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Plastic shell fit-out


Jul 25, 2016
Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
Buying and fitting out a plastic kayak, modifying most of it, was not on my agenda, but somehow it happened.

In 2017 I called into a kayak factory owned and operated by the wonderful Grant family, friends and supporters of many paddlers in New Zealand. I had never seen polyethylene kayaks made and Q-Kayaks probably made most of the ones sold in our country.

It was fascinating to see the family business produce kayaks on an industrial scale but during the tour Max told me in-confidence that they were closing the factory and retiring. He also showed me some shells of kayaks that were 'seconds', due to imperfections in the moulding process. If the faults were structural the shells were chopped up and recycled, but if they were merely cosmetic they were completed and sold at a discount to rental companies, who weren't concerned about finish.

On a whim I convinced him to sell me the shell of a Skua, one of his most popular models. When in the mould it had been contaminated by dirt and there were a few dull patches and small pits in the plastic, nothing of concern to me. I'd only ever paddled a Skua once, but I thought it could make a good kayak to loan out to friends etc. Most of my other kayaks are custom fitted to me so of no use to others.



Max installed the foam bulkheads in their standard location, but left off everything else. I liked his boats, but I didn't really like the fittings and I also had some plans...

Time passed and it sat in my boatshed, getting in the way. There was always another project to do and the plans I had hatched standing in a kayak factory seemed a bit overwhelming when looking at a bare shell.

My goal was to have a kayak that was tough enough to loan to novices, that could be easily adjusted but that had a bulkhead-style foot plate, had a rubber rear hatch rather than the standard neoprene-cover-under-plastic-lid hatch, had a foam seat, and had a solid rudder.

Last year I finally started, and it's now mostly completed.

Some parts were easy enough: Making new carry handles that were strong yet comfortable took little time.


The rudder was one I already had, a gift from my friend Pete, who is very skilled in kayak work. It is fitted much closer to the stern than most commercially available models, which I think is a very important feature.


One thing I didn't like was the distance between where the rudder cables exited the hull through a moulding and where they attached to the rudder. It was about 600mm and I have seen kayak's get tangled together, and also swimmers grabbing the cables when under pressure. To reduce that distance I laid up carbon flanges, which I then screwed into the hull.



Some parts taxed my basic design and construction skills. Building a foot plate that could be easily adjusted in a tapering hull involved many false starts.

I eventually used alloy bars to lay up glass to which I attached adjustable-pedal tracks, bought online from China.


When fitted, the side tracks were one degree out of level and one millimetre out of parallel, remarkably fine tolerance for a man who does carpentry with a chainsaw and a sledge hammer!

I cut off the pedal brackets and glassed over the sliders, before making an angled plate which I bolted in place to check function. When happy I glassed it into one piece, from side to side.

Foot Plate1_Small.jpg

I then cut off the little flag-like handles as they seemed fragile and an entanglement hazard. I replaced them with plastic balls which are rotated to release the plate, allowing it to slide. The whole thing was then covered with firm foam. The rudder controls are adjusted to fit using cam buckles on straps.


Reshaping the rear deck to allow the fitting of a KajakSport hatch was a task that terrified me. I should have done it first in case I melted the whole thing, but it was the last major job. I called on the assistance of my great friend Pete, who takes jobs like that in his stride.

When the existing rim was cut out the deck needed lifting along the length of the rim to become flat. I had fashioned two plywood 'donuts' which mirrored the shape of the KajakSport rim, and wielding two hot air guns we carefully softened the plastic before clamping it into place.


Once it had cooled we then bolted the new rim into place, but that was also a challenge. It required the machine screws to be counter sunk, but the holes were shielded from above by the lip on the rim. Pete's solution was to shape a grinding tool into a ball and use it from the side, pressing down!


It's not quite finished: the Bumfortable seat is not fixed in place, the rudder deployment/retraction cords aren't finished, and I need to sort out the thigh braces, but it does float!

A couple of friends took it for a paddle and it was easy to adjust for their different heights, so I'm happy with that. It has about 250mm of leg-length adjustment, so most humans will be fine.



When I told Max, who had sold it to me, what I planned for his Skua he looked pained. I said that if it worked I'd send him some photos but if it didn't he'd never hear from me again!

I think I'm happy to send him some photos.


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Nice job on the re-fitting. I'm not a fan of plastic boats myself, but they do a good job for the folk who paddle them. I have never heard of the Skua, but your final result is a nice looking boat. The skookum rudder and the new hatches add to the whole look and most likely to the reliability of the boat. Congratualtions on a job well done.

Cheers, Rick
Very nice work. It is nice that you could "save" that boat and outfit with your personal preferences.
Plastic boats have a definite place in my small fleet because they are almost indestructible. While my wood and composite boats are kept indoors, the plastic boat can live outdoors in the racks or even leaning against the house year-round. While they are neither light nor elegant, but "they take a beating and keep on ticking".

John V B
Amazing hacks and mods! My first sea kayak was a plastic Puffin - did hundreds of miles of touring in that orange wunderboot!