Transporting a kayak is not terribly difficult, but it’s important to make sure you load your boat properly onto your vehicle to ensure it stays secure. In this video, you’ll learn how to:
- Carry a kayak: With two people, each person holds a grab handle and lifts. If you’re by yourself, you can get the kayak onto a shoulder.
- Put a kayak on a vehicle: The easiest way is with the help of a friend. You’ll pick the boat up by each end and place it on the rack. If you’re solo, there are a couple of options depending on your rack system.
- Tie down a kayak: Using cam straps is the simplest and fastest way to secure the boat.
How to Carry a Kayak
Carrying a kayak with two people is simple:
- Each person grabs an end of the boat by the grab handle at the bow or stern.
- Lift the boat. Rather than having one person backpedal, both people can face the direction you’re going.
- You can carry two boats this way, taking a grab handle from each boat in each hand.
If you’re solo, you can likely still carry your kayak, unless it is really large and heavy. Here’s how to carry a kayak by yourself:
- Stand on the left side of your kayak and face the boat.
- Squat down and grab the edge of the cockpit that’s closest to you with both hands and pull the edge of the boat up onto your thighs.
- Reach across the boat with your right arm and grab the inside of the boat by the underside of the cockpit.
- As you stand up, lift the kayak up onto your right shoulder.
- Let the rim of the cockpit rest on your shoulder. Find a balanced positioned so that the boat neither tips forward nor back.
(If you’d prefer to carry the kayak with your left arm, start out on the right side of your boat and use the opposite arm in the steps above.)
Tips for Carrying a Kayak
- Protect your back: Bend with your knees and keep your back straight when reaching down to pick up your kayak.
- Wear your PFD: If you’re carrying your boat by yourself, you can wear your PFD to add padding at your shoulder for the kayak to rest on.
- Use a cart: If you find carrying a kayak solely by hand to be too difficult, look into a cart with wheels.
How to Put a Kayak on a Vehicle
Before putting a kayak on top of your vehicle, you need only a handful of essentials:
- Crossbars: Crossbars run across the roof of your vehicle. Most crossbars attach to factory-installed bars that run front to back on your car, but this depends on your vehicle type. There are also crossbars that go in the bed of a truck.
- Rack/padding: Specific kayak rack systems that attach to the crossbars and cradle the boat in J- or V-shaped forms are most secure.
- Cam straps: Cam straps quickly and securely hold your kayak down. You’ll need two straps that are about 12 feet long or longer.
- Bow and stern lines: You can use a nonstretch, water-resistant rope (rope will vibrate less than nylon webbing), but special ratcheting lines make the job quick and easy. You usually need one line for the bow and one for the stern, though this can vary based on the length of your boat and your vehicle.
Loading a Kayak With Help
With the crossbars and rack/padding installed and the straps/lines at the ready, you can place your kayak on top of your vehicle. The easiest way to load a kayak onto a car is with two people:
- With one person at each end, carry the kayak by the grab handles and position it next to and parallel to your vehicle with the bow toward the front of the car.
- Grab the kayak at each end by the hull (not the grab handles) and lift the boat overhead. Take care to lift with your legs, not your back.
- With the boat overhead, place the boat so it’s directly above the rack, then set it down gently on the rack. The proper position for the boat is determined by the type of rack you have.
Loading a Kayak by Yourself
Some people have the muscles and height to lift a kayak onto their car by themselves, but if that’s not you, here are some tips for solo loading:
- Use a lift system: There are kayak racks with integrated lift systems that make loading the boat simple. They typically slide from the top of your vehicle down to the side so you don’t have to lift your kayak as high. Once the boat is properly loaded and strapped down, you lift the rack system up on top of your vehicle. These racks are pricey, but effective.
- Get rolling wheels: Another rack solution is to use one that incorporates rolling wheels. These allow you to simply set the bow of the boat into the rear rack cradle, pick up the stern end and roll the kayak forward into the front cradle. These are less expensive than racks with integrated lift systems.
