How To Tie Down A Kayak with and without a roof rack

SUV with Kayaks in front of Mt. Adams at sunset
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If you are wondering which way is best for transporting your kayak then this article is meant for you. Here, you will learn the different ways for tying down and transporting a kayak on a car with or without a roof rack, a truck, or an RV. But first, we’ll start with the basic essentials that you will need for tying down your kayak.

The basic essentials needed for transporting a kayak 

Most likely you see your kayak as an investment that you would like to use for a long time. For that reason, it’s important that you are able to transport your kayak in a safe way from your home onto the water. While it might seem difficult to tie down your kayak at first glance, rest assured that you will get the hang of it with time. Before diving into the different ways for tying down your kayak depending on the type of vehicle, let’s have a look at the things that you will need: 

Cam buckles

Cam buckle

Cam buckles are constructed from polyester webbing that is resistant to rain, sun, harmful scratching, and are easy to use and adjust. The locking doors trap the webbing to prevent unintentional slippage. They are designed to easily handle the smaller tie down jobs that don’t require the same kind of force that a ratchet strap needs. While we are at it, ratchet straps are also bulkier which increases the chances of damaging your kayak when using it to tie down your kayak. Hence, it is better to use cam buckles as tie down straps for transporting your kayak. 

Padding or foam blocks

Kayak foam blocks

In case you have a vehicle that doesn’t have factory racks then be sure to purchase padding or foam blocks, because they compress and protect a kayak by creating a buffer with the roof of the vehicle. Using pool noodles as an alternative is definitely not recommended, because they compress, split and degrade much faster than foams blocks. So the short lifespan of pool noodles isn’t going to make you save costs in the long run.  

Bow and stern lines

Bow and stern line

Bow and stern lines are straps or ropes used to secure the bow and stern of your kayak to your car. It is best to use a non-stretch, water resistant rope, because it will vibrate less than nylon webbing. Their purpose is to prevent your kayak from lifting up and detaching from your car while driving. When you tie your kayak down, do not weave your straps through scupper holes as this can cause stress fractures. Considering that there are a lot of misconceptions regarding how and whether to use bow and stern lines in general, here’s a video that tackles what these lines are, what they are supposed to do and when to use them. 

How to transport a kayak on a car

The most common way for transporting a kayak with a car is via the roof of your vehicle. If your SUV has the factory luggage rack already installed with the cross bars, then this is usually adequate to transport a kayak. Though it is not a necessity, you can opt to use foam blocks for keeping your kayak in place while tying it down, or to reduce the likelihood of damaging your car or kayak. 

Loading a kayak onto a vehicle is quite easy if you have someone helping you. The most important thing to avoid is scratching the bottom of your kayak or car roof by using a towel or blanket on top of the rear of your vehicle. However, it might be more challenging if you are tasked with doing this by yourself. For that reason, here’s a short video demonstrating how to actually achieve this. Keep in mind that although it’s not necessary to use a kayak cart for loading a kayak onto a car roof, it is a vital tool to have when dragging your kayak into the water without damaging the hull of the kayak. Thus, you might as well use it for loading your kayak onto your car roof. 

In what follows are 2 videos highlighting how to tie down your kayak. The first video illustrates how to get the kayak onto the roof vehicle by yourself. The second video illustrates how to tie down your kayak using tie down straps so that you know how to secure the bow and stern. The techniques shown here are not only applicable to recreational kayaks, but also whitewater kayaks and sea kayaks.

Two J-racks

In case you want to transport multiple kayaks on your car roof, then it’s a good idea to attach a roof rack such as a J-rack onto your factory luggage rack. As the name suggests, a J-style kayak rack is shaped like a “J” and angled at approximately 45 degrees. This makes them a popular choice for those looking to transport up to 2 kayaks on their vehicle. In the next video, you’ll see how to install the J-rack, load the kayaks onto your car roof and tie down the kayaks. 

