemed really floppy at first but stiffened up alot when we glued everything together. The reason we went with schedule 40 was because it has a thinner wall and is more easily bent than schedule 80. This made a big difference in the bow and stern where we had to bend the pipe to achieve the desired lines of the kayak.

      Good luck with your project!

      -Kayak Dave

  2. Noah

    Thanks for the advice! I do appreciate it. I did have one more question after reading all your build posts. The three sections you have in your design here, did you wind up keeping them in the final design? if you did, how did you join the sections before putting it in the water? Since I’m looking to make my project entirely collapsible, I’m kicking around a few ideas for joints that can be disassembled and reassembled easily while holding together safely while in the water. Hence my interest in these fittings which you wouldn’t be able to bond together using the cement.

    Great project for a great cause. Congrats and thanks for putting it up for the rest of us!

    • arrudad

      Hi Noah:

      We did end up using the “three section” idea. We glued all of the joints except for the ones that connected the sections. Here we used a dremel to expand the diameter of the fitting very slightly, held the two sections together, and drilled a hole for a pin (bolt w/ wing nut) to connect. These connections turned out to be very sturdy and easy to put together/take apart. The biggest issue is the seam that is created in the skin of the kayak but thankfully we have more duct tape to take care of that :)

      Hope this helps!

      -Kayak Dave

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