How To Strap A Kayak To A Roof Rack – Safe and Secure Transportation

Kayaking as a sport is very exciting and relaxing, and most of all versatile. Because of the sheer number of different applications and scenarios in which it can be used, a kayak is a very good thing to own. Whether you want to enhance your fishing, hunting, or camping trips, have a paddle in the water as a physical activity, or explore your local bodies of water and enjoy the views, a kayak can allow it all.

For these and many reasons it is better to have one than not, particularly if you care about water-based activities. However, not everything is as peachy when kayaks are concerned as certain struggles come with being an owner. For one, the size and shape of kayaks make them a very difficult commodity to handle in more than one way.

First of all, there is the storage issue. Something that is at least 8 or 9 feet in length and around 32 inches in width is not that easy to find a permanent home for, especially if you lack inside storage. If you do not have a shed or a garage, or not enough space in them, it means the kayak needs to stay outside, which implies covering it and cleaning it a lot. If you can do it inside, you still need a proper wall or ceiling mount to do it.

An even bigger problem than storage, and the reason for this article in the first place, is transporting and carrying the kayak to and from the water. Of course, you need a vehicle, but that is hardly enough because rarely does a kayak fit inside the car, even an SUV or a truck bed. To do so, you need to come up with the right way to safely and securely transport your paddling craft to the nearby water.

Transporting Kayaks Using Cars

transporting kayak

As with most other things, personal vehicles are the best way to transport your kayak. However, this can be done in more than one way and it is not always possible to choose between all of them. Kayaks can be transported in vehicles in a variety of ways, depending on the size and type of the kayak and the type of vehicle being used. Some of the most common options for transporting kayaks include trailers, truck beds, rack systems, and roof racks.

Trailer Hitches

Attaching a trailer hitch to the back of your vehicle and using a trailer to transport the kayak is usually the way to go if the car is too small to do this otherwise. There are a variety of trailers available, including ones specifically designed for kayaks that make things a lot easier. To transport a kayak using a trailer, you will need to secure the kayak to the trailer using straps or other restraints. Make sure the straps are tight and the kayak is secure before driving. Also, practice driving with a trailer before you put a kayak on it. Turning is harder and you cannot go as fast as you normally do. These trailers are typically lightweight and easy to tow, and they allow you to transport one or more kayaks without taking up space in your vehicle.

Truck Beds

How to Transport a Kayak

As mentioned earlier, if you have a pickup truck, you can transport a kayak in the bed of the truck. To do this, you will need to secure the kayak to the truck using straps or other restraints. Make sure the straps are tight and the kayak is secure before driving. Some kayaks are too big to do this, or rather the beds are too small. In addition to this, the tailgate usually has to remain open for the kayak to fit properly because it is dangerous to angle it over the back.

Rack System

Another option is to install a rack system on the back of your vehicle, such as a rack that attaches to the trunk of a car or the back of an SUV. To transport a kayak using a rack system, there needs to be a way to secure the kayak to the rack using straps, tie-downs, or other tools typically used to fasten items firmly and tightly. Make sure the straps are tight and the kayak is secure before you drive off. Also, this is not always possible because you need a larger vehicle to do that. It is usually done with vans or RVs.

Roof Racks

roof racks

Last but certainly not least, the star of the remainder of this article, is the kayak roof rack. One of the most common ways to transport a kayak is to place it on top of a vehicle’s roof. There are several types of roof racks available, including those that clamp onto the roof of the vehicle and those that are mounted on crossbars. To transport a kayak using a roof rack, you first have to lift it safely and properly and then secure the kayak to the rack with straps and restraints. It takes a while the first time around but it gets easier with time. It can be difficult to do it alone and it is often advised to always have a buddy help you do this.

No matter which of these methods you choose, it is important to make sure that the kayak is secure and that it does not shift or move around while you are driving. You should also be aware of the length and weight of your kayak and make sure your vehicle is capable of safely transporting it. Finally, be sure to follow all applicable laws and regulations regarding the transportation of kayaks and other large items on public roads. You will probably have to mark it with a red flag to make it more noticeable or even turn on hazard lights as you go.

Different Types of Kayak Roof Racks

Since not all kayaks are the same nor are the cars that will be transporting them, there also exist different types of roof racks. Accommodating various watercraft and being fit onto numerous roof designs requires the manufacturers to come up with more than one way to do this, which is why there are multiple types of roof racks on the market. It is also important to mention that many of these are often mistaken for one another and that the terminology is quite loose. All in all, it pays to know about what types exist if you are ever in need.

