Beginner’s Guide: How to Transport a Kayak

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The Ins and Outs of Transporting a Kayak.

In an idyllic world,  you live on the beach or in a secluded area near a gorgeous body of water.

My dream is to live in Fiji. 

You load your gear; get someone to help you get the kayak onto the water, and you paddle off towards a stunning sunset. Ah! If only it were that simple.

There is no denying the thrill and excitement that surrounds a kayak adventure.

Riding out into the bosom of nature with friends and family; what could be better?

There is one more thing you need to take care of… transportation.

How to transport a kayak to your destination?

The most common method of transporting kayaks is by using a car. Another way is by doing it manually. But executing this safely and without damaging the kayak requires some skills.

Let’s dig deeper into the different aspects of how you can transport your kayak, what you can transport it on, and what to do if you don’t have a roof rack to tie it to.

Can you transport a kayak on a car?

  • Yes.

In fact, it is the favored means of transport for a kayak by many folks. The job becomes a hundred times easier if you have access to a pickup truck.

Then the only thing you have to do is load the kayak into the back of the truck, use some ropes to secure it, and you’re good to go.

Alternatively, kayaks are also transported on top of cars. The preferred cars are SUVs and other relatively big cars but just about any car will qualify for the job.

Transporting a kayak on a car is pretty straightforward, provided you have the right pieces of equipment.

A kayak roof rack is the most preferred piece of equipment to transport a kayak by car.

J-Bars are by far the most common and you may need a set of crossbars for attachment if your vehicle doesn’t already have them.

More on that in a minute.

First, you need to install the roof rack securely on the roof of your vehicle. The next step is to load the kayak on to the roof.

If you have a substantial sized kayak, ask a friend or a family member to give you a hand. Flip the kayak upside down, place it on top of the roof and secure it with the straps.

That’s it. You are ready to start the trip!

Do I need a roof rack for my kayak?

Yes. If you plan to transport a kayak on a car, you will need a roof rack for the kayak. The racks are made of aluminum or steel along with padding.

They are also called kayak carriers.

A kayak roof rack will typically fall under the four common categories.

Four Categories of Roof Racks


These are perfect for when you want to transport multiple kayaks. With stackers, kayaks are laid on their sides for transportation. The Stacker from Thule is a very popular version of this model among frequent kayakers.


These are preferred for the substantial size as well as the added safety. Malone Seawing is one of the best saddle racks on the market.


These types of cradles are the most and the best kayak roof rack. J-cradles offer optimum security and stability apart from being effortless to install and use.

JayLow from Yakima is a best seller in this category.

Temporary pads

These types of pads are ideal for occasional kayakers. As the name suggests, the rack system consists of padding or foam with straps.

They are best suited for SUVs which do not come with a roof rail.

The brand and the size of your car will determine which type of kayak roof rack you will require. Some car manufacturers have prebuilt rails on the roof.

If this is the case, you need to take this into consideration while buying a kayak roof rack. The best racks are indisputably the ones made by Yakima, Thule, and Malone.

Can you transport a kayak upside down?

1977 Jeep CJ7 and 2 of my Swify’s

Transporting a kayak upside is a standard method, especially on top of a car. To execute this, it requires the removal of the seat and other navigational gear you might have in the cockpit or the front of the kayak.

Also, it is pretty standard to cover the cockpit with a designated cockpit cover. This is to ensure that no damage is done to the cockpit during the journey.

After you have installed the kayak roof rack on the car, lift the kayak onto the roof and lay it upside down on the tubes or the foam padding.

One of my favorite tricks to use is to buy pool noodles from Walmart. They are super cheap.

Like two dollars each.

Cut a slit length-wise down the noodle and slip the noodle over the long edge of your kayak. As if you were installing a really long armrest on both sides of the cockpit.

This will protect both the edges of the kayak and anything it comes in contact with.

In the picture of my Jeep in the article, you might be able to see I slipped the pool noodles over my rollbars instead.

Use gentle but firm motions to tighten the straps around the kayak. Many a kayak’s hull has been cracked by applying to much pressure while strapping it down for transportation.

Employ at least two straps to fasten the kayak to the car. This way you can confidently travel long distances knowing that you have secured the stern as well as the bow.

How to transport a kayak in a truck?

If you have the option to transport a kayak in a truck, consider yourself lucky. You can do so with minimal fuss. The following steps show you how to transport a kayak in a truck.

1. Get the truck bed ready.

Start by thoroughly cleaning the back of the car. If there is any hardware or machinery on the back, remove it.

Next, place a rubber mat on the bed of the truck. This will keep the kayak as well as the truck safe from any type of damage by reducing the friction.

2. Load the kayak.

Take the help of a friend and load the kayak onto the truck. Remember that the hull should face down.

We shall assume that by now you have removed the seat as well as other gear inside the cockpit and stored safely somewhere inside the vehicle.

Carefully slide the kayak into the truck body’s back.

If you have a sizable truck and a smaller kayak, you might be able to fit the kayak inside. But if your kayak is rather big, we suggest keeping the extender open.

