How To Transport A Kayak On A Small Car: The 4 Easy Methods

by Jason | Last Updated:   July 19th, 2022
How To Transport A Kayak On A Small Car: The 4 Easy Methods


Buying yourself a kayak is an excellent way of giving yourself the feeling that you can go to a lake or river when you want.

The problem is:

You don’t know how to transport a kayak on a small car!

Without the correct transportation method, you’ll find it extremely difficult to get to your local lake for a paddle. 

If you want to give yourself the best chance of actually making it to the water with your new kayak, you will need a suitable transport method. 

And while you might think you need a large truck or SUV to transport your kayak safely, that’s not necessarily the case.

With the proper techniques, you’ll have no issues transporting your kayak on a small kayak. So, in this article, we will discuss how to transport a kayak in a small car.

Sound good?

Great, let’s learn how to transport a kayak properly on a small car.

Considerations For Transporting Your Kayak On A Small Car

Before I start talking about the methods of transporting your kayak in a small car, I wanted to talk about some considerations you need to consider.

You see…

It’s not a simple case of attaching your kayak to the car and setting off on your journey. You need to make sure your kayak isn’t too big for your vehicle. And this means these two things you need to consider:

  1. The length 
  2. The weight 

So, let’s take a look at the length and weight considerations your need to take into account before you start transporting your kayak in your small car:

How Long A Kayak Can Your Vehicle Carry?

In general, you shouldn’t have too many issues transporting your kayak on a small car if you’re using a roof rack or a kayak trailer. But, with that being said, you need to think about how much of the kayak will be hanging from the back of your kayak.

As a rule of thumb, if you have more than 50% of your kayak hanging off the rear of your car, you’re going to be running into trouble.

One of the main reasons for this is that over half of the kayak will be left unsupported behind your vehicle, which makes it unsafe to transport.

But this isn’t the only thing you need to consider. Each state has its own laws and regulations regarding how much overhang is allowed when transporting items on your roof rack.

For example:

In California, you’re only allowed 3 feet hanging from the front and 4 feet from the rear. While in Florida, you can have 3 feet from the front and 9 feet dangling from the back.

For this reason, you must check out the local state laws that you will be driving in to ensure you meet their regulations.

You might also find additional regulations you must follow, like having a bright-colored flag hanging from anything extending past your vehicle.

If you want to avoid getting pulled over in each state, make sure you check out the laws, especially if you’re crossing state lines.

Make Sure You Think About The Weight Limitations

Although it’s unlikely that your kayak will be too heavy for your car, it’s still something you should consider. Typically, your kayak will not weigh over 200 lbs, so your small car shouldn’t have any issues.

Unless you’re transporting a super-heavy fishing kayak, if you do have a heavy fishing kayak you need to transport, you’ll have to consider the weight limitations.

But…

To be fair, you’ll probably have more issues getting the kayak on top of the roof rack rather than exceeding the weight limit of the roof of your vehicle.

Either way, you check out the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure your car can support the weight of your kayak.

If it’s too heavy or you are not comfortable lifting the weight of your kayak, you should think about getting a kayak trailer to move your kayak to the lake.

Do You Need A Roof Rack For A Kayak?

Unlike popular belief, you don’t actually need a roof rack to transport your kayak from your house to the lake, river, or ocean.

Yes, using a roof rack is viable and allows you to transport your kayak safely, but you don’t need one.

You can make a DIY version if you’re not keen on forking out 100s of dollars on a new system. 

And if you haven’t got the strength to lift your kayak on and off the roof whenever you want to go for a paddle, you can use other methods.

Sticking your kayak in the boot of your car with the seats down might be able to do an adequate job for shorter journeys.

You could even try using a small kayak trailer to help you safely transport multiple kayaks long distances.

So, as you can see:

You don’t need a roof rack for your kayak, but it can help. Check out some of the methods we’ve discussed in this section:

4 Methods For Transporting Your Kayak On A Small Car

How To Transport A Kayak On A Small Car

So, you know some of the things you need to consider when transporting your kayak in your car.

