Paddle Floats CHEAP

When I first started kayaking I was under the impression that once you buy a kayak, a paddle and a PFD, you’re done. It seemed like a relatively inexpensive sport to take up. Yeah right! Kayaking gear is expensive, and the cheap stuff… well you really don’t want it. Nowadays whenever I purchase anything I look at it in kayak units… that car repair is going to cost me “half of a poly kayak,” or to go to that concert is going to cost me “1/3 of a helmet,” etc., etc.

I remember being a new kayaker and deciding to go to Adventures Edge, Arcata’s outdoor store, to purchase all of my safety gear at the same time. Pump, float and tow rope, that couldn’t cost more than a few bucks, right? Guess again. $243.85 later I had decided that if I needed rescuing at sea this gear should not only get me back in my kayak, with no work on my part, but should wrap me in a warm blanket and make me hot coffee as well.

I am a kayak instructor and use paddle floats for my rolling classes. Six students per class, two paddle floats per student… this could easily lead to bankruptcy. So what are the other options? Something that floats… hmmm, beach balls, swimming arm bands and even PFDs have been substituted in my classes, but I like a system, and have decided that making my own paddle floats is the way to go.

As far as safety gear on the open ocean, the paddle float that I use is a Seattle Sport double chamber float. I like this float because it rolls up small, has two chambers, so in case one fails there’s a backup, It secures well on either a Greenland or a Euro paddle and it’s easy to inflate and deflate without any high-tech functions that I’d be sure to break. I should mention that I don’t like large boxey foam paddle floats. First, they take up too much room, and second, the amount of buoyancy cannot be adjusted. That said, the floats that I make myself are made of foam, but they don’t take up a lot of room, and they’re CHEAP.

So last weekend I’m at a rummage sale with the proceeds going to Support the local high school’s safe and sober graduation. The deal is, you pay $5 and get a large bag. You can fill it with whatever you want. I strolled around for a bit looking for that rummage sale piece that I just couldn’t live without. I’d already tossed a serving dish, an umbrella, a groovy shirt for my son and a couple of books into my bag… then I saw it… nestled amongst some old gardening stuff was a large, beat up, bright blue, foam camping mat. That would be my rummage sale score… paddle floats.

So the process:

1. Acquire a foam camping mat. Recycling is always good, and getting one from a rummage sale is not only inexpensive but better for the environment than buying new.

Rummage sale score.

2. Measure the widest part of your paddle blade, round up to the nearest inch, double it and add 3 inches.

Measuring the widest part of the paddle.

3. Make marks along the full length of the mat at the number you came up with in step 2.

Marking the mat.

4. Do the same with the other long side, and connect the markings using a straight edge. Cut along the line using a razor blade.

Cutting the foam into strips.

Cut foam.

5. Fold the strips in half (parallel to the cuts you made) and push down on the folded part hard to form a solid crease. Open and spread sealant along both long sides and the top edge. The glue can be spread up to one inch of each side.

Spreading sealant.


6. Wearing a glove, spread the sealant with your finger.

Smoothing out the sealant.

7. Fold and place something heavy on the float. If you have the Complete Works of Shakespeare handy and don’t plan on reading it in the next 24 hours, it works well as a weight. Follow the same steps with the rest of the foam strips.

Weighing down the paddle floats.

8. Let the glue dry and the crease set for several hours.

9. Check the floats. If the sealant is holding well, you might be done. If not, or to add a little more strength, you can sew them as well. To do this use thick thread and a needle. Start at the corner of the crease so that you can hide the end of the thread inside the crease.

The glued end of the paddle float.

Starting to sew.


Voila, you now have homemade paddle floats.

Affordable paddle floats!

6 Responses to “Paddle Floats CHEAP”

  • Chuck Haberlein says:

    Absolutely brilliant!

  • Bill Samson says:

    Now that’s what I call appropriate technology! Oddly enough, I have all the makings lying around my garage. I use camping mats inside my kayaks and eventually they wear through where I sit on them and get replaced. Happily, Ive not thrown out any old ones and have loads of material for making a big bunch of these floats!
    Like you say, for self-rescue a 2-chamber inflatable float is hard to beat, and I have ONE of these – but for rolling and bracing practice, your parsimonious version is perfect!
    Thanks again,

  • Donna Sylvester says:

    I like it and like Bill, I have everything here, too. Thanks for posting–step by step (with photo’s, too. Awesome, Helen.

  • Terry Nielsen says:

    Put one of your paddle floats on a spare paddle. Then put the paddle with float on the front deck with the float end under a bunge by the cockpit and the other end in a loop on the bow. Now you have an emergency rolling paddle. For someone with a poor roll this can give a reliable roll. It’s a lot quicker to remove it and roll than to wait for help or bail out and have to get back in and pump. It works best with inuit paddles.

  • Terry Nielsen says:

    I’ve also been testing a lot of cheap and free paddle floats. One of the best is a 5 liter bag left over after drinking a box of wine. Put it into a mesh bag from a 5 pound bag of oranges, insert the paddle between the bags and blow up the wine bag. I large twisty or small bunge will hold it onto a paddle as well as the buckels on the store bought floats. It’s free if you would have bought the wine and oranges anyway. You can also put your hand in instead of a paddle for practicing hand rolls. It’s easy with a full bag – harder as you let air out.
    Aluminized mylar party ballons work also. After the helium leaks out you can refill them with air.
    I have also used a sleeping pad wrapped arround a paddle and tied on. It fits on the front deck of many boats as an emergency rolling paddle, has a lot more buoyancy, and is still usable for sleeping so you don’t have to carry another for camping. I’ve also tried fastening a plastic cheese puff barrel to a paddle or a pole to do double duty as a rolling paddle and semi-dry storage. It’s a bit awkward but it works. A foam float 2 inches by 6 inches by 48 inches doesn’t take up a lot of usefull space on the front deck and it has much more buoyancy than commercial floats. Not many people would need such a big one.

  • greg says:

    Looks good, but how does this home made float work on a large person re-entering. Say 200 lbs body weight plus wet clothes. Do you need thicker foam? What thickness in inches would be appropriate at this weight?

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