Refinish vs replace the skin on a SOF kayak?

I came across a SOF kayak that appears to be in good shape, though the owner said that it needs to be reskinned. A cursory inspection, including filling the boat with water to clean it out, indicates that the skin is in good shape. But the finish is worn away in spots. Is there a way to “refinish” the skin to prolong its life, or must the kayak be reskinned entirely. If the latter, then I will likely pass on this boat. But if there is a way to renovate the finish then I will consider acquiring it. Images attached. Any advice appreciated.

Thank you!

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I don’t know the answer to your question, but I would try posting it at, it’s focused on SOF.

Skin boats are typically coated with either single-part or two-part polyurethane, and that seems to be the case here. The skin material appears to be either Nylon on polyester, which is good, as they don’t rot. Where the finish has flaked off, it should be possible to re-coat it after it’s thoroughly cleaned, but the duct taped area concerns me, as that’s usually a sign of an emergency repair of a cut or puncture. If that’s the case, it will have to be patched, but that’s not a huge job. You’ll have to remove as much of the damaged finish as possible with a dull metal or plastic putty knife, with the corners rounded so they can’t dig into the skin. Any intact finish that’s well-adhered will need a light sanding in order to get a decent bond when you recoat it.

Also, I suspect that the boat has been stored outdoors in the sun, which is why the finish is so badly damaged. If so, it’s also means it’s been exposed to fresh water (rain, snow) and that can cause the frame to rot. Examine it carefully and push on the areas where the frame touches the skin to see if the wood is soft. If not, it should be OK, but if it’s spongy, walk away.

Assuming that this seems like a decent candidate for recoating, it may be possible to bleach some of the stains out it before you do. Sloshing a bleach and water solution around the inside would also kill any mold or mildew.

When you’re ready to re-coat it, you have choices of finishes. Minwax Helmsman Spar Varnish is one of the least expensive options and works well, but just be aware that it has an amber tin to it, in case that matters to you. Lowes sells it, but apparently Home Depot sells Varathane now, which I haven’t tried, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I used Zar Exterior Satin oil-based polyurethane on most of my skinning jobs. It’s good stuff, and is quite durable, but it can be somewhat expensive. Apparently, Home Depot carries it now, so it should be easy to find.

You want to use oil-based varnish on synthetic fabrics, not water-based, so make sure you have a well-ventilated area to do the work. It will take 2-3 quarts to get 3-4 coats on the skin. FWIW, I think satin varnish looks best, but if you prefer gloss, go for it.

You could use a two-part finish, but they’re expensive, more complex to apply and I can’t see the point it doing it on an old skin.

The easiest way to apply the finish is with a small foam roller. Use a foam brush to tip off any bubbles, if necessary (Google “roll and tip painting” for more info). Keep a wet edge and don’t over-roll it.

That’s about all I have for you at the moment. If you have any questions, post them here and I’ll do my best to help.

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Thanks for all the advice and info @bnystrom! I don’t know what the duct tape was about, but it doesn’t look like the skin has any punctures or tears. And I don’t think it was kept outside, but will definitely check the structure as best I can. My sense is that if we like the boat enough I’ll renovate the finish as you suggest. Any idea how long a skin should last and if there is anyone in NY who might be able to reskin it when the time comes?

I am currently replacing the skin on my Kayak. It also allowed me to find a cracked stringer and find a spot of rot.

Unfortunately, I really can’t answer either of these questions. There are too many variables to know how long the fabric will hold up, especially given the current damage. Since most SOFs are home-built, I don’t know who could reskin it, but you may be able to find out by posting on the forum at

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Thanks @bnystrom. I put the kayak in the water yesterday, prior to refinishing, and in a half hour she took on no water. So I guess that’s a good sign for now.


@bnystrom, I sanded the kayak down in preparation for coating it with minwax spar urethane. Unless you tell me that product is not advisable. In the process I discovered a small, 1/16 inch hole, which you can see in the attached picture. It appears blue because we are looking through it to a blue surface below. How should I patch that? Would a bit of aqua seal be enough or is there another method I should use. Once again, the skin is not going to last very long. I’m just trying to get the boat up to speed for messing about before deciding to purchase it.

I have been advised that with all the cracking of the original finish, I might do best using a spray-on rubber sealant, like Rubber Flexx, for a somewhat better, though temporary fix. Thoughts anyone?

I’ve got larger holes than the one you are showing in my SOF, which I filled with a dab of Aquaseal when I was touching up the stitches in the skin last time I gave it a once-over. The touch up has worked fine for several years.

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I have a SoF kayak, so I am sorry I missed this. Re-skinning is not really that difficult if you can basic sewing. The sewing does not even need to be pretty, it just adds to the character of the boat. Once you get it as tight as you can by stitching, you take some heat to it to stretch, and then paint or varnish.
If the frame is in great shape, I would continue to use as is for the season, and re-skin it this winter. It should only take a couple of hours.

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Don’t worry about it. When I skin a boat, the stitching holes are often larger than 1/16". Just coat the skin and if that doesn’t seal it, once the initial coat gets tacky, put a drop of the coating right on the hole and let it cure. There’s no need to use any other sealant.

Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane (green can) is fine, but I wouldn’t use a water-based poly as it may not bond as well to the existing finish. I’ve used Helmsman on a couple of skins and it holds up pretty well, but be aware that it will add a distinctly amber color to the skin. I don’t find it objectionable, and on a boat with a lot of scars, it may help to hide some of them. Plan on applying at least two coats, ~24 hours apart.

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Thanks everyone. I took the advice to use a rubberized sealant which I was told might hang on the skin better as it fills the cracking and peeling finish and creates a thick, flexible layer. I used clear Flex Seal and it looks good and seems to have adhered well. Unorthodox and a bit weird feeling, and it probably added 2-3 lbs to the kayak, but it now appears that I might get another year or two out of the skin.

And when the time comes I’ll take the above advice if I re-skin myself.

I hope you have better luck with Flex Seal products than I have. My experience has been that they’re not durable and don’t adhere especially well, long-term.

I hope so as well. Considering the state of the finish I don’t think another coat of poly would’ve lasted very long either. If I get another year out of it I’ll be happy as I just wanted to keep the kayak going long enough to decide if I should make it mine, which I now have. When I started on this journey I fully expected that I would need to replace the skin immediately.