- Use a towel or blanket: For a low-tech, low-cost solution, try placing a towel or blanket on top of the rear of your vehicle and then setting the bow of the boat on the towel or blanket. Pick up the stern and push the boat up and forward onto the rack.
Loading Multiple Kayaks
If you have enough space, it’s possible to transport more than one kayak on top of your car. (Note: Make sure you have enough straps.) Here are some tips for how to carry multiple boats:
- Add a second rack: By adding another rack to the crossbars, you may be able to transport a second kayak the same way as the first one, but it will depend on the width of your boats and your crossbars.
- Use stacker bars: If you’re trying to get two, three or even more boats on top, stacker bars may be the answer. These let you put the boats on their side so they take up less space. Stacker bars are frequently used with lighter, shorter whitewater kayaks, but they can also be used with recreational and touring boats.
How to Tie Down a Kayak
The easiest way to tie down your kayak to your car is with cam straps. You won’t need to know any special knots; you simply feed the straps through buckles and cinch them down.
- Make sure your kayak is centered fore and aft between the crossbars on your car and running parallel with the car.
- Take a cam strap and position the buckle so it is resting on the side of the kayak a few inches above and to the side of one of the crossbars. Toss the other end of the strap over your kayak.
- Walk around to the other side of your vehicle, grab the end of the strap and loop it underneath the crossbar then toss it back over your boat. Make sure the strap is to the inside of where the crossbar attaches to the vehicle. This will prevent the strap from slipping off the end of the crossbar.
- Walk around to the first side again and loop the end of the strap underneath the crossbar then up into the cam buckle and cinch it down. Again, make sure the strap is to the inside of where the crossbar attaches to the vehicle.
- Repeat with the other strap on the other crossbar.
- Tighten both straps until snug but not overtight. Too much tension can deform plastic hulls and crack fiberglass.
- Tie off the loose ends of the straps just below the cam buckles, then tie any remaining slack to the crossbars. This backs up the cam buckles and prevents the slack from flapping around while you’re driving.
- Grab hold of either end of the kayak and shake it from side to side to make sure it is secure.
Bow and stern straps: It’s also recommended that you secure the bow and stern of the kayak to your vehicle, especially if you’ll be driving in high winds or on the freeway. Ratcheting bow and stern lines make it simple. Here’s how to install ratcheting bow and stern lines:
- Hook the end of the line with the ratchet to a secure point on the front of the kayak, such as the grab handle.
- Attach the other end of the line to a secure point on your vehicle. If you don’t have a secure point, such as a tow hook, you can install a hood loop strap to create one. Never attach the tie-down straps to plastic parts on your car.
- Pull the free end of the line down to tighten the line until snug. Be careful not to overtighten.
- Tie off the loose end of the line just below the ratchet.
- Repeat with the stern line.
Tips for tying down a kayak:
- Keep it simple: Using fancy knots and wrapping straps every which way may look cool, but keeping things simple is often the fastest and most-secure way to go.
- Use a ladder: If you’re shorter and/or have a tall vehicle, keep a small stepladder in the back of your car that you can use to make reaching the straps a whole lot easier.
- Add a twist: Putting a simple twist in the cam straps can help prevent annoying strap vibration while you’re driving.
- Lock the straps: You can buy locking cam straps that can only be unfastened with a key. These can give you peace of mind when leaving your boat on your car for a quick run into a store or restaurant. If you’re leaving your kayak for an extended time, you’ll need a more secure solution, such as a locking cable.
- Know the trucker’s hitch: If you don’t have cam straps or ratcheting bow and stern lines, you can use rope instead. Make sure it is nonstretch and water-resistant. And know how to tie a trucker’s hitch so you can get the lines nice and tight.
- Stop and check: After about 15 minutes of driving, pull over and give the kayak a tug to make sure it is still secure. Sometimes the straps can loosen up while driving.
How Do You Safely Transport a Kayak?
