How to Transport a Kayak | Tips, Techniques & Accessories

There’s nothing like the smell of adventure when it’s time for that long-awaited kayaking trip. What’s not to love about floating seamlessly over a quiet river bed or taking on those gushing white water waves in your favorite mode of transport?

There are several ways to enjoy the depths of the sea, but local enthusiasts know that kayaking is one experience you never want to miss out on. The only downside to kayaking is everything that needs to happen before you actually hit the waters. Yes, I’m talking about physical kayak transportation.

Transporting a kayak is just as hard, if not harder, than paddling the actual boat. If you’re not a resident nature enthusiast who stays near a lake or river, then finding suitable kayak transport might be a tricky mission.

Hauling a kayak from your vehicle and into the ocean might not seem that intense when looking at it from the outside. But in reality, it’s an exercise all on its own, and if you’re still a beginner, it’s definitely time to start learning the ropes.

In this article, we’ll be discussing the different modes of kayak transport, kayak hauling, loading a kayak, and how to tie a kayak to roof racks.

Different Modes of Kayak Transport

There are quite a few ways to transport a kayak, although the logistics may need a bit more planning. Many different kayaks are available on the market, each with different sizes, shapes, and features. Naturally, these aspects also come into play when figuring out just how to carry your kayak onto your car.

Let’s look at the different modes of kayak transport below.

Car Roof

Learning how to transport a kayak on your car is the most practical yet most inconvenient way to haul a kayak. This is mainly because your vehicle needs to be customized in such a way that it supports the load of the kayak without damaging your roof.

You also need to be extremely mindful on the road to avoid any potential disasters that involve the large object you’re carrying around. This becomes a delicate balancing act that requires you to ensure that your equipment is secure, your vision isn’t impaired, and you’re prepared for the journey ahead.

Here’s a list of the different types of car roofs so you can identify where your car fits in:

Bare Roof

This car has no pre-installed attachment points whatsoever, but luckily there are some excellent roof rack options to get your car into shape. We’ll talk more about these options a little further on.


Some cars already come equipped with a set of railings that run horizontally across the sides of your vehicle. They offer a pretty neat base for a roof rack, but you still need some assistance.

Side Rails

Side rails run parallel to your car doors and are either raised or flush railings. The raised railings have a little space between the roof and the railing. In comparison, the flushed railing is mounted directly onto the roof with no spacing in between.


Tracks are those bumps on the roof of your car that highly resemble a race track. Most times, they come pre-installed by your car factory, but if you’re someone with a bare roof, you do have the option to install them.

Kayak Cart

A kayak cart isn’t necessarily a long-distance mode of transport, but it does come in handy for those long walks between land and water. We all know that it’s not ideal to park your vehicle close to water bays, so having a kayak cart comes in handy as an added form of transportation.

You do have the option of carrying your kayak on your shoulder, which is a relatively inexpensive way to get across to the water. However, it does require some added safety precautions like extra shoulder padding.

If you’re on your own, then dragging your kayak towards the shore could be your best option. But it does subject your kayak to some premature wear and tear.

The only downside about having a kayak cart is that it doesn’t do well on uneven ground, which could sway your mind either way when weighing the pros and cons of having this added convenience vehicle.

Kayak Trailer

The best way to transport a kayak has to be with a kayak trailer. Although this mode of transport is not the most cost-effective, it does have its rewards. This machine is specifically made to haul kayaks, and it’s spacious enough to comfortably carry more than a few at a time.

The best part about investing in a kayak trailer is that you don’t have to make any modifications to your car, which is quite a money-saver in the long run. The only downside about a kayak trailer is that your vehicle has to be big enough to safely carry the load. This isn’t always the case, so you might need to conduct a bit of research into trailer brands and your carload capacity.

Pick-Up Truck

If you happen to own or have access to a pick-up truck, then you’re probably aware of how convenient it is for hauling kayaks. You simply place the kayak at the back of your truck, secure it for extra safety, and you’re good to go. Depending on the size of your back, there’s no need to make any specific customizations to your vehicle.

If you find yourself uncomfortable with the overlap of your kayak sticking out, you could always place it in the van extender for extra room and security. Other than that, you have one of the best methods to transport a kayak.

Loading a Kayak: By Yourself vs. With a Partner

Loading a kayak onto your car greatly depends on the size, weight, and material. If your kayak is a smaller size, then you could manage to load it by yourself. However, if your kayak is on the larger side, you might need to call in some recruits.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to load a kayak when you’re by yourself and when you’re not.

Loading a Kayak by Yourself

An ideal way to load a kayak by yourself is to invest in a kayak rack that implements a lift mechanism feature. It is quite an expensive tool to have, but it saves you the time and energy of having to maneuver around your car to find the perfect angle.

If you’re looking for a more cost-effective option instead, then using a towel is a great alternative. It works in the same way as a lift system but with a little more effort from your side. The only downside of using a towel is that it’s not weather-resistant, so it does tend to fly away if the wind is too strong or becomes slippery and inefficient in the pouring rain.

Steps on using a towel to load your kayak:

  • Lay the towel on the rear end of your vehicle
  • Line up the stern of your kayak with the towel
  • Push the boat up and slide it forward onto the rack
  • Make sure the boat is securely on its bottom
  • Flip it over onto its gunwales
  • Strap it down and secure it to your vehicle

Loading a Kayak with a Partner

Two is always better than one, especially when it comes to the daunting task of having to load your kayak. As much as dragging your kayak along the path is an option, it does cause premature wear and tear in the long run.

