How to Load Kayak On J Rack By Yourself

Most people will use their cars to transport their kayaks at least occasionally, and a J-Rack roof rack system is one of the safest and easiest kayak rack types for transporting a kayak that will not fit inside your vehicle. If you don’t have the luxury of a large vehicle or nearby paddling spots, a J-Rack is a crucial piece of equipment.

A J-Rack is a set of racks in the iconic J shape that cradle your kayak on top of your car to help you easily transport it to new waterways and adventures. They work on the roof of almost any vehicle type, from longer vehicles to small cars. 

There are alternative ways to transport a kayak, such as in a truck bed. However, for carrying more than one kayak, and even to ensure the safe transport of one kayak, J-Racks are the most secure rack type. 

Most J-racks have a locking mechanism that secures them to the existing racks on your car’s roof or the top of your truck’s cab. On a large vehicle you may be able to install two racks so that you can transport two kayaks with one vehicle.

One of the most important rack installation tips is this: If you are using two J-Racks, make sure that the rack setup places the installed face of the racks, the J-shaped curves, towards each opposite side of the car.

Loading your kayak on a J-Rack without help from someone else can be a real challenge, so we’re going to explore how to do that.

There are a few different methods of loading a kayak on a J-Rack, including the hood slide method, the shoulder press method, and lifting with your legs. You must make sure you are strong enough to safely lift the kayak without risking injury to yourself or others. 

You can load from the side of the vehicle, the front, or the rear, depending on what is easiest for you.

How Can I Load a Kayak Onto A J-Rack Alone?

So, let’s explore the best methods for loading a kayak on a J-Rack without a second pair of hands. There are a few different approaches, so it’s a good idea to try them out and see which one seems easiest and most effective to you.

Remember that loading your kayak on the J-Rack is not the whole challenge; you must use at least two additional tools — cam straps — to secure it once it is in place. Work from the side of the vehicle and always double check that the straps are tight and secure around both the kayak, or kayaks, and roof rack before driving off.

Rear Loading

Loading your kayak onto the J-Racks from the rear of the vehicle works well if you are a lone paddler and the kayak is reasonably short and light. If it is long, we suggest the side loading method, although rear loading may still work too.

You should start by making sure that the v-shaped racks have been attached with proper installation techniques to ensure that they are very secure on your car roof, as it is easier to do this before you put the kayak on, and this will prevent accidents.

Let’s look at how to rear load a kayak onto a J-Rack.

Step One) Place your kayak directly in line with the back of the car’s bumper, perpendicular to the bumper, so that it will end up approximately in the middle when you load it.

Step Two) Put padding underneath the stern of the kayak on the ground to prevent it from being damaged when you slide it.

Step Three) Carefully lift the kayak bow until it is in line with the J-cradle of the J-Rack, and then begin to slide it into place and rest it on the racks. Careful positioning at this stage will reduce any risk of damaging the kayak on the racks, because it should slot into the correct place.

Make sure it is secured with straps before moving on to the next step, or the bow may fall out and crash onto your car or down to the ground.

Step Four) Leverage the bow against the J-Rack to lift the other end, the stern, of the kayak upward, minimizing strain on both yourself and your boat.

Step Five) Slide the kayak forward and adjust it as necessary, setting the gunwale in the appropriate channel on the J-Rack. Use cam straps to secure the kayak in the correct position, and make sure that it is immobilized by the rack. 

Your kayak shouldn’t be in any danger of slipping and falling off the vehicle while you are driving, as this is very dangerous. It is a good idea to use the straps to secure the kayak not only to the J-Rack, but also to any existing crossbars on top of your car. 

Note that if your kayak is really long, you may need to work from both the side and rear of the vehicle, not just the rear. This should give you more maneuvering space and the ability to apply more force.

Side Loading

Note that this method is pretty challenging, especially with a heavy kayak, and is safer and easier with a partner. It can, however, be done alone if you are strong and tall, and it works better for smaller cars. 

Step One) Start by standing next to your kayak, in the middle of the boat length-wise, and bend down. Make sure that you are using the proper lifting technique (discussed shortly) so you don’t hurt your back.

Step Two) Rotate your kayak a little to the side so that the gunwale of the kayak will slot into the proper place on the J-Rack. Lift the boat onto the roof rack.

It may be easiest to set one end of the kayak in the J-cradles first and then move along the boat to the other end so that you can swing it into position.

Step Three) Once you have the kayak sitting on the J-Rack, make sure that it is strapped down. The kayak needs to be firmly held in place and not at any risk of falling off before you move your vehicle anywhere.

The Shoulder Press Approach

This is an ideal approach if you struggle to lift your kayak and you need to be careful of your back.

Step One) Position the kayak so that the bottom of the hull faces upward. Place something soft on the ground under the bow of the kayak to protect it from damage; a blanket or rug is fine.

