How to Transport your Kayak

Transporting kayaks can be tricky, and with the summer season in full swing, lots of us are heading out with kayaks and canoes loaded high on our roof. Here are our top tips for safely loading kayaks onto a roof rack.

Kayaking is a great way to get outdoors and connect with nature. A kayak can open up a whole world of unexplored waterways. The issue for many, however, is getting the boat to the adventure! Transporting your kayak safely and efficiently is a crucial skill any first-time or experienced paddler should have in their arsenal, but starting can seem a little daunting.

Whether you’re new to the kayak world, or just looking for an alternative transport method, keep on reading to find the safest and most secure ways of transporting kayaks.

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.)

How to Transport your Kayak


Before you load your kayak, be sure to have the following items ready:

Roof racks

Roof racks are a necessary part of safely transporting your kayak. A sound racking system will protect both your car and boat from unwanted dings and scratches. There are a couple of different options depending on what type of vehicle you have. Take a look at the roof of your car and use our handy guide to determine your roof type:

Bare Roof

A Bare Roof is entirely void of any attachment points. If you have a Bare Roof vehicle, do not despair! There are still roof rack options for you to transport your kayak without damaging your car. Read on below for our top picks for this roof type.

Side Rails

Side rails come in two forms – Raised or Flush. With Raised Side Rails, you should have two rails running parallel to the doors. There will be a gap between the rails and the roof of the vehicle roughly large enough to slide your hand through. Unlike their raised counterparts, Flush Side Rails do not have a space between the rails and the roof. Both types of side rails offer strong attachment points designed to support a Hard Rack system.


Less common on modern vehicles, Gutters are ridges that run along the top of the doors on either side of the car. This ridge protrudes slightly from the side of the vehicle providing an anchor point for roof racks.

Fixed Points

Fixed Points are four hidden attachment points. These are usually covered by a plastic cap that you can open to access the points. A roof rack system can then be bolted into these points providing a neat finish with a very sturdy load limit.


Tracks are long channels, slots or tracks that run parallel to the door on the outer edge of your roof. Tracks are either factory-installed or added to a vehicle after purchase. If you have tracks on your roof, you will be able to remove the plastic cover and purchase a rack that slots into your specific vehicle.

Factory Crossbars

Factory Crossbars are pre-installed between Side Rails of a vehicle by the dealership. If you have Factory Installed Crossbars, you may think you have your roof rack solution all neatly tied up, but there are still a few more things you need to check off your prep list before hitting the road.

Once you know your roof type, you can begin to choose your roof rack solution:

Soft Racks

If you have a four-door vehicle with a Bare Roof, Fixed Points or Tracks, Soft Racks are a great solution. Soft Racks can be foam or inflatable and are the simplest solution to safe kayak transportation. They are essentially two tubes with straps running through them. The straps are passed through the front and rear doors to secure the racks in place. Soft racks are easy to install and remove and are compact for convenient storage.

Hard Racks/Mounted Crossbars

Hard Racks (otherwise known as Mounted Crossbars) are commonly designed for cars with Side Rails, Gutters, Tracks or Fixed Points. Unlike Soft Racks, Hard Racks are not universal. Brands will have a vast range of racks to fit your cars specification. If you are not sure whether a Hard-Rack solution is right for you, jump on our chat function and speak to a local member of staff.


If you have Factory Mounted Crossbars or have chosen a Hard Rack solution, you may want to add an extra layer of protection to stop your boat getting damaged by coming into contact with the rigid racks. Foam padding will do this. Good quality foam pads such as the Yakima Aero Crossbar Pads are made from an anti-slip material which will also help keep your gear in place.

Tie-down straps

So you have the roof racks down – what’s next? Well, you don’t want to drive off without securing your kayak! For that, you will need some sturdy tie-down straps. You want to look for purpose-made pull-down or ratchet straps. These are designed to easily create high tension to hold your gear firmly in place. Most straps will come as a pair so you can secure the kayak at two points; this will distribute the load safely along the length of your vehicle. Look out for straps with a silicon or padded buckle cover as this will stop any damage to your car when you throw the straps over the kayak to the other side.

Bow and stern lines

A couple of lengths of rope will be sufficient as bow and stern lines. These lines are not to secure your kayak tightly like with the tie-downs, but rather to stop your kayak from slipping forwards or backwards when braking or accelerating harshly.

Rack Accessories

If you are travelling a long distance with your kayak, you may want to consider a specifically engineered kayak holder or mounted rack accessory. A ProRack Canoe/Kayak Holder Kit will add extra support for your kayak. They are designed to keep your kayak from moving when travelling at speed and can be fitted directly into Tracks or mounted on Hard-Racks or Crossbars.

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 to transport a kayak without a roof rack

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Can I put kayak directly on roof rack?

A good quality roof rack system will not only get your kayak to the water safely, but it’ll stop any damage to your vehicle and kayak. Your vehicle type and the mounting points may limit your options, so it is best to understand these before selecting your roof racks.

Should kayak go upside down on roof rack?

Find the strongest section of your kayak and rest your kayak on these points during transit. This is most often the gunnels of the kayak, so unless you are using specialised cradles, you are usually recommended to transport the kayak upside-down.

What is the most fuel efficient way to transport kayaks?

Foam-block systems are the most economical option for transporting your canoe or kayak. The foam blocks are first attached securely to your boat, then the boat is strapped to the vehicle. Finally, the boat’s bow and stern are tied down to the vehicle’s bumpers.

About De Hua

Lindsay Boyers is a former New Yorker who now lives at the beach. She received a double B.A. in International Relations and Marketing from The College of William & Mary and an M.A. in Interactive Journalism from American University. Lindsay Boyers has been published in The Washington Post, New York Daily News, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among others.How We Tested and Reviewed

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