For many kayakers, the biggest challenge isn’t paddling the open water or navigating rapids—it’s getting their kayak to the water in the first place. While roof racks are widely available and make transporting your kayak a breeze, they can be pricey and require installation.
But what if there’s a more affordable, hassle-free way for those shorter trips to your favorite nearby paddling spot?
I’ve faced this same dilemma and discovered that, with just a couple foam blocks, cam straps, and tie-down rope, you can safely transport your kayak without a roof rack. I’ll share my tips and experiences on how to do it, ensuring the safety of you, your car, and those around you.
Keep in mind this method is best for shorter distances or trips involving little highway driving. I recommend investing in a reliable roof rack for longer journeys or regular transport.
What You’ll Need
- Foam Padding: Foam blocks or pool noodles work great for this purpose. You’ll need at least two for each kayak to place one near the bow and the stern.
- Cam Straps: Don’t be tempted to get by with some line and a few tight knots to secure your kayak. Cam straps allow you to apply more force, preventing your kayak from sliding during transportation.
- Tie-down Rope: Although cam straps are your primary means of securing your kayak, you can use rope to tie your kayak’s bow and stern handles to your car, providing extra security and stability during transport.
Preparing Your Car
- Measure and cut the foam padding so that it fits the width of your car’s roof. Leave some overlap on each side of your kayak to ensure it has ample support and there’s enough padding to protect your car’s roof from scratches or damage.
- Eyeball or measure your kayak so that you place the foam blocks on your car equidistant between the edge of the cockpit and the bow or stern. This avoids unnecessary stress on the kayak’s weakest points and provides optimal support for your kayak during transportation.
Loading Your Kayak
- Assess the weight of your kayak and ask for help if needed. A lightweight kayak can be managed by one person, but it’s always safer to have a partner to help you with the process.
- With a partner, lift the kayak upside down, positioning one person at the bow and the other at the stern. This distributes the weight evenly, reducing the risk of injury.
- Walk sideways towards the car, ensuring the kayak is above the foam padding. Communication is key here, as you need to coordinate your movements to avoid accidents.
- Set the kayak down gently on the padding, ensuring it is balanced and centered on the roof.
- Take a step back and inspect the kayak’s positioning from different angles, ensuring there is minimal overhang at the back of the car. Depending on the length of your vehicle and the kayak, some overhang may be inevitable, but the less there is, the better.
Tying Down Your Kayak
- Locate appropriate hook points on your car to secure the cam straps. Many vehicles come with modules on the roof where a rack can be installed. They can also be used to hook or tie your cam straps. If your car doesn’t have these, you’ll need to be more creative and look for a hook or loop on the car’s frame that can withstand the tension from the straps.
- Use two cam straps to run perpendicular to the kayak and over the top, in line with the foam blocks. This helps distribute the pressure evenly across the kayak and foam padding.
- Tighten the straps uniformly, ensuring the kayak is secure and doesn’t move when shaken. A good rule of thumb is to tighten the straps until you can shake the kayak and the car moves as well.
- Loop additional tie-down rope through the bow and stern handles, securing them to the car’s frame. This adds extra security to your kayak, preventing it from sliding forward or backward during sudden stops or accelerations.
Transporting Two Kayaks Without a Rack
- Assess if your car can accommodate two kayaks side by side. If the kayaks overlap the side of your vehicle, it is not recommended to carry two at a time, as the risk of one sliding off increases.
- For sit-on-top kayaks designed to be stacked, you can follow the previously mentioned steps with some adjustments. First, ensure there is enough clearance, and expect more wind resistance, so secure them tightly.
- For other kayaks, lay them side by side with ample foam padding to support both. Run four foam blocks or noodles from one side of the car to the other, ensuring each kayak has enough support.
- Use two cam straps to secure the kayaks, running over the top and in line with the foam blocks.
- Use separate tie-down rope to secure the bow and stern of each kayak to the car.
- Check the stability of both kayaks by rocking them and ensuring they don’t slide. If possible, leave a small gap between the kayaks to prevent rubbing, or place a towel between their hulls for cushioning.
Driving Tips and Precautions
- Drive cautiously when transporting your kayaks to ensure the safety of everyone on the road. Avoid taking sharp turns at high speeds, which can cause additional stress on the kayak and straps.
- Minimize sudden stops or accelerations to prevent the kayak from sliding. If you need to make an abrupt stop, pull over and check the position of your kayak to ensure it hasn’t shifted.
- As someone who lives in a tiny town with a speed limit of 35, I tend to drive slowly, regardless. But this is especially true when you’re moving a kayak. It can be tempting to zip to the lake or ocean, especially if you know your paddle time is limited. But take your time, and don’t be in a rush.
While using foam padding and cam straps is an effective solution for short distances and less populated areas, investing in a roof rack for long journeys or frequent highway transportation is always recommended. Roof racks provide a more secure platform for your kayak, are easier to load and unload, and minimize the risk of user error.
However, if you need a temporary solution or are on a budget, this improvised system can get you and your kayak safely to your destination. Remember to drive cautiously, secure your kayak correctly, and always ask for help if you’re unsure about any part of the process. Happy kayaking!