Duck Boat Camouflage Cover
for a 10-foot one-man layout duck boat
Proof of the saying, "A boat is a hole in the water you pour money into."

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This article shows the first version of my camouflage frame and cover, and the process I went through to modify and improve it by trial and error. Further pages show the addition of a transom and trolling motor, the construction of a covered boat trailer, and the (hopefully) final redesign of the frame and cover.

     These photos show the boat I use, the Carsten "Puddler" model. This particular boat is U.S. made. I bought mine at Gander Mountain, an outdoor supply chain store located around the U.S. However, the concept and techniques used to make the camouflage cover in this article are applicable to any small boat used for the purpose of getting close to birds and animals in the wild. It would work for a john boat, a canoe, even a kayak, or any of the other brands of molded one-man or two-man duck boats available commercially. And I guarantee that it's a LOT cheaper than commercial boat blinds.

    I purchased this little boat to access waterfowl areas for my bird photography. It weights just 70 pounds, so I can handle it by myself. I can load and unload it from the roof rack of my Blazer and carry it over my head without help. It has a very shallow draft, requiring only about 6 inches of water to float, even when loaded. This is a necessity for the shallow areas waterfowl like.

     The one drawback to this is that it doesn't track very well. It has no keel, and virtually sits on top of the water, so when you paddle, it wants to twist from side to side instead of going in a straight line. Thus, you have to constantly alternate the side you're paddling on to aim the boat in any semblance of a straight line. Even then, it's more like a drunk weaving along a "straight line".
     After trying out the single paddle shown in the photos, I bought a kayak paddle (two-ended paddle), which helps a lot, though it dribbles into the boat quite a bit (not good for camera equipment). The boat is much wider than a kayak, so you can't use the more vertical stroke you can with a kayak, which means you don't get much power and speed when paddling.

     Though the boat is not rated for a motor, I decided that once I finished the camouflage cover, I would try a small side-mounted trolling motor. That would eliminate the problem of a paddle flailing about in the air, which would defeat the whole purpose of being camouflaged. Also, having a battery in the front of the boat should help counterbalance my weight to some extent, lowering the bow, which as you can see, wants to ride in the air when I'm seated aft of center.

     These three photos show the "frame" I made to drape my camouflage cover over. I used pvc water pipe and fittings (the thinner-walled 300psi pipe works fine for this). Everything is press-fit into the various connector fittings ("T's", 90° and 45° elbows, "cross" joints and end caps). Tubular foam type copper pipe insulation was slipped over the pipe in strategic spots to avoid the noise of pipe bumping fiberglass.

     Once everything was cut and test fitted, the joints which would not need to be taken apart later were locked together with a small screw. This minimizes the chances something will slip apart in use. It also simplifies and speeds up the assembly/disassembly process. Joints that needed to come apart in order to assemble and disassemble it for transport and storage were left alone. No pvc cement was used on any of it. The pieces will press-fit together quite sturdily for this application.

     All joints that were not screw-locked were then masked with a piece of masking tape, and the frame received a light coat of black acrylic spray paint to make it less visible under the camouflage cover. The taped joints were thus left white, which quickly identifies the joints that "come apart", so I'm not tugging like an idiot to separate two pieces that are locked together. By the way, by using screws instead of pvc cement, I can easily remove a screw and disassemble any joint if I want to modify the frame later.

     The whole thing is "attached" to the boat with only four mini-bungee cords (short 8-10 inch cords). With the way I designed the frame for this boat, this proved to be all that was needed to keep the frame from shifting around. The frame is "bungee-ed" to the carry handles at the nose and tail, and at the edge of the "cockpit" on each side just about the middle of the boat. (I've left out many of the finer details of construction in this writing for sake of some brevity, but I would be happy to go into more detail if there is interest and inquiry by readers.)

    The left photo here shows a test fitting of the camo cover before adding the additional details. The camo material used is a commercial product made by Hunter's Specialties called H.S. Camo - 56"x12' Camo Leaf Blind (product model # 04092) in the "Advantage Max-4 HD" pattern, that simulates a grass-type environment. It also comes in a 56"x30' pack (#04093). This works great for fall and winter camouflage along the shores of marshes, lakes and ponds. It's a polyester fabric which weights virtually nothing, doesn't soak up water, dries quickly, and is pretty tough. It's easy to sew with a sewing machine, and the 4.5x12 foot pack (about 1.5x3 meters) was only $13.00, though I've seen it priced as much as $25.00 (the 4.5x30 foot pack is about $30-$35).

One Caveat: I must note here that the "Camo Leaf Blind" product is susceptible to deterioration from exposure to ultraviolet, salt water and weather in general. After occasional use over a three year period I found that the material used for the boat cover degraded into the consistency of heavy paper, and tore apart easily. I was not aware of this when I started using it. However, because of all it's other great characteristics, not the least of which is it's unequaled camouflage qualities in the Advantage Max 4D pattern, I do and will continue to use it for my projects. I do this with the knowledge that I will likely have to replace items with a newly made version after two or maybe three years of use. DO NOT expect this material to hold up if left outside in the elements on a continual long-term basis.

The camouflage material used. A package of rafia.
     A dozen small loops were sewn to the inside of the cover in strategic spots. These loops slip over the pipe frame during assembly and keep the cover from shifting or flapping in a breeze. As you can see, the cover is not pulled taught, though it is secure. I was afraid a taught cover would diminish the natural look. Then finally the finishing detail was added to the cover. The upper right image shows the cover after some homemade "tufts" of Rafia were added for additional 3D effect.

     As for the other materials, I used a single package of Rafia (about $3.00 or $4.00 if memory serves me right) from the craft section of Wal-Mart. All the pvc tubing and fittings, and a pack of screws, came from a hardware supply and totaled around $10.00. I already had a couple of half-used cans of flat black Krylon spray acrylic on the shelf which sufficed for the frame painting.

     The partially disassembled frame and folded cover (shown at left) make a small package, altogether weighing perhaps 3 pounds. The frame sections will in fact breakdown into even smaller, shorter sections, and can be rolled up inside the cover material if desired, making a lightweight, easily portable package (the dining room chair in the photo is for size comparison).

    The photos here show how well this simple, inexpensive camouflage cover works. I was not wearing any camouflage gloves or face mask for these photos, though I was using a homemade camouflage cover on the camera. My head was covered with the hood of a camouflage rain jacket, which I wear along with a camo life-vest, and camo rain pants, the latter being mostly for keeping my legs from getting wet from the paddles dripping water.

     The sides of the frame around the "cockpit" will detach and lay in the boat, which allows the camo cover to collapse under my arms. This facilitates paddling, as shown in the below left photo. This is one of those details of construction that I have not gone into deeply. If there is interest, I can provide more explanations and photos with details of the design and construction of this camo cover and frame.

     After this initial trial of the cover I was quite satisfied with the whole concept. As you can see, the nose of the boat still needs to be lowered somehow. So, it was now time for me to go into phase two of the project - trolling motor, boat seat adjustment, headrest, etc.

Go to Page Two for "Phase Two".