How to Transport a Kayak

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While transporting a kayak isn’t something that is overly challenging, it is important to be sure that it is secured to your vehicle properly. If you have never transported a canoe or kayak, there are a few tips and tricks that will ensure you get the boat to your destination in one piece. Today we will be looking at how to carry a kayak to your vehicle, how to get it placed in the proper location on the vehicle, and how to secure it to your vehicle once you have it there.

First, let’s focus on getting the kayak or canoe out to your vehicle in the safest possible way.

Table of Contents

Carrying a Canoe or Kayak

It’s going to be quite a bit easier to move your kayak to the vehicle if you have someone to help you. However, it can often be done alone if the kayak is not extremely heavy or large. First, we’ll look at the process for doing it with a buddy and then we’ll go into how you can manage it all on your own if needed.

Carrying your kayak when you have assistance is fairly straightforward. Each of the people transporting it stands at one end of the boat. There will be a handle on the stern or bow, respectively, which each person will take hold of. Then all you need to do is lift the boat at the same time. You can make it even easier by having each person face forward while carrying the kayak. What’s great about this method is that you can even carry two different kayaks at once with two individuals. Just take one handle in each hand and cart them both to the vehicle you’ll be using to transport the boats.

If you are alone and need to carry the kayak, that can be done unless it is large and unwieldy. The first thing you will want to do is stand facing your boat on the left. Next, you will want to squat down and grab onto the edge of the nearest cockpit. Use both hands to lift the edge of the boat onto your thighs. After that, you’ll take your right arm and reach over the kayak, so you can grab the inside of the canoe using the underneath of the cockpit. Stand up next, but as you do, make sure to lift the kayak up onto your right shoulder. Finally, allow the rim to rest up on your shoulder. Balance yourself in a position where the boat will not tip in either direction.

Here are some extra tips for when you need to carry a kayak:

  • Utilize a Cart – If carrying the boat by hand proves to be too challenging, consider using a kayak cart with wheels attached.


  • Protect Your Back – Always bend with your knees while keeping your back straight when you reach down to grab onto the kayak itself.


  • Wear a Life Jacket – When you are carrying the boat on your own, consider putting your personal flotation device on. This will provide you with extra padding for the kayak to lay against.

Tips for Placing the Kayak on your Vehicle

Before you even attempt to put your kayak on your car, truck, or SUV, there are a few things you will need to have with you. These items are essential for properly securing the kayak.

  • Cam Straps – Also called a tie-down strap, these are used to secure your kayak down quickly and easily. You are going to need at least two of these and they should be no shorter than 12 foot in length.
  • Bow and Stern Lines – There are two options here. You can use a water-resistant rope that doesn’t stretch, or you can use a ratcheting line. The latter will be easier but either will do the job. You will typically need a line for the stern and one for the bow, but this varies based on how large your vehicle and your boat are.
  • Crossbars – Crossbars are what run over the roof of your vehicle to hold your kayak in place. In most cases, these will attach to bars that are already on the vehicle, but it can vary depending on the make and model of your car. For those with trucks, you can also purchase crossbars that go in the bed of the truck.
  • Rack/Padding – There are special rack systems made for kayaks which will attached to your crossbars. In most cases, these will hold the boat in a V- or J-shaped form, which is most secure.

Now that you have everything that you need, we’ll talk about how you load up the kayak itself. This can be done on your own or with a friend, just like carrying the kayak. It’s also going to be much easier with a helper so if you have that option, you should take advantage of it. We’ll also look at how to load multiple boats if you have a need for that and your vehicle offers enough space.

kayak transportation

Loading a Kayak with Help

First, you want to be sure that your crossbars, rack, and padding are all installed. You also want to have any lines and straps ready to go. Once this has been taken care of, you can start moving the kayak onto the vehicle. This works best with two people and this process assumes there are two people working to get the kayak into its proper position.

Each person should stand at one end of the kayak. You will each want to grab onto the carry handles on the boat and position is where it is parallel to and nearby your vehicle. The bow should be pointed toward the front end of the vehicle. Next, take hold of the kayak by the hull, rather than the handles, and hold the boat up overhead. It’s important that you be sure you are lifting with your legs rather than your back to avoid injury. After the boat is overhead, you’ll want to move it, so it is directly over your rack. All you need to do at that point is gently place it onto the rack in the proper position.

Loading a Kayak on Your Own

It’s possible you’ll be capable of lifting a kayak and placing it in the rack on your own, but not everyone is tall enough or strong enough to do so. That’s okay, because there are some tips you can use to get the boat up there anyway. Choose whichever best fits your needs. In the worst case, you may end up needing help. However, most individuals can make it work using one of these tricks.

  • The Blanket Method – Go into your home and grab a large blanket or towel. What you want to do is put the blanket on the read of your car. Then you can place the kayak’s bot on the blanket. After everything is situated properly, you simply lift the stern and push the boat towards the rack. This might take a try or two to get right but it’s an inexpensive option that you can do with something you already own.


  • Use a Rack with Rolling Wheels – This is a middle of the road option for those who want convenience and are willing to pay a bit for it. Essentially, you’ll want to purchase a rack that has rolling wheels. What these racks do is allow you to place the bow of the kayak into the rear cradle of the rack. Then you simply pick up the stem and roll the boat forward until it reaches the front cradle.


