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Can Kayaks Be Transported Upside-Down?

Mark Armstrong
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Paddle ready, kayak loaded, and now it’s time to hit the water!

But wait, how should you transport your beloved kayak to the destination? Up or down?

Does it even matter?

In this article, we’ll delve into the mysteries of kayak transportation and provide tips for safely securing your kayak on your roof, so you can focus on the adventure ahead, not the safety of your boat and car.

Can Kayaks Be Transported Upside-Down? - Pinterest ImagePin

Should I Load My Kayak Up Or Down?

With most kayaks, you’ll usually find that the best way to load them is upside down. This is because it can prevent excess pressure on the hull caused by resting on a roof rack or crossbars.

Even if your crossbars or roof rack is padded, it can still cause pressure points from the weight of the kayak resting on these points. If the underside of the hull is resting on these points for a long time, you could find that dents or other damage begins to show.

Damage to the hull can affect the performance of the kayak on the water. If the hull is damaged it can have an effect on glide and speed or even tracking, which could make your kayak more difficult to paddle.

However, some kayaks, particularly plastic ones, can be loaded in a variety of ways if you prefer, or if your roof rack allows.

Loading Polyethylene (Plastic) Kayaks

Boats on top of carPin

With a polyethylene kayak, you usually have more options available when it comes to loading your kayak on a roof rack or trailer.

Polyethylene or plastic kayaks tend to be very durable so they can often handle the additional pressure on the hull that comes from storing it or transporting it cockpit up. But pressure from the rack or from tie-down straps can still cause dents in the hull of plastic boats.

However, it can still be beneficial to transport the kayak upside down if you have crossbars, as this can help with aerodynamics since the underside of the hull will generally be smoother than the top deck.

Some sit-inside kayaks might cause wind resistance if they are transported right side up without a cockpit cover. Similarly, you may find that some sit-on-top kayaks can also cause wind resistance from molded seats and tank wells.

More wind resistance means more drag and increased fuel consumption for your vehicle. Carrying kayaks on the roof of your vehicle will likely lower your gas mileage anyway, but making sure you reduce the wind resistance in every way you can could help limit the extra fuel consumption.

Driving at slower speeds may also help improve your gas mileage when transporting kayaks. Driving slower could also be safer in windy conditions and on freeways, as it can help you stay more in control of your car and can minimize the movement of the kayaks on your roof.

Most polyethylene kayaks can be loaded on their sides, the right way up, or upside down. J-cradles, for example, can let you transport your kayak on its side, with the hull protected and the pressure points minimized.

J-cradles and side storage racks like stacker racks, can be a good idea if you need to transport more than one kayak. Storing a kayak on its side frees up more space on your roof to carry another kayak or other gear. This can be ideal for wider recreational kayaks or fishing kayaks.

However, the weight of some fishing kayaks may limit your vehicle’s ability to carry more than one fishing kayak on your roof. 

Loading Composite (Fiberglass) Kayaks

Kayaker putting kayak on car roofPin

Composite kayaks, such as fiberglass kayaks, should always be transported upside down. This is because the hulls on composite kayaks can be more susceptible to cracking and deforming under pressure.

The tie-down straps that secure your kayak to the rack can cause extra pressure on your kayak, forcing it against the rack. So if the hull of your boat is directly against the rack when you tie it down, this could cause damage.

If your hull is facing up (and your cockpit is facing the rack) the pressure from the tie-down straps and the rack shouldn’t deform the hull or affect your kayak’s performance on the water.

Some composite kayaks that are designed for sea kayaking, for example, will have rounded or V-shaped hulls. This could be a problem if you try to transport it the right way up, as the hull will have less contact with the rack, causing it to be unstable and potentially dangerous on a roof rack.

The top deck of a sea kayak tends to be flatter than the underside of the hull, meaning it can be a safer option to transport a sea kayak upside down.

However, there are products out there that are designed to let you carry a composite kayak the right side up or on its side if it suits your vehicle.

The weight of the kayak should be evenly distributed across the rack to avoid pressure points causing damage to the fragile hull. Remember to keep your straps secure but not too tight in order to avoid creating excess force on the hull.

Tips On Safely Securing Your Kayak Upside Down

Add Roof Padding

If you want to transport your kayak on your roof using only a set of crossbars then it can be a good idea to add padding to the bars.

Foam blocks or pads for crossbars can sit securely around your crossbars. This can give your kayak a soft cushion to prevent scratches and other damage. You could even use pool noodles.

Some dedicated kayak racks may already have padding, so you may not always need to add your own, unless you want to.

Center Your Boat On The Roof

If you’re using crossbars or foam blocks to transport your kayak on the roof of your vehicle then you should make sure your kayak is centered.

This means it should be loaded in the center of your roof so that it’s not resting to one side of your vehicle. This can be better for balance and aerodynamics while you’re driving.

Secure With Tie-Down Straps

When you’re securing your kayak to the roof of your car, you will need to make sure it’s safe, both for you and other road users.

Your kayak should be secured to your roof rack with cam straps. Each strap should go across the width of your kayak and be tightly secured to the rack on the other side of your boat.

You should have at least two cam straps securing your kayak to your roof rack. If you’re using J-cradles, the straps should be secured to both the crossbars and the cradles for added safety.

Use Bow And Stern Lines

Bow and stern lines give you an extra layer of security when it comes to safety on the road. After you’ve secured the kayak to your roof rack and crossbars, you can use tie-down straps to secure the bow and stern to your vehicle.

This can help to prevent your kayak from flying off your roof if you have to brake suddenly or if the wind catches it on the freeway. 

The bow line should be secured around a looped point on the bow (front) of your kayak, such as a carry handle. The strap should then be secured around the tow hitch at the front of your car. Remember to tie up the loose ends of the straps so they don’t become a hazard while you’re driving.

The stern line should be secured around a looped point or carry handle at the back of your kayak. You can then tie the strap to the hitch at the back of your vehicle, remembering to secure the loose ends of the straps once you’re done.

Don’t Over Tighten The Straps

One way to protect the hull of your kayak while you’re transporting it is to make sure the cam straps are tight but not too tight.

If the straps are too tight around your kayak, this can cause deformations in the hull. This could be more of an issue if you have a composite kayak but it can affect all types of kayaks.

Your straps should be tight enough that your kayak is held firmly in place on the rack.

Remove The Seat

If you have a fishing kayak or a recreational kayak with an elevated seat (or framed seat), it can be better to remove the seat before you transport your kayak on the roof.

If you’re loading the kayak upside down, you may have no choice but to remove the seat, otherwise the kayak won’t be able to sit safely upside down.

Some kayak seats fold down for storage and transportation but this could still be a hazard and prevent the kayak from resting properly on the rack. It can be safer to transport the seat separately and load it in the trunk or on the back seat of your car.

Wrapping Up

In most cases, it’s better to transport your kayak upside down on the roof of your car rather than upright.

This can be better for gas mileage and aerodynamics. But, importantly, it can be better for your kayak, helping to prevent damage to the key performance part of your hull, especially for composite kayaks.

However, if you have a specialist kayak rack that can let you transport your kayak on

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