Kayak Camouflage

     My first experience in camouflaging a boat was my duck boat, covered in this article. Based on that article, both Adam Baskerville of Arkansas and Morgan Parks of North Carollina created camo covers for their kayaks, which are shown in this article. It was quite some time after that before I finally decided to try kayaking for myself. When I did, I bought a kayak that I hoped would serve me for photography. I had learned there are locations I could get to by paddling where my duck boat couldn't go because of the water depth required by the trolling motor. In the meantime, through my experimentation with camouflage techniques, I had learned to get better camouflage while using simpler and easier methods. One of the things I learned was that if I actually wore some of my camouflage, I wouldn't need complicated "blinds" to cover me. That meant I needn't turn the kayak into a floating blind for effective camouflage.

     Though my new kayak was an excellent mottled olive green camouflage color, that alone satisfied only one of my five elements for good camouflage. So, I set out to create camouflage for my kayak that would bring more of the five elements into play in as simple a manner as possible. Trying to take photographs while dealing with paddles makes photographing from a kayak a bit more difficult than from my duck boat. I especially did not want my kayak camouflage to complicate things any further. It had to be as simple and easy as possible to put on, use and remove, without restricting the handling of my cameras or my paddling in any way.

     Because of the good base color of my kayak, I didn't have to deal with trying to completely disquise a blue or red or orange kayak. I only needed to add texture, pattern, shape/dimension and natural movement. My idea was to use camouflage nylon netting as a "base" to which I could attach "decorations" that would add these missing elements. You can see in the photo at right, the netting is so transparent it would never have worked over a kayak of a bright color. I chose it because it was lightweight, tough, waterproof and quick-drying when it gets wet. It would allow me to experiment with attaching various kinds of camo materials to it to see what worked best.

     I bought a package of the netting containing a 12-foot by 56-inch piece. It would be long enough and wide enough to cover my 10-foot long by 30-inch wide kayak. I began the project by draping the netting over the kayak. First I clamped the netting to the bow handle of the kayak, then stretched it out the full length of the boat. The left edge (as viewed from sitting in the kayak) was allowed to hang down to approximately the waterline, with the excess hanging off the other edge. I tied a rope around the cockpit coaming and cinched it snug to hold the rest in place (below left photo), since this was essentially how the netting would be attached to the kayak anyway. I would put either a nylon rope or bungee cord inside the seam around the cockpit coaming - whichever proved to be the easiest to use.

     You can see in the left photos what my blue cockpit covering looks like through the netting. This is what a bright color kayak would look like, so it's obvious why this netting wouldn't work with anything but a green or brown, or perhaps gray kayak. However, this same method of making a cover using an opaque material as a base instead of the netting would also work well.

     The immediate left photo shows how I first cut the netting around the left half of the cockpit, about two inches inside the edge of the cockpit, but only on the left half. I stopped cutting about an inch or two to the right of the centerline of the kayak. Click on the photo to see the larger version. The part of the cockpit cover that is bright blue is where I folded the netting over the rope and pinned it to form a wide hem. I used safety pins because straight pins won't hold in netting. Once this hem is sewn, a rope or bungee cord will run inside it to hold the netting onto the cockpit by tying it snuggly up under the coaming.

     Next I cut the netting about 2 inches right of the centerline of the kayak from the bow to the cutout at the front of the cockpit. Then I did the same from the cutout at the rear of the cockpit back to the stern, essentially cutting off the right half of the netting. Be sure to cut over to one side of the centerline, as this will become the pattern for the right half of the netting. This way there will be overlap where the two halves will be assembled later.

     In the left photo below, the darker area is the netting that I cut off for the left side of the kayak pattern (it's flipped over in the photo so don't let that confuse you). Then I laid the rest of the netting (the large piece left from the pattern cutting) over my "pattern", and lined up its straight factory edge with the straight factory edge of the pattern piece. In the photo the far end is the bow - the closer end is the stern. Next I cut the large top piece to match the pattern piece under it.