If you do this though, your kayak will overhang if you do not like to keep the kayak overhanging whether due to safety or convenience, there is another way.

Keep the tailgate up and transport your kayak with one end in the air. Just make sure that there is extra padding on the tailgate, and secure the kayak to the bed of the truck.

This will prevent the kayak from sliding so you won’t have a nasty surprise when you reach your destination.

You might need to add safety measures such as a red flag or red lights at the back so that your kayak will not pose a danger to you or the other drivers on the road.

Do I need a flag on my kayak if it sticks out the back of my vehicle?

It depends on how far the end of the kayak is sticking out. Road safety is the primary concern that surrounds this question.

When a piece of equipment or hardware sticks out the back of an automobile, it does not only put you at risk but also the safety of other drivers as well.

As a general rule, anything that sticks out by 4 feet or more at the rear of the vehicle warrants safety measures such as using a flag and adding red lights.

A warning flag is typically red or orange in color and is about eighteen square inches. Safety flags from Vulcan are good options.

It is well made with polyester for durability and strength. It also meets all the requirements of DOT and CVSA.

You can also employ red reflectors and tapes if you plan to make the trip during the night.

How to tie down a kayak without a roof rack?

Although roof racks are essential to transport a kayak, the chances you might have to do so without a rack cannot be completely ruled out.

The most common reason is that you cannot find the perfect rack for your car. Another reason is that you are purchasing your first kayak, and you did not anticipate the need for a roof rack.

However, this shouldn’t be a problem. Here, we show you how to tie down a kayak without a roof rack.

1. Gather the tools.

When you don’t have access to a kayak roof rack, the best option is to use ratchet straps and pool noodles. The former has nylon straps with adjustable buckles while the latter is essentially a tube with a hole in the middle.

2. Mount and secure the pool noodles.

Place the foam tubes on the roof of the car. There should be a minimal of three pool noodles, one for the middle as well as the stern and bow of the kayak. Secure the tubes with the ratchet straps down to the roof of the car. This will prevent friction between the kayak and the rooftop and also prevent any physical damage.

3. Load the kayak.

Before you load a kayak onto the roof, make sure that you have removed the seat, as well as other gear and equipment from the cockpit of the kayak.

Enlist the help of a friend and flip the kayak upside down. Holding the kayak on either end, lift it onto the roof and place it on top of the pool noodles. Remember to position the kayak parallel to the car and with equal weight distribution on the back and front.

4. Strap down the kayak.

Use the straps to tie down the kayak. Keep the car doors open while doing so. The ratchet straps should pass over the kayak while the securing and strapping should be done inside the car’s roof. Follow the same procedure for the front, and the back and your kayak is ready to travel.

How much does a kayak weigh?

  • Solo kayaks: 30-80 lbs depending on material used and size.
  • Tandem kayaks: 350 – 700 lbs again depending on material used and size.

The weights of kayaks are hugely determined by the size, type as well as the materials used in its construction.

Having said that, solo kayaks made of inflatable materials weigh between 30 lbs to 35 lbs.

On the other hand, if the kayak is made of other materials such as plastic or polyethylene, it can weigh up to 60 lbs.

Tandem kayaks which are inflatable can have a weight between 35 lbs to 50 lbs. Kayaks made of fiberglass and plastic can weigh up to 80 lbs.

Double seater kayaks can weigh anywhere between 350 lbs to 650 lbs. However, some can easily weigh up to 700 lbs.

They can comfortably seat up to three people, which is a good thing as you need extra help for loading and unloading it.

Can you transport a kayak inside an SUV?


No. Unless your kayak is inflatable, do not attempt to transport a kayak inside an SUV.

In fact, inflatable kayaks can be even carried inside a backpack. But not a regular kayak.

It does not matter if you own the biggest SUV on the market like the Chevrolet Suburban and Cadillac Escalade ESV.

You will seriously compromise the well-being of the kayak, as well as your safety if you were to get into an accident.

Not to mention that you are compromising the safety of the other drivers on the road.

There is a video on YouTube titled, ‘sideways.’ It depicts a couple of folks transporting a kayak sideways inside an SUV… as in sticking out from both back doors, across the backseat. 

The caption states that they might have left the roof rack as well as their brains at home. And rightfully so.

Apart from how ridiculous it looks, it is a safety issue which needs to be seriously considered.

Without sounding dramatic, attempting to transport a kayak inside a car is a cardinal sin when it comes to kayak etiquette.

Final thoughts.

The experience of kayaking is nothing short of adventurous and pure fun. However, the logistics of transporting a kayak should be carefully taken into consideration.

It requires careful preparation, gathering of the right tools and some skills to execute the operation smoothly and safely.

The main concern is to get the kayak safely to the desired location without damaging it, or undergoing some mishaps along the way.

The journey of your kayak adventure starts with the correct loading, transportation and unloading it for the ultimate launch.

We are confident that this article will assist you in your crusade to transport your kayak safely to your destination.

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