How to Strap Kayak to Roof Rack

Kayaking is a great outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by people of any age, from paddling on a calm pond as a young child to white-whale kayaking as an older adult.

However, for your kayaking experience to be enjoyable, it’s important to learn how to tie down your kayak the proper way. Looking out the back car door window you see your kayak flying away is a sure-fire way to ruin your day!

To avoid these consequences, it is important to follow the steps in this article when strapping your kayak to an aftermarket roof rack. In this article, we will take a closer look at how to tie down a kayak to a kayak rack and other transportation tips!

What You Will Need to Transport a Kayak

To transport a kayak, you will need some common items. All of these items can be found at your local hardware store or home improvement center.

  • Roof rack for transporting kayak
  • Ratchet straps or cam straps 
  • Tie-downs that hook to the car’s bumper and then to the kayak
  • Common sense and some strength for lifting your kayak up to the roof rack of your car

If you aren’t sure which tools and products are best, there are plenty of online resources that can help. You can also visit your local outdoor or sports equipment store and speak with an expert.

What Types of Roof Racks Are Available?

There are many different types of roof racks available to you; some cars even come with factory-installed racks. On the other side of the spectrum, you can choose a model that doesn’t even require tools to install!

If you have fiberglass or plastic boats, it may be possible to simply strap the kayak down by wrapping the straps around it. However, if your kayak is made out of a heavier material, you may need to drill holes in the bottom of the kayak so that you can thread the end of the strap through.

If you have any questions regarding what type of roof rack or transportation method is best for your kayak, it is good practice to speak with a kayaking expert or customer service representative at your local canoe/kayak store.

Where to Put Your Kayak on the Roof Rack

Once you have determined which roof rack is best for your kayak, it’s time to determine where to tie down your boat on the roof rack.

Typically, people will use a cam strap to strap their kayaks down by the cockpit. Depending on your car’s design, you may want to adjust the position of your kayak for better aerodynamics or visibility while driving.

Speaking with an expert at your local canoe/kayak store is the best way to ensure that you are picking the right location for strapping your kayak down to your roof rack.

How to Strap Kayak Down on the Roof Rack

Once you have found a good location for strapping your boat and picked out the right cam straps and tie-downs, it’s time to strap your kayak down.

However, don’t just throw them over the rack and under the kayak and pull each strap tight. This is a good way to damage your boat, and potentially yourself as well!

If you need a few pointers, let’s cover how to strap your kayak to your roof rack!

Step 1: Lift Kayak onto Roof Rack

Before you lift up your kayak and place it on top of your car’s roof rack, you will want to make sure that you have already properly placed the straps across your kayak.

There should be a few stern straps draped across the back of the boat, along with additional straps draped across the bow line of the boat. Make sure that the straps are long enough that the strap ends are hanging down from the boat; you’ll use these ends to tie down the kayak to the car roof rack. 

Once you have the straps on, it is time to lift your kayak onto the roof rack of your car. You can do this with either two people or one strong person. 

When lifting up the kayak, make sure that you are getting close to the roof rack but not touching it. If you scrape the kayak against the roof rack as you get it into position, it will leave a mark on your kayak.

Aim to just set the kayak down directly on the kayak carrier and not shift or adjust it by sliding it on the rack. 

Step 2: Strap Kayak to Roof Rack

Once you have lifted up your kayak onto the roof rack of your car, it is time to strap down the kayak. We recommend starting with one side first and then doing another strap on the other side.

To strap the kayak down, we recommend using a ratchet strap or cam strap and hooking it to a secure point on your car’s bumper or a trucker’s hitch after making sure it is wrapped around the kayak and kayak carrier.

Finally, make sure that you are strapping down both sides of the kayak using the straps you laid across the boat before you lifted it onto the rack. This is important to ensure that your kayak isn’t going anywhere. 

After at least one strap across both the bow and stern lines, it is also a good idea to pull a second strap down the center between the bow and stern. You can attach this center strap underneath your car’s front bumper and back bumper, which will help keep your kayak secure and strapped down.

Take the loose end of the strap and tie it to the rack or itself so that it doesn’t damage your paint job during the drive.

Step 3: Load up Your Gear and You’re Set!

Now that you’ve secured your kayak with tie-down straps, it’s time to load up your gear and get on the road! Make sure to throw any loose straps in the back of your car or truck in case you need them when you load up after your water adventure.

Before you head out, make sure that you have a good stock of water, snacks, and other gear. When going kayaking, be sure to always plan ahead for emergencies, know where you’re going beforehand, and pack a first-aid kit in case you need it!

And last but not least, always double-check your straps before you pull away. 

Tips for Driving with a Kayak Attached

The last step is to get on the road and enjoy your kayaking trip!

To ensure a smooth ride, we have a few final tips for driving with a kayak attached. If you follow these, you will be sure to arrive at your destination without any trouble.

Tip 1: Avoid High Winds at All Costs!

Whether you’re driving with one kayak or two kayaks on your car, avoid driving in high winds whenever possible. Driving through high winds, especially for a long distance, with kayak carriers puts your boat(s) at risk of coming loose and flying away or hitting other cars on the road.

Tip 2: Keep Your Kayak 12 Inches From Your Car’s Bumper

To further decrease the risk of your kayak coming loose, try to keep the bow and stern of the kayak at least 12 inches from your car’s bumper. This will prevent your kayak from getting whiplash if you hit a gust of wind or have to speed up quickly.

Tip 3: Always Have Someone in the Car with You

To be extra safe while driving with a kayak attached, have someone in the car with you. In the unlikely event that your kayak does fly off of your car, they can quickly react and help prevent a serious incident from happening.

Unstrapping Your Kayak

When you get back to your house after a fun day of kayaking, it is time to take the straps off. We recommend following the reverse order that you used when putting them on.

If you are using ratchet straps, find the buckle end and be sure to loosen the strap by turning the handle counterclockwise before trying to unhook them from the bumper. This will ensure that you are not tightening the ratchet strap down when trying to unhook it, which could lead to damaging your straps or car.


What are some tips for transporting my kayak?

Transporting your kayak safely is an important part of your kayaking trip. Here are some tips for transporting your kayak.

Re-check the ratchet straps on your roof rack before traveling. Double-check all of them because even one loose strap could mean disaster.

Don’t forget to bring along some emergency supplies in case you get stuck somewhere! A good first-aid kit, phone charger, map, and extra snacks are incredibly important when spending the day kayaking.

Always have someone in the car with you when transporting your kayak just in case anything happens. 

Avoid driving in high winds when transporting your kayak! The winds could easily cause the kayak to come loose and fly off of the car, which is what we’re trying to avoid!

What are some tips for strapping down my kayak?

When strapping down your kayak, make sure to strap down both sides of the kayak using ratchet straps. Next, tighten down your middle strap before strapping down your bow and stern lines. 

Finally, always have at least three tie-down straps attached to the kayak roof racks from the kayak.

What are some tips for driving with a kayak attached?

When transporting your kayak, try to avoid driving in high winds as they could cause the kayak to come loose. In addition, be sure that the bow and stern of your kayak is at least 12 inches from the car’s bumper and that you have someone else in the car just in case something happens during your drive.

How do I unload my kayak off of the roof rack?

To unload your kayak, first loosen any ratchet straps that are holding it down before trying to lift it off. If you have strap retainers, unsnap them now as well. 

Now you can easily pull your kayak off the kayak racks.

Travel Safely and Enjoy Your Kayak!

Once you know how to properly attach and transport your kayak, you will be able to have a safe and fun time out on the water with your kayak. Have a great day of kayaking!