     BUT WAIT - first take note that around the curve of the cockpit I cut it oversize, because that part of the pattern was already folded over and pinned. You can see in the photo at right how the netting looks lighter around the curve of the cockpit. That's where I cut the top piece about 2 inches from the apparent edge, since that edge is actually folded over and pinned on the "pattern" underneat it. If you cut it too close here, there will be nothing to fold over for the hem around the cockpit on the second half of the pattern.

     Now all you have to do is lay the two pieces back onto the kayak, overlapping them along the centerline from the bow to the stern and pin them together. Fold over and pin the hem around the right half of the cockpit, and adjust everything so it lines up on the kayak like it should. At this point I needed to pin up and trim around the stern where there was still excess netting that I did not bother with in the initial fitting. With this last bit of trimming and pinning, it's time to sew the two halves together, and sew the hem around the cockpit where the rope or bungee cord will go. Be sure you leave a spot open along the hem around the cockput, perhaps 3-6 inches long, where the two ends of the rope (if you use rope) can come out so it can be pulled snug and tied. If you use bungee cord, there still needs to be an open spot where you can insert the cord and adjust it before the ends are tied.

     The right photo shows the hemmed edge around the cockpit with some 1/8-inch nylon camo cord inside. I used this first to tie on the netting and it seems to work fine. No need to use the bungee cord. In fact, the nylon cord will stretch just enough that I can leave it tied, and still slip the cover on and off the cockpit coaming. Once it's slipped under the coaming lip it holds snugly. The only other places required to tie on the netting is at the handles. I cut a slit over the carrying handles at the bow and stern so they could slip through the netting. Then each slit was tied shut under the handle with one short piece of nylon camo cord to keep the netting from being lifted in a breeze. If you have the "T" style handles on a short rope, then use a tiny slit that the end of the T-handle will slip through. Once the whole handle is through, it will turn horizontal and not pull back through in a breeze - no tying necessary there.

     Now that the base cover of netting is fitted and on the kayak, the next step is to begin attaching the camouflage elements of choice. I'm starting out with my tried and true Hunter's Specialty Camo Leaf Blind material, which I keep on hand all the time. Instead of laying it flat over the netting, I'm trying a new technique that I first used on my Leafy Camo Suit. I cut sections of the material about 12-18 inches square, except that one edge is cut jagged (as if a shark took a bite out of it). This gives 3 sides basically straight, and one edge shaped like icicles hanging down. One benefit of this is that the jagged edge you cut leaves the jagged edge for the next piece already cut for you. The straight edge opposite the jagged edge becomes the top.

     Place this top straight edge along the cockpit coaming hem (for starters), then fold along the edge in a zig-zag pattern to form pleats, and pin it in place as shown in the upper left-most photo. The photo next to it shows how this causes the material to pucker up. Now you can see that this quickly adds the element of 3-D shape/dimensionality to the cover. This gives a far more natural look to the camouflage than when it lays flat. With the jagged ends hanging down, and the die-cut flaps of the material waving in the breeze, it adds the element of natural movement to the camouflage. The material itself adds the other two elements, texture and pattern, so my cover will have all the elements necessary for good camouflage.

     Using this basic technique, I added more of these pleated segments of camo material to the netting. In addition to the Camo Leaf Blind I will add "tufts of weeds" by using rafia, available from the floral and crafts section of your local department store or hobby/crafts center. The photos below show the project from several angles as it progresses. The right photo shows the rafia "weeds" on the bow which completely disguises the bow shape. The far right photo below does a good job of showing how the pleating gives an uneven textured surface to the deck of the kayak to give it a very natural-looking appearance. It doesn't matter that I'm not completely covering the netting because the kayak under the netting is a good green color for camouflage. The more variation there is, the more natural it will look. Once I get out on the water, additional elements of camouflage can come from the surroundings where I'm paddling. A dead broken branch lying on the bow or stern, small clippings of local plants and brush, dead weeds and other natural vegetation can simply be stuffed into the gaps around the camo material to customize the camouflage to the immediate surroundings.