Transporting your kayak is one of the first challenges you’ll face when you begin kayaking. Even if you have a kayak delivered to your house, you’ll still need a reliable and safe way to transport your kayak each time you want to go paddling.
So what is the best way to transport kayaks? The best and safest way to transport a kayak is by securing it to a roof rack on top of your vehicle. If you don’t have a roof rack or don’t want to install one, there are alternative methods to transporting a kayak, including: in the bed of a truck, on a trailer, or even behind a bike.
Transporting an improperly secured kayak can cause serious damage to your vehicle, your kayak, or to other people on the road. So it’s crucial that you think about what method is best for you in advance. Take time to consider the different methods, so you can better understand your kayak transport options.
Ideally, you should figure out how you’re going to transport your kayak before you buy one (and I’m saying this as someone who’s pretty impulsive). But even if you haven’t had time to think about it in advance, there are still plenty of options for your particular needs.
Things you’ll need to consider in planning to transport your kayak:
You also need to think about the features on your vehicle and the nature of your trip. Your preferred method of kayak transport for a short trip down a smooth road might be very different from a long trip that involves bumpy, uneven roads.
Regardless of the transport method you choose, there are a few steps you should always take when you’re securing your kayak during transport. These steps will make the job easier … and safer.
1. Use a Cockpit Cover
When you’re transporting a kayak, you should try to use a properly fitted cockpit cover. This serves multiple purposes. For one, you want to protect the inside of your kayak as you transport it. You don’t want road debris to fly into the kayak or otherwise do damage.
Another big reason to use a cockpit cover is your kayak will be more secure…and your trip will be safer. If the cockpit is not covered, wind that builds as a vehicle speeds up may pull the kayak out of the straps meant to keep it steady. This can not only cause major damage to your kayak, it can pose a huge risk to yourself and other drivers if it breaks loose altogether.
To be fair, I transport my recreational sit-inside kayaks with no cockpit cover all the time and never have had problems. But a cockpit cover on more expensive, sea or touring kayaks is definitely a good idea.
2. Routinely Check All Straps
If kayak transport were to have a golden rule, it would likely be to check (and recheck) all straps and lines before you leave and throughout your trip. A good rule of thumb is to stop after about the first fifteen minutes of driving and ensure that all the straps are tight enough.
It may seem like an inconvenience to stop just minutes after starting a trip, but having your kayak slip off during transport will be way more painful. Take a few minutes to ensure the lines are still secure since they can loosen as you drive.
When you stop for a bathroom or food, check the straps again. You’re already getting out of your car, so you might as well make good use of the stop.
If you hear any unusual sounds coming from your kayak as you drive, it’s best to just pull over as soon as you can to make sure that everything’s secure.
3. Use a Red Flag For Visibility
Unless you’re moving your kayak on a stretch limousine (pro tip: don’t transport your kayak on a stretch limousine), then part of your kayak will likely be hanging over the back of your vehicle or out the bed of your pickup.
So you’ll want to make sure other drivers are aware of the overhang. It’s good practice to attach a red flag to the rear end of your kayak during transport. In fact, some states even require one by law.
Be sure to check state road rules before you transport a kayak so you can avoid fines. It takes very little effort to add a warning flag.
4. A Little Help Goes A Long Way
A final general consideration is to have help whenever possible. You might physically be able to move a kayak by yourself, but it’s much easier and safer if you have another person to help you, especially hoisting it up over your head and onto a tall vehicle like an SUV.
How to Transport a Kayak With a Roof Rack
As you’ve probably realized by now, there are two main ways to transport a kayak:
- On top of a car with a roof rack
- On top of a car without a roof rack
But you’d be surprised how many people are unsure if they can transport a kayak with a roof rack on their car.
Either they think their car can’t bear the weight of the kayak, or the kayak isn’t aerodynamic enough, or they simply don’t think their kayak can be tied down safely.
So, to answer this burning question:
Can you transport a kayak on a roof rack? You can absolutely transport your kayak on top of your car attached to a roof rack. It’s convenient, it’s safe, and as long as your car’s roof rack is secured to the roof of your car and is rated to hold the weight of your kayak, most car racks are perfect for transporting your kayak.
