A Must-Read Guide On How To Transport A Kayak In A Truck

by Jason | Last Updated:   April 11th, 2022
A Must-Read Guide On How To Transport A Kayak In A Truck


You’ve just got your brand-new shiny kayak, but you don’t know how to transport your kayak in your truck. Luckily, you’re in a better position than people that drive tiny cars.

Just imagine transporting kayaks on top of a tiny car like a Corsa. I can tell you now; it’s not a fun experience.  

That being said, transporting a kayak in your truck bed does present its own challenges, which is probably why you’ve come here today. 

If you’ve been struggling to wrap your head around the whole process, you’re in the right place.

So, here’s everything you need to know about how to transport a kayak in a truck:

The Top Five Methods Of How To Transport A Kayak In A Truck

Some of you may know this already, but for those that don’t… There are five methods you can use to transport your kayak on a pickup truck.

And in this section, I’m going to explain a little bit about the methods you can use and show you the pros and cons. By doing this, I hope to help you find the right strategy or at least the one that works best for you:

Truck Bed

How To Transport A Kayak In A Truck

If you’re looking for the most straightforward method that doesn’t require you to purchase extra equipment for your pickup truck, then this is the method for you.

Most truck owners with kayaks go for this method because it’s quick, simple, and very convenient.

As you can imagine, it doesn’t get any easy than sticking your kayak on your truck bed and trying it down.  

Okay, well, it’s not that simple, you still need to follow a lot of steps before you’re ready to go, but we’ll touch more on that later. 

Pros
  • If you’re looking for an affordable option, this method is definitely what you’re looking for.
  • It doesn’t require substantial extra purchases; if you’re on a budget, you might find this option the best for you.
  • It’s quick and convenient; you don’t have to mess around too much to get everything sorted.
  • You don’t have to lift the kayak too high, making it easier to do it yourself.
Cons
  • If your kayak is too big for your truck bed, you might not be able to use this method due to overhang state laws (More on this later).
  • It’s not as secure, so you need to lock the kayak to your truck bed as an extra safety precaution.

Truck Bed Extender

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes your truck bed isn’t big enough to support your kayak, which can lead you to problems. 

As a general rule of thumb, you want at least 70% of your kayak hull lying on your truck bed. If you can’t do this, you’ll need to invest in a bed extender.

A truck bed extender is a straightforward piece of equipment that connects to your tow bar and adds an extra 2 feet pickup to your pickup truck.

Thanks to the extra length it provides, you’ll be able to attach an oversized kayak to your short truck bed with no issues.

Pros
  • A bed extender is straightforward to attach/detach from your truck and even easier to use.
  • It’s not as expensive as other methods, so it’s something people with small budgets can deal with.
  • It’s not a permanent modification, so you can still use the truck bed as you usually would.
Cons
  • You need a lock to add extra security to your kayak.
  • If someone crashes into the rear of your truck bed extender, your kayak is going to take a battering.
  • Depending on how far the kayak sticks out, you might not be legal to drive. We’ll be talking about the laws later, so keep reading.

Truck Bed Rack

If you don’t mind modifying your truck bed, you might want to go with a truck bed rack. The good thing about a truck rack is you can have some of the kayak resting on your truck cab and the rest overhanging the vehicle.

Truck racks connect to the sides of your truck bed and give you an extended base to lie your kayak on. The good thing about this system is that you can still use your truck bed to store other equipment for your kayaking trip.

Pros
  • Truck kayak racks have a higher load capacity than using a roof rack system.
  • Loading the kayak onto a truck rack is a lot easier than loading it onto a truck roof rack.
  • You still have storage space in the bed of your truck, making it great for kayak camping trips. 
  • If someone rear-ends you, your kayak won’t receive any damage it’s been tied down correctly.
Cons
  • It can get a bit pricey when you compare it to other methods
  • You can’t use your truck bed cover when installing a truck rack on your vehicle.
  • They require semi/permanent mounts, which isn’t ideal for some people. 

Truck Utility Rack 

How To Transport A Kayak In A Truck

One of the best systems you can use for transporting your kayak is a truck utility rack… especially if you have to transport two kayaks. It’s basically a roof rack and a truck rack built into one system.

It connects to the truck bed similarly to the truck rack but has a lot more space and anchor points for tying kayaks down.

Lifting the kayaks onto the utility rack can be a little bit more challenging so that you might need some help. But, strapping it to the kayak is easy, and you still get all the space in your truck bed to store other equipment.

