How to LOAD, SECURE & TRANSPORT a kayak | Kayaks Hub

To transport a kayak is not a very complicated process but when loading a kayak on a car, it is important to ensure that the kayak is properly positioned on the car.

If you fail to secure your kayak properly, it may result in damage to your vehicle or the kayak itself or even cause an accident on the road.


Preparing for the Task

Essential Equipment and Tools

  1. Roof Rack System: This is the basis of how you secure your kayak. Ensure that your car has crossbars that run across the roof of the car. The best cars for kayaks have it.
  2. Padding for Protection: This includes cushioning the kayak and the vehicle to be used in the transportation of the kayak. Foam blocks or some special kayak pads are suitable for this purpose.
  3. Tie-down Straps: Cam straps are also preferred due to their operational convenience and reliability. To create this harness, you will require two straps that are at least 11 feet long or even longer.
  4. Bow and Stern Lines: These lines are used to tie the front and back of the kayak to the vehicle to enhance its stability.
How to LOAD, SECURE & TRANSPORT a kayak | Kayaks Hub

Selecting the Most Suitable Roof Rack

Roof Racks for Kayaks: Which One is Suitable?

Choosing the right roof rack depends on your vehicle and your personal preferences:

  1. Factory Crossbars: Most cars have crossbars that are originally fitted on the cars from the manufacturer and they are usually erected horizontally in front and rear positions. These are usually enough to get you a kayak.
  2. Aftermarket Roof Racks: In case you don’t have crossbars, or if your car requires extra accessories, you can purchase aftermarket roof racks. They can afford more flexible and secure solutions.

Evaluating Your Vehicle’s Compatibility

What’s interesting is that not all cars can support roof racks in the same way. Consider the following:

  • No Visible Anchor Points: However, if your car does not have easily identifiable anchor points, you will require a different roof rack system which may be fixed in a different manner.
  • Roof Rails (Raised and Flush): Crossbars are easy to fix on the raised rails which act like a base for the crossbars. Flush rails are installed lower to the roof and may call for special brackets.
  • Gutter Mounts: Some old cars and certain models of SUVs have rain gutters which can be used to mount roof racks.
  • Fixed Points: There are also some cars that have pre-drilled holes on the roof for the fitment of the roof racks as a result of which the roof racks are firmly secured.
  • Tracks: Crossbars can be placed at different heights on tracks, which makes it easier depending on what you are carrying.

This way, you will be able to avoid any mishaps and also to determine how safe your car is for transporting your kayak.

How to LOAD, SECURE & TRANSPORT a kayak | Kayaks Hub

Loading the Kayak

Loading your kayak: How to position it

Before you start loading your kayak onto the roof rack, ensure you position it correctly:

  1. Center the Kayak: In general, the kayak should be placed in the midsection of the vehicle’s roof for better weight balance. In case you are loading two kayaks or when you are using the J-style carrier then you may need to change the positioning slightly.
  2. Face the Front Forward: It is preferred that the front (bow) of the kayak is facing forward to minimize the wind drag and enhance stability when you transport a kayak.

Lifting the Kayak

Carrying a kayak to your car is a tricky task, especially when you are alone or with very little assistance. Here’s how you can manage:

  1. With Assistance: If you have an assistant, both of you should take the ends of the kayak and lift together so that it is easier to place it on the roof rack.
  2. Solo Lifting: If you are alone then use the kayak loading system or follow the steps given below:
    • You must be standing alongside the kayak with your back towards the water.
    • Crouch down and reach for the forward part of the cockpit and then flip it up onto your lap.
    • Use the hand on the other side to stretch out and grab the inside of the far edge with that hand as well.
    • Get up and use your hands to lift the kayak and place it on your shoulder, before laying it on the roof rack.

Using Loading Aids

If lifting the kayak by hand is too difficult, consider using aids such as kayak rollers and lift systems. They are designed to be clamped onto the roof rack and assist in tilting the kayak onto the roof without much strain. They are more beneficial when it comes to the big or bulky kayak.

Securing THE KAYAK before TRANSPORTing

After you have lifted the kayak up, the next step is to securing the kayak by using the straps.