A Useful Tip:
Consider investing in an inflatable kayak instead of a hard shell kayak. The big advantage of these types of kayaks is that they can be deflated and stored in a storage bag. This makes them easy to store in your car and eliminates the need for kayak racks.

How to tie down a kayak without a roof rack

So, you have decided that you want to haul your kayak with your vehicle despite the absence of a factory luggage rack. This shouldn’t be a problem since all you need for this are cam buckles and foam blocks. The foam blocks will ensure protection for the bottom of the kayak and the car roof while the cam buckles are meant for tying down the kayak. Here’s a short video showing how to place the foam blocks and tie down a kayak without a roof rack.

Kayak trailer

Kayak trailer

Another way of hauling a kayak without a roof rack is by means of a kayak trailer which makes it possible to load a kayak about waist high making it easy to load and unload. Thus, you’re making your life much easier by investing in a kayak trailer, because it also gives you the possibility of transporting multiple kayaks at the same time. The following video briefly shows how to tie down your kayak to a kayak trailer. 

How to tie down a kayak in a truck bed

The easiest method of transportation is simply throwing the kayak in the back of a pickup truck and securing it with a couple of tie downs.  Simply leave the tailgate down and allow the kayak to stick out the back of the truck, with a red flag on the end. For more information on how to tie down your kayak, watch the next video:

Truck bed extender

Truck with an extender and a kayak in the back

There are different truck mounts on the market such as the truck bed extender which will slide into your hitch receiver and act as an extra support out the back of the truck.  If you have a pickup truck with a hitch receiver, we recommend using this product to transport your kayak. It’s safe and easy to load and unload the kayak while being very economical in comparison with a roof rack system. 

Lumber rack/bed rack

Truck with a bed rack

Another type of truck mounts on the market are lumber racks and bed racks. The lumber racks are a good option, but there can sometimes be a problem because the forward most crossbar usually comes almost to the windshield while the rear bar is toward the tailgate, with a third somewhere around the back of the cab which creates a very long span between the front and rear, especially if your kayak is under 13 feet. It is, therefore, best to put the kayak upside down since the kayak will need to have as much contact as possible with the front and rear bear. Given that this isn’t the most secure way for attaching a kayak, watch the following video. It will teach you how to properly secure your kayak using cam buckles onto a truck bed rack

How to transport a kayak on RV’s and campers

The two most common ways for transporting your kayak onto your RV or camper are via the roof or the back of the RV. The easiest way to carry your kayak on your motorhome or RV is by strapping them on the back. This is because you don’t have to lift the kayak all the way to the roof, which is often difficult with heavier kayaks such as fishing kayaks. In any case, at least 2 people are required to attach a kayak to a camper.

Vertical kayak rack

An RV with two kayaks attached in the back


When it comes to strapping a kayak to the back of an RV, most RVers choose to strap it to the ladder using ratchet straps that can be hooked on to the ladder. However, another way is to purchase a vertical kayak rack that fits into your trailer’s hitch and strap your kayak onto that. If you decide on using a vertical kayak rack then rest assured that they are easy to install and take off.

Below is a short video that shows how this works. As you will see in the video, the vertical kayak rack can also be mounted on off-road vehicles such as trucks and jeeps. Thus, this might be a good investment if you are in possession of an RV and an off-road vehicle.

RV roof rack

RV with two kayaks on the roof

Besides giving you the possibility of transporting your kayak, the RV roof rack also gives you more storage space. It can therefore carry other large items such as luggage, water containers, etc. so you should consider getting one in case your RV doesn’t have one. Be sure to check out the fit guides which can be found online and which show which roof rack is best suited for your RV depending on the make, model, and year. 

Ally Mash
Ally Mash
Ally is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent most of his free time backpacking through South America, Iceland, Vietnam, and Europe. He loves sharing his experience through blogging. His mission is to get more people in the mindset of protecting our planet by sharing its beauty.

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