Extreme Nomads is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More

Kayaking is a magnificent hobby to take up that can range from calm and casual lake cruising to whitewater lunacy through canyons. Generally speaking though, most of us aren’t lucky enough to live right by our favorite patch of water.

Transporting kayaks is an obstacle most of us will have to overcome at some point, and one of the easiest methods is by strapping your boat to a roof rack.

A decent roof rack will securely hold down multiple kayaks to the roof of your vehicle resulting in simple and safe transport.

Via the use of ratchet straps, clips, and numerous loops, you can rest assured, even in high winds, you’ll arrive at your destination with the same amount of kayaks you left with.

Overview of a Roof Rack

If you’re planning on investing in a roof rack for your kayak, make sure you spend a bit of cash and don’t cheap out. Do your research and buy something that you can rely on.

When you strap the kayak in, it’s good to be sure it isn’t going anywhere and is fully secure. When you’re transporting a kayak, you want peace of mind.

Quality is one half of the battle, the second is technique. You must make sure you know the correct way for how to tie kayak to roof rack. Take care to purchase the right roof rack for your vehicle and know how to properly use it.

Too much tension or not enough will result in damage and loss. To safely secure your kayak onto the roof, check the manual and have a good look at this guide.

How to Carry a Kayak

secure kayak to roof rack

Before you begin even thinking about putting your kayak on your vehicle, you may want to check you know how to walk it there in the first place.

Follow this simple step-by-step guide for picking up, carrying, and moving your kayak from A to B. If you drag your beloved kayak, you’re going to have a bad time.


Some people may worry that their kayak may be too heavy to carry, recreational kayaks usually aren’t any heavier than 80lbs at the top end, but this may seem a little daunting.

With the right techniques and a little practice, you’ll have it up on your shoulders and sliding onto those roof racks with no dramas.

Kayak Carrying Technique

  1. With the kayak laid on the floor and you stood with your shins along the long side, tilt the kayak forward, so the seat cavity is facing away from you.
  2. Grab hold of the side of the cockpit closest to you and pull it up towards your chest, resting the weight on your thighs, keeping your knees bent.
  3. When you have pulled the kayak onto your thighs, grab the other side of the kayak cockpit.
  4. Making sure to lift with your legs, and stand up whilst you simultaneously pull and roll the cockpit onto your shoulder with the assistance of your hand.
  5. The kayak’s hull should be balanced across your shoulder, and you should be able to walk without either end bumping off the ground.

When it comes to transporting your kayak, having the right equipment is crucial, including the best truck rack for kayaks. A reliable truck rack simplifies the process of loading and securing your kayak onto your vehicle and provides stability, ease of installation, and adjustability.”

The 5 Steps To Secure Your Kayak to Roof Racks

Congratulations, you’ve bought yourself a high-quality, well-reviewed roof rack, and you’ve managed to pick it up without giving yourself a hernia.

The next step is actually making sure you know how to tie down a kayak nice and tight without any loose ends that might flap around in the wind.

To start, you’re going to need a roof rack that runs from either side of the car, and a pair of cam straps. Oh, and a kayak of course.

transporting a kayak

Follow these simple step-by-step instructions to make you secure everything properly.

1. Lay the Kayak Straps Over the Bars of the Roof Rack

Get your cam strap, also known as kayak straps, and first loop them around the front rack, pulling it down to the front of the vehicle. You will want to have a loose end and a cam buckle in each hand.

With the second strap, move around to the rear crossbar and repeat the process, looping and laying the kayak strap down the back of the vehicle.

Pull the straps to one side to leave space for the kayak to lie beside them. If you have two kayaks, leave space for the second kayak also.

2. Place Your Kayak or Canoe on the Roof Rack

You can now place your kayak or kayaks on the roof rack. It is best to have them upside down and with the bow over the front of the rack. When you tie your kayak to a roof, you want it to stay aerodynamic. Use the shape that was designed to make the boat streamlined in the water to work with the wind. The widest part of the boat should be dead center between the kayak racks. Depending on your kayak, this could be further forward or backward. You will want the bow and stern lines to be equidistant from the center of the boat. Whitewater kayaks are chunky in the middle, so identifying the secure point shouldn’t be an issue. Sea kayaks may be a little trickier due to their long thin shape. Take time to get your kayak and its width into the right place before you strap it down.

