Introduction: Make an Open Kayak From Recycled Bottles

Picture of Make an Open Kayak From Recycled Bottles

A few years ago I was inspired by a very short video of a man making a small boat from recycled bottles. No matter where I looked, I couldn't come up with any instructions on how to make one of my own, so I had to set out without much guidance. I decided it would make a great dorm project because it was odd, messy, and yet totally inoffensive.

This is a really entertaining way of reclaiming and recycling those pesky plastic beverage bottles that always seem to be lying around, and it always turns a few heads on the lake. As an added bonus, it's recyclable!

The boat I've made resembles an open-topped kayak. It measures approximately 3 x 7.5 feet, and weighs roughly 50 lbs. Because the lids of the bottles are twisted on tightly, they keep the thing afloat, even if it’s swamped with water, so it’s basically self-bailing! It's perfect for flat water, and surprisingly durable, but I wouldn't advise anyone to try even small rapids with it.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

You will need just 3 things:

Plastic bottles with lids tightly in place (about 270). I used 20 oz. sports drink bottles because of their size and durable construction.

Adhesive. I used Liquid Nails polyurethane adhesive. I tried to use silicon caulking, but it just wasn't sticky enough for me. I'm sure there are better options.

Caulking gun

Step 2: The Deck

Picture of The Deck

The design resembles a simple flat-bottomed boat, or one of
those open kayaks you can buy at sporting goods stores. We’re going to make a few flat, raft-like layers and stack them on top of one another. Start by gluing bottles side by side in neat sections. When working with adhesives, it's advisable to have good ventilation. The glue that I used did not give off a very strong scent, but it's always a good idea to be safe. A line of adhesive about 3/16” – 1/4" wide is sufficient. You need a total of 12 horizontal sections for the deck of the boat. The sizes of sections are:

6 x 11 bottles

2 x 9 bottles

2 x 5 bottles

2 x 3 bottles

Step 3: The Hull

Picture of The Hull

Once these sections are glued, allow the adhesive to cure
according to the instructions on the tube. While you’re waiting for them to cure, you can begin assembling the next layer of the boat, which will act as the hull. It’s going to be slightly smaller than the first layer, but constructed similarly. You need 11 horizontal sections for the second layer. Their sizes are:

5x 10 bottles

2 x 8 bottles

2 x 4 bottles

2 x 2 bottles

Step 4: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

After you have allowed all of the sections to cure, begin gluing them end to end. Place a big glob of adhesive in the bottom of each bottle, and squish the caps of the adjoining section into it. You want the smallest sections at the ends, and the largest sections in the middle, to approximate an ellipse, as in the highly technical diagram above.

Keep the bottle caps facing towards the end of the boat until you get to the 6th section. At the 6th section, glue the 7th section with the bottle caps facing the opposite end of the boat. You want the caps in the back half facing the “stern”, and the caps in the front half facing the “bow”. Allow this layer to cure.

Step 5: Moar Assembly

Picture of Moar Assembly

Once the base layer has cured, begin gluing the second layer
on top of it. These bottles should be glued into the shallow “V” between each bottle of the base layer. Additionally, each section of the second layer should be offset, so that it touches 2 sections of the base layer, as shown in the picture. This second layer acts as the bottom of the boat, and gives it a rough “hull” shape.

Press the sections together tightly with heavy books, weights, or slow-moving relatives and allow to cure.

Step 6: The Seat

Picture of The Seat

Next, make the seat. You will need to construct a 2 x 11 section of bottles and glue it in position on top of the larger layer of bottles. You may choose to put it in the center of the boat, or just behind the center, depending on your size. It should be noted that this seat is really uncomfortable, so you'll probably want to supplement it with a nice foam cushion, or at least a folded up towel.

Step 7: The Final Step!

Picture of The Final Step!

