How to Transport a Kayak Without a Roof Rack?

Do you have a kayak and want to take it on vacation with you? Perhaps you’d like to enjoy some time on the water without worrying about your car getting dinged up. 

Whatever your reason may be, there’s no need to stress over how to get your boat down to the nearest lake.

One of the best ways to transport a kayak is with a roof rack, but what if you don’t have one of those? Don’t worry; there are multiple ways to get your kayak from Point A to Point B without a roof rack.

In this article, we will break down how to transport a kayak without a roof rack.

What Is a Roof Rack?

Roof racks are just what they sound like — bars that sit up on your car’s roof for transporting kayaks, surfboards, bikes, skis, and more. These racks can be permanent or removable.

A permanent roof rack system is usually constructed with metal bars and needs to be installed by professionals. Removable racks have rubber pads where you attach ratchet straps, bungee cords, netting, or some other kind of tie down straps. 

Transporting a kayak with a roof rack is as simple as strapping it down to the bars and driving off.

How Can I Transport a Kayak Without a Roof Rack?

Unfortunately, not all vehicles come equipped with a roof rack. That means, unfortunately, you’ll need to find another method of transporting your kayak. 

Luckily, there are several effective alternatives to roof racks out there, many of which won’t cost you much money!

Car Racks

If you have a hatchback or small SUV, the safest way to transport a kayak is using one of many types of car racks. These racks include a metal or plastic base that bolts into the bottom of your vehicle. 

Some car racks actually attach to the tow hitch. The rack will come with bars that you attach onto the base, after which you can strap down your kayak with tie down straps.

Remember to use these tie straps anytime you are transporting your kayak! The last thing you want is for your boat to fall off the back of your car or SUV while you’re driving.

You can find a variety of straps at your local hardware stores. Although it’s not necessary to use straps made specifically for vehicles, you can find a wide variety of choices at automotive stores.

Inflatable Kayaks for Transport

If you have a kayak that comes in a small package, you can deflate it for easy transportation.

With these convenient kayaks you don’t need any extra equipment to carry them from the water to your home! You can purchase inflatable kayaks that will fit into a bag and can be easily inflated with the use of an electric pump.

Pickup Trucks

If you have a pickup truck, you’re in luck! Pickup trucks are great for kayak transport because they usually come equipped with a tie-down spot underneath the hooks and rails on the edge of the bed of the truck.

Thread the strap ends through the front and back carry handles of the kayak, then connect them to a variety of tie-down spots around the truck. If your truck comes with tow points built in, these are a great spot to attach your straps. 

It may take a little fiddling around to get it secure, but once you’ve got your kayak on there, you’ll be ready to go.


Loading up is a breeze with a kayak trailer. Kayak trailers are great for heavy kayaks because they don’t require you to lift the kayak very high. 

Like with the other methods mentioned, you will need to use tie-down straps to secure your boat after you lift it onto your kayak trailer. Ensure that both the front and back, or bow and stern, of the boat are securely attached to the trailer. 

Many trailers provide more stability than the other methods mentioned, but the downside is that kayak trailers need to be stored somewhere when they’re not in use.

Tips for Kayak Transportation Safety

Once you choose one of the various methods to transport a kayak without a roof rack, you will need to ensure that your kayak is secure. 

Here are some tips on how to transport your kayak safely:

1. Watch Your Speed

Don’t try to push your car or truck to the edge by driving at high speeds. This can result in your kayak coming loose, blowing off, or being unsafe for the drive.

You should also note that the added weight from your kayak can affect your gas mileage. So keep an eye on the gas gauge to make sure you don’t get stranded by running out of gas when toting your kayak!

2. Use Tie-Downs

Tie-downs are meant to keep your kayak from moving around while you’re driving, and they do just that! Make sure your straps run across the width of the kayak at the bow and the stern, and along the length of the boat. 

Before you start driving, don’t neglect spending time to make sure that they’re nice and tight. Purchasing straps with adjustable buckles can help you make sure your kayak is secure for every ride.