  • Use an Integrated Lift System – Some kayak racks come with a lift system integrated into them so loading your canoe or kayak is a breeze. In most cases, they will slide down from the top of the car to the sides. This means that you don’t have to lift the boat up as far as you normally would. After you get the boat loaded, you strap it down and then the rack system is lifted back up. These are the most convenient solution but also tend to be fairly expensive.

Loading More Than One Kayak

Not everyone is going to have the space to transport more than one kayak, but if you do, it can be done. However, keep in mind that you will need extra straps as well. If you are sure your vehicle can handle more than one kayak, we have a few tricks that will help you get it done with the least amount of stress.

One of your options is to put a second rack onto your crossbars. This might offer the ability to transport another kayak in the same way as the first one you secure. However, you will need to consider the width of both your crossbars and the two boats you want to transport. The other option is to use stacker bars. This will facilitate adding one or two extra boats to your vehicle. When you use stacker bars, the boats are placed onto their sides, so they take up far less space. You’ll find these used for mostly smaller kayaks, but other boats can utilize them as well.

The Proper Way to Tie Down Your Canoe or Kayak

There are a few different options in terms of tying your boat down to a vehicle, but the simplest is going to be using cam straps. You can use them even if you have no knowledge of different types of knots. All you have to do is run your straps through buckles and then cinch it all down. Here are the steps you’ll take to do so:

  1. Place your boat in a position where it is centered front and back between the crossbars that are on your car. The boat should also be in a parallel position with the vehicle.


  1. Next, you will take up a cam strap and position it in a way where the buckle rests on the side of the boat, but to the side of and a few inches higher than the crossbars. The other end of the strap should be tossed over your boat.


  1. Now you want to move to the other side of the car and take hold of the strap. You will be looping it under the crossbar and then tossing it over the boat again. You want to be sure that the strap is on the inside of where the crossbar attaches to your car. This offers extra safety in terms of avoiding the strap slipping off the crossbar.


  1. Go back to the opposite side of your car once again and loop the strap end under the crossbar. You’ll then move it up into the buckle and cinch it firmly. This should again be inside where the crossbar touches your car.


  1. Do steps one through four again but with the other crossbar and strap.


  1. Tighten each strap until fairly snug but not extremely tight. If there is too much tension applied, it can crack fiberglass or deform plastic hulls, so we want to avoid that.


  1. With the loose ends of your straps below the buckles, tie them off. Do the same with any slack remaining to the crossbars. This will ensure the excess material is not flapping around in the air while you drive.


  1. In order to be sure that the straps are secure, grab hold of the kayak and shake it from one side to the other.

It’s also an excellent idea to secure your stern and bow to your vehicle, especially if you plan to drive on the freeway or there are strong winds. If you have a ratcheting bow and stern line, this is pretty straightforward. Here are the steps you’ll want to take to secure the boat:

  1. Take the end of the line that has the ratchet and hook it onto the grab handle or another secure area on the front of your kayak.


  1. The other end of the line should also be installed to a secure area, but this time on your car. This could be a tow hook or something similar. Avoid using any plastic parts. If you have no secure point, install a hood loop strap or something similar.


  1. Take the free end of the line and pull down to tighten it. Again, don’t overtighten the line.


  1. Take the loose end and tie it off just a bit below the ratchet.


  1. Do the exact same thing for the line for the stern of the kayak.

Now you know the easiest way to tie down the boat, but we have a few extra tips to share with you. This will ensure you get your boat to its destination with as little trouble as possible.

  • Go with Simplicity – If you know how to use fancy knots or want to invest in wrapping straps and other materials, you can do that. However, the most secure and the fastest option will often be the simplest. There’s no need to spend a lot of money on extras here.


  • Consider a Ladder – If you’re of a shorter stature or your vehicle towers over you, it might be difficult to get your boat onto the rack. Using a small stepladder, which you can even keep in your car, will make all the tying down a lot easier to do.


  • Add a Quick Twist – If you hate the strap vibration that occurs when driving with a kayak, put a twist into your cam straps. It will stop the problem in its tracks.


  • Lock Your Straps – Some cam straps have a locking mechanism and cannot be removed without the key. This can be a great feature if you worry about leaving your kayak behind when you stop for gas or a meal. If you plan to leave it for longer periods, you may want to consider a locking cable for the extra security.


  • Learn the Trucker’s Hitch – It’s possible to tie down your kayak with rope when you don’t have ratcheting lines or cam straps. You’ll want to be certain that the rope is water-resistant and non-stretch. With a trucker’s hitch knot, you can get the rope tight and secure for your journey.


  • Do a Quick Check – After you’ve driven for a few miles, take time to pull over and check on everything. Give a tug on the kayak to see if it is still secure and in good shape. In some cases, these straps can loosen up while you spend time driving.

And there you have it. This should give you all the information you need to transport a kayak from moving it to the vehicle, to getting it on the vehicle, and ensuring its properly secured for travel. It might seem like it would be a huge task, but with the right tools, it’s easily manageable, especially if you have a friend to help you along the way. So get the items you need and get going, you could be on an amazing journey in no time with you, your friends, and your kayak.