First, take a look at the roof of your car. What do you see up there?
Many vehicles come with some sort of roof rack that’s already installed. Most SUVs have a version of a luggage rack on the roof that will work for transporting a kayak. Some SUVs already have a complete roof rack system installed, so that you only need materials specific to kayaks.
While there are several different types of roof racks (more on that in a moment), the tie-down procedure to secure your kayak is pretty much the same for each one.
If your vehicle doesn’t have any kind of roof rack, don’t worry. There are plenty of removable roof racks out on the market. There are a few extra steps involved to make sure a removable rack has been properly secured to your vehicle. Once those are done, you can secure your kayak for transport as usual.
Types of Roof Racks
Side rails and crossbars: As I mentioned earlier, there’s many SUVs on the market come with a complete roof rack system already installed. These will have side rails for a frame, with several crossbars covering the width. If your vehicle has this type of system, then good news: you just need a few attachments to be ready to transport your kayak.
- Side rails only: Some SUVs have only side rails and no crossbars. Others have both. If your vehicle doesn’t have factory-installed crossbars, you can purchase separate bars. There are many options for crossbars so you can find the correct size and style to fit with your vehicle. The crossbars are designed to attach to the side rails that are already on your car’s roof.
- Removable roof racks: For vehicles that don’t have any sort of roof rack system, you can buy a removable system. Removable roof racks are usually in a soft form, meaning that there is some foam that cushions harder bars on the inside.
Removable roof racks are a great choice for sedans or other vehicles without roof racks. If you decide to opt for a removable soft roof rack, keep in mind that they typically do not elevate the kayak above the car very much. This can cause problems if the vehicle has a particularly round roof.
The vehicle must also have a wide enough roof to allow for proper spacing of the rack. So if you’re driving a little hatchback, then it might not be big enough to accommodate one.
In all cases, keep in mind that a factory-installed roof rack system is likely to be more durable and secure. Use caution when you decide on a removable roof rack for long or heavy transport.
Kayak Attachments to Roof Racks
Once you have an adequate roof rack system set up, you still need attachments designed to transport a kayak on the roof rack.
There are a few main types of attachments that you can use for your kayaks:
- Saddles: These are the preferred method for many kayakers. A saddle is like a small, cushioned platform that attaches to the roof rack. The kayak rests on the saddle and is stabilized by the attachment. Some people use a pair of saddles underneath the bow and another pair of saddles under the stern, but you can also just use one pair underneath the middle.
- J-cradles: When you use a j-cradle, you will actually position the kayak on its side. This may seem odd, but it helps to prevent plastic kayaks from warping out of shape. You can also transport two kayaks side by side with j-cradles. These pieces are essentially padded bars in the shape of the letter J, hence their name.
- Stacker: A third type of kayak attachment is a stacker. As the name implies, a stacker allows you to transport more than one kayak at a time. Like j-cradles, the kayaks are positioned on their sides. A stacker is the best option if you want to transport multiple kayaks at the same time.
- Foam blocks or pads: These are a temporary addition that you can use if you do not want to invest in a more complex system. The goal with temporary blocks is to add padding to the roof rails that are already on a vehicle. This can be done with different types of foam strapped to the bars, such as pool noodles.
How Do You Load a Kayak on a Roof Rack?
After determining that you have the proper setup, now comes the fun part: loading and securing your kayak to the roof of your vehicle.
- It is easiest to load a kayak with the help of another person. With two people, each person uses the grab handles at either end of the kayak in order to hold the kayak parallel to the vehicle.
- Lifting at the same time, both people raise the kayak so that it is over the roof rack.
- Then they’ll carefully lower the kayak onto the roof rack. Be sure to have the kayak centered appropriately.
- If you are loading a kayak by yourself, consider using a towel to slide the kayak onto the roof without damaging your vehicle.