The significant part of having a partner is that you don’t need to have any fancy tricks when loading your boat. All you need is one person firmly lifting at each end, and you’re good to go.

Here are a few steps to follow when loading a kayak with a partner:

  • Load the kayak parallel to your vehicle
  • Have the stern at the back and the bow towards the front
  • Lift using the hull of the boat and not the grab handles
  • Simultaneously lift the boat overhead taking care to place the weight on your legs instead of your back
  • Make sure the boat is directly above the rack before placing it down
  • Depending on the type of rack and attachment you’re using, you’ll either have the boat upside down or right side up

How to Strap a Kayak to a Roof Rack

Knowing how to safely strap a kayak to your car is a skill that every kayaker needs to familiarize themselves with. There are different strokes for different folks when it comes to tying up kayaks, but here are a few tips that we’d like to share about strapping a kayak to your car.

Steps on safely strapping your kayak:

  1. If you’re short or you struggle to see your car roof for some reason, then it’s ideal to use a ladder or some form of platform to properly secure your straps. Strapping your boat is a detailed process, and you need to have a full view of how secure your boat is.

  1. When tying your knots, it’s easier to be simple and uncomplicated, even though you might worry about the level of security that it brings. The aim is to fasten your knots in a way that is secure enough to drive on the road yet simple enough not to struggle when untying them.
  2. It’s safer to attach your straps at the grab handles, especially when transporting your kayak on its side. This is so that you have the surety that your boat remains anchored to your car even if something could potentially go wrong.
  3. Invest in locking straps that can only be unfastened by a key or a locking cable for added peace of mind when you’re making stops on your journey. This also reduces the need to constantly stop to check on the security of your straps.
  4. Having the extra precaution of bow and stern lines is vital, especially if you own a much larger kayak. If you’re not able to invest in cam straps and tie-down straps, then rope is an excellent alternative for both. However, it requires more effort to secure it to your car.

Different Types of Roof Rack Accessories

Whether you’re keen on splurging or you’re keeping your expenses to a minimum, there are a variety of roof rack accessories to meet your needs. The most ideal way to choose an addition is to first decide if you want hard or soft roof racks.

Hard roof racks, also called mounted crossbars, are ideal for vehicles that already have side railings or tracks because they complement their existing structure. Hard racks are a relatively safer option because they can carry more weight. However, they are a permanent customization to your vehicle, which may not be ideal for some.

Soft racks are an ideal option for those with bare roofs or with roof tracks because they’re easy to install and remove. Soft racks come in either a foam or inflatable material, which also means that they’re easy to store. You will need to provide extra security to your kayak because soft racks are not as secure as the mounted crossbars option.

Once you’ve chosen your preferred roof rack option, you can add different roof rack accessories to provide extra security for your boat.

Let’s take a look at a few of your options:


These j-style racks are designed to secure a kayak on its side, which is ideal for plastic boats as they tend to have stronger sides than bottoms.


Saddles are designed to support the bow and stem of your boat with their extra padded protection. This feature also allows saddles to secure your kayak facing right-side-up.


These vertical kayak racks are designed for stacking more than one boat at a time. The feature of simultaneously stacking multiple kayaks creates more efficient and secure use of space.

Bow and Stern Lines

This sturdy form of tie-down straps is designed to secure the front and back of your kayak so that it doesn’t slip forward or backwards when driving.


Foam padding over your hard racks is designed for extra rack protection and keeping your boat secure. Foam pads also play a role in safeguarding your boat from the damage that comes with placing your boat on hard racks.

Safety Tips for Transporting a Kayak

Although loading a kayak can be considered another intense exercise routine, many people often neglect how strenuous the act is. Taking care to follow these safety precautions when loading your kayak is vital in ensuring that your body can keep up with all the physical activity.

Here are a few safety tips to consider when transporting a kayak:

  • Take your time when loading and strapping in your kayak. It is a daunting task that may frustrate those in a hurry, but following a guide and double-checking your straps is a crucial first step.
  • After loading your kayak onto your rack, be sure to check your tire pressure so you can determine if your car can handle the load.
  • Make regular stops to check if your equipment is still secured or if there are any adjustments you need to make.
  • Keeping your life jacket on when carrying your kayak on your shoulder helps with extra padding for your kayak to rest on.
  • Although many innovations have created relatively lightweight kayaks, they’re still heavy items to carry. Always make sure that you’re lifting with your legs and not your back, as this may create some prolonged back problems in the future.
  • It’s essential to familiarize yourself with how the transporting equipment works. Plan out and practice your transporting techniques well in advance to prevent any potential injuries or mishaps from happening.

Final Thoughts on How to Transport Kayaks

Transporting a kayak is no easy task, yet the rewards of finally dragging your kayak into that promising waterbed are indescribable. The best way to haul your kayak is to keep practising until it’s a standard routine.

A good practice routine is repeatedly experimenting with different methods of strapping up your kayak. Then, physically take a drive out with the strapped kayak on your rack. The more you practice these two aspects, the easier it’ll be to effectively transport your kayak when the day finally comes.

This is a vital skill that every kayaker needs to learn, and as a beginner, you will definitely feel the burn. This is when you take the safety tips we’ve spoken about into consideration. There are many ways to make transporting a kayak work for you; you just have to keep experimenting until you find your routine.