Have Kayak, Will Travel: Learn How To Secure A Kayak To A Roof Rack

roof rack for kayak

You took the time to pick out the perfect kayak for you and now you’re ready to take it home. As you stand in the parking lot of the outfitter or sporting goods store with your new kayak, it’s the perfect time to learn how to secure it to your roof correctly.

We will discuss some of the best options for kayak racks, how to install and put the rack on your vehicle, and why kayak racks are important.

The Benefits Of Owning A Kayak Roof Rack

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While owning a kayak roof rack may seem like a “no-brainer,” especially if you own a kayak, some people may think that they can save a little money and bypass owning one.

The primary reason for owning a roof rack is to safely and easily transport your kayak to your favorite kayaking spot. Unless you live a block away from the river or have a lake in your backyard, you most likely need to drive to get there.

Some kayakers think that maybe they can toss the kayak in the back of a truck, strap it down to the roof of their vehicle or even try to stuff it into the back of a larger SUV. While you could certainly try all of these methods, it’s not advisable.

Not only are you increasing your chances of scratching up the exterior or interior of your car but you could damage your kayak, too. While most good-quality kayaks are durable and designed to withstand wear and tear, your kayak is an important investment so why not take good care of it?

Aside from avoiding preventable damage to your car and kayak, not having your kayak secured correctly in or on your vehicle could result in a much more significant issue, especially if you are in a car accident or even hit a large pothole.

Buying A Kayak Rack

Car racks for kayaks

In a perfect world, every kayaker would own a vehicle that was the ideal size and design for a kayak roof mount. Buying a kayak is much cheaper than getting a different vehicle, so there are different types of kayak racks for virtually every type of vehicle; just make sure you have the right one.

If you’ve narrowed down some of your roof rack options but are still having a hard time making a decision, ask other kayakers what racks they use or read online reviews.

The roof rack you choose will depend on what type of car you have, how much money you want to spend, and how frequently you carry your kayaks on your vehicle. Here are some of the most common types of kayak racks.

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Non-Permanent Roof Rack

If your vehicle doesn’t have any type of roof rack, selecting a temporary foam kayak roof rack may be one of your best and least expensive options; foam racks are also often known as a universal kayak roof rack.

Removable pads are typically made of foam but sometimes come as an inflatable option. They are easy to install and remove on your own. If you have an existing roof rack, the straps of the temporary pads are attached to the vehicle’s rack otherwise you just attach the straps to the inside of your vehicle.

One of the downsides of a temporary rack made of foam (or an inflatable version) is that it’s less durable and may need to be adjusted to ensure that the kayak doesn’t slide around as you’re driving. Overall, it’s a great “starter” rack for new kayakers or for anyone who doesn’t take their kayak out all the time.

Permanent Kayak Roof Racks

If your vehicle already has a roof rack, you can install a permanent kayak rack. When you have a roof rack on your vehicle you have a variety of boat mount attachments to choose from; it depends on how you prefer to carry your kayak.

Stackers or J-cradles are an ideal mount if you are looking for a 3 kayak roof rack. These types of mounts allow you to carry a kayak on its side, which leaves more room for additional kayaks or any extra gear that you don’t want to transport inside your car.

Saddle or rollers are a great option if you want to prevent as much wear and tear on your kayak as possible. With these types of roof rack attachments, you can keep your kayak upright (as if you could ride in it on top of the car). The mounts grasp the sides of the boat as you secure the rest with tie-downs.

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Before Your Transport Your Kayak

Now that you’ve found the right kayak rack for your vehicle, it’s time to practice using the rack especially if you have a temporary kayak roof rack. Taking a little time to practice loading, securing, and unloading a kayak from your car will save you lots of time and frustration after a long day of kayaking.

Keep any extra gear that you might need in your vehicle. It never hurts to have a few extra ratchet straps or some rope on hand. A towel or blanket can be helpful if you need to slide your kayak on or off of your car and you don’t want to scratch up the vehicle.

If you have a taller vehicle like an SUV and you have a hard time loading up your kayak, due to your height, it might be a good idea to stash a small step-stool or step-ladder in your car; it will make it much easier when learning how to secure a kayak to a roof rack.

Loading Your Kayak

loading your kayak on a car rack

Loading a kayak on to the top of your vehicle is almost always easier with another person, but you may not always have that option. If you think that you’ll frequently be loading your kayak onto your car by yourself, it’s good to have a lightweight kayak that you can carry by yourself and a kayak rack that is easy to use.

If you have a kayak rack with rollers, it will make loading and unloading your kayak much easier but if you don’t have that type of rack, don’t worry.

Remember how we mentioned that you should have a towel or blanket stored in your car? Here’s when it comes in handy. When you’re ready to load your kayak, place the towel or blanket on the roof at the rear end of your car. Place the bow (or front) of your kayak on the towel, pick up the stern (back) of your kayak, and push the kayak up and onto the rack.

If you want to know how to put two kayaks on a roof rack, you should make sure you have the right type of rack for multiple kayaks, such as a J-cradle or stacker, and always have enough tie downs or rope on hand.

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Securing Your Kayak

After you load your kayak, knowing how to secure a kayak to a roof rack is an essential step to get right. Once you have your kayak tied down and secured to your roof, it’s a good idea to pull over and double check the tightness of your straps after about 15 to 20 minutes as straps can loosen up as you drive. Here are some basic steps for securing your kayak to your roof rack:

  1. Using a ratchet or cam strap, place two straps on the middle of each crossbar of the roof rack. The straps that are on the front crossbar should rest against the center of the windshield, and the straps on the back crossbar should rest on the rear window.
  2. Always make sure that your straps are flat and that there are no twists. There should always be enough strap, so you can reach them easily; don’t worry about excess strap as it can always be tucked away.
  3. After you place your kayak on the roof rack, place the straps around the kayak and secure the straps to the rack. If you are adding a second kayak to the rack, follow the same steps with your straps.
  4. Re-check and tighten straps if needed. Remember, the key to securing a kayak is balance and double (or triple) checking the tightness of your straps.

Depending on the type of roof rack you have, the steps to secure your kayak may be a little different. Always follow the directions that come with your kayak roof rack.

A Few Additional Tips

Check all equipment, including your roof rack straps, for any tears or damage before you each use. Avoid tying a complicated knot that you can’t figure out how to replicate or untie. Keep your kayak centered and balanced on your vehicle to prevent damage.

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