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How to attach a kayak to a roof rack?

How to attach a kayak to a roof rack?

How to transport a kayak?

Getting your kayak into your vehicle is obviously the first step. If there are two of you, simply grab the handles at the front (bow) and back (stern) of the kayak, then lift it up and move forward. You can even carry two kayaks this way by holding one handle in each hand. If you're alone, you'll need to crouch down next to your kayak. Grasp the inside of the cockpit and lift the kayak onto your shoulder as you stand up. Pro tip: Wear your PFD for extra padding on your shoulders.

To mount a kayak on a vehicle

Padding a roof rack before placing a kayak on it

Before placing a kayak on the roof of your vehicle, there are a few things you will need:

  • Crossbars: The cross bars run across the top of your vehicle. Most cross bars are attached to factory-installed bars that run from the front to the back of your vehicle, but this will vary depending on the type of vehicle you have.  There are also crossbars that fit in the bed of a truck.
  • Luggage Racks and Cushions: The safest kayak racks are those that attach to the crossbars and hold the boat in a J or V shape. Read our article on choosing a cartridge-shaped boat rack.
  • Cam straps: Cam straps hold your kayak to the ground quickly and securely. You'll need two straps about 12 feet long or more.
  • Bow and stern lines: You can use non-stretch, water-resistant rope (the rope will vibrate less than nylon straps), but special ratchet lines make the job quick and easy. You'll usually need one rope for the bow and one for the stern, but this may vary depending on the length of your boat and vehicle.

Loading a kayak with assistance

Once the crossbars and rack/padding are installed and the straps/ropes are ready, you can place your kayak on the roof 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 handles and place it next to and parallel to your vehicle with the bow facing the front of the car.
  • Grab the kayak at each end by the hull (not the handles) and lift the boat over your head. Be sure to lift the boat with your legs, not your back.
  • Once the boat is lifted, position it so that it is directly over the prop, then gently place it on the prop. The proper position for the boat will depend on the type of dock you have.

A man is loading the kayak on the roof rack

Loading a kayak yourself

Some people have the strength and size to lift a kayak onto their car, but if you don't, here are a few tips for solo loading:

  • Use a lifting system: There are kayak carriers with built-in lifting systems that make loading easier. They usually slide from the top of your vehicle down the side, so you don't have to lift your kayak as high. Once the boat is properly loaded and secured, you lift the support system onto the roof of your vehicle. These outriggers are expensive but effective.
  • Use wheels: Another solution is to use a stand with wheels. These allow you to simply place the bow of the boat in the rear cradle of the stand, pick up the stern, and roll the kayak forward into the front cradle. They're less expensive than racks with integrated lifting systems.

How do I secure a kayak?

The easiest way to secure your kayak to your car is with cam straps. You don't need to know any special knots, just pass the straps through the buckles and tighten. Ratchet straps provide even better tension.

  1. Make sure your kayak is centered fore and aft between the crossbars and parallel to the car.
  2. Take a cam strap and position the buckle so that it rests on the side of the kayak a few inches above and to the side of one of the crossbars. Throw the other end of the strap over your kayak.
  3. From the other side of your vehicle, grab the end of the strap and pass it under the crossbar, then place it back on your boat. Make sure the strap is in the area where the crossbar attaches to the vehicle. This will prevent the strap from slipping off the end of the crossbar.
  4. Return to the first side and loop the end of the strap under the crossbar, then up through the cam buckle and secure. Again, make sure the strap is inside where the crossbar attaches to the vehicle.
  5. Repeat with the other strap on the other crossbar.
  6. Tighten both straps until they are snug, but not too tight. Too much tension can deform the plastic shells and crack the fiberglass.
  7. Tie the free ends of the straps just below the cam buckles, then tie the rest of the straps to the crossbars. This will secure the cam buckles and prevent the remaining lengths from flapping on the body as you ride.
  8. Grab one end of the kayak and shake it from side to side to make sure it's secure.

Bow and stern straps: We also recommend securing the bow and stern of the kayak to your vehicle, especially if you're driving in high winds or on the highway.

Ratchet straps or ropes work well for this purpose. Here's how to install these lines:

  1. Hook the ratchet end of the line to a secure point on the front of the kayak, such as the handle.
  2. Attach the other end of the line to a secure point on your vehicle, such as a tow hook. Never attach tie-down straps to plastic parts of your vehicle.
  3. Pull the end of the strap down to tighten the strap until it is snug. Be careful not to overtighten.
  4. Attach the free end of the strap just below the ratchet.
  5. Repeat with the stern strap.
  6. Do not tie the paddle to the kayak.

A man is tying the kayak on the roof rack

Tips for Tying a Kayak to a Car Roof

  • Keep it simple: Using fancy knots and straps all over the place may seem cool, but keeping things simple is often the fastest and safest way.
  • Use a stepladder: If you're shorter or have a larger vehicle, keep a small stepladder in the back of your car to make it easier to reach the straps.
  • Lock the straps: You can buy lockable cam straps that can only be unlocked with a key. These can give you peace of mind when you leave your boat on your car for a quick errand to a store or restaurant. If you're leaving your kayak for an extended period of time, you'll need a more secure solution, such as a cable lock.
  • If you don't have cam or ratchet straps, you can use a rope instead. Make sure it's not stretchy and waterproof.
  • Stop and check: After about 15 minutes, stop and shake the kayak to make sure it's still secure. Sometimes straps can come loose during the ride.

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