- Once the kayak is resting on the roof rack, you will use a cam strap for each of the crossbars. Place the strap’s buckle to the side of a crossbar, loop the end on the other side of the vehicle under the crossbar, and then return to the original side.
- Then you will loop that end under the crossbar before you secure it in the buckle. The strap should be inside of where the crossbar meets the vehicle. This is done for each crossbar. You want the straps to be tight without warping the shape of the kayak.
It is best to tie a knot in the excess ends of the cam straps before also tying them to the crossbars. To make sure that the kayak is secure at this point, try to rock it from side to side.
You also need to strap down the bow and stern of the kayak. Use ratchet lines or rope for this part.
- Using the ratchet end of the strap, attach the line to the front of the kayak, preferably to a grab strap.
- Then attach the other end of the line to a secure part of your vehicle. This means a part of the vehicle that is not plastic.
- Next, you will tighten the line by pulling down the free end. Again, the strap should be snug but not to the point that it places stress on the kayak.
- Tie the loose end of the strap under the ratchet and repeat with the stern of the kayak.
What is the best way to secure a kayak to a car?
The best way to secure a kayak is to use a roof rack that includes some sort of factory-installed metal bars. While a roof rack system of some kind is better than none at all, you will likely find the most security and durability with a commercial rack system.
Using a Pre-Installed Roof Rack
The factory-installed roof rack on your car, if you have one, can offer the most stability. It will have a proper weight distribution ratio and will be secure. If the rack only has side rails, you will have to add crossbars before transporting a kayak.
Picking the Right Attachment
You also need to pick the right attachment for your kayak. While it will depends on how many kayaks you want to transport, saddles are usually the most secure attachments. They offer a sort of “hugging” hold to the bottom of the kayak.
Tying Down a Kayak Properly
It’s crucial that your kayak is securely tied down without damaging the kayak or your car from too much tension. Lines that are too tight can cause the kayak to bend or even snap over time. You want to have enough tension to keep the kayak from moving but not so much that you are crushing the shape of the kayak.
How to Transport a Kayak Without a Roof Rack
Do you need a roof rack to transport a kayak?
Most people prefer the stability of a roof rack for transporting kayaks. If your vehicle doesn’t have a roof rack and can’t accommodate a removable one, don’t worry. Just about any vehicle can be modified to carry a kayak.
Here are several ways to transport a kayak without a roof rack:
1. Consider an Inflatable Kayak
An inflatable kayak is a great option if you don’t expect to have a roof rack for transport. It’s also an excellent choice when you’re first getting into kayaking as it’s easier to store inflatable kayaks.
With an inflatable kayak, everything usually fits into one bag. This makes transport extremely easy as the bag can fit in your car without taking up a ton of space.
Some people don’t want or like inflatable kayaks. There can be concerns about the durability of the kayak and damage. But modern inflatable kayaks are made well, transport more easily, and perform just as good as hard, full-formed kayaks.
2. Use a Pickup Truck
One of the easiest ways to transport a kayak is with a pickup truck. This method is essentially just putting the kayak in the truck bed and securing it. Note that since most kayaks are over 9 feet long and most pickup beds are at most 8′ long, you’ll probably have more than a little bit of overhang.
Here’s where that red flag tied to the rear tip of your kayak comes in.
Before you place the kayak in the truck bed, make sure to completely clean it out. You want the bed to be clear of any objects or debris that could damage the kayak. It is also best to lay down mats of some sort. Rubber mats work best, but you could use towels or blankets if necessary. The goal is just to prevent scratching of your kayak.
Here’s how to secure your kayak to the bed of a pickup truck:
- Slide the kayak into the truck bed. If the tailgate has room to close, go ahead and shut it.
- Even if the tailgate closes all the way, you should still use tie-downs to secure the kayak. If your kayak is longer than the truck bed, then leave the tailgate up.
- How far can a kayak hang out of a truck? Rules vary state to state, but generally, no more than three or four feet beyond the edge of the truck bed.
