loading a kayak on a car

The De Anza College Outdoor Club bought kits of foam blocks and straps to load kayaks onto individual cars. We found that we also needed the straps we use to load the kayaks onto the tri-level kayak trailer for the front end of the job. Use heavy duty nylon straps with metal buckles, plastic buckles can break.

Here are pictures from a Grand Tetons trip from California to Wyoming. This loading method worked successfully on a 3,000 plus mile trip.

These are not complete instructions – please read the ones that come with the kit you use. The kits came with instructions which will apply to each vehicle differently. READ them and adapt them to your vehicle.

Plan for some protection for your paint job where the kayak itself, straps or buckles might touch/rub.

kayak on car: end view kayak on car: closeup kayak straps:

We also found that we needed to use an insulating sleeping pad (folded over) at the center bottom of the kayak for extra protection for the car roof, especially when sliding a boat on to the roof. If you position the blocks and insulating pads on top of the car, two people can easily lift/slide the kayak on top.

kayak on roof with padding: kayak on roof with soft foam blocks from Cabella's:

kayak straps side view:

The instructions say to run a strap around the center and into the car so the strap will be tight when the doors shut against it.

Drive around with it a little before you really take off to make sure you have it right. Stop again after and recheck a few miles. A kayak that comes loose on the road really could injure or kill someone.

If you use ropes to tie it on and make the mistake of leaving them slack or loose you can drive right over the front rope and pull the front of the kayak on to your hood. You could possibly break a kayak in half doing this or at least dent the hood.

If you tighten down the ropes too tightly you can crack the kayak.

Ropes or lines too close to the exhaust can melt. Rope or lines rubbing on sharp edges can wear thru or weaken.

Don’t forget you have a higher roofline when you drive home and enter the parking garage you are too tall for.

If you have a short car and a long boat you can back the end into of the boat into other vehicles in parking lots or put a hole in the garage wall. Tie some strips of caution tape or … on as reminders.

We paddle in the rain (but not during thunderstorms), so an umbrella can keep the drizzle away from your face, let you pull down your rain jacket hood and better look at/photograph the scenery while out kayaking and better look at the strapping on the vehicle afterwards. You know it won’t work in the wind. A compact umbrella will take up less space in the kayak/car and get other things less wet.

If you don’t have a kit with foam blocks, here is advice from Welcome Paddler, a brochure from the United States Canoe Association:

“For most of us, getting our canoe/kayak to the water involves cartopping. Improper car topping can cause accidents and lost canoes/kayaks. Start with a solid, well made roof rack and lash the canoe down to both cross bars. Tie both ends of the canoe to the bumpers. Rope is much better than rubber stretch ties. The best way is to secure the midpoint of a rope about 15 feet long to each end of the thwarts on the canoe, and lash the rope ends to the bumpers as far apart as possible in a Vee arrangement to keep the canoe secure in a crosswind.”

Kayaks (and trailer) use has practical hints for drivers of tow vehicles that tow the kayak trailer on our trips.

Road trip advice and etiquette has practical advice from experienced and newbie carpoolers on cross country trips, including ways to keep from being so bored; planning before the trip; safety issues; drowsy driving; packing; road trip games, storytelling, debates and discussions; links to gas price watch sites, and how to deal with windows that are fogging up faster than your navigator can wipe it off.

rental car and Bullwinkle by Wendy Sato: