Best Tips On How To Load A Kayak By Yourself Back Pain Free

by Jason | Last Updated:   December 31st, 2021
Best Tips On How To Load A Kayak By Yourself Back Pain Free


You’ve just bought yourself a new kayak, but you’ve tried lifting it by yourself, only to find out it’s very challenging to get load it.

It’s a problem that all too many people go through, and it drives them crazy. And let’s face it, lifting 50-100 lbs. isn’t an easy task for anyone, especially when it’s the length of a kayak.

And that’s why we’ve come here today! 

In this article, we want to explain the ins and out of how to load a kayak by yourself. By the end of this article, you’ll know the exact process and how to stay safe while you’re doing it. 

Sounds good? 

Great, let’s get it started:

Can One Person Lift A Kayak?

Lifting a kayak should be no trouble if you’re using the proper techniques, even if you have limited upper-body strength.  

The most important thing to remember is never to drag your kayak along the floor. It may seem like the easiest option at the time, but dragging the kayak is guaranteed to lower its lifespan.

And when you’ve just spent a bomb on a new kayak, the last thing you want to do is damage it to the point of unrepair.

So, in this section, we’re going to talk you through the steps you need to carry a hardshell sit-in kayak and a hardshell sit-on-top kayak. 

Let’s take a look:

How To Lift And Carry A Hardshell Sit-In Kayak

How To Load A Kayak By Yourself

Lifting a hardshell sit-in kayak can feel pretty tricky at first, mainly due to the size and weight of the kayak, but by using the following steps, you should find it a lot easier:

  1. The first step is to remove everything from the kayak. This means any gear you might have inside the kayak. Also, remove any water from the kayak. Open the drain holes and tip the kayak to remove any leftover water.
  2. If you’re right-handed, stand on the left-hand side of the cockpit with the bow of the kayak facing in the direction you want to move. If you’re left-handed, stand on the opposite side of the kayak.
  3. Bend your knees while keeping your back straight, and get ready to move the kayak.
  4. The next step is to lean the kayak on its side, with the kayak cockpit facing away from your body. 
  5. With your hand on the near side of the cockpit, you need to pull the bottom of the kayak up, so it’s resting on your thigh.
  6. Continue pulling the kayak up towards your body and rest it on your right shoulder… unless you’re right-handed.
  7. You have to straighten your legs while keeping your legs straight to avoid damaging your back. 

There are many different ways to lift a hardshell sit-in kayak, but this method works best for me. 

How Do You Carry A Sit-On-Top Kayak By Yourself?

There are a few subtle differences when it comes to lifting a sit-on-top. So, let’s take a quick look at how you can lift a sit-on-top with ease:

  1. Loop the carry straps through the scupper holes to help you carry the kayak.
  2. Bend your knees and tilt the kayak over, so it’s on its side and leaning against your leg.
  3. Make sure you keep your back straight with your knees bent to prevent hurting your back.
  4. Sling the strap over your shoulder and straighten your legs. Again, remember to keep your back straight when you lift the kayak. 

As long as you use a carrying strap for your sit-on-top, you should be fine. Without it, it can make things pretty hard. 

Safety Tips For Lifting Your Kayak By Yourself

How To Load A Kayak By Yourself

When you lift and carry a kayak by yourself, you need to make sure you do it safely. The last thing you want is to damage yourself before getting out on the river. 

So, in this section, I want to explain some simple safety tips that help you avoid hurting yourself. 

Let’s take a look:

  • Use A Kayak Cart: If you’re struggling to lift and carry a kayak comfortably yourself, try and get a kayak cart to help you out. If you can’t, it’s best to get some help with the lifting, so you don’t damage anything. 
  • Lift With Your Legs, Not Your Back: Whenever you lift something heavy, you need to think about preventing damage to your back. And the best way of doing this is to lift your legs and keep your back straight.
  • Wear A PFD When Lifting: When you’re carrying a kayak by yourself, you’re putting a lot of pressure on your shoulders. Give yourself some extra padded protection by wearing your PFD.
  • Make Sure The Bow Is Facing Forwards: You might not think it makes much of a difference which way the boat is facing, but trust me, it does. If you want things to go smoothly, make sure the boat’s bow is facing the way you’re moving.

Just following these simple steps can help you stay safe while lifting your kayak without injuring your back. Make sure you read and remember them, kayaks are heavy, and backs can struggle when it’s under constant change.

How Do You Load And Unload A Kayak?

How To Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack

Now you know how to carry the kayak/lift the kayak, it’s time to get into how to load and unload your kayak. 

Before we get into that, though, there are a few things I want to cover in this section. And that’s the stuff you need to load your kayak onto your car.

Here’s the thing:

It’s not a simple case of lifting your kayak onto the roof and driving away. So, let me talk you through the equipment you need to get going:

  • Rack/Padding: Although this one is the most important thing you need; it still comes in pretty handy. Personally, I like to use J-rack or V-shaped pads, which help protect your kayak and add extra support. If you want to learn how to transport a kayak without a roof rack, check the article.
  • Cam Straps: Cam straps are one of the most essential pieces of equipment when transporting your kayak. You need to use cam straps to secure the kayak to your car without the fear of it flying off your vehicle.
  • Crossbars/Roof Rack: The crossbars run the width of your car and will hold the kayak off your roof. Some vehicles come with an existing roof rack, but it depends on your car. If you’re using a truck, you can look at the best kayak racks for trucks here.
  • Bow And Stern Lines: One of the last things is a bow and stern lines. Many people don’t use them when they are transporting their kayak, but it adds an extra security level. 

Okay, now you have a good idea of what you need and why you need it; it’s time to get into the process of loading your kayak onto the car without any help.

Let’s take a look:

How To Put A Kayak On A Car Without Any Help

The first thing you need to do is actually make the judgment to decide whether you’ve got the strength for loading kayaks onto your roof rack.

Here’s the thing:

Not everyone has the muscles or the height to lift the kayak themselves… and that’s alright. But if it is the case, you need to get someone to help you. The last thing you need is a kayak falling on your head.

Before we get into the steps you need to take to load your kayak, let me give you a few tips for helping you out. Some of the ideas you might not have access to, but they can definitely help you out if you do.

  • Use a Towel Or A Blanket: If you’re looking for a low-tech way of getting your kayak onto your roof, a towel or a blanket is a great option. Simply place the towel/blanket on the rear of the car and put the bow of the kayak on the blanket. You can then lift the stern and slide the entire kayak onto the roof rack.
  • Get Rolling Wheels: A slightly more advanced solution is to get a set of rolling wheels. The rolling wheels attach to the rear crossbar of your roof rack and allow you to lift the stern of the kayak and roll it forward. They do cost a little bit, but nowhere near as much as this next option.
  • Use A Lift System: Some advanced kayak racks come with an integrated lift system, making the loading boats’ process extremely easy. They lift the vehicle up for you, so you don’t have to lift the car as high easily. The roof racks are very pricey, but they do make life a lot easier.

Okay, you’ve got an idea of what you can use to help you lift the kayak onto your car, but let’s talk about steps you need to take.

In this quick guide, we’re going to talk you through how to do it with a towel/blanket so anyone can follow along with it. 

Let’s take a look:

  1. Position the kayak behind your vehicle towards the middle, just under a boat length away from your car. If you place the bow facing at a 45° angle, it will make your life easier. 
  2. Once your kayak is in place, put a towel or blanket on the rear window of your car. It will help protect your car/kayak and help you slide the kayak forward onto the roof rack.
  3. Once the towel is in place, lift the bow of your kayak in the air while the stern remains on the floor.
  4. With the bow in the air and the stern on the floor, lean the edge of the bow onto the towel.
  5. Once your kayak is in place on your towel, walk around to the stern of your kayak and lift it.
  6. When the stern of the kayak is up in the air, start pushing your kayak along the towel, so it falls onto your kayak rack.
  7. Once it’s on the roof rack, move it around so it’s in the correct position for strapping down.

That’s the basics of loading your kayak onto your car; if you’re using a J-rack, things are a little bit different and more challenging.

If you’re strong enough, follow my previous steps for carrying kayaks. Once the kayak is on your shoulder, you need to lift it up onto the J-rack. It’s not an easy task, especially if you have a heavy kayak, so be careful. If you’re strong enough, follow my previous steps for lifting your kayak.

Here’s a short video showing how to load a kayak on a car by yourself:

How To Strap A Kayak To A Roof Rack

The very last step of loading a kayak by yourself is to strap it down to your kayak roof rack, which is what we’re going to cover in this section. 

The easiest way to strap your kayak down is to use cam straps, but you can do it with rope if you know the correct knots

Let’s take a look at the process of strapping down your kayak with cam straps:

  1. The first thing you need to do is make sure your kayak is correctly placed on the kayak rack. That means the kayak should be centered fore and aft between the kayaks and parallel to your car.
  2. Take your first cam strap and place it in position. The buckle should be resting on the side of the kayak to the side of one of the crossbars. When the buckle is in place, toss the strap over the kayak to the other side of your car.
  3. Walk around to your vehicle’s other side, thread the strap under the crossbar, and chuck it back over the kayak. When you loop the strap, make sure it’s on the inside of the crossbar, so it doesn’t slip off.
  4. Walk back around to the buckle and thread your strap under the crossbar and into the cam strap buckle and cinch it down.
  5. Repeat this process for the second cam strap and the other crossbar.
  6. Once both cam straps are in place, it’s time to tighten everything up. Make sure you don’t go too tight; you might damage the kayak.
  7. If there are any loose ends on the straps, make sure you tie them off just below the buckle, so they don’t blow around in the wind.
  8. Do your final checks. Walk around the vehicle and give the kayak a wobble to ensure it doesn’t move. 

When it comes to tying the bow and stern down, things work a little bit differently, and that’s what we’re going to take a look at in the following steps:

  1. Hook the end of your line to the front of your plastic kayak; using the grab handle is a great option.
  2. Now you need to attach the other half of the line to your vehicle; just make sure it’s a secure part of the car. One of the best points is the tow hook; it’s very secure and easy to get to.
  3. Pull everything tight and tie-down straps; just make sure you’re not going too tight; you don’t want too much tension.
  4. Repeat the process with the stern straps.

Okay, I hope this section has helped you understand how to tie down your kayak without any help. If you’re using rope, it works similarly; just make sure you learn the knots before attempting it.

If you prefer visuals, then the following video is a good example of how to strap your kayak to a roof rack:

If you want to learn how to strap down more than one kayak to your roof rack, check out this article.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Lifting a kayak by yourself is never easy, especially if you have a sizeable touring kayak. But, with a bit of finesse, strength, and knowledge, it’s not impossible, which is why I put this guide together for you today. 

There are bound to be challenges along the way, but if you follow this guide to the letter, you’re not going to have any problems.

The trick is to make sure you do it safely. That means using the correct lifting methods, so you don’t damage your back. You should also place something down on your car to avoid scratching the paintwork.

Finally, when you’re tying the kayak down, you need to make sure the straps are tight enough to hold it in place but not so tight it damages the kayak. 

I’d also recommend using a bow and stern line to avoid the kayak flying off the top of your car if you need to slam the breaks on. Not only can you get in a lot of trouble, but you could cause some real damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Load A Kayak Onto A J-Rack By Yourself?

Bend your knees and lift the right side of your cockpit rim. As you stand back up, place the rim of the kayak on your shoulder. Make it’s in a comfortable position as your start moving. When you get to the J-rack, swing your shoulder around and lift the kayak onto the rack.

Will A Kayak Fit Inside My Car?

Unless you have an inflatable kayak, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to fit your kayak inside your car. It’s highly advised not to travel with a hardshell kayak inside your vehicle, so I’d stay away from it.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.