The summer season is here, and you are looking forward to enjoying quality time kayaking. But, you might be facing one issue that troubles many kayakers: how do you get the kayak to the water without an RV or a truck?

Luckily, you can always transport a kayak on a car with or without a roof rack.

Here, you will learn the basic essentials to transport a kayak safely on a car and the best ways to do it.

Essentials you need to transport a kayak on a car

Bow and stern lines

Bow and stern lines are ropes or straps used to tie down the bow and stern of the boat to the car. They securely hold the kayak on the car to prevent it from falling backward or forward while driving. Avoid weaving the straps through scupper holes as it can cause stress fractures.

As well, look for non-stretchy and water-resistant straps as it tends to vibrate less than nylon webbing.

Padding or foam blocks

If your vehicle doesn’t come with factory racks, then be sure to buy padding or foam blocks to protect the kayak from abrasive surfaces. Please avoid using the pool noodles as an alternative as they degrade faster than foam blocks. You might end up paying more for pool noodles than buying the long-lasting foam blocks.

Cam buckles

Cam buckles are used to tie down the kayak effortlessly. Most are made of polyester webbing as they are user-friendly and resistant to sun, rain, and harmful scratching. 

And while some kayakers use ratchet straps, they tend to be bulkier and easily damage the boat. Hence, cam buckles are better tie-down straps.

How to transport a kayak on a car

Using a roof rack

Most kayakers transport their boats on a car via the roof of their vehicle. This is the most common way, and if your SUV has a pre-installed rack with a crossbar, you are good to go.

Once your car roof is set, carry the kayak to the car using a kayak cart or with the help of someone. It might be difficult to move the boat alone, but ensure you do it safely if that is the only option.

However, if you have someone helping, follow the following steps to load your kayak to the roof:

  1. Once at the car, place the kayak parallel to your SUV, with the bow to the front side of the vehicle.
  2. Each of you to hold the hull at each end of the kayak and lift it overhead. Raise your legs and not your back to prevent injuries.
  3. Now, put the kayak directly above the roof rack, and put it down gently on the rack. Position the kayak well depending on the type of your roof rack.
  4. Tie down the kayak properly, so it remains secure without falling while driving. Use the basic essentials I highlighted above.

N/B: If loading the kayak alone, use a blanket or a towel on top of the car’s rear to avoid scratching your vehicle roof or bottom of your kayak. Also, consider wearing a PDF to pad your shoulder where the kayak will rest while carrying. 

Though you might not necessarily need a kayak cart to load your boat onto the vehicle roof, it is an essential tool you will need to carry your kayak to the shore without damaging the hull. Therefore, if you have a kayak cart, consider using it to load the kayak to the roof.

Use of J-rack

J-rack is a good roof rack you can attach to a pre-installed factory luggage rack to transport up to 2 boats on your car.

It is a ‘J’-shaped rack angled at about 45-degrees which makes it easy to carry multiple boats on a car. In the video below, you will learn how to install the J-rack, load, and tie down the kayaks.

Tying directly to the roof (i.e., without a roof rack)

If your vehicle doesn’t have a pre-installed luggage rack, you can still tie down the kayak onto the car roof. For this, you will need foam blocks and cam buckles. Foam blocks pad the car roof and the bottom of your kayak while cam buckles if tying down the boat.

Here is a video showing how to load the kayak on a car without a roof rack

Using a kayak trailer

Another way of transporting a kayak on a car without a roof rack is using a kayak trailer. Get a kayak trailer, load the boat easily, and tow the trailer with your vehicle.

Plus, you can transport even two kayaks using a trailer. However, your car should have a tow package, and its capacity should accommodate the weight of the kayak and that of a trailer. 

Driving safely with your kayak on top of the car

Once your kayak is safely secured on the car roof, you must drive safely to ensure you reach the waters with your kayak intact. First, check the tyre pressure and fine-tune it accordingly based on the adjusted pressure info in your car handbook.

While on the road, keep some distance between your car and the one in front. If traveling far, consider making stopovers to check that your kayak is still securely fastened on the roof. Sometimes, air resistance and driving movement shake the kayak causing even the most solid tie-downs to get loose. While you might be tempted to hurry to your kayaking destination, sparing a few minutes might save you lots of trouble.


Transporting a kayak on a car is one of the affordable and easiest options for many kayakers. You can load multiple kayaks on a roof rack, tie directly on the car roof or tow it in a kayak trailer. Regardless of your choice, ensure you drive safely to get to your destination with your kayak and vehicle in good shape!

​​About the author:

Name: Ally Mash

Bio: Ally is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent most of his free time backpacking through South America, Iceland, Vietnam, and Europe. He loves sharing his experience through Adventures Pursuit. His mission is to get more people in the mindset of protecting our planet by sharing its beauty.