Make an Open Kayak From Recycled Bottles




Introduction: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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.

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    121 Discussions

    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).

    2 replies

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

    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

    1 reply

    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.

    that's amazing ??


    1 year ago

    how long would it take\

    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 ;-)

    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?

    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

    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!

    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.

    3 replies

    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?

    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.

    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.

    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...

    2 replies

    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.

    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.

    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.

    1 reply

    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.