Rack and Roll

The fine art of getting your boat to the water

Photo: JP Van Swae

Next to your boat, paddle and safety gear, a good car rack is the most critical item in a paddler’s gear inventory. Don’t skimp here because no matter what you hear about raging rapids and sudden squalls, the most dangerous part of paddling is getting to the put-in. You can’t do anything about those other idiots on the road, but you can make sure your boat stays safe and secure on your roof rack. Here’s how.

The Basics

Rack. Brands like Thule, Yakima, Malone and Inno offer basic rack bars and components compatible with almost any vehicle. The folks at your local paddling shop can help you choose the right rack and necessary installation components.
Straps. Nylon cam straps are easy to use and don’t slip or stretch. Get them at your paddling shop or online (Try NRS or Clavey Paddlesports). Avoid the hook-and-ratchet straps sold at auto-parts stores.
Ropes. Use 1/4-inch nylon ‘parachute cord’ for bow- and stern-ties. Rope works fine for belly straps as well; use good 3/8-inch line and the trucker’s hitch.

The J-cradle

Use with: Touring kayaks, especially delicate composite ones.

  1. Loop a cam strap around the top bar of each J-cradle, then place the free ends lightly on the hood and trunk (rubber caps for the overprotective can help keep you car and boat scratch-free).
  2. Center the kayak on the J-cradles, cockpit facing out.
  3. Pass both ends of the strap over the boat. Cool trick: Standing at the hood of your car, take the free ends of the front strap and flip them over the boat, jump-rope style.
  4. Loop the strap around the rack crossbar, thread the free end through the cam buckle, and pull out the slack. Make sure the strap doesn’t cross itself.
  5. Repeat with the rear strap.
  6. Now tighten both straps, being careful to position the buckles so they won’t scratch the boat. Lean into it with about half your weight. (Note: Always position the buckle so you can tighten it by pulling down)
  7. Run a bow-line from a secure point under the bumper, through the kayak grab loop, and back to the opposite side of the bumper.
  8. Pull the line taught but not tight, and tie off with a trucker’s hitch and two half-hitches. Remember: Not too tight. The belly straps secure the boat; bow- and stern-lines are for safety.
  9. Repeat with a stern line secured to a single point at the rear of the vehicle.
  10. Give the kayak a good tug at one end. If it moves, go back to step 6.

 

The Stacker

Use with: Whitewater kayaks, especially when you have more than one.

  1. Loop a cam strap around the top bar of each stacker, then place the free ends lightly on the hood and trunk
  2. Place your first boat on the roof rack, bow forward with the cockpit facing out and bottom snugged up against the stacker. If you only have one boat, skip to step 4.
  3. Place the second boat on the rack with the stern forward and cockpit facing in. It should clamshell with the first boat. Did you know: Boaters have numeric slang for this arrangement.
  4. Pass both ends of the strap over the boat(s).
  5. Loop the strap around the rack crossbar, thread the free end through the cam buckle, and pull out the slack. Make sure the strap doesn’t cross itself.
  6. Repeat with the rear strap.
  7. Now tighten both straps, making sure that the boats nest together with the strap pressure. Lean into it with at least half your weight.
  8. If you have more boats to carry, repeat on the other side of the stacker (boats 3 and 4), then start adding layers (boats 5 and 6).
  9. Run a safety strap through the bow loops of all the boats and secure to the front rack. Give each boat a firm tug. If any of them move, revert to number 7.

 

Bare Bars

Use with: Canoes and all types of kayaks.

  1. Loop a cam strap around each crossbar just to the inside of the tower, then place the free ends lightly on the hood and trunk
  2. Place the boat on the rack. Canoes always go top down. Kayaks go with the flattest available surface on the rack.
  3. Pass both ends of the strap over the boat.
  4. Loop the strap around the rack crossbar. Thread the free end through the cam buckle, and pull out the slack. Make sure the strap doesn’t cross itself.
  5. Repeat with the rear strap.
  6. Now tighten both straps, leaning into it with about half your weight.
  7. Run a bow-line from a secure point under the bumper, through the kayak grab loop, and back to the opposite side of the bumper.
  8. Pull the line taught but not tight, and tie off with a trucker’s hitch and two half-hitches (refer to your old Boy Scout manual, or Google). Watch for: Not too tight.
  9. Run a stern line to a single point to the rear of the vehicle. Remember: Don’t crank on it. The belly straps secure the boat; bow- and stern-lines are for safety.
  10. Grab the kayak by one end and give it a tug. If it moves, go back to step 6.

 

The Single-Strap Method

Use with: Small single boats, short and simple shuttles.

  1. Start with a long strap—at least 12’, or 16’ if you’ve got a wide boat.
  2. Lay the strap lengthwise along the roof of your car, underneath both rack crossbars. Place the buckle on your windshield wiper and the free end coiled on the trunk.
  3. Place the boat on the rack in front of where the strap lies.
  4. Standing at the back of the car, pass the strap over the boat, and then under the rear crossbar toward to the front crossbar.
  5. Now pass the front, buckle end of the strap over the boat, and pull the free end under the front bar and through the cam buckle. The strap now wraps around the boat and both bars, with the buckle resting on the boat at about head height.
  6. Now tighten the strap, leaning into it with about half your weight. Make sure that the strap runs freely so that it tightens all around. Check that your boat and rack are snug, and go paddling.

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Add a Comment

  • Churchgoer

    The makers of racks and the paddling stores sell various brands of hook and ratchet tie downs for bow and stern. Did you mean no ratchets at all or none from auto part stores? Hook and ratchets are by far the easiest and fastest way to secure bow and stern.

  • eldubioso

    For SOTs, with scupper holes, I’ve been using ratchet straps (fed through the scuppers) for years, with no issues and secure loads. I put the kayak upside-down on foam pads on the factory roof rack. I’ve secured two kayaks (one on top of the other – top inverted, bottom right-side up) for river trip shuttling (short distances) using ratchet straps. There is a chance of over-tightening and warping the plastic, but the load capacity of the ratchet straps at highway speeds and high-crosswinds is far superioir than the capacity of a spring-loaded (which will eventually lose tension) cam strap. See what commerical truckers use to secure their heavy loads. You can also get by with foam blocks, pool noodles and other things if
    you already have a factory rack with crossbars. My system may not work for all paddlers, but for SOTs, it is peace of mind that your load is secure. If trailering your boats, I’ve seen others use cam straps successfully, but it depends on the travelling distance and the types of roads used (highway vs rutted logging road). It’s probably a good idea to replace your straps once they begin to fray, regardless of style.

  • Adil

    I saw a video on how to use a ratchet strap the other week on Youtube for something that I was doing which was very similar to this. It is a quick step-by-step video in like under a minute or something.

    The company that actually put up the video sell ratchet straps too, you should check them out, http://www.mudfords.co.uk/category/lifting-and-restraint-straps.

Buyer's Guide

Buyer's Guide