Finally, you must construct the gunwales. The gunwales are the railings that go around the edge of the boat. In this project, they are useful for carrying the boat and reducing the amount of water that splashes in. Glue 2 rows of bottles side by side around the edges of the largest layer, being sure to gently curve them to a point at the bow and stern. After you have glued these in place, add one more row of bottles on top of the gunwales, for additional height/splash protection.

Step 8: Completion

Picture of Completion

Now you're ready to take it out on the water. By far the best method of paddling is a regular kayak paddle. I've used a canoe paddle before, but it's significantly more difficult to keep the boat going straight. I weigh about 180 pounds, and what might be called the "deck" of the boat sits juuuuuust above water level. If you're any heavier than me you may want to consider adding a third layer of bottles to the hull. This should provide you with enough buoyancy to keep you from getting too too wet. Keep in mind though, this is just a glorified bath toy and I wouldn’t expect to stay very dry while using it.

My hope is that this Instructable is helpful in guiding you in constructing your own boat from recycled bottles. You're welcome to ask me any questions if it isn't clear enough, and please feel free to get creative with your own design (I'm hoping for a viking longboat). Have fun and good luck!

A note on repair and recycling:
If a bottle gets punctured or damaged, its easy to replace. First, carefully cut it out using a utility knife. Next, peel off the old glue. This can usually be done by hand, but you may need to scrape off stubborn bits with the knife or sandpaper. Finally, just glue a new bottle in its place!

If you wish to recycle the bottles used in this project, you'll need to disassemble the boat. This is a courteous gesture to your local recycling plant workers who don't want to deal with a large, unwieldy object. It's also necessary. The glue must be removed before the plastic can be recycled. The adhesive I used can be peeled off by hand. Sand off any stubborn bits, or cut those sections out of the bottle.


Jake03 (author)2014-05-14

Hi. Icame across a video about four years ago showing how to make a surfboard out of pet bottles. The guy used a small amount of dry ice and water to create positivr pressure in each bottle. Made for more resistance. Hope that's helpful. Great build. I'm starting my own pet SUP board next week and will post (if it comes out all right).

BrianO97 (author)Jake032017-03-27

In the absence of dry ice you could try a small piece of anti-acid tablet.

bugcatcherjake (author)Jake032014-05-14

Wow! Now that is a creative solution. That would help a lot when using thinner bottles.

tomazzo (author)2014-05-11

HI, I work with plastics, and would recommend E6100 clear uv adhesive for a project like this. It's be much stronger after curing. Great Project! Thanks for sharing it. Tom

chancefour (author)tomazzo2016-03-31

I would like to use the string made from stripping out a plastic bottle in combination with my New Era rope making machine to make rope. Is the adhesive you talk about good for attaching the ends of such string together? I've been looking for a solution for this for a long time.

elijah274 (author)2017-05-03

that's amazing ??

R2D2S (author)2017-02-21

how long would it take\

jacobd90 (author)2017-01-11

Also a friend of mine was in boy scouts and they had to build makeshift boats out of sticks and a tarp and they'd weave the sticks together and rap the tarp around the weave and tie it and race across the creek, and the first 1 to build their makeshift boat and get to the other side of the creek won. So if someone wanted to not get wet they could rap the bottom with a tarp. Hope that's helpful ;-)

jacobd90 (author)2017-01-11

Hello I'm gonna build something out of bottles soon and I love to go out on the lake so I really wanna make a boat but don't wanna spend much money so I don't wanna get a lot of different glues. So what I wanna know is how well did the Liquid Nails turn out like could you pull a bottle off? and if so was it hard?

Jarinus (author)2016-10-16

how about adjusting an directable vin and the end and an row of straight flattend Bottlles under the drifter. Flattend straight bottles we can make by packing an row of bottles in some wet old towels or somewhat a like and put them between 2 Metal plates, press and heat then untill the towels are damping. Just a few exersiese with 2 or tree bottles untill you find the real temperator.

