Transporting Your Kayak

So you’ve got your boat and a big bag with all your gear just sitting and waiting to get out on the water. That’s awesome, but if your house isn’t alongside a river or next to a lake, you’re going to need a solution for transporting it.

How to Transport a Kayak without a Car

If the water isn’t too far away, you might not need anything more complex than a bit of manual labour.

Carry it

Some inflatable kayaks come with backpack-style carrying bags, so carrying them on your shoulders is pretty straightforward.

Alternatively, you can just pop the boat up on your shoulder and carry it with you. This might not be the most comfortable option, but it’s effective and requires minimal kit. Lifting from the front of the cockpit and rolling the boat onto your shoulder alleviates much of the pressure that comes from bending down to heave the boat up. 

If you have a friend that also likes paddling, or can coerce a passer by into helping, you can usually carry the boat from either end, using the grab handles. This is great on longer boats, where the handles are designed for carrying and are padded, but on white water boats the handles double as safety features and are often thin metal; uncomfortable for carrying a 40lb+ kayak. 

Just remember to lift using your legs and to keep your back straight when lifting a boat. Squatting down and looking up towards the sky can help you maintain proper position and protect your back.

Wheel it

If you have an inflatable but carrying it is not an option, a simple trolley dolly can be very useful. There are even models that can go up and down the stairs.

For hardshell boats, there are all sorts of kayak carts that let you pull your boat over short distances. Just remember, when you get to the water, you either have to stow the trolley safely or take it with you.

Finally, some sit-on-top kayaks have a portage wheel on the keel. 

Transporting Your Kayak with a Vehicle

If you’ve got a big van, or a really small kayak like a playboat, you might be able to just throw it inside and be done with it. It can be worth securing it down somehow as many kayakers have lost windows to wayward boats and emergency stops. 

Roof Racks

For most of us, though, a day out on the water starts with tying the boat to the roof of the car. Roof racks are available for almost every car nowadays, and come in many shapes and sizes. 

Additional features, such as shaped j-bars or upright bars can make your life easier when it comes to securing your kayak, especially when it comes to having more than one boat on the roof. 

You can even get roof racks which you can slide off your roof, to make loading your boat even easier.

Just remember, as the driver of the vehicle, you are responsible for the security of your load. Always make sure that your load is secure before driving anywhere, and if you’re on a long journey, check regularly when you stop to make sure nothing has worked itself loose.

Fitting Your Roof Rack

Most vehicles will either have pre-set fixtures for attaching roof racks, or rails running the length of either side of your car. For anyone with an option of how close together to fit their bars, you should make sure that your bars are far enough apart to secure the kayak near either end. 

A special consideration to creek boats is their rocker profile. If your bars are too far apart, your boat is susceptible to sit on the roof of your car, scratching it as you drive. 

If your bars are too close together, and your boat is tied too near the middle, the effect of wind on your boat can work the straps loose and eventually either bow the boat, or cause it to become detached.

Finally, some vehicles, especially vans, come with more than two bars. When you tie your boat, try to tie it to two bars next to each other, otherwise the middle bar can press into your boat and dent it in transit. Often these dents can be popped out, but snapped seats can’t be fixed easily by the side of the river!

If your vehicle has no attachment points for a roof rack, or if you’re in and out of vehicles regularly, you can fit inflatable roof racks. These secure under your doors and strap through the vehicle, giving you enough clearance and tie down points to secure a boat. 

These inflatable racks are a great option in a tight space, or on holiday if you’re renting a car and boat. However, if they’re not properly tightened, they can rub the paintwork on the roof. They also never feel quite as secure as a proper rack, and if you’re planning to load more than one boat, they may not be the best option. 

Securing Your Boat

There’s loads of different ways to do this, and a load of videos online which can help you if you aren’t knot-savvy. 

Although some people still swear by rope or, for some reason, bungee, cam straps are the universally accepted way to tie down boats. These are different to ratchet straps, which can be overtightened easily and result in a dented or broken boat. 

Cam straps use a spring loaded rocking mechanism which allows you to pull the webbing through in one direction, but not the other. Tightening these relies on human strength alone, rather than any mechanical advantage, and makes it very hard to over tighten them. Hard, but not impossible; don’t underestimate your own strength. 

While cam straps are designed to not come loose, it’s worth tying them off with a couple of half hitches, just to be sure. Also, with repeatedly getting wet, cam straps can start to lose their ‘spring’ and require some maintenance to make sure the teeth grip the strap properly. 

Loading Your Kayak Onto Your Car

When you’re lifting your boat, follow the steps we outlined earlier. It’s usually easiest to load boats in pairs, lifting it fully clear of the car and loading it onto the racking. 

Go careful if it’s windy, your boat can act like a giant sail. You may need one person to hold it in place while you tie it down, to stop it blowing back off your car.

Some roof rack systems come with roller bars at the back, or these can be fitted. These roller bars mean that once you have the end of the boat on the roof, you can just slide it up without damaging your vehicle. 

Kayak Transportation: Top Tips

Watch out for belt buckles when you’re loading your boat onto the roof, they can scratch the paintwork on your car easily.

Have the straps in place and ready to go before you load the boat onto the roof.

Remember that cam straps are metal and can scratch your paint. Some have rubber housing so they bounce, but you should still probably avoid throwing them too hard at your car.

Check your load before you drive, and at regular intervals on a journey. If it feels loose or sounds like something is flapping, it’s best to stop and check as soon as safely possible.

If you’re loading a boat which is considerably longer than your vehicle and overhangs the rear, it’s worth tying something hi-vis onto it, just to make other road users aware.

However you load the boat, remember you’re going to have to unload it at the other end. If it took two of you to get it on the roof, it will take two of you to get it off the roof again. 

Tom Kilpatrick avatar

Moose started his paddling life on the ponds and rivers in the South-East of England. He has slowly worked his way north and has spent the last few years paddling in Scotland, both with friends and as a canoe guide. A very experienced and knowledgeable coach and guide across Scotland and the rest of the UK, he spent a summer in Norway and a month in Nepal. He is also a cofounder of

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