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How To Lift And Carry A Kayak (Pro Tips to Avoid Injury!)

By: Kayak Guru
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So you want to know how to carry your kayak? Which way is the safest way?

Lifting and carrying a kayak can be tricky and potentially dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s important to know the basics of getting your kayak from A to B. We definitely don’t want you to give yourself an injury while you’re out enjoying the outdoors, so we’ve put together some guidelines and a few tips to help you travel safely.

How To Lift & Carry A KayakPin

I Need To Know How To Lift A Kayak!

If you’re asking this question, you’ve obviously never been injured when trying to lift or carry a yak. But injuries can happen if you don’t know how to properly transport one or multiple kayaks. But there are options depending on the type of kayak you have and the number of people you have to help you.

Kayaks may be small in comparison to most boats but bearing in mind that some kayaks can be quite heavy, lifting one up to shoulder height can often be a challenge and may require a lift assist product or a second person to help you.

As well as the weight of the kayak, you’ve got its length to consider – even smaller kayaks can be awkward to transport. Carrying a kayak brings with it extra hazards, as you need to be aware of your surroundings to ensure you don’t hit anything with either end of it, especially when turning.

Once you know the correct way to lift your vessel you’ll find it much easier. And carrying your kayak will also become a much smoother task.

However, we all have physical limitations, so if your kayak is too heavy to attempt to lift onto your car, even with a boat roller, you may need a lift assist rack that can hold the entire weight for you. This can be especially helpful if you have more than one kayak to lift or a particularly tall vehicle.

Kayak lift assist devices like the Hullavator Pro can be highly recommended for heavy fishing kayaks and other touring or recreational kayaks.

Can It Be Made Easier?

Yes, it can. You could make sure your kayak is lightweight. An inflatable kayak can also be a good idea, as these can often be packed into a duffel or a backpack and easily loaded into the trunk of a small car. Some of them can also even be hiked into remote locations.

There are other ways of transporting a kayak that don’t involve too much carrying or lifting. If you have a heavy plastic boat, it’s usually possible to drag it.

However, while this option might be good for transporting your kayak on grass or sand, this may not be suitable for certain types of terrain. It’s also best not to drag light boats, such as a fiberglass or composite kayak, as it can cause damage. Inflatable yaks may not be ideal for dragging either.

If dragging your kayak isn’t an option, you can use lift assist products, such as a kayak cart, to help you get your kayak from A to B, especially if it’s over longer distances. This way you can roll your yak along on wheels, with the weight being taken by the kayak cart or boat roller – just remember your stern tie downs so that it doesn’t move around, especially if the kayak carts don’t have suction cups to minimize movement.

As well as kayak carts, there are also other lift assist items that can help to load your kayak comfortably on to kayak roof racks – these can be great for heavier kayaks or longer touring kayaks.

To make carrying kayaks even easier, you may find that if you’re wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) this can often help to provide a cushion and add padding for your shoulder, which can make it less of a strain.

Lifting A Kayak Onto A Car

Knowing how to load your kayak onto the roof of your vehicle safely can be beneficial for you, your kayak and your vehicle, and can help to prevent damage when you transport a kayak. Lifting a kayak with another person can be easier for side loading but there are lift assist devices out there to help you get your kayak on your car roof rack system (this can be useful if you don’t have a second person to help you load).

There are various kayak lift assist products that can help, particularly with side loading, and can work in conjunction with J-cradles and your roof rack system. Or you can also use pool noodles as a rolling device which can help to protect the hull of your kayak and the roof of your car.

You will need to use cam straps to secure your kayak to roof rack systems. Usually the cam straps are secured to the crossbars of your vehicle once your kayak is in position in the J cradle on your vehicle’s roof. The bow and stern should also be secured.

The cam straps will need to be passed over the kayak to the opposite side, from one side of your car to the other. You can have your lifting partner help with this to avoid damaging your car with the cam strap buckle. Make sure your straps are tight enough and secure,  but remember, too much tension might damage the hull. Remember, also, to tie up the loose end or free end of the strap before traveling.

The process should be repeated for the second kayak if you have two kayaks. You should also use bow and stern lines to tie down the kayak to the front and back of your car. The stern line can be attached to the tow hitch at the back.

How To Lift A Kayak By Yourself

Step 1: Preparation

With your yak on the ground, stand facing it, with the bow pointing towards the direction you want to travel. If the bow is on your right, you’ll be carrying the kayak on your left shoulder and if the bow is on your left, your kayak will be on the right shoulder.

Roll the kayak onto its side, making sure the cockpit is facing away from you. Lift it slightly to make sure you’re in the center of the yak; you don’t want it to be unbalanced when it’s on one shoulder! Some lift assist carts or racks may not require you to do this but it’s always good to know how, in case you’re ever without the luxury of a lift assist.

Step 2: Use Your Legs

Put both hands on the rim of the cockpit closest to you and lift the kayak up onto your legs; your thighs will take the weight. Remember to keep your knees bent at this point to prevent injury and allow the kayak to sit safely on your thighs.

Step 3: Roll Up

Keeping your knees bent and back straight, reach to the other side of the cockpit with your hand closest to the stern and grab the rim with your palm facing upwards with the cockpit facing you.

Roll the kayak up and onto your shoulder (letting the rim rest on your shoulder), using your hands to pull it into a comfortable position. Stabilize it, make sure you’re mindful of its length and be aware of any blind spots. A lift assist tool may make it easier for car topping.

For extra help, this video will give you an idea of how to do it.

Video: How To Lift Your Kayak

How 2 People Should Lift A Kayak

It’s much easier when you have someone else to provide a lift assist. To learn how to do it, we’ve created a handy step by step guide for the best way to lift a kayak with two people.

There are a couple of ways that two people can carry one. The easiest way – ideal to carry shorter distances – is for one person to grab the toggle grab handle at the bow and the other person to grab the toggle at the stern, then simply lift it off the ground and travel forwards, maintaining communication and keeping a firm grip on the grab handles.

In order for two people to lift your kayak onto your car, for example, or to travel a longer distance, you’ll need a different method. This is where a lift assist tool could help with loading a kayak onto the roof. 

Step 1: Before You Lift

Grab a fellow kayaker. With your kayak on the ground, each of you should be standing facing the vessel, with both of you on the same side but at opposite ends.

Step 2: Lifting The Kayak

Once you’re both in position, each person should bend their knees, make sure their back is straight and grab the toggle closest to them. Remember to communicate to make sure you and your fellow kayaker are both on the same page.

When you’re both ready, lift the vessel at the same time. You should both have the kayak at waist level now. Some lift assist products may help you car top a kayak from this level.

Step 3: Kayak At Shoulder Level

This part requires communication to make sure both of you are comfortable and prepared. When you’re both ready, lift the yak up and onto your shoulder. You and your partner should then each have the hull of the kayak resting on your shoulder.

In this position you’re able to load it onto a roof rack or travel safely to the water, with or without a lift assist tool. Just keep in mind that whoever is in front will need to communicate any obstacles to the person behind.

Video: How To Carry And Transport Your Kayak

In Conclusion

Now that you’ve read the guide you’ll be desperate to get out there and try it for yourself. Did you enjoy learning how to stay safe when you’re lifting your kayak?

As time goes on, you’ll become familiar with the proper technique and it’ll hopefully become second nature to you. And maybe you’ve discovered that a lift assist rack or cart with two wheeled attachments could help over long distances.

It’s important that you learn the procedures and stay safe at all times so you can have more fun on the water.


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