We then could open them and put an bended peach off plywood inside and glue them together

YashJ30 (author)2016-09-19

This is great, I weigh 65 pounds, and this was really fun. I used four flat bottles attached to a stick I found in the attic. The oar works great! Thanks, bugcatcherjake!

sadams16 (author)2016-04-03

I have an idea. I have a micro camper. 4'x8'x36" very small space. I can't live without a bench to set my things on that makes 2 spaces out of 1. I tried a cot way too large too close to the roof. I tried stacking the best foam mattress it was not enough without a box spring it is not worth it. So I was thinking maybe getting a sheet of plywood using bailing wire to tie the bottles to the plywood. This should make a decent hobo box spring to put 2 layers of memory foam on? I think I will use 20 oz or 16 in the center around the outside use 2 liters that should make a bowl like sleeping quarter. Nothing better than a bed that cradles you.

bugcatcherjake (author)sadams162016-04-06

Honestly I cannot recommend sleeping on anything made of plywood and bailing wire. It would be so uncomfortable, not to mention it would be pretty heavy. Have you looked at folding cots?

sadams16 (author)bugcatcherjake2016-09-06

36"prevents a cot I tried it and it does not work. I am going to get a serta mattress and rigging it up so I can store it on the wall. Adding a lounge chair to the inside for when I wish to watch tv and compute.

sadams16 (author)sadams162016-09-06

That or cut a hole in the bottom that allows me to rest my feet on the axle or the ground option. I can line that with a screen or no seeum mesh.

DiegoR6 (author)2016-03-31

Im going to try to make a rowboat version out of this if i can find enough bottles that are durable enough. My family goes through 4 or 5 1 liter setlzer bottles a week but i think those might get crushed easily...

GavinoU (author)DiegoR62016-08-25

I suggest you try this: first test one of the bottles by running over it with your car, the 2 liter water bottles I have used are super thin but I can run over them with my van and they don't pop. Second thing, I have used a tiny amount of coke + a tiny bit of mentos, (experiment the amounts and be careful not to overdo it!) it will pressurize the bottles so that they become real hard and nothing can crush them.

bugcatcherjake (author)DiegoR62016-03-31

They probably would, but that sort of comes with the territory. Mine is made out of just about the sturdiest bottles around, and they still get squished a bit. Just try to design it so that any weight pushing down on it gets spread over a wider area.

JaredL16 (author)2016-04-25

What kind of Liquid Nails did you use? In Lowe's I see Heavy Duty and Extreme Heavy Duty. Extreme Heavy Duty costs more, but should be a bit stronger.

bugcatcherjake (author)JaredL162016-06-17

the type I used is listed in the materials section. However, in the top comment Tomazzo, who works with plastics professionally, suggested a different type of adhesive that may be more effective.

Summer SED (author)2016-06-17

I have a kayak my son bought it for my birthday and I love it. My grandson and I take turns on it so when I saw this I had to show him. We are excited about making this project. He and I drink Wal-mart waters and when I found this I stopped taking them in to the recycling center. I am pretty sure we have enough bottles now, but if we don't we will shortly. He doesn't weigh that much so I don't foresee difficulty in it floating. Getting wet, not a problem that is what you expect when you go out boating. I will definitely take pictures when we complete it and post them here so you can see how sharing your project is allowing others enjoyment as well. Thank you.

astril (author)2016-04-05

How long did it take for you to collect enough bottles? I am assuming that you used Gatorade bottles? I love kayaking and really want a kayak. How much did the adhesive cost? I only weigh 98.5 pounds, would I be able to have a young child join me? My little cousin would love to go for a ride with me, and I want to know If it would be safe.

bugcatcherjake (author)astril2016-04-06

It took me about 6 months to get enough bottles. I collected them from family and friends, the public pool, and the roadside. I also asked the local recycling center for permission to go through their recent dropoffs, and got a decent amount. I did use only gatorade bottles. They were readily available, and have nice thick plastic. I bought a case of the adhesive that cost around $50. Depending on what you choose, it could be a bit more expensive. As mr. tomazzo mentioned, there may be a better adhesive. I weigh about 180 pounds, and the boat keeps me just above the waterline. Keep in mind that water will come through all of the gaps. I would say that you and someone your size or smaller would have no trouble staying afloat. However, you may want to consider making your boat a little longer to accommodate the passenger. Also, please make sure to wear lifejackets!

astril (author)bugcatcherjake2016-04-06

Ok thanks! An we will. I think I will put an extra layer on the sides so that it won't be as low in the water, my cousin is only 6 so she doesn't weigh to much .