Step Two) Stand behind the kayak and lift the kayak up so that it is standing vertically, with the bow against the ground.

Step Three) Slowly work your way down so that your hands are near the center of the kayak, close to the seat. This should be approximately where the kayak’s balance point is.

Step Four) Slowly lift the kayak and allow it to balance as it rotates into a horizontal position, then lower the edge of the kayak onto your shoulder, so that your head is near the opening of the kayak, and it rests across your shoulder. You have now picked the kayak up in such a way that you don’t have to lift its weight with your back.

Step Five) Walk to the car and execute a shoulder press to lift the kayak easily over your head and onto the J-Rack. Check that it is firmly secured, with at least two straps, to the J-cradle rack before driving anywhere.

The Hood Slide Option

Those who really struggle to lift may find this to be an easier method to load a kayak, but there is a risk of damaging the car when you use this option. It is probably the safest for your back, however, and if you have a good, thick towel to protect the car, it should be fine.

Step One) Spread a towel or blanket across the windshield and top of your car to protect the paintwork and glass from being scraped by the kayak. This fabric needs to come up to the edge of the J-Rack.

Step Two) Position the kayak on the ground in front of the car. Lifting with your legs, ease the end of the kayak up onto the towel, and then push it up the hood towards the J-Rack.

It should slide reasonably easily upward onto the roof. Go slowly so you can pause and adjust the towel if necessary to protect the paint.

Step Three) Wriggle the kayak into place on the J-cradle rack and make sure it is secure, as with the other loading methods.

For vehicles that are on the taller side, this method makes it much easier on your back to load a kayak, or multiple kayaks, onto the J-Rack.

Top Lifting Techniques

Kayaks are heavy, and even if you know the approach that you need to take, to load a kayak on a J-Rack easily and safely can be a challenge — particularly for smaller paddlers. You need to ensure that you are careful while lifting the kayak onto the J-Rack; nobody wants a back injury!

Here are some top tips to help you load your kayak safely onto J-Racks every time.

Tip One: Practice With A Partner

Maneuvering your kayak into position on a J-Rack can be a bit fiddly until you are used to it. Once you are familiar with the exact angles and approach, it will be much easier. 

It’s a good idea to practice your lifting method with another person to begin with if at all possible.

This will allow you to focus on learning how to angle and load the kayak onto the J-Racks, rather than having to focus too heavily on simply managing its weight. With two people, loading a kayak is much easier, so you can learn the motions before adding the difficulty of lifting the kayak independently.

Tip Two: Mind Your Back

It’s crucial that you protect your back when lifting your kayak. Even a light kayak is a heavy object to move, and many kayaks are not designed to be light, which means you need to follow the proper lifting procedure any time you are lifting your kayak up onto the J-Racks on the roof of your car.

You should crouch down beside the kayak and make sure that your back is straight and your knees are bent. Take hold of the kayak and begin to lift using just your legs. 

Your back should not bend while you are lifting, but needs to remain as straight as possible. Go slowly, so your knees are taking the strain, and keep lifting until the kayak is above your head. 

The legs have the most powerful muscles in the body, so it’s important to use them for lifting heavy things!

Even if you don’t suffer from back problems, you must be careful when lifting heavy objects. It’s very easy to do permanent damage when lifting your kayak onto higher vehicles if you don’t learn a good lifting technique.

Tip Three: Go Slowly

When lifting or carrying anything heavy, try not to rush. You will make mistakes and either hurt yourself or drop and damage your kayak. 

You might be impatient to get on the water or get home, but you need to take your time when lifting and moving something as large and unwieldy as a kayak.

This is particularly crucial when you get a new boat or a new rack. It will take time to get used to the angles and best approach, so you should allow plenty of time for loading and unloading.


How heavy is a kayak?

Kayaks weigh between 40 and 80 pounds. They are not light items and while it’s a good idea to choose a kayak you can lift alone, having a friend to help makes things easier!

Can I carry a kayak on my roof rack?

Yes, you can use a standard roof rack to carry a kayak, as long as you take the time to secure the boat in the proper position and make sure it is safe. There are also other kayak rack types that you can use to load a kayak. 

Can I put a kayak in my car?

Unless your kayak folds or deflates, it is unlikely to fit in your car. If you don’t want to deal with having to load your kayak onto a J-Rack, you might want to look into purchasing an inflatable kayak

If you have a very large car and a small hardshell kayak, it may be possible for it to fit in your car, but this can be unsafe. If you are going to attempt it, firmly strap the kayak down before traveling.


A kayak can be loaded onto a J Rack by just one person, but it isn’t easy to do. You should practice the proper technique with help for a while before attempting it alone. 

Lift with your legs and try loading it from the back or over the hood for the easiest approach.