3. Bring the Boat Straps Over the Boat

Flip the cam straps over the bow and stern of the kayak. Make sure to hold onto the cam buckle, as the metal buckle could damage your vehicle. Pull the loose end of the strap so that the bow and stern lines’ cam straps sit high on the body of the kayak. Starting with the stern straps, place the excess of the strap underneath the other crossbar. Wrap it around and push it up through the cam buckle. Keep the cam buckles high and feed the strap through the buckle end. Pull through the excess strap until the tie-down straps have pulled the kayak down onto the roof rack. Repeat the process with the other strap but don’t tighten them too much yet, you still want some give against the crossbar until you are sure the kayak is in the right place. Move the kayak around on the roof rack, ensuring that the boat is central, sat on any padding you may be using, and appropriately placed on the crossbar.

4. Secure the Kayak Straps

Once you are sure you have properly positioned your kayak onto the kayak straps and on the crossbar, it is time to secure the straps. Pull the two straps at the bow and stern of the boat through the ratchet mechanism. Ensure they are tight and stern line and bow line tie downs are holding the boat on the rack.

tying down a kayak

Grab the boat and give it a shake to ensure there is no movement. If there is any give at all, pull each strap tight till they are secure. You do not want any lift from the crossbar in the wind. The safety of your drive and your kayaks depends on it. Be careful not to tighten too much around the bow and stern lines. It is possible to damage and even crack the boat if you over-tighten them. Using padding around the strap and an easy kayak roof rack secure point should allow you to be able to tie down the kayak without worrying about too much wear and tear.

5. Roll and Tie the Kayak Straps

Roll and Tie the Straps

Up The last thing you want after you load your kayak to a roof is for the excess strap to be flapping around in the wind damaging your car and your kayak. Make sure you have your straps secured, rolled up, or tucked away. You can secure the straps in a number of ways, one uncomplicated method is to simply take the remaining slack end of the strap and pop it through your car door. This will prevent the strap from flapping around. You can also tie the straps around the crossbar until there is none left. With enough excess straps, you can pass the straps under the kayak and connect them to the crossbar on the opposite rack.

Some Last Tips on Keeping Your Boat Shipshape and Seaworthy

When getting your kayak onto your roof rack, you need to, first of all, be careful you don’t pull anything before you even get out there onto the water with inadequate lifting technique.

kayak transportation

Secondly, ensure you actually arrive with a kayak still on your roof rack. By following the simple steps I listed, you can virtually guarantee you will arrive with what you left with.

There are a few little other things that can make a difference, a few last checks for your peace of mind.

Good Quality Bow and Stern Lines

If you decide to cut the price of your bow and stern tie downs you may end up with a set of straps that quit on you the minute a little bit of lift hits your kayak.

It doesn’t matter how good your car kayak roof rack is, if your tie-down strap is badly made, they’re going to snap and leave you wondering which road your kayak is currently sailing down.

Read your reviews, keep your eyes out for sales, and make sure you buy a strap that’s up to the job. Garden twine and a bungee rope aren’t going to cut it I’m afraid.

Loading Multiple Kayaks

Having a double boat situation will obviously require a different strap setup to make them secure on the top of your rack. Using two straps on each kayak is always the better choice. Due to the shape of a kayak, if you try to strap them both down with the same straps, they won’t be secure at all.

If you’re having them side by side, repeat the process we previously went through, and rather than the strap going all the way to the opposite side of the rack, have it secured to the middle of the crossbar. Strap them to the rack one by one.

how to tie a kayak to a car

There are a few ways to get two kayaks or more onto a roof rack. The most common and probably safest is to get yourself a central bar. This allows you to place the kayaks on their side, leaving more room on top of your vehicle, and have one on the right side and one on the left.

If I May Stick My Oar In

I’d like to say it isn’t a common problem to lose a kayak from a vehicle but sadly that simply isn’t the case. I’ve seen it with skis, bikes, snowboards, and everything in between.

A rushed job or shoddy hardware can result in your beloved and expensive equipment being sprayed all over the highway and there is no way you’re ever recovering that.

I always say: measure twice and cut once. The same goes for kayak straps and your roof rack. It’s the details that make the difference, one extra tug on the boat and straps wouldn’t hurt.

Slap a few kayaks on your Ford Escape and head on down to your body of water knowing that because of this excellent guide, you’ll be arriving with everything you left with. You’re welcome!

Categories: Kayaking

Leo Gillick

I am Leo Gillick; a snowboarder, wakeboarder, and wordsmith. If I’m not already busy trying out the newest gear or riding the freshest powder, I’m sitting in the nearest cafe writing about it. I’m lucky enough to have been able to find a job that lets me indulge in the things that keep my adrenaline right at the top. Taking the time to share my discoveries of hidden gems, awesome experiences, and my all too common disasters with you is why I love picking up the pen. I know how important every review is to the extreme sports enthusiast, I’ve read my fair share of articles before every little purchase. Ensuring I have the best gear means I can ride the best my body will let me. I can help you make those next decisions.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

en_GBEnglish (UK)