July 25, 2022 10 min read

Kayak Transportation

Red kayak on the back of a gray pick up truck

Knowing how to properly transport your kayak is crucial information for kayak owners everywhere. I mean, there isn’t much point in owning a kayak if you aren’t able to transport it to local or far out waterways, is there?

In this article, we’re going to go into detail about the ways you can transport your kayak from A to B. This will include carrying your kayak, transporting your kayak on roof racks, and ways to transport your kayak without a roof rack. 

Whether you’re new to the kayak world, or just looking for an alternative transport method, keep on reading to find the safest and most secure ways of transporting kayaks. 

How to Carry a Kayak

Two man carrying a red kayak

Before we get into transporting your kayak from your home to your chosen waterway, it’s important to know how to properly carry your kayak. 

Carrying a kayak with two people is a simple task. You can even carry two kayaks at once making only a singular trip from your vehicle to the water’s edge. To carry a kayak with two people follow these steps:

  1. Have one person stand at the bow end of the kayak, and the other at the stern end.
  2. As many kayaks come fitted with carry handles, bend down, and lift the boat. 
  3. If you’re carrying two kayaks, do the same with the second on the other side. Both people should be facing forward and you’re then ready to walk to the water. 

If you don’t have the pleasure of a second person to help you carry your kayak, it’s time to get your muscles out and attempt it solo. Most kayaks are relatively light, so don’t worry if you haven’t been to the gym in a while (or ever) you should be able to manage!

  1. Stand on the left side of your kayak.
  2. Bend down and grab the edge of the cockpit that is furthest away from you, pulling it up so your kayak is resting on its side. 
  3. From here, pick the kayak up and rest the rim of the cockpit on your right shoulder. This process can also be done by initially standing on the right side of the boat and lifting it onto your left shoulder.

Tips for Carrying a Kayak

  • Always bend with your knees -You don’t want to cause any injuries before even getting out on the water, so make sure you’re bending with your knees and keeping your back straight. 
  • Use a kayak cart -If your waterway is a slight distance away from the car park, then it may be beneficial to purchase a cart. Kayak carts are a set of wheels that attach to the back of your kayak and allow you to pull it along from the nose end. We’ve covered some carts over 7 Paddle Board Carts for Easy Transportation. And don’t worry, some of these SUP carts can also carry kayaks!
  • Wear a PFD for padding -If you’re carrying your kayak by yourself, then put on your personal flotation device before hoisting your kayak onto your shoulder. Your PFD will work as padding protecting your shoulder from the rim and weight of the kayak. 

How to Transport a Kayak

Roof rack system for kayak

Now you’re an expert in carrying your kayak, here are some ways to transport your kayak on your vehicle. 

Roof Rack System

The first and easiest way to transport your kayak is with a roof rack system. Kayak roof racks come in a few variations, most are permanent and fit onto your vehicle's existing crossbars, but there are some that are temporary for shorter local journeys. 

We’ve gone over some of our favorite roof rack systems over on Best SUP Roof Rack Systems for Cars, Trucks, and SUVS to Safely Transport Your SUP. Although this article goes into detail about SUPs, many of these roof rack systems are versatile and can also be used for kayaks. After all, they’re both relatively small personal watercraft. 

The most popular roof rack systems come in a J-style rack, a saddle rack, a stacker rack, or a removable pad. 

  • J-Style Racks - J-Style racks are also known as J-cradles. These racks are one of the most popular and come in a J-shape design that is side-loading and supports your kayak at a 45-degree angle. 
  • Saddles - Saddles are padded platforms that can be adjusted along your car's crossbars. They sit under your kayak’s hull and transport your kayak in a horizontal position. 
  • Stackers- These vertical kayak racks are great for families with more than one kayak. They hold your kayaks in an upright position which then gives you the space to carry multiple kayaks at once.
  • Temporary pads - Temporary pads are foam blocks that should only be used for short journeys where you won’t be traveling at high speeds. The pads can be added and removed from the vehicle in a matter of seconds by buckles that run through the car doors. Instead of using aftermarket roof racks, some people have found a way to create their own rack systems with pool noodles and ropes. These pool noodles would work in the same way as temporary pads.