The problem is:

You don’t actually know how to transport the car kayak on your car, and with so many methods, it’s understandable why you’re struggling to pick one.

I want to give you the best chance of succeeding when transporting your kayak, which is why I will explain four methods you can use.

Let’s take a look:

#1 Using A Roof Rack

When people think about transporting a kayak on a car, one of the first methods they’ll consider is using a roof rack. And this is thanks to how easy it is to secure the kayak to your car using this method.

The one problem you might find is that your car doesn’t have the fittings to connect a roof rack to, which can make things complicated.

And this is because most roof racks require some sort of crossbar system on the roof of your car to attach the rack to.

Using a roof rack and a few locking straps can help you transport your kayak safely without fearing it being stolen while you’re at the traffic lights.

I’m not going to go into much detail about how to strap a kayak to the roof rack because we’ve gone through it in a few previous articles.

So, if you want to learn how to strap two kayaks to a roof rack, make sure you click on the link; it describes everything you need to know in detail.

#2 Making A DIY Roof Rack

Of course, many small cars won’t be able to accommodate a roof rack due to the lack of crossbars or attachment points. 

The good news is:

You don’t need a car roof rack system to transport your kayak on top of your vehicle; you just need to be a little more inventive.

That being said, you need to know what you’re doing so you can safely transport your kayak on the roof without damaging your kayak or car.

If you’re going to use this method, you’re going to need something to place between your car and the kayak. Using a material layer will help prevent rubbing and scratching on your kayak and car. 

One of the best things you can use when it comes to protecting the roof of your car from scratches is pool noodles or foam blocks.

One of the best things about using pool noodles is they have a hole that runs through the middle, which means you can get a very secure fit through your car doors.

If you want to learn more about this method, you should check out my article on how to transport a kayak without a roof rack.

The guide will walk you through everything you need to know to make this method work safely and without causing damage to your vehicle or kayak.

#3 Sticking Your Kayak In The Car

Another option you have is to stick your kayak in the back of your car. And although you might feel like your car is too small, it’s certainly possible if you use the proper techniques.

That said, it’s best to use this technique if you’re not planning to travel far to your launch spot. It will involve your kayak sticking out of your car’s boot, which can be dangerous if you’re traveling long distances.

If you have a small kayak, there’s every possibility that you’ll be able to fit your kayak in the back of your car with only a small amount sticking out of the vehicle.

And this will require you to have a small part of your trunk open while driving. So, you’ll have to tie down the door to prevent the kayak from slipping out onto the road.

You’ll also have to consider the weather; if the outside temperature is too cold, you might find this method less comfortable.

Before you try using this method, you should make sure you have some excellent tie-down points in the boot of your car. Attaching cam straps to them and around your vehicle will help to prevent your kayak from slipping out.

If some of your kayak needs to hang out the boot, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. That being said, there shouldn’t be more than 50% hanging out the boot, and it shouldn’t be at an angle.

If you think too much of the kayak is hanging from the rear, you can try using an extender to offer more support. 

#4 Use A Small Kayak Trailer

The final method I want to discuss in this section is using a small kayak trailer to get your kayak from A to B. 

At one point in time, only larger vehicles could tow trailers due to the weight of the trailer. But, nowadays, you shouldn’t have any trouble with a smaller car as long as your kayaks and trailer aren’t too heavy.

One of the downsides to using this method is that your car needs to have a tow arm. And it will also need to have the power to pull the kayak and the trailer along.

The advantage is that you don’t have to lift your kayak onto the roof to transport it. And this can be very beneficial if you haven’t got the strength to lift your kayak on and off the roof all the time.

This means there’s less chance of you dropping and damaging your kayak and, more importantly, less chance of damaging your body.

Lifting your kayak above your head multiple times a day can damage your back, knees, or other joints. And over time, these minor niggling injuries can lead to something much more severe later down the line.

One thing you’ll have to consider when you’re using a trailer is where you’re going to park. You need to remember that the addition of the trailer will nearly double the length of your vehicle.

And this could make it extremely difficult to park in certain situations. It’s possible that you’ll need to park further away from the water than usual, which is why having a kayak cart on hand will be useful.  

