How to Transport a Kayak

Watching your kayak fly from the roof of your car across four lanes of highway traffic is, well, terrifying. But it unfortunately happens all too often (and yes, maybe even to one of us, but we’re not pointing any fingers). Even the most experienced kayakers may being tying down their boats in a not-so-safe way. If it’s always worked before, why change your method?

There may come a day when your tried-and-true strap just snaps because you were using it incorrectly. Again, we’re not naming names, but saying “I’ve always done it this way” might lead to an accident on the highway that your coworkers will never let you live down.

Taking a kayak out on the lake, river or ocean is an experience we want everyone to enjoy. But to make it on shiny blue waters, you have to know how to transport a kayak safely, first. So here are our (hard-learned) top safety tips for keeping your kayak strapped to your roof rack and not mangled in someone’s wheel wells.

  • Use a roof rack. If you’re like most people, you probably tie your kayak to the roof of your car and head out for pristine waves. But just using some rope can be damaging to your car and bad for your kayak. You’ll need a roof rack or mount to make sure everything stays put. If you need to stack multiple kayaks on your roof, try using J-Cradles which keep your kayak on its side and leave room for another. 
  • … Or make your own roof rack. While we don’t recommend traveling without a kayak-specific rack, we know it happens all the time. You’ll need some pool noodles and ratchet straps or cam buckles to keep everything secure.
    • Duct tape or tie thick pool noodles strategically across your roof to prevent scratches and damages between your car and your kayak.
    • Loop a set of straps through the hole of the center noodles and then through your car. You’ll close the door on the straps to keep it in place while you’re driving.
    • Use another set of straps to loop through the carry handles or front toggles and tie-down the bow and stern to your bumpers.
    • Twist your straps so they don’t whistle/vibrate!
  • Strap your kayak in just right — not too tight! It’s easy to think that the tighter your straps are, the better it will be to keep your kayak in place. But this can actually cause a lot more problems. Not only are you at risk for damaging your kayak, your straps may snap from the pressure and overextension. You’ll know if your straps are too tight if it’s squeezing a dent into your kayak.
    • Strap Instructions:
    • Center your kayak on your car and make sure it isn’t impeding your vision from the driver’s side.
    • Take your strap and position it above and to the side of one of your roof rack’s crossbars. Toss the other end over your kayak.
    • Grab your strap on the other side, loop it underneath your crossbar and then throw the strap back over your kayak. Make sure your strap is positioned so it won’t slip off the end of your crossbar.
    • Walk around your kayak again and loop the end of the strap underneath the crossbar, then buckle and cinch your strap down.
    • And repeat.
    • Tug on the front of your kayak, the back and try to shake it from side to side. Feels loose in a particular spot? Go back and adjust. Repeat until your kayak feels secure.
  • Cover your cockpit. Your kayak is made for flowing down rivers and pick up some speed. It’s designed to be hydrodynamic, which means it can easily be aerodynamic if you’re not careful. Covering your seat helps prevent it from becoming a drag on your car. While your kayak was made for the water, it will try it’s hardest to fly into the air too. Do your best to make sure that doesn’t happen by covering any spot that the wind can take advantage of.
  • Use bow and stern lines. Prevent your kayak from bouncing up and down on your car by making sure it’s secured at both ends. Be careful when securing the lines so that you don’t bend or crack your kayak, and only use the lines when you’re driving. If you’re the type of person who prep their kayak the day before, don’t tie the lines down until you hit the road.
  • Go slowly! Given the option to forgo all of our responsibilities without consequences, we, too, would run straight for the water and not look back. But rushing to get your kayak on top of your car will only hurt you, and unsuspecting others, in the long run. Take your time to check and double check your straps. Carefully load and unload your kayak. And drive a little under the speed limit while you’re at it! 

*Thanks to our friends @martin_trahan_canoeist and @jaykolsch