How to Lift and Carry a Kayak by Yourself or With a Partner

Learn how to carry a kayak safely and efficiently, whether you’re tackling the task solo or teaming up with a buddy.

Man carrying a yellow sit-inside kayak on his shoulder

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Ever tried lifting a kayak? It’s not as simple as it looks. From the days of traditional Inuit crafts to today’s sleek, modern designs, kayaking has seen a vast evolution. But one challenge remains consistent: how to carry a kayak safely.

We’ll break down the process, showing you step-by-step how to carry a kayak easily and confidently, whether you’re going solo or teaming up with a partner. We’ll also introduce you to equipment that can make transporting your kayak more effortless.

Video: How to Carry a Kayak

For a hands-on demonstration, check out this video by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Carson Lindsay showcases practical techniques for both solo and partnered carrying:

How to Carry a Kayak by Yourself

Before you even think about lifting a kayak, take a moment. A swift inspection can save you from potential mishaps. Did you forget a water bottle or perhaps a paddle inside? Removing these items not only ensures a safer lift but also makes your journey more manageable.

Carrying a Sit-Inside Kayak

The defining feature of sit-inside kayaks is, unsurprisingly, their cockpit. This design offers a gripping point when it’s time to carry.

  1. Positioning: Stand beside your kayak, aligning yourself with its midpoint. Ensure the kayak’s bow (the front) is directed where you intend to go.

  2. Initial Grip and Lift: With feet shoulder-width apart, squat down and grip the cockpit’s edge closest to you. Tilt the kayak, making the cockpit face outward, and gently hoist it onto your thighs.

  3. Securing the Kayak: With the kayak stabilized on your thighs, reach across with one hand, grabbing the underside of the cockpit.

  4. Lifting onto Your Shoulder: Engage your leg muscles, using the leverage of your thighs to lift the kayak. Then let it settle on your shoulder, using the cockpit rim for support.

  5. Balance and Movement: Feel the kayak’s balance. If it tilts, adjust accordingly. With the kayak secure, move forward using your free hand to guide and stabilize the kayak. Or, if you feel comfortable, you can use your free hand to carry your paddle.

Pro Tip: Wearing your personal flotation device (PFD) while carrying can act as a cushion, making the kayak sit more comfortably on your shoulder.

Carrying a Sit-On-Top Kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks present a slightly different challenge due to the absence of a cockpit.

  1. Identify Grip Points: Look for the most comfortable grip areas, typically side handles or specific molded grips.

  2. Lift: Emulating the sit-inside technique, use the power of your legs. A firm grip is paramount to prevent mishaps.

  3. Carry: Once lifted to waist height, hold the kayak sideways, reminiscent of a briefcase.

Is It Okay to Drag Your Kayak?

Man dragging a blue kayak on sand

While dragging a kayak might seem tempting, it’s not always the best choice. Rough terrains can be unforgiving, causing potential damage. If dragging is unavoidable, lead from the bow and steer clear of abrasive surfaces.

On softer grounds like sand or grass, short-distance dragging has minimal impact. However, if it becomes a regular part of your routine, consider investing in a protective skid plate to shield your kayak from excessive wear.

Note: Composite or fiberglass kayaks should never be dragged due to their delicate hulls, which can easily sustain damage.

Best Way to Carry a Kayak (or Two) With a Partner

Carrying a kayak is straightforward with two sets of hands, and if you’ve got two kayaks, the process remains just as seamless.

  1. Positioning: Begin by standing at opposite ends of the kayak. This method allows you both to face forward, eliminating any awkward backward movements.

  2. Identify Grip Points: These are typically handles or toggles at the bow and stern. If your kayak lacks these handles, consider placing your hand under the bow or stern for a firm grip.

  3. Lift in Unison: Squat down, keeping your back straight, and grip the identified points. A simple countdown — “Ready? One, two, three!” — ensures a simultaneous lift, distributing the weight evenly.

  4. Walk in Tandem: As you walk, maintain a synchronized pace. The person at the bow should lead, alerting the one at the stern of any upcoming obstacles. Regular communication is key. Always keep your partner informed, whether it’s adjusting the grip, changing direction, or taking a short break.

  5. Got Two Kayaks? Position the kayaks side by side. Each person should grip a handle from both kayaks, ensuring they remain parallel. Lift simultaneously, and you’re good to go.