     With the hull covering now finished, I tackled the problem of adding a camouflage cover over the front half of the cockpit. The large yellow dry bag that sits between my knees and holds my cameras (see photo at top of page) needs some serious camouflage, so incorporating a cockpit cover with the camouflaged hull skirt seemed pretty logical.

     First I made an arch from 1/2-inch CPVC water pipe by heating it with a hair dryer on high heat to make bending it easier. This holds the aft edge of the cockpit cover netting up high enough so I'll have room to access the large dry bag easily. The CPVC arch slips over a pair of 3-inch long wooden dowels of 1/2-inch diameter that fit perfectly into the CPVC.


     I drilled a hole through the center of these dowels and slipped them onto wire clips made from pieces of coat hanger wire, which in turn clip onto the cockpit coaming. I simply snipped a coat hanger in half with wire cutters and then bent the wire into the desired shape with pliers. I first tried this with a heavy wire coat hanger, but it was difficult to bend and shape. I then tried using a coat hanger of thinner wire and it was much easier to form the clips from it. You can see in the photos that the dowel has been shaved a tiny bit thinner. Though the 1/2-inch dowel fits the CPVC perfectly, I was afraid the wood might swell a bit if it got wet, so I shaved the diameter just a little to insure there would be no binding when slipping the arch on or off the dowel clips. If you create a cover for yourself, your clips will likely need to be shaped a bit differently, according to the form of your cockpit coaming. In any case the basic concept of the clip should work for most any kayak.

     With the finished dowels clipped onto the cockpit, I slipped the arch onto the dowels, and laid the leftover camo netting over the arch. Then I pinned the netting onto the arch and trimmed off the excess netting, leaving plenty of overlap for sewing this piece onto the main hull skirt later. At this point I put my large yellow dry bag in the cockpit and laid a piece of the die-cut Camo Leaf Blind material over the netting to test how much of the yellow would show through the die-cuts. Though it was not as visible as I feared it would be, I still decided to sew a piece of camo material underneath the netting. While I was at it I also sewed the hem where I'd pinned the netting along the arch where the CPVC slipped into it.

     Next I made more of the pleated camo pieces from the die-cut Camo Leaf Blind material, just as I had made for the hull skirt. I pinned these onto the cockpit cover piece. Then I sewed these to the cockpit cover piece while it was still separate from the skirt, since it would be much easier to handle BEFORE sewing it to the hull skirt. With the camo elements now sewn on, I inserted the arch and slipped it onto the dowel clips again. Next I pinned the edges of the cockpit cover piece into place on the hull skirt. Now it was time to sew the cockpit cover piece and the hull skirt together. With that done, the camo cover was complete. It slips on and off easily, without having to tie and untie the cord around the coaming, and it folds and rolls up into a small bundle that will fit a plastic Walmart bag.

     The only thing then left to camouflage was myself. For that I added camouflage elements to a lightweight shirt I wear for kayaking in warm weather. When the weather turns cooler, I can switch to my Leafy Camo Suit top and boonie hood. All that remains is to get a few photos of what this looks like in use. As soon as the weather and lake water level cooperate so I can get back into the marsh area again, I'll add some photos to this article.

Update: The photos at left show the camo in use, though it's not exactly the right environment (sitting in open water). The lake level was 2 feet below normal, so the marsh where I was hoping to take the camo photos was only a mud flat as I expected (note the background). In fact, I was bottomed out sitting there by the stump. I'll try again when the lake level is back where it should be to get into the marsh where I can give it a fair and practical test.

Update 2: Well, here on the right is another attempt at getting some photos, this time in March when it was cooler, with fewer leaves. It's still not the sort of location where I'd be lying in wait for birds, but at least the weather was suitable for me to wear my matching "leafy camo suit" jacket and hood for the photo, which is what I'd be wearing in Fall and Winter. Not too shabby for sitting right out in the open.

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