- If necessary, you can have the kayak stick out over the tailgate but use tie-downs to secure it. Be sure to attach the lines in a way that prevents the kayak from slipping.
With this method, it’s important to have a red flag on the end of your kayak. You should also make sure that you routinely check the security of the kayak throughout your drive.
3. Trailer the Kayak
Kayak trailers come in all different sizes and capacities. Trailers are great for heavier fishing kayaks as well as carrying multiple kayaks more conveniently.
Another alternative to using a roof rack is to trailer your kayak. This option is great for people who frequently transport their kayaks, but prefer not to use a roof rack. If you already have a trailer that is the right size for your kayak, it will probably be the most efficient method.
Alternatively, many places like U-Haul have fairly cheap day rates for trailer rentals.
As with any other method, be sure to use adequate tie-downs to keep the kayak in place. Keep in mind that there are general use trailers and those that are specifically for kayaks. A trailer that is designed for kayaks can be pricey, but it’s a worthy investment if you plan to be transporting your kayak often.
4. Make a DIY Roof Rack
How do you transport a kayak on a car without a rack? If you don’t have a roof rack, you can create your own version of a roof rack. This is a great option for people who have not found a roof rack they like or for those who will not be transporting a kayak many times.
One way to make a DIY roof rack is by using pool noodles and ratchet straps. You can easily find pool noodles for a great price. Ratchet straps have adjustable buckles to secure everything well. When you make this version of a roof rack, you will want to have your car doors open.
- Use at least three pool noodles to have one for the stern, the bow, and the middle. Cut the pool noodles if they are too long for the width of the roof of your car.
- Then, use the ratchet straps to secure the pool noodles to the car. The straps should be adjusted inside the car, so make sure the doors are open.
- Load your kayak upside down onto the modified roof rack. Keep the weight distributed evenly from front to back and side to side. Use ratchet straps again to secure the kayak.
- Be sure to add straps to the middle, front, and back for security.
Kayak Transport Wrap Up
A key consideration when you decide to buy a kayak, is how you’re going to transport it. If you have a car or SUV that’s large enough, then the best and safest way to transport it is with your vehicle’s built-in roof rack.
Don’t worry if your vehicle doesn’t have a roof rack, though. With removable roof racks and alternative transport methods, there are still plenty of ways to get your kayak from point A to point B.
Just refer back to this handy guide for reference, and you’ll have your kayak on the road and on the way to the next wide stretch of water in no time.
Is it better to transport a kayak up or down?
Rotomolded kayaks can be transported on their edge or upside down (hull up) safely using kayak stackers. However, composite kayaks should always be transported on their bottom using cradles to prevent deformation.
How do you transport a kayak on your own?
- Start with the kayak on the ground in front of you.
- Bend your knees and squat down.
- Grab the side of the cockpit closest to you.
- Slide the kayak onto your thighs while keeping your knees bent.
- Reach to the opposite side of the cockpit.
- Lift the kayak as you stand up.
- Rotate the kayak onto your shoulder.
How far can a kayak hang out of a truck?
Depending upon your specific kayak and the truck you drive, most kayaks will stick out anywhere from 2′ to over 4′ beyond the rear bumper of your truck. It is considered ‘good practice’ to always place a red or orange flag on the rear of your kayak! Not only for safety reasons but to protect your expensive gear!
Should I haul my kayak upside down?
Always transport kayaks made from composite materials upside down to prevent the tension in the tie downs from deforming the hull and causing it to crack. Kayaks made from plastic-type materials can be transported in any orientation convenient for your vehicle or the type of carrier system you have.
Can you fit a 10 ft kayak in an SUV?
As you can see, this will limit the length of kayak you can transport in your SUV. If, for example, the rear area of your SUV (with the seats folded down) is approximately five feet long, you should only transport a kayak with a maximum length of 10 feet.
How do you transport a kayak with a small car?
Generally speaking, small cars can transport long kayaks as long as you’re using either a roof rack, kayak trailer, or strapping the kayak directly to the roof.