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Tips for Loading a Kayak onto Your Car

Loading kayaks onto cars can be difficult; usually even more difficult than kayaking itself. Even if you're loading it onto a short car, have a helper, or bought the perfect kayak carrier, you still run the risk of injury to yourself, your boat, or your vehicle.

Once you've picked out your kayak rack, follow these tips to ensure a safe, easy journey from your home to the water.

Loading Kayaks

Loading J-style racks

To lift your kayak from the ground by yourself, first flip it right-side up. Then, knees bent, grab the kayak near the seat and lift it onto your thighs. To avoid hurting your back, keep your spine straight and lift with your legs, leaning back slightly to balance. Use one leg to boost the boat up onto your shoulder, with your arm secured in the seat area. Carry it in the direction of the car, and place one end on the rack or padding, lift the other end up, and push the kayak onto the rack until it's in position.

Lifting onto larger cars

If you need a little help reaching the top of your car to get your boat on the rack, a small step stool can be incredibly handy. (Just be sure you have good footing, or maybe even someone to spot you if want some extra reassurance.) Remember to bring the step stool with you to the water, though…otherwise loading your kayak when you’re done paddling will be a lot more difficult.

Using an extension bar

Extension bars, such as the Thule Outrigger, are available to make solo kayak loading easier, and they're particularly helpful on taller vehicles. Use the tips above for loading a kayak onto a J-style rack, but instead of setting the kayak directly onto the carrier, load it onto the bar at its fullest extent. Next, slide the boat up until it is evenly resting on both bars, then lift it up into the carrier and slide the extensions back into your bars.

Getting your kayak onto its carrier is much easier when you only have to lift it a few more inches (from the bars to the cradles), rather than lifting it from the ground to the carrier all at once.

For trucks

When using a truck to transport your kayaks, you can either strap them into the bed, or use a GoalPost hitch mount. The latter option is best, especially for multiple kayaks, and will keep your boat more stable.

If you choose to put your kayak in the truck bed, be sure to secure it well and tie a red flag to the end that hangs out past the bumper.

Securing your kayak

If you’re only going a short distance and driving relatively slow, your boat only needs to be secured to your roof rack with tie downs. If you’re going to be driving for a while and hitting the highway, though, you’ll also want to have bow and stern tie-downs for your boat.

To be sure your kayak is secure, try shaking it after you’ve tightened all the straps; if the whole car moves, you’re good to go! It’s a good idea to do this simple test anytime you stop along the way to your paddling destination, as vibrations from driving could potentially cause the straps to loosen.

Use padding

If you’re worried about scratching, denting, or otherwise damaging your vehicle, you can use padding of some sort to protect it. This can be as simple as covering any areas of concern with an old towel. Or, if you prefer, you can invest in something like the Thule Waterslide, which attaches to your load bar to ensure it stays in place while you load your kayak.

The best way to learn how to load your kayak onto your car is to practice. When you first take your boat home from the store, have one of our expert guides walk you through the process of loading it and securing it to your vehicle, and rest assured knowing that every time you load your kayak, you’ll get even better and more efficient at it.


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