J-style Racks

There is a good reason for this interesting name. These racks have a “J” shape and are designed to hold the kayak by its hull. The kayak is placed on top of the rack and then secured using straps and tie-down ropes. J-style racks are a good option for transporting kayaks on vehicles with limited space, as they allow the kayak to be carried in an upright sideways position without taking up much room on the roof. Multiple kayaks can also fit on many of these racks and they can be transported in their usual position.

Saddle Racks

These racks are similar to J-style racks, but they have a more rounded shape and are designed to hold the kayak by its entire hull. Again, the kayak is placed on top of the rack securely into the right position (which usually has padding) and then secured with straps or ropes. Saddle racks are not as popular as J-hooks and most J-hooks have a part that is called a saddle, so there is some confusion here usually. In any case, they allow the kayak to be carried easily and can be applied to all sorts of different crossbar systems.


As the name suggests, these are designed to hold multiple kayaks on top of each other which is often necessary if a larger party or a family plans to paddle together. The kayaks are placed on top of the rack and then each is secured to the rack and the rest of the kayaks for maximum safety. Stackers are a good option for transporting multiple kayaks at once, but they may not be suitable for vehicles with limited roof space. You will need at least a larger sedan or an SUV to make full use of this type of rack.



These racks have rollers on the top and are designed to make it a lot easier to load and unload a kayak onto the roof of a vehicle. The kayak is much more easily placed on the top of the car and the best thing about it is that you do not need any help. Rarely can kayaks be loaded alone, but rollers allow this. You do still need straps though. If you prefer or have to do it alone, rollers are a good option for people who have difficulty lifting heavy objects alone, as they allow the kayak to be rolled onto the roof of the vehicle rather than lifted.

Regular Crossbars

There has been mention of crossbars a few times, but mostly as the palace where the roof rack is connected to the car. But did you know that they could be more than enough to transport a kayak? While not as conventional, a set of crossbars mounted on top of a vehicle’s roof can be a kayak rack completely on its own. However, the strapping and rope management will have to be superb and the kayak should not be very big or heavy. If your vehicle already has a factory-installed crossbar rack, you may not need to purchase anything else to transport the kayak to the water.

How to Strap the Kayak to a Roof Rack

Now that you know all about transporting kayaks and have a deeper knowledge of roof racks, let us talk about the right way to strap a paddling boat onto the roof. No matter which type of roof rack you choose, it is of the utmost importance to make sure the rack is compatible with the car and installed correctly. Only then can you move on securing the kayak to the roof rack.

Tools for the Job

To strap a kayak to a roof rack, you will also need the right items. The crucial things you will need include straps, padding, and buckle protection. Look for straps that are specifically designed for kayak transportation. These straps should be made of durable material and have a secure buckle or clip. They are meant to be attached to the hull’s scupper plugs and other molded features.

When it comes to padding, it is a good idea to use it between the kayak and the roof rack to protect the kayak and the vehicle. Foam blocks or pads work well for this purpose. Most racks come with padding already attached to the stress points, but you can always add more for an additional layer of protection and grip.

Buckle protectors are quite optional, but they can help prevent the straps from rubbing against the kayak (or the car) and causing damage. If you want to be without a single worry on your way to a fun day of kayaking, use them as well.

Step-By-Step Guide


When it comes to the actual strapping process, by now you already should have a general idea of how to do it. Firstly, you need to find the right way to lift it up. Either ask someone for help or slide it up in one motion by leaning the front end onto the crossbars.

When you have placed the kayak on top of the roof rack, position it so that it is centered and the weight is evenly distributed. Place padding between the kayak and the roof rack for extra comfort and a tighter hold. This will help protect the kayak and the vehicle from scratches and dents.

Secure the kayak to the roof rack using straps, tie-down ropes, or bungee cords. There are a few different ways to do this, but one common method is to run a strap through the kayak’s carry handles and scupper plugs, as well as over the top of the kayak. Make sure the strap is tightened enough to hold the kayak securely, but not so tight that it causes damage to the craft or the roof. Repeat this with additional straps in a crisscross pattern to distribute the weight evenly until everything is tightened and the kayak is no longer wiggling.

If you feel it necessary, use buckle protectors to protect the straps from rubbing against the kayak and the car. It is important to make sure the kayak is secured properly to the roof rack to prevent it from shifting or falling off while you are driving. Take a few minutes to inspect everything and give it a firm wiggle. Check the straps regularly and adjust them as needed to ensure the kayak stays in place.