As well as a roof rack system, you’ll also need a handful of other essentials to secure your kayak in place:

  • Crossbars - Most vehicles come fitted with factory-installed bars that run from the front to the back of the vehicle’s roof. If you don’t have crossbars already fitted to your vehicle, then it’s easy enough to get some installed. 
  • Cam straps - Cam straps or ratchet straps are what will hold your kayak in place. You’ll need two straps roughly 12 feet long and you can even get them with a locking system to prevent theft. We have a list of our top choices for cam buckle locking straps over on 5 Locks to Secure Your Paddle Board.
  • Bow and stern straps- Bow and stern lines aren’t necessary, but they will give you peace of mind that your kayak isn’t going to fly off the roof. They work by tying the nose and tail end of your kayak down to the front and back of your vehicle. 

How to Load a Kayak

Ocean kayak yellow tie down on rack system

Loading a kayak is also easier with a second person so if you have an extra pair of hands lying around, then we highly recommend putting them to good use. 

  1. With one person carrying either end of the kayak, carry it over and place it parallel to your vehicle. The bow of the kayak should be towards the front of the car, and the stern towards the back. 
  2. Grab the nose and tail of the kayak (not the grab handles but the actual kayak itself) and lift the boat up over your head. Remember to lift with your legs, keeping your back straight, 
  3. With your kayak overhead, place it onto the car’s roof rack and position it so it fits accordingly. 

Of course, help isn’t always on hand, so it is important to know how to load your kayak by yourself. Some people find it easy to place their kayak on their kayak rack. But, this requires some muscles and good technique. Some easier methods are as follows: 

  • Use a lift system - Some kayak racks come with a lift system to help make roof rack transporting even easier. These racks slide down to the side of your vehicle so you only have to lift your kayak up to waist height. After you’ve strapped your kayak in place, you simply push the rack back up to the roof. 
  • Purchase rolling wheels - Rolling wheels are another solution to getting your kayak onto the roof yourself. These wheels allow you to place the bow of the kayak onto the rear saddles or cradle and push the remainder of the kayak up from the stern. The kayak rolls on the wheels all the way forward until it’s resting on the front cradle. 
  • Try using a towel or blanket - To keep your kayak transport costs to a minimum you can try using a towel or blanket. Place the towel or blanket on the back of your vehicle and set the bow of the kayak on it. Pick up the stern and push the kayak up and forward onto the roof rack system. 

Kayak Transportation Tips

  • Double-check all straps- Your kayak is an expensive piece of kit and you don’t want it flying off your roof damaging not only itself but potentially other vehicles behind you. Before setting off, double-check all your straps are tight and secured in place. For extra security, stop fifteen minutes into your journey and check the straps again to ensure nothing has come loose. 
  • Use a cockpit cover- This one isn’t a must, but a cockpit cover will help prevent any dirt and debris from getting inside your kayak’s cockpit and will also stop the wind from building up inside, causing the kayak to move. 
  • Use a red flag- Kayak hang is inevitable whether you’re driving in a car or in a pickup truck. We recommended using a red flag at the rear end of the kayak to warn other drivers of the overhang. We know its hard to miss a huge kayak right in front of you, but you just never know. 

How to Transport a Kayak Without a Roof Rack

Transporting kayak using a trailer

If you don’t want to go down the roof rack route because maybe you like the way your car looks without crossbars or if you have multiple kayaks that won’t fit on the roof, then here are a few ways to transport your kayak without a roof rack. 

Purchase an Inflatable Kayak

The easiest way to transport a kayak without a roof rack system is to purchase an inflatable kayak. We love inflatables as they were designed with ease of transportation in mind and can be conveniently placed in the trunk or the backseat of the car.

Once deflated, an inflatable kayak can fit into a small backpack or duffel bag which not only makes transporting your kayak in your vehicle a breeze but also makes getting your kayak down to the water’s edge as simple as possible. 

