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DIY Kayak Sail

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homemade kayak sailIf you love kayaking, or you’ve become bored with kayaking, and you haven’t yet looked into kayak sailing–you must!  I made my first kayak sail…and tried kayak sailing for the first time this past summer and it’s a blast!

I made my sail from items I found around the house and a few minor purchases; however, you can purchase a pre-made kayak sail online if you’re not into making things, or you don’t have the time and would rather spend the money.  I thrive on creating new things; so, I just had to make one!

I know, you’re looking at the height of my sail and thinking a good wind could tip the kayak over.  I know this because it was one of my first thoughts as I put it together. However, while this might be true in some  condition or series of events that I have not yet experienced, I could not tip my Heritage Kayak over while trying to do so in a substantial wind. The only consequence of my actions was that the sail collapsed onto the water and acted like an outrigger–actually preventing me from tipping the kayak even though I put effort into trying to tip it.  NOTE: my kayak is a very stable flat bottom fishing kayak; a different kayak might respond differently.

The wind catches this sail nicely; however, I might make my second sail a smidge wider?  I think I’m going to use a high quality shower curtain for my next sail and include the same window that you see in this one.  I’m also considering plastic electrical conduit pipe instead of PVC because it is thicker than PVC without adding any significant weight, and its grey, not white.

It was a bit tricky, yet loads of fun, learning the ins and outs of steering.  I ended up in places that I didn’t intend to be on more than one occasion.  The inermittent wind which kept switching direction on that initial trip added to the adventure. This trial and error steering how-to lesson was amazing fun, adding a new flavor to an old favored activity!

I’m going to give you some information about how I made my sail and at the same time provide you with some clickable links to some very affordable sails.  If you have any questions, please enter them in the comment section below. and I’ll be glad to answer them.

Kayak Sail

notice that the sail does not go all the way down to the kayak. It needs to be up and away from the kayak.

ITEMS USED TO MAKE MY KAYAK SAIL: the side of an old tent for the sail (LOL), small piece of heavy duty clear shower curtain for sail window, 2 small hose clamps (automotive), PVC pipe, 2 PVC elbows, 2 PVC caps, 2 bungee cords, a camera bag strap, PVC glue, kayak eye pads, paracord, 1 hold down strap from the tent, hemming tape, good sewing thread, & sewing machine.

I began my journey looking for material and eventually chose one of the old tents laying around in our basement.  I literally cut the V shaped side out of the tent and hemmed it (hand stitched).  The top screened area of the tent was then cut out and I sewed in the heavy duty shower curtain liner to create the window (see top photo).  I used hemming tape along the edge of the plastic as I sewed the window in place to help reinforce the stitching rather than stitch directly to the plastic. Because this area was once a screened window, it was already reinforced adequately enough for the window I put into it; cutting off the excess material and hemming  just below the new plastic window worked great!

The tent pole tunnels only went about 3/4 of the way down the side of the tent/up the side of the sail, so I had to add a section to each side so that the PVC would go all the way to the top of the sail.  I left an open area between the newly added and existing tent pole tunnels; this gap between new and old is were I used the hose clamps to clamp on the paracord and 2 bungee cords.

This is something that I will change when I make the next one.  I tried to include a clasp so that the paracord could be unclipped from the clamps for easier removal and the clasp snapped!  So I need to find something a bit more rugged–until then, I have the paracord tied directly to the hose clamps.

kayak sailing

eye pads must be bolted in place and not pop riveted. Riveted eye pads will snap from the pressure

All PVC connections are glued together with PVC glue. All eye pads need to be bolted down, not riveted. Pop riveted eye hooks will just pop right out from the pressure!

I chose to strap the sail onto my kayak because I was leery of putting any permanent attachments or new holes because I didn’t know if it would work or if I would like it; so, I strapped the sail to my kayak with a camera case strap by connecting the strap to two existing eye pads on either side of the front of my kayak (I imagine distance from the tip of the kayak might be important; but, I just put it were it was convenient and it worked).

diy kayak sailThis is a hefty wide strap with two hefty clips on both ends.  As you can see in the photo, the strap is run through the two PVC Ts and the other end run beneath the PVC Ts. It’s kind of rustic; but, I was adlibbing as I went along LOL

Note: The width of that camera strap helps it fit snug enough within the PVC Ts; if a thinner strap was used, I’d suspect some sort of lining, like a hose or smaller piece of PVC would have to be added inside the PVC Ts to take up some of the space? That’s a guess; but, I think very likely to be true.

I tied a piece of paracord between the two Ts (around both pieces of strap) and on the open/non-stitched end (around both pieces of strap) to help hold the two portions of the strap together.  This could be stitched I suppose; but, the paracord has held it just fine. I would suggest stitching this; however, I  wasn’t willing to give up such a nice strap until I knew it would work. I originally thought that this strap would have to be really tight; but, I was delighted to find that it requires some slack to operate.  The sail won’t lie down to it’s resting position beside the kayak, and it is more difficult to steer,  if this strap is too tight.

The 2 bungee cords on the front of the kayak have open hooked ends.  I would rather use closed clipped ends; but, I didn’t have those and I didn’t want to spend money on this experiment until I found out if it was going to work.  I plan on updating to some closed clipped end bungee cords in the future. I originally thought these bungee cords would have to be tight–again, my assumption was wrong.  Those two bungee cords (see 2nd photo from top) are very slack; in fact, they only lightly hold it in place.  The bungee cords attach to the same hose clamps used to attach the paracord.

DIY kayak sailThe paracord used to steer and operate the kayak sail runs from one hose clamps to the other hose clamp on the kayak sail and through 4 bolted (not riveted) eye pad hold downs in between, forming a loop around the cockpit of the kayak.  I sat in the kayak to decide where to put the eye pads to which the paracord would run through.

Click here for more DIY Kayak Projects

The most forward eye pad hold downs needed to be as close to me as possible without getting in the way of paddling!  Be sure you don’t place them so that the paracord coming down from the sail is in the way of proper paddling maneuvers.  There are two more bolted eye pad hold downs behind the cockpit that the paracord runs through–I did this so that I could have my full skirt on the kayak and not have the sail cord interferring with getting the skirt off in an emergency.  I would not recommend running the paracord around the skirt groove on the cockpit if you are also planning on using a skirt with the sail; I think that could be dangerous!

It also folds down to the side of my kayak when not in use. I used one of the tent tie back hooks to secure the folded sail to the side/back of my kayak when it is in the down position (see photo below).

I’m going to make another kayak sail using some heavy duty shower curtain material and maybe change my design a little.  I also plan on making a rudder that I can operate with my knees because I found that I’ve had to drag my paddle to help steer. This can make operating the sail and dragging the paddle a little complicated at times.

This kayak sail has been a lot of fun and works much better than I expected. I had to put it down and wait for my paddling companions a few times during our last paddle… it moves right along.  At one point, they said we should be heading back because we’ve paddled quite a ways.  Didn’t seem so to me; but, I was sailing.  When I paddled back, I realized we had traveled quite a distance more than I had realized! LOL

DIY kayak sail

Kayak sail in fold down storage position.


Hope you have fun with this information. Be safe!  I’m not a professional sailer. In fact, I’ve never sailed prior to this adventure!  If you chose to use any part of these directions and/or information, do so at your own risk.

Check out Lou’s how to kayak with a dog book ($4.29 kindle/$6.72 print)! Click here.

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DIY Kayak Sail
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1 Comment

  • Colleen says:

    Very cool DIY project. I’m a sailor but not a kayaker (yet) but I can totally see how I could get into kayaking with a fun little sail like this. Seemed pretty easy to put together too!

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