Kayak Roof Rack : How to transport a kayak


February 17, 2023


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Going for a paddle on a sunny day can be a memorable experience. But before you can start exploring clear rivers and beautiful lakes, you need to transport your kayak to your chosen spot. Fear not, as loading your kayak on your vehicle and tying it down securely isn’t as complex as you may think. Expert Éric Pérusse, buyer at SAIL, goes through the steps involved in transporting a watercraft, so you can enjoy your favourite nautical activity no matter where you need to go.

In this article you will learn about:

  1. How to carry a kayak
  2. Securing your kayak to the top of your car
  3. Other transport accessories
  4. FAQ

How to carry a kayak

Getting your kayak to your vehicle is obviously the first step. If there are two of you, simply grab the handles located at the front (bow) and back (stern) of the kayak, then lift and walk forward. You can even carry two kayaks this way, grabbing one handle in each hand. If you are alone, you will need to squat down next to your kayak. Grab the inside of the cockpit and lift it onto your shoulder as you stand up. Pro tip: wear your life jacket (PFD) for a bit of extra padding on your shoulders.

Securing your kayak to the top of your car

What you’ll need

If you’re planning on using a kayak rack, you are likely to need some crossbars on your car roof. These attach to the roof bars of your vehicle (which run from the front to the back). If you don’t have any, you may want to have crossbars installed depending on the type of kayak rack you’ll choose. Otherwise, you could use some foam padding to hold your watercraft in place during transport.

Kayak racks: J-shaped

Kayak rack j
Designed in the shape of a J, these racks hold your kayak at an angle. Some prefer them as they reduce drag, which in turn reduces the risk of heavy wind lifting up your kayak by the nose. J racks can also be installed side by side, allowing you to transport two kayaks on top of your car. Brand Thule offers a great selection of kayak racks and transport accessories.

Kayak racks: V-shaped

Kayak rack v
Another option, a V-shaped or saddle rack lets you mount your kayak on top of your car with the hull resting down. The rack cradles your kayak’s hull snugly, which makes it a good choice for transporting fibreglass kayaks as these are more fragile than their plastic counterparts. Some racks even feature rollers: all you have to do is lift one end of the boat and easily slide it to load it onto your roof. Ideal for solo kayakers!

Foam blocks

Kayak foam block
Foam blocks do not require a roof rack, making them a great option for small car owners. They are also much more affordable than kayak racks. However, they are slightly less secure, and they can move about if your kayak isn’t properly strapped. Foam blocks can be used as padding and placed directly on your roof to keep your kayak secure and protect it (and your car) from damage. If your vehicle has roof bars, place the foam blocks on these. If not, add a long block towards the front and one towards the back of your roof. Turn your kayak upside down and place it on the blocks with the cockpit facing down before strapping it.

Straps and ropes
You’ll need two solid straps to tie down your kayak. Make sure they are long enough to go all the way around the thickest part of the hull, with some length to spare. You’ll also require two ropes as stern and bow lines. For these, you can choose any type of rope, from non-stretch ones to ratcheting lines, but it’s best not to go for stretchy rope as it will vibrate in the wind.

How to tie down your kayak

Secure your kayak using at least two straps wrapped around the middle of your boat. Make sure these are tight, but do not over tighten as you risk deforming the hull (plastic kayaks) or cracking it (fibreglass kayaks). Once done, grab one end of the kayak, try to shake it to see if it moves and tighten the straps again if needed. Those with tall vehicles may want to carry a stepladder in order to reach the straps more easily.

Next, you’ll need to tie down both ends of the boat. Éric’s main tip? “Find suitable anchor points. Avoid hooking your kayak to any of the plastic parts on your car as these can break!” he says. If you are having trouble finding an anchor, hood loops let you tie off nylon loops coming out from under the hood.

Other transport accessories

Kayak carts

Solo kayakers may struggle to carry a heavy kayak, and the distance between the parking lot and the river can sometimes be a long one! Kayak carts make it much easier to carry your watercraft to and from your car. Most can also be broken down into three pieces for easy storage. Have a look at SAIL’s selection of transportation accessories and kayak carts.

If you’d like to get started with a nautical sport, have a look at SAIL’s blog for all things kayaking, including everything you need to know to start kayaking, and a list of some of the most beautiful places to kayak in Quebec and Ontario.


How to transport a kayak

How to tie down a kayak

How do you use a J-shaped kayak rack?

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