Pros
  • It provides a lot more space so you can store tandem kayaks, touring kayaks, or multiple kayaks.
  • Combines the benefits of a roof rack and a truck rack into one easy-to-use piece of equipment. 
  • They can hold more capacity than a roof rack and truck rack, so it’s great for heavy kayaks.
  • It frees up the truck bed so you can carry additional equipment, making it great for long journeys.
  • You can add additional crossbar attachments like ladders, bikes, and other equipment.
Cons
  • They create a lot of vibration when you’re driving at high speeds, which can make the drive quite annoying.
  • Installing the system isn’t easy, and you’ll need two people to complete the job.

Roof Rack System

If you haven’t got the money to splash for a truck utility rack and want to keep the bed empty, you might want to try using a roof rack.

You might even be lucky enough for your truck to have roof rack fittings preinstalled. 

The great thing about a kayak rack is that they come in multiple shapes and sizes and can fit most trucks without an issue, making them very interchangeable.

Pros
  • It frees up room in the back of your truck bed so you can store other equipment like paddles and camping gear.
  • You can still use your tonneau cover to keep things protected in the back.
  • You don’t have to worry about your kayak hanging off the back of your truck bed.
Cons
  • If your cab is too small, you won’t be able to use this method because the rack can’t attach to the roof.

Understand The Laws For Transporting A Kayak In A Truck

Before I get into my step-by-step guide on how to transport your kayak in a truck, I first wanted to talk about the laws you need to understand.

You see:

It’s not a simple case of loading your kayak on your truck bed and getting going. There are laws you have to follow to do it legally. So, in this section, I will explain everything you need to know.

I’m just going to be going over the general rules, and you need to keep in mind that it does vary state-by-state.

So, let’s take a look:

How Much Overhang is Okay?

When it comes to having your kayak overhanging from your truck bed, you must follow the Federal Size regulations law applied by DOT (Department Of Travel). They state that overhung cargo cannot exceed:

  • 3 feet in the front
  • 4 feet in the rear
  • 4 inches by the sides

They also state that the truck must use markings showing the maximum width and length overhead to warn road users. 

That being said, depending on which state you’re driving in, you might be able to exceed this limit. Here are a few examples for you:

  • Alabama – 5 feet from the front and 4 feet from the rear.
  • California – 3 feet in front and 4 feet from the rear, with some cases allowing 10 feet.
  • Florida – 3 feet from the front and 9 feet from the rear.
  • Hawaii – 4 feet from the front and 10 feet from the rear

As you can see, lengths can vary greatly depending on the state you’re driving in. Make sure you check out the rules before traveling, and if you’re crossing state lines, make sure they follow the same rules… you don’t want to get caught out!

Information About Unsecured Loads

Carrying unsecured loads is dangerous; in fact, the AAA Foundation reports that road debris from unsecured loads caused:

  • 50,658 crashes
  • 9,805 injuries 
  • And 125 deaths

Not only is carrying an unsecured load hazardous but dropping things from a moving vehicle is illegal in the United States. And in some states, you can even face jail time, so make sure you secure your kayak before leaving your house.

Displaying Flags For Safety

Not all states require you to use a safety flag when your kayak is overhanging from your vehicle. You’ll need to look at the local law to determine what you need to do, which you can find out here.

That being said, it’s always good etiquette to use a safety flag to let people know you have an overhanging load before they get too close. 

Your warning flags should be red or orange and should measure over 18 inches in height. If you have a wide kayak, you should use two flags and add two red reflectors if you’re traveling at night.

How Do You Transport A Kayak In A Truck Bed? The Step-by-Step Guide

Okay, you know what methods you can use to transport your kayak; you also understand the laws required to transport your kayak. But know it’s time to talk about transporting your kayak in a truck. 

In this section, I will be talking about how to secure it to the bed of your truck. If you’re using a different method, check out this article about how to tie down a kayak.

Right, let’s get into the basic steps:

#1 Prep Your Truck Bed

Before you start getting your gear in the trunk, you need to ensure the tonneau cover has been removed. You’ll also have to clean the bed of the truck to make sure there isn’t any dirt or grim.

Some people also like to lay down a rubber mat/truck bed liner on the pickup truck to protect both your kayak and your vehicle.

#2 Load Your Kayak On To The Pickup

Once you’ve cleaned your truck bed out, it’s time to load the kayak onto the back. Start by lowing the tailgate. If you’ve got a small kayak, you’ll be able to lift it onto the truck bed by yourself; if it’s too big, ask a friend to help you out.