Mark 42 (author)2016-03-31

You must still be on a sugar high from drinking all of those sports drinks!

bugcatcherjake (author)Mark 422016-04-06

I got a lot of them from the local recycling center, and a few more from the public pool! I also picked them up from the roadside and park.

LeonS5 (author)2016-03-31

I don't understand how water doesn't leak through the bottom?

cainchar (author)LeonS52016-03-31

It does to an extent- thus the "self-bailing" comment. Thinking of covering the "seat" portion with a cushion covered in waterproof fabric maybe?

Mark 42 (author)cainchar2016-03-31

You could wrap the outside of the boat in a tarp, or a clear plastic dropcloth.

cainchar (author)Mark 422016-03-31

Would sort of ruin the aesthetics and "cooling" effect though. Someone earlier was worried about getting wet- great plan for them (or use duct tape!)

bugcatcherjake (author)cainchar2016-03-31

Exactly. Think about it sort of like a bunch of inner tubes lashed together. A bunch of water sloshes through the big center holes, but because there's air sealed inside the tubes, they don't sink. Same idea with this thing. You'll get wet when you use it, but hey, what did you expect?

cainchar (author)2016-03-31

I am getting incredibly excited about this! Not sure I will make a kayak- perhaps a tanning platform (I know- shouldn't do that, we can call it a cooling zone!) The application ideas are broad! Many thanks!

Quester-59 (author)2016-03-31

May I suggest that you try filling one or three center lines of bottles with sand to act as an center weight, that will keep the boat upright at all times.

Myself, I'd use some heavy duty Velcro to make this addition removable, if needs be.

The boat I made is flat on the bottom, so it doesn't rock very much. I've never flipped it over!

fraser02 (author)2016-03-28

very cool!

you win the award for creativity anyway!:)

lmnohos (author)2016-02-08

Press the sections together tightly with heavy books, weights, or slow-moving relatives and allow to cure.

hilarious! the slow-moving relatives...

CReifschneider (author)2015-09-24

I would think with the grooves in the sports drink bottles that it would make it easy to lash together with a sturdy Marine braided cord or even wire, eliminating the need for glue in as many areas. But also easily removed and also recyclable items

What about Zip-Ties?

There is not much that can't be fixed with a little help from Zip-Ties and Duct tape :)

hknisley (author)CReifschneider2016-01-17

You could even use plastic twine cut from plastic bottles.

Inspectorq (author)2015-10-25

This is pretty much the coolest thing ever :)

HannahD6 (author)2015-08-04

Did you fill the spaces between the bottles completely? Or does it still float despite those spaces?

bugcatcherjake (author)HannahD62015-08-04

I didn't fill the spaces between the bottles. It floats because all of the lids are screwed on tightly.

domino66 (author)2015-01-31

I am going to try this to float on our pond!

Jonathanrjpereira (author)2014-11-24

Awesome Instructable. Congrats on the Win!

bugcatcherjake (author)2014-07-14

Wow, I can hardly believe this own the green design contest! Thank you to everyone that voted and commented!

supercapacitor (author)2014-07-08

Nice job!

lauraabcd (author)2014-06-15

Buenísima la resolución .!!Tantas cosas se pueden hacer con el mismo sistema . Muebles .........Tiene muchísima resistencia . Sería bueno usarlo más masivamente como solución .

Ricardo Furioso (author)2014-05-30

Nice job.

Thank you.

xxyir (author)2014-05-22

great idea and well explained !!

xxyir (author)2014-05-22

great idea and well explained !!

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