You might even find that you’ll have to drop the trailer off in one location and then take a trip back for the rest of your gear in your car. 

It might take a little bit of extra work next to the lake, but it prevents you from lifting your kayak above your head to get it off your vehicle.

How Many Kayaks Can Your Vehicle Carry?

In honesty, it depends on your vehicle and the method of transporting kayaks you’re using.

You must remember that most kayak roof racks can’t hold more than 180 lbs, which means you’re limited to no more than four kayaks (this can vary depending on your car and roof rack).

If you’re using a roof rack system to transport your kayaks, there are a few things you need to consider:

  • You need to know the load limit of your car. You can usually find this information on the drivers-side door.
  • Never exceed the weight limit stated by the manufacturer. You also need to remember the load limit includes the people and items in your car.
  • If you’re towing a trailer, you must add this weight to your total load.
  • You need to know the weight limitations of your kayak roof rack.

Let me try and explain the process you should go through when working out how many kayaks you can transport:

Your maximum load stated by the manufacturer is 900lbs. You have a roof rack and kayak cradle that comes to 50 lbs. When you combine the weight of yourself and the passengers of your car, it comes to 350 lbs. 

On top of that, you have around 40 lbs of equipment in the boot of your car. That brings your total load so far to 440 lbs leaving you with 460 lbs available.

That means you’ll be able to carry 460 lbs worth of kayaks without any issues. Unless your roof rack can only handle 200 lbs, you’ll only be able to carry 200 lbs worth of kayak.

Make sure you spread the weight around, even when you’re attaching multiple kayaks to your roof; you don’t want to overload one section of your car.

How Can You Carry Four Kayaks On A Roof Rack?

In a previous article, I spoke about how to strap two kayaks to a roof rack, but is it possible to attach four?

You’ll be happy to know it is possible, but it’s probably not if you have a small car. You’ll need a wide vehicle to attach four kayaks to your car’s roof safely.

Ideally, you should be using something like a stacker kayak mount. It’s a roof rack with two vertical bars running through the middle that mounts to your crossbars.

This will make your life easier when attaching your kayaks to the roof rack as simply as possible. The tying-down method works very similarly to previous methods, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here.

The basic idea is to have two kayaks on either side of the stacker mount and use ratchet straps to tighten everything into place.

For extra security, I’d also add bow and stern lines to stop the kayaks from slipping forward or backward when you break. The lines should be attached to your vehicle’s chassis or the hood loops.

You can also check out this video for more information:

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

I hope this article has helped explain the various methods you can use to transport your kayak on a small vehicle.

Having a small vehicle doesn’t have to make your life difficult while kayaking; you just need to know the correct transportation methods.

It’s also worth knowing how much weight your car can carry without exceeding the weight limit. Going over the suggested weight limit is a sure-fire way of damaging your vehicle and ruining its structural integrity.

The easiest method is to use a car roof rack to transport your kayak. But some cars don’t have roof racks, so you need to find a different method.

This could be tying the kayak down in the boot of your car with the seats down or purchasing a trailer to carry your kayaks behind you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Are Kayaks Typically?

The length of your kayak can vary greatly depending on your kayak style. You can expect your kayak to be around 10 feet long. But this can vary heavily from 6 to 16 feet depending on your kayak style.

How Long Of A Kayak Can I Fit On My Car?

All cars should have no issues carrying a kayak that doesn’t exceed 10 feet. But that doesn’t mean you can’t carry a kayak larger than that. You should be fine if more than 50% of your kayak is never unsupported. You should also check local state laws to determine how much overhang you’re allowed from your vehicle.

How Do You Load A Kayak On A Pickup Truck?

As you can see in my “how to transport a kayak on a truck” article, you can see there are many methods you can use. One of the best methods is to use a bed topper or crossbars installed on the truck bed. It allows you to mount the kayak over the top of the truck bed so you can still use it for storage.

If you also have the option to use a truck bed extender, which increases the length of the truck so you can have the kayak lying down in the bed.

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.