We’ve got a fantastic list of inflatable kayaks over on The Best Inflatable Kayaks of 2023. Check it out if you’re after a kayak you can take anywhere with ease.

Use a Pick-Up Truck

If you don’t have a vehicle with an elongated roof, then transporting a kayak on a pickup truck is also possible. Similar to the temporary pads for a regular car, pickup trucks also have tailgate pads that can be strapped to the tailgate in a matter of seconds. 

Once your tailgate pad is in place you can rest the kayak in the truck bed and strap it in place. As with the temporary pads, this method should only be used when transporting your kayak over short distances.

Attach a Kayak Trailer to Your Vehicle

If you’re a family of kayakers, then a roof rack system may not be appropriate for your kayak collection. A kayak trailer can attach to the tow bar on the back of your vehicle and transport numerous kayaks in one go. 

Kayak trailers make it extremely easy to load and unload kayaks as they’re close to the ground and easy to access. 

How to Tie Down a Kayak

Kayak tie down on a kayak roof rack system

Now that you’ve mastered loading your kayak onto a roof rack, it’s time to become an expert in tying your kayak down. 

Tying your kayak down properly is crucial to ensure it remains on the roof for the entirety of your trip. Follow these simple steps to tying your kayak down efficiently:

  1. Place your kayak onto the roof rack system.
  2. Hold the buckle of your cam strap near the beams of your roof rack system at the front of your kayak.
  3. Throw the other end of the strap to the opposite side of your kayak. 
  4. Loop the section you just throw over your kayak under the crossbar and pass the end back over your kayak to your starting point. We recommend twisting your cam strap while placing it back over the kayak to prevent it from flapping in the wind. 
  5. Insert the tail end into the buckle and tighten.
  6. Repeat this process with the other strap at the back end of your kayak. 
  7. Tuck the remainder of the straps into the car doors to stop them from flying in the wind.

Tips for Tying Down a Kayak

  • Use bow and stern straps - Bow and stern straps are an extra layer of protection to ensure your kayak doesn’t go flying during transit. 
  • Twist the straps - Twisting the straps can prevent them from flapping in the wind as you drive. 
  • Use a ladder - Keeping a step ladder on hand can make the tie-down process that whole lot easier.
  • Purchase locking straps- Locking straps work in the same way as regular straps, except they have a locking feature on their buckle. Some come with a key to unlock them, and others with a numerical code like most standard bike locks. Our list of 5 Locks to Secure Your Paddle Board is a great example of these types of straps. 
  • Check, check, and check again - Secure the straps in place, then check them again before setting off. We then recommend pulling over 15 minutes into your journey to check a third and final time.


🏆 Is transporting a kayak easy?

Once you’ve installed a roof rack system onto your vehicle, then yes, transporting a kayak is fairly easy. With a roof rack system installed, all you need to do is load up your kayak and secure it in place with cam straps. 

Transporting your kayak over short distances is even easier as you can use temporary pads that can be secured to your roof in a matter of seconds. 

👍 Can I load a kayak to a roof rack by myself?

Loading a kayak to a roof rack on your own is possible, but for those with poor upper body strength or if you’re lacking in the height department, then it may be slightly more challenging. 

Lift systems and rolling rack systems work well for people who regularly kayak solo. The lift system comes down to the side of the car so you only need to lift your kayak up to waist height. Rolling systems have wheels placed on the back of your vehicle that you can load and push your kayak up onto. 

🏝️ What can I do if I don't have a roof rack for my kayak?

If you don’t have a roof rack for your kayak and are only traveling over short distances, you can purchase temporary roof rack bars like the HandiRack Universal Inflatable Roof Rack Bars that can be installed on your roof in a matter of seconds.

You could also load your kayak into a pickup truck bed and rest it on a tailgate pad like the Vamo Longboard Tailgate Pad or purchase a kayak trailer such as the Ironton Personal Watercraft Trailer.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

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