Outdoor sports enthusiasts know how helpful a car’s roof rack can be. You can generally fit anything up there you’ll need — a tent, luggage, backpacks, and assorted gear.
But with a little ingenuity, you can transport a kayak without a roof rack. By investing in a few other items, including cam straps, ratchet straps, and either pool noodles or foam blocks, two kayaks can safely fit onto your vehicle if you don’t have a roof rack for support.
Alternatively, you can consider purchasing a kayak trailer for easy transportation if you don’t enjoy spending time setting up your DIY rack for each kayaking trip. This may also be handy if the width of your car roof is not enough to transport a kayak or multiple kayaks, or if you’re worried about your kayak’s hull being damaged on top of your car.
Roof racks are superb and reliable tools for transportation of any outdoor sporting equipment, but it’s still possible to transport a kayak without a roof rack. Here’s how!
- Safe Kayak Transportation
- What You’ll Need Without a Roof Rack
- Two Primary Methods for Kayak Transportation Without a Roof Rack
Safe Kayak Transportation
The best and easiest way to haul kayaks — which are, on average, about 10 feet long — is to load them on top of your car.
Whether you have a roof rack or not, it’s best to review the basics of kayak transportation to make sure you’re doing it as safely as possible. Here’s a checklist of some things to consider:
• Make sure your vehicle can actually carry the weight of the kayaks. The weight-bearing load of your car can generally be found in your instruction manual.
Don’t worry if you have a small car. There are many options for transporting kayaks using a more compact vehicle, as long as they are properly secured.
• When you’re ready to lift your kayaks onto your car, don’t forget to get help. Most kayaks can weigh at least 60 pounds, and the movement required to lift it overhead can damage your back or neck if not done properly or with help.
• Once you strap the kayak(s) on — we’ll get to how in a bit — be sure to double or triple check if it’s strapped on tightly and securely.
What You’ll Need Without a Roof Rack
To carry your kayaks without a roof rack system, the first things you’ll need are straps.
Many experts agree that it’s best to integrate both cam straps and ratchet straps, which can be found at local hardware stores, especially when transporting kayaks over long distances.
Other methods, like a bungee cord and rope system, are generally not recommended to transport two kayaks. A bungee cord usually cannot secure the kayak tightly enough, and rope can be difficult to tie tightly.
A cam strap, or cam buckle strap, is a type of tie-down strap that provides security through hand-tightening. You can use cam straps alone to secure your kayak to your car roof, but several kayakers recommend using cam straps along with ratchet straps.
A ratchet strap is another type of tie-down strap that usually includes a system of connectors, including rings and hooks to tie down the material you’d like to load. Since they include hooks and buckles that are easier to get very tight, they are essential to your DIY kayak rack.
Using both types of straps together is the best transportation method, but if you can’t do that, consider using cam straps over ratchet straps. Just be sure not to over tighten and make sure your kayaks can’t slide backward or forward in any way.
Two Primary Methods for Kayak Transportation Without a Roof Rack
Once you’ve outlined your strap plan, it’s time to figure out what exactly you’ll be putting your kayak on before you strap it in.
Kayak outfitters and kayakers themselves are proponents of two main options: using pool noodles and trying foam blocks. Both are affordable methods to provide padding in place of a roof rack.
Yes, we’re talking about the pool noodles you have left over from your recent pool party. Make sure they have a hole in the middle, are thick, and very heavy duty.
The length needed depends on different vehicles’ widths, because the noodles should be long enough to fit across your car roof width.
For the pool noodle method you’ll need at least two pool noodles (possibly three, depending on the size of your kayak and your car), along with three square stainless steel poles. These will fit in the middle of each pool noodle in your DIY roof rack to provide stability.
First, thread your ratchet straps through the middle of each pool noodle, then do the same with the poles. The straps need to be even and the noodle should completely cover the pole resting on your car.
Place the prepared noodles about 3 feet apart on top of your car (one in the middle, one in the front, and one in the rear).
Leave the car doors open and join the two sides of the ratchet straps together and tighten to secure each noodle. Place the kayaks on top and secure them using more ratchet straps, passing them over your kayaks in the same place as your noodles.
Your kayak’s cockpit should be roughly in the center of your car.
Twist the straps and connect them. Secure the bow and stern by threading a ratchet strap through each of your kayak’s carry handles.
Another popular method uses foam blocks. This is a good method if you’re traveling a short distance with your kayak, and is similar to using pool noodles.
First, buy two foam blocks that are at least 20 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches, making sure that they are not wider than your car. The blocks can be rectangular or have a V-shape in the middle.
Using at least four cam straps to secure the top of the blocks. Measure your boats and use that number to see how far your blocks should be apart from each other.
Once the blocks are secured, strap down your kayaks onto the blocks and secure them with multiple cam straps by using the same method of opening the doors and tying each end together. Then, check to make sure they are secure and finish by tying down the bow and stern to your front and rear bumpers.
Make sure the strap is secured to an anchor point under your bumper.
With one of these two methods, you’ll be able to transport either one kayak or two kayaks easily to wherever you’d like to go.
How Much Will the Materials Cost?
Cam straps generally range from $10-$20, about the same as ratchet straps. Pool noodles can be found for just a few dollars each, while foam blocks can be more expensive, around $10 or more.
Can I Transport Kayaks Upside Down?
Yes, either upside down or right side up works — with or without a roof rack. If you’re transporting two kayaks, one can be upside down while the other is not.
How Often Should I Check My Kayaks While Traveling?
Once on the road, schedule a few breaks (especially on long journeys) to make sure your kayaks are still stable and secure.
How Can I Tell if a Kayak is Too Big For My Car?
A general rule: The minimum size of your car should be long enough that no more than half of the kayak is sticking out or off of your car. For larger cars this will rarely be an issue.