Use the grab handles and gently slide the kayak up a boat ramp onto the bed with the kayak’s hull facing up so you don’t cause damage. Some people like to use foam blocks to raise the kayak and offer more protection.

Once it’s on the back, you’ll have to adjust the position to make sure no more than 30% of the kayak is hanging over the edge. If there’s too much hanging off the truck, you’ll have to get a kayak truck bed extender.

#3 Secure Your Kayak To The Truck

Once the kayak is in the right place, you need to try and position it in a way where it’s not going to slide around. Some people like placing it corner to corner, but it’s really up to you.

In my opinion, you should place it in a way where it will be the most secure, and that depends on your pickup truck.

Get your two cam straps ready and find your anchor points in the truck bed. Feed the first strap through the anchor point closest to the front. Then run it over the top of the kayak, through the opposite anchor point, and back over the kayak.

Do the same for the second strap at the rear of the vehicle. Once the cam straps are in place, tighten them so the kayak can’t move. Don’t go too tight; you don’t want to damage your kayak.

Some people also like to use a cable lock at this point. It works as extra security if something comes loose and prevents thieves from taking your kayak.

#4 Attach Your Red Flag

This step is relatively easy; it’s just a case of attaching a red flag to the rear end of your kayak. It helps warn other drivers that they shouldn’t get too close to your vehicle.

Make sure it’s secure; you don’t want the wind to take it off as you’re driving.

#5 Strap Down The Bow And Stern Lines

The final step is to tie down the bow and stern of the kayak. They are the most likely points to cause drag on the kayak. Due to the drag of the kayak, it can make your ratchet straps loosen over time, so it’s something to take care of.

Secure the bow by using the grab handle to tie the kayak to the cabin and tie the stern to the truck’s rear using the second grab handle. 

Once you think everything is secure, go around the kayak and double-check everything is tight enough. If everything is looking good, it’s time to get going!

Top Tip – After 10-15 minutes of driving, pull over to make sure everything looks good. Sometimes the wind can loosen the ratchet straps; it’s best to find out early, then watch your kayak fly off the back of the truck bed.

The Best Practices To Follow When Transporting A Kayak On A Truck

Before I leave you, I want to explain some of the best practices when it comes to transporting your kayak on a truck bed. They might seem like obvious considerations, but it’s incredible how many people I see fail to follow them:

  • Don’t Rush When You’re Securing Your Kayak: The process of tying your kayak down is essential… don’t rush it. Take your time and make sure your kayak isn’t going to move anywhere.
  • Use A Cockpit Cover: When you’re driving at high speed, you’re going to generate a lot of drag, which can pile up in the cockpit. Using a cockpit cover will stop the drag from building up and loosening the straps.
  • Don’t Drive Too Fast: You can’t go flying around when you’ve got your kayak connected to the back of your truck. If you’re driving too fast, things go become loose at the back, to make it worse; you won’t be able to wear it.
  • Make Sure You Stop Every Now And Again: As mentioned earlier, even you leave with everything nice and tight, the straps can still come loose. Pull over now and again to make sure nothing is moving around.

Just these few tips can save you a lot of hassle and prevent your kayak from flying onto the highway.

Key Insights & Takeaways

Kayak transportation isn’t easy, but if you’ve got a truck, you’re already a step of the head of the average person with a kayak, so you shouldn’t have much trouble transporting your kayak.

The key is to make sure you’re following the rules of the state. The last thing you want is to get pulled over by the police.

It’s also super important you follow the correct steps of strapping your kayak down, which I’ve listed above for you. 

I hope this article has helped you on your journey to transporting a kayak in a truck; just make sure you follow the guide, and you’ll be fine.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Far Can A Kayak Hang Out Of A Truck?

It really depends on the state you’re in, but the rough guide is the kayak shouldn’t hand out more than 3 feet in front and 4 feet out of the rear. That being said, some states do allow a more significant overhang, so check out the local laws beforehand.   

How Do You Carry A Kayak In A Short Bed Truck?

If you’ve got a short bed truck, your best option is to add a truck bed extender. It will provide the extra length you need to secure your kayak safely on the back of the truck.

Will Kayak Fit In The Truck Bed?

That really depends on what truck you have and what kayak you use. Do some measurements and make sure at least 70% of the kayak can fit on the truck. If it can’t, you’ll need to use a different method.

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.