3. Watch the Conditions

Make sure that you drive according to weather conditions. If it’s raining, snowing, or even hailing, avoid going out at all costs. 

These weather scenarios could cause your kayak to fall off your car.

4. Check the Straps Regularly

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but keep an eye on your tie-downs just in case anything begins to loosen up. Luckily, most kayak carriers have extra clips and safety straps that you can use, so if there is a problem with one or two straps, you should still be okay.

5. Mind the Curves

If you’re driving on a curvy road, slow down as much as you can until you straighten out again. The constant shifting of the weight could cause a tie-down strap to come loose or shift out of position. 

Using heavy duty straps with cam buckles can minimize this concern by allowing you to tighten and secure your boat firmly.

6. Check All Your Gear

Make sure to check all of your gear before you drive away, making sure that nothing is located where it could easily fall out or blow away. Trust us — this is an important step that many people forget to take!

7. Have Someone Watch You Drive Off

If possible, have another kayaker meet you at the kayak drop-off location and watch you drive off. Their “towing eyes” can alert you right away if anything appears wrong.


Here are some frequently asked questions about kayak transportation, with or without a roof rack!

Why can’t you transport kayaks without a roof rack?

Kayaks are more dangerous to drive with than other objects because of their shape. The shifting weight of a kayak on your roof can cause your car to fishtail more easily.

Can I just put my kayak in the back of my car?

No! You can’t transport a kayak directly in your trunk or back seat because it will damage your car’s interior. 

It’s also unlikely that your car is wide enough or long enough for this type of transportation. For these reasons, it is best to transport a kayak on a carrier outside of your car.

What method of transporting a kayak without a roof rack should I use?

This will ultimately come down to what type of kayak you have and how much money you are willing or able to spend in order to transport it. 

For example, you can create a DIY roof rack by using a few pool noodles to cushion the kayak against the roof of your car and strapping it down with a ratchet strap. The pool noodle method may work in a pinch for short distances, but pool noodles are not exactly ideal for curvy roads or long distances.

You can also use foam blocks for a similar DIY kayak rack. You can attach these blocks or pool noodles to your car roof using ratchet straps that go around the vehicle’s roof, creating a loop around the car roof by coming in through open doors on each side. 

Using pool noodles works best because you can thread each ratchet strap through the pool noodles themselves, adding an extra layer of security. Leave your car doors open and, after threading each strap through a pool noodle, loop the front straps through the front doors, and the back straps through the back doors.

However, be careful not to over-tighten each strap on your DIY roof rack, because this could cause damage to your vehicle. 

Once you attach the foam blocks or pool noodles in a roof rack system to your vehicle, you will then secure your kayak to the foam blocks or pool noodles using more ratchet straps. You should try to spread out the straps so that the width of both the bow and stern of the boat are securely tied down to the rack.

If you have two kayaks that need to be transported, it will be difficult to use pool noodles to carry them. 

While this DIY rack may sound like a good solution, it is not the most secure way to carry your kayak. If you know that the foam block or pool noodle method is not safe enough for you to use to transport your kayak, we recommend accepting the extra cost and using a kayak carrier instead.

How do I transport a kayak without a roof rack safely?

The safest way to start this process is to invest in a good kayak carrier when you buy your first kayak, or, if you’re an experienced kayaker, when you’re buying a new kayak. These usually come with receiver bars and mounts that attach neatly to your vehicle. 

What do I need to know if I have a standard hitch-mounted carrier?

Standard hitch-mounted carriers are usually not advised because of how close they can be to the ground. If you have a heavy kayak that is loaded, it could cause the rear end of your vehicle to hit the pavement; this problem is exacerbated in wet or icy conditions.


If you are struggling to make the decision about how you will transport your kayak, consider investing in a carrier system with receiver bars and mounts that attach perfectly to your vehicle.

Doing so will ensure that you are driving safely, whether you are on the freeway or taking a turn on a country road. By investing in the right transportation system, you will save yourself time and money and ensure that your kayak is not damaged.