Kayaks give you mobility and access to places on lakes and rivers that are otherwise impossible to reach. The freedom of being able to direct your own personal yacht to waters unknown, like a “Pirates of the Appalachians” movie, is what’s so appealing. But once you buy a kayak you need to find a place to store and a way to move it from place to place.
Before going any farther, let me lay down some of my own personal rules for tying down kayaks which apply to all the methods of kayak transportation. Bungee cords are NOT the best method for securing boats; the stretching of the cords can cause problems when going over bumps or through turns. They also don’t have a locking mechanism to ensure that your kayak stays tied your vehicle, so those hooks could possibly unhook themselves. For all of my kayaking tie-downs, I use cam-straps (or endless straps depending on who you ask). They’re strong, locking, and you can get padded buckle bumpers so you don’t tear up the paint on your car. It also helps you tie down the kayak extremely tightly without having to learn a single pesky knot. Also, if you’re passing the straps through the boat, try to avoid any non-reinforced tie-down points; those stretchy handles might make it easier to carry your boat to the water, but pass the strap through the U-shaped grommet instead.
For moving kayaks from your house to water, you have three options: use a truck, use cargo racks, or use a trailer. The first option is by far the easiest, most convenient, and least hassle. With a 6’ truck bed, you can easily haul kayaks in the 9-11’ range; for boats in the 12-14’ range, I would recommend buying a truck bed extender from Northern Tool and Supply. It’s a T-Bar that extends out of your trailer hitch and supports the kayak another 2’ away from the end of your truck bed. (If you have an extended bed, you should not need an extender). If you don’t own a truck, well, you can get a decent S-10 second-hand for around $3500. I call that good value for money.
Cargo racks are the next option, and are the most commonly seen. They fit on top of sedans, mini-vans, etc and accept a variety of attachments: J-Cradles, Stacker Bars, V-Crades, bike racks, cargo baskets, and even child seats (yes, I’m kidding). If your vehicle came with wide factory-cargo racks, some attachments are able to fit on the larger bars; otherwise, your only option is to buy a rack system from either Yakima of Thule. With cross bars from 48” to 72”, you can find a system to fit anywhere from 1 to 6 boats easily. If you want more detail on how all the cargo systems work, and the best system to have, go to www.yakima.com where it has pictures (thank God) that show how everything is supposed to be setup, along with what model of rack you need for your car. Almost every car can accept a factory rack, but your wallet might scream in the process. A full system costs almost $500, but at least it will last longer than your car will.
If you only need to transport one kayak however, Malone Auto Racks, which sells mostly rack attachments, sells the “Handi-Rack” inflatable rack system. I’ve used one for years when I only have to haul one boat, and it’s perfect. It’s easy to set up and take off, it lets you tie the boat down directly to the rack system, and it’s rather inexpensive at less than $100.
The final option is to get a trailer, which covers up a fault with cargo racks that I didn’t mention. If you’re brawny like the paper-towel guy, you won’t have a problem lifting your kayak or canoe up on top of your car. But if you have a hard time carrying that 20lb bag of dog food on your shoulder, you’re definitely going to need help to load it on top of your car. This is another advantage of the truck, where you at least can rest one end of the boat on the tailgate and slide it the rest of the way in. That’s the same appeal of a small utility trailer: it’s very easy to load kayaks onto, you can easily store extra gear like your life jackets and paddles, and it can carry more boats. The downside of the trailer though, is price. A lightweight aluminum trailer, which is light enough to be towed behind almost any car, will run you around $1200….that S-10 doesn’t look so bad now does it? However, if you’re handy with a welder, it’s not that complicated to make your own. That’s what I’m actually in the process of doing myself.
Once you have everything strapped down properly, give all the boats the time-honored shake test; grab the tail end of the boat and try to move the boat. If the straps show any slack, tighten them up. I’d also suggest that after driving for about 5-10 minutes, pull over and do another shake test. After the 2nd shake test, your boats should be secure all the way to Maine.
Tying down boats only gets better with practice. If enough people ask, I’ll try getting a few videos together on the best way to do it. Just always remember, once you’ve strapped down the boats, check the straps again. And then again.