Transporting a Kayak: Getting to the Water Safely

Transporting a Kayak

Transporting a kayak or canoe can sometimes be a challenge. For those of us with smaller cars, it’s a real head-scratcher.

“How do I get my kayak to the water?”

I have tried everything from canoe trailers, strapping a canoe to the top of an old Dodge Intrepid, stuffing a kayak in the bed of a truck, and using dedicated foam block kayak carriers.

Some of these solutions are significantly more ideal than others. Can you guess which are the best and worst? Yeah. I thought so.

Let’s take a look at the ways you can get your kayak to the water safely.


Carrying the Kayak or Canoe

carrying a kayak by hand

If you haven’t got very far to go, you can just lug the kayak or canoe by hand.

Picking up and portaging a canoe by yourself is actually pretty easy once you know the correct technique. And if you have a partner to help you out, the process is, well… about twice as easy. Just check this video out:

Kayaks, of course, are usually much lighter and smaller and have carrying handles which make them much easier to transport. Although, many people still choose to build homemade yokes to help with portaging and carrying their kayaks.

Roof Rack

Strapping a kayak to a roof rack is how most paddlers choose to get their yak to the water. And for good reason; it’s the simplest method of securely transporting your boat long distances.

A multitude of kayak cradles exist that attach to the cross rails of a rack, allowing you to support kayaks of every shape and size safely.

Your car may come with a roof rack, or you may be able to add an aftermarket roof rack. Check with your manufacturer and look for aftermarket accessories specialty shops.

Tying your boat to the vehicle at the bow and stern is absolutely critical regardless of the type of rack you use. Polyester rope is sufficient for holding down the front and back. Ratchet straps are the most secure and easiest to use when tying the body to the cradle.

If you want more information on finding and choosing a roof rack, check out our in-depth guide.

Foam Noodles

Foam pool noodles from the local discount store can be used to create an inexpensive roof rack. Lay them sideways across your car and put the canoe or kayak in line with the vehicle atop the pool noodles.

The most critical part is making sure that the boat is strapped down securely. Use tie down straps and double check the security of your straps every time you stop.


Utility Trailer

Utility trailers, of course, can be used to carry your kayak to the water. There’s really no need to buy anything special if you’ve got an old lawn trailer around. Just strap the boat in and off you go!

Often small lawn trailers can be found at garage sales or estate sales on the cheap! Pick one up and do a little DIY handy work to make a luxury customized kayak trailer if you’ve got the handyman genes.

Kayak Trailer

If you’re looking for something special, however, small and lightweight trailers can be found with integrated cradles for your canoe or kayak. These will be more expensive than a generic trailer, but the benefit is a more purpose built function.

One major advantage of a purpose built trailer is that they are often small and light enough to be pulled by nearly any small car, unlike many utility trailers.

Look for a trailer with integrated cradles, enough capacity for multiple kayaks, and integrated tie-down points for your straps.

How to Tie Down Your Kayak

Making sure your kayak is secure means understanding how to use tie down straps. Alternately, you could become a master of knots and use specific ties to secure your boat, but let’s look at the easy way first:

Using Ratchet Straps

It still amazes me how many people fail to use ratchet straps properly. Once you master the process, they’re fool proof and as secure as can be. Mess the process up, however, and you’ll have a kayak on the highway in no time.

Practice makes perfect, and you’ll want to test different anchor points and strapping methods to find what works best for you.

And even when you think you’ve completely nailed the process, double-check your work before setting off and every time you stop.

Pro Tip: Tighten your strap, then jostle the boat side-to-side, and then tighten the strap one last time to take up any remaining slack.

Using a Trucker’s Hitch

When searching for a good instructional video, it just happened that I found a great video demonstrating on a canoe. Check out this trucker’s hitch tutorial which shows how easy it is to tie down your kayak or canoe using nothing but rope!

Once you learn the trucker’s hitch (don’t be afraid to watch several videos), you’ll want to practice until you’ve got it mastered. Once this knot is in your bag of tricks, you’ll be using it for everything!

I’ve used these knots for years on tent guy lines, canoes, kayaks, straps, and just about anything else you can think of that needs to be under high tension. If you get good at them, they’re just as effective and reliable as a commercial strap.

Be sure to back up this knot with a few extra backup knots (I suggest two half hitches) to ensure there’s no slipping during transport. Definitely check the security of your knot at every stop!

Safety Checks

Before leaving, get in the habit of checking the tension of your straps or rope. If it’s at all slack, then redo your work.

One thing that often causes slack in kayak transportation is lateral movement of the boat. Grab the boat and firmly try to tug it from side-to-side. If it moves or creates slack in your rope or webbing, then tighten everything down once more.

Always check your work every time you stop and before leaving for a trip. You’d be amazed how often something comes loose or gets overlooked.


It can be hard to find solutions to kayak and canoe transport when your daily ride is a small commuter car. Get creative and challenge yourself to find new ways to get your boat to the water.

While doing so, however, make sure you’re keeping safe and considering other road users. If your boat slips off because you failed to check your work or use the proper equipment to secure your boat – it’s your fault! Don’t put other drivers and cyclists at risk of being hit by your boat.

Whether you use the ratchet straps or become proficient with the trucker’s hitch, we’re confident you’ll find a great solution to carrying your kayak at any budget!

If you’ve got any more tips on transporting a kayak, please share them in the comments.

(Main Image Flickr / Tony Olsen)

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