Side-to-Side Straps

Cam buckle straps are the most appropriate to use in securing the kayak to the crossbars. People also use Ratchet straps in place of Cam straps to tie but I prefer Cam buckle straps.

Pull the strap through the crossbar, throw the strap over the kayak, and pass the strap through the crossbar on the other side.

Throw the strap end over the kayak and attach it through the cam buckle. Make sure that the strap is tight enough to hold your kayak but not too tight so that it will harm your kayak.

For J-style carriers, wrap the strap around the carrier not the crossbar as you would with other carriers.

Wrap and secure any extra strap so that it does not hang loosely and flap in the wind.

Securing the Bow and Stern

You can prevent forward and backward movement of the kayak by using bow and stern lines.

These lines also add extra support by tying the front and back of your kayak to the top of your car.

Find anchorages on your car’s body structure, trunk, hitch, or tow bars.

Tie the bow line to the front anchor hook and the stern line to the rear anchor hook.

Slightly pull the strings to make sure the kayak is secured properly without putting too much stress on the body of the kayak.

Final Checks and Adjustments

Once your kayak is strapped down, double check all the straps.

Check that all straps and lines are well fastened and that there are no tight spots which can harm the kayak.

To be on the safer side, you should shake the kayak slightly to avoid it moving. If it does, check and adjust the straps again as they may have loosened up.

During longer journeys, do not forget to pause for a while to ensure that all straps are still tight and the kayak is safely secured.

Additional Tips for Specific Kayak Types

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are easy to secure on your roof rack because they have flat hull designs that do not roll or tip over easily. Here are some tips to ensure you safe and secure transporting of sit-on-top kayak:

Use of Cradles or Carriers: Possible solutions include using J-cradles or V-shaped carriers. These accessories offer extra support and make sure your kayak remains secure during transportation.

Strap Placement: Position the straps across the body of the kayak and fasten them securely. Ensure that the straps are placed in areas that have the kayak scupper holes if any since it is usually stronger.

Padding: Some people choose to place blankets or foam in between the kayak and the roof rack to avoid any harm to either the kayak or the car. For this purpose, you can use foam blocks, soft pads or any towel effectively.

Sit-in Kayaks

Sit-in kayaks may need more care because they are enclosed and may also be on more risk to slip from the vehicle. You can follow these tips for a secure journey for sit-in kayaks:

Kayak Cradles: Utilize cradles made for use with kayaks and ensure that they match the shape of your sit-in kayak. They assist in spreading the load and also ensure you that the kayak does not tilt to one side or the other.

Strapping Technique: Position straps across the kayak’s greatest width, which is normally at the cockpit level. Tighten the straps to a point that they do not cut through the shape of the kayak but are still tight enough.

Bow and Stern Lines: It is always advisable to tie bow and stern lines as an extra precaution. These lines help to stop the kayak from sliding forward or backward as a result of sudden stops or starts.

Driving Considerations while TRANSPORTING a kayak

When driving with a kayak on your roof, always keep these considerations in mind:

Be more careful on the wheel particularly when turning or applying the break. The extra mass and dimension of the kayak may alter your car’s performance in some manner.

How to LOAD, SECURE & TRANSPORT a kayak | Kayaks Hub

Occasionally, it is advisable to ensure that the kayak is secure before proceeding with the journey. Straps tend to become loose during long drives and therefore it is advisable to check them and adjust as may be required.

Remember that your car is higher with the kayak on top and be careful when approaching any incline. This is particularly important especially when approaching low bridges or parking in the garages.

Wrapping it up

To wrap it up, it should not be forgotten that lifting, securing and transporting your kayak to the lake or sea can be a hectic task if you haven’t kept the given considerations. However, it can tackled by practicing the given techniques. Now, you are safe and good to go.


  • David Graham

    Meet David Graham, an avid kayaker based in Florida, USA, who has been mastering the art of kayaking since 2013. As a former trainer with three years of experience, David has shaped the skills of numerous kayakers, sharing his passion for the sport. Living in a state known for its diverse waterways, his expertise and commitment to kayaking go beyond personal pursuits, making him a valuable contributor to the local kayaking community.

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