How To Tie Down A Kayak On A Car Roof Rack (the EASY WAY)

Transporting kayaks on a car roof can be tricky. But it can be important to do it correctly to avoid damage to either your boat or your car, or accidents while you’re on the road.

We have put together a quick step by step guide with some tips to help you secure your kayak with ratchet straps so you can get to your destination safely while transporting a kayak.

Gear You Need To Strap Down Your Kayak To A Car Roof Rack

  • Tie-Down Straps - straps with cam buckles can be ideal for this as they have a secure buckle for tightening without needing to tie knots. You will usually need two straps, one for each crossbar. You will need four straps if you also choose to use them for the bow and stern lines.
  • Kayak Roof Racksroof racks will vary between brands and types. The type you use will likely depend on your vehicle and your personal preference but it can be useful to have crossbars to secure your kayak.
  • Kayak Carriers (optional) - if you want to carry more than one kayak, kayak carriers can sometimes be helpful for two kayaks or more, as they can often let you carry a kayak on its side, giving you extra space for other gear plus your kayak on the roof on one side. However, this is only if you have enough space on your particular roof. Some carriers are padded and can be used in conjunction with kayak racks including factory installed racks. But they’re not always necessary.
  • Padding - it can be useful to have some type of padding in order to protect your car roof and your kayak. Pool noodles or similar foam padding, such as foam blocks can be sufficient as extra padding. However, if you’re using an inflatable rack, you may be able to get away without it, as it can act as padding. If you’re using a kayak carrier, you might find this has sufficient padding. 
  • Bow/Stern Straps - these kayak straps are so that you can secure the front and back of your kayak to the front and back of your vehicle. You can use strong rope for a kayak strap or you can use tie-down straps with cam buckles like you will use for tying the kayak onto your roof.

How To Tie A Kayak Onto A Hard Roof Rack

Tying a kayak onto most roof racks with kayak straps can vary depending on the type of rack you have. But generally, the idea is the same, with the kayak’s weight being evenly distributed over your vehicle for safety. It can also be useful to tie it down at the widest point to most crossbars.

Recreational kayaks tend to be wider than touring kayaks, so this secure point may also vary. Similarly if you're loading two kayaks or multiple kayaks it can vary. But overall it can be pretty straightforward.

Step 1: Load Your Kayak Onto Your Roof Rack

With your padding in place on your crossbars or kayak carriers, carefully lift your kayak and place it on top of the rack.

If you’re loading the boat onto crossbars, you might want to keep your kayak the right way up. But there's no gold standard. If you’re using J-style kayak carriers, you’ll probably want to have the kayak on its side.

You may need another person to help you lift your kayak and move the kayak forward onto the roof.

Step 2: Distribute The Weight

Make sure your kayak is centered on the rack, with the heaviest section of the kayak being supported by your kayak rack; either your crossbars or kayak carriers.

Step 3: Secure Your Kayak To Your Roof Rack

Grab your kayak straps. One strap will be used for each crossbar. With your first strap, slide one end under your crossbar, holding on to the opposite end. Grab both ends of the strap and pull them together so that you have a very long U-shape in your strap.

Video: How To Tie Your Kayak To The Car Correctly

Put both ends of the strap over your kayak, to the other side of your car. Walk around and grab the ends. Be careful with the metal buckle so that it doesn't scratch your car.

Place the end with the cam buckle at the side of your kayak and slide the non-buckle end of the strap underneath your crossbar, making sure the strap is not twisted. Now you can thread it through the buckle and tighten it against your kayak.

With your strap tight against your kayak and the rear crossbar, you can loop the loose strap end around your crossbar a few times and then secure it to itself to prevent the excess strap from flapping around in high winds. Then repeat for the other crossbar.

Additional Step 3: J-Style Carriers

This can be slightly different to standard crossbars but you should still loop the strap around your crossbar first as usual. Pass the straps over your kayak and under the crossbar again on the other side of the yak.

Video: How To Tie Down Kayak With A J-Style

Instead of simply tightening the straps, loop the end of the strap around the J-bars before tightening the straps.

Step 4: Repeat On Your Second Crossbar

Repeat Step 3 on your second crossbar with your second strap. Make sure both sets of straps are tight and secure, so that your kayak doesn’t slide around on the rack.

Step 5: Bow And Stern Tie Down

For added safety, it can be a good idea to secure your boat at the front and back of your vehicle to help prevent your kayak flying off and becoming a projectile while on the road. This is particularly important if you're traveling a long distance.

Using rope or another set of cam straps as your bow and stern straps, loop one end of the rope or strap through the carrying handle or a suitable loop on the bow or your kayak, and the other end through a tow hook on your car. Tighten them but make sure they're not too tight.

Wrap the ends of the strap around the rest of the strap and secure them to make sure they don’t unravel, otherwise this could cause your boat to be pulled off your roof if the straps get caught.

Repeat the process for the stern end of your boat using the stern straps or stern line to the trucker's hitch on your vehicle. If you have a second kayak, you should repeat all of the steps above.

How To Tie Or Strap A Kayak On A Soft Roof Rack

Follow the steps for the hard roof rack but instead of securing the straps to your crossbars, you will usually have loops on your soft roof rack where you can loop the cam straps through.

Make sure the straps are tight and secure, and as with the hard roof rack, make sure you tie up the loose ends of the straps.

How To Tie Or Strap A Kayak Onto An Inflatable Roof Rack

Following the first couple of steps for a hard roof rack, your kayak should be evenly distributed over your inflatable rack. Open the rear doors of your vehicle (or windows if you don’t have rear doors) and pass the buckle of your cam strap over your kayak and the non-buckle end through the inside of your car.

Repeat this process through your car’s front doors.

Make sure your kayak is still in the same position on your roof rack and that your straps are straight and in line with your roof rack.

Tighten the straps by securing the buckles on each strap and wrapping and securing each loose end.

Once your car’s doors and/or windows are closed your straps should be secure through the inside of your car door.

What If You Do Not Have A Roof Rack For Your Car?

If you do not have a roof rack, you can still transport your kayak on your roof using DIY methods, such as pool noodles or foam blocks that can provide you with a padded platform for carrying kayaks.

The noodles can work in a similar way to an inflatable rack, with the kayak being secured with straps through your car. This can boost your vehicle's kayak carrying capabilities.

The End

Knowing how to secure a kayak on a roof can be pretty important when it comes to safety on the road. It can also help you to prevent damage to your kayak and your car.

Remember to make sure your boat is secure before you head off on your road trip. Your straps should be tight enough that your yak won’t slide around while you’re on the road, and you shouldn’t have any loose straps flapping around.

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