Tools and Accessories to Assist in Carrying a Kayak

Whether you’re a solo paddler or a duo team, having the right accessories can make carrying a kayak significantly easier. Here are two of the most popular options:

Kayak Carts

Suspenz DLX Kayak Cart

Transporting a kayak between your vehicle and the water’s edge can sometimes feel like a mini-adventure in itself. That’s where kayak carts, also known as kayak trolleys or dollies, come in handy. These nifty devices cradle your kayak, allowing you to roll it easily.

While they shine on even terrains like boat ramps and grassy banks, many kayak carts are adept at navigating everything from sandy shores to pebbled paths. By securing to your kayak’s end or its center, these carts ensure you’re not weighed down, making the trek feel almost effortless.

Instead of risking damage by dragging your kayak, it remains elevated on the cart, safeguarding it from potential wear and tear. Furthermore, these carts are often designed with portability in mind. Many can be folded or swiftly assembled and disassembled, making storage in your vehicle or kayak hatches a breeze during your paddling adventures.

Prices for kayak carts typically range between $40 and $250, so there’s something for every budget. If you want to explore the options available, check out our guide on the best kayak carts. Or, for those with a knack for DIY, numerous online resources offer plans for homemade carts, adding a personal touch to your kayaking gear. 

Kayak Carry Straps

SUP Sling Kayak, Canoe and SUP Big Board Schlepper Strap Carrier

Kayak carry straps, sometimes known as shoulder straps or sling systems, are excellent for those who value simplicity and efficiency.

These straps are designed to wrap around the kayak’s body, creating a makeshift harness. The central section of the strap is often padded for comfort and rests on your shoulder, distributing the kayak’s weight evenly and making it easier to carry.

However, while these straps are undeniably lightweight and convenient for shorter treks, they might not be the most practical choice for longer hauls. It’s always wise to gauge the distance and the kayak’s weight before opting for this method.

Kayak Carrying Tips and Precautions

Two women carrying a touring kayak

Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or just starting out, these tips will ensure you and your kayak stay safe and undamaged while carrying:

Warm Up

Just as you wouldn’t dive into an intense workout without a proper warm-up, the same principle applies to lifting a kayak. This is especially true if the kayak is on the heavier side or if you’ve been inactive for a while. Engage in a few dynamic stretches targeting the legs, back, and shoulders to prepare your muscles for the task ahead.

Use Suitable Footwear

Have you ever tried walking on a wet deck with unsuitable shoes? It’s a slippery ordeal. Carrying a kayak in such conditions can be even more treacherous. Investing in sturdy water shoes or sandals with good traction can make a huge difference. For more on what to wear during your kayaking adventures, see our guide on what to wear kayaking.

Lift With Your Legs

We’ve all heard the advice, but it’s worth emphasizing: always lift with your legs, not your back. Your leg muscles are among the strongest in your body. By using them, you’re not only ensuring a more efficient lift but also minimizing the risk of back injuries. So, the next time you’re about to hoist your kayak, bend those knees and let your legs do the heavy lifting.

Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

You might wonder, “Why wear a PFD when I’m not even in the water?” Well, accidents can happen anytime. Even when you’re just transporting your kayak near water, wearing a PFD can be a lifesaver. Plus, as mentioned earlier, it can act as a cushion when carrying your kayak on your shoulder. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Focusing on carrying your kayak can sometimes lead to tunnel vision, especially during longer treks to the water. However, being acutely aware of your surroundings is paramount. Scan your path for potential obstacles, whether it’s a stray rock or a low-hanging branch. Take wide turns to prevent any collisions, and always ensure you have a clear path ahead. This isn’t just about physical obstacles; being mindful of other people in bustling areas is equally important.

Check Weather Conditions

Before heading out, it’s a good idea to check the weather forecast. Windy conditions can make carrying a kayak challenging, especially if you’re doing it solo. If strong winds are predicted, consider postponing your trip or seeking assistance in carrying your kayak.

In Conclusion

Carrying a kayak, whether solo or with a partner, is a task that demands both technique and awareness. The journey from your vehicle to the water’s edge is filled with potential challenges. Yet, it can be a smooth process with the right approach, tools, and precautions.

Remember, as with any skill, practice makes perfect. If you’re new to kayaking or have recently upgraded to a different kayak, take the time to familiarize yourself with its weight and balance. Seek assistance when needed, and never hesitate to ask fellow kayakers for help. The kayaking community is known for its camaraderie, and there’s always someone willing to lend a helping hand.

Once you’ve got the hang of carrying a kayak, the next step is securely tying it down during transport. For a comprehensive guide, check out our article on how to load and tie down a kayak.