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Ways To Transport Kayaks On A Car

Nicola Burridge
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Ready to hit the water with your kayak in “tow”?

Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or just starting out, transporting your kayak on your car roof is a great way to get from your home to the water and back.

But, with so many different car models and kayak sizes, it can be tough to know the best way to haul your kayak.

There are several ways you can get your kayak from A to B with your car, even a small car. We’ve put some information together to help you, your kayak, and your car get to the water safely.

Spoiler: you don’t always need to use a kayak roof rack!

Kayaks On Car - Pinterest ImagePin

Kayaks On Cars: Before You Start

How Many Kayaks Can You Carry?

The first thing you might want to ask yourself is how many kayaks do you want to be able to carry on your car at one time? If you have more than one kayak, then you’ll probably need to find a suitable kayak rack that can handle the number of kayaks you want to carry.

> Roof racks for 3 kayaks

You will also need to consider the amount of space you have on your roof if you want to car-top multiple kayaks. The width of your roof will likely be what determines how many kayaks you can carry at once.

Most small cars should be able to carry up to two kayaks on the roof, depending on the size and weight of the kayaks.

Remember to consider the dynamic roof weight rating of your car’s roof. This is the maximum weight your car roof can handle. This may be lower than the weight rating on your roof rack. It’s not recommended or safe to attempt to exceed your car roof’s weight rating.

> Good cars for carrying kayaks

Will My Kayak Fit?

As well as considering the weight of your kayak and the maximum load capacity of your car’s roof, you should also consider the size of your kayak. If your car is small and your kayak is very long, you may run the risk of your kayak being beyond safe limitations for overhang.

The legal federal overhang limits are 3-feet at the front and 4-feet at the back. You may also require a safety flag at the rear to alert other road users to your extra-long load.

How Far Can You Travel?

With most dedicated kayak roof racks, you can generally travel as far as you want.

Remember, however, that when you’re hauling a kayak on the roof of your vehicle, your gas mileage will be negatively affected. This could mean your fuel costs are quite a bit higher to get you to your destination compared to if you were driving with nothing on your roof.

Research carried out a few years ago by engineers on a Buick Regal TourX showed that carrying a kayak with roof rails resulted in a 28% reduction in fuel economy.

How Fast Can You Drive With A Kayak On Your Car?

You can usually drive to the speed limits with a kayak on your car. However, on high-speed roads, this may not be the safest speed.

Driving at high speeds will generally increase the force of the wind against your vehicle and the cargo on the roof. Wind resistance can loosen straps and cause your kayak to lift up and onto the road. If you’re driving at high speeds, this can be dangerous for the people behind you, or wherever your kayak might eventually land.

Driving at speeds slower than the posted speed limits can be safer and better for gas mileage. 

It’s best to check your tie-down straps and the security of your kayak on the roof after every hour of driving to make sure your kayak is not at risk of becoming a projectile on the freeway. This is when it can be important to make sure your kayak is strapped to your roof rack correctly.

5 Ways To Transport Your Kayak With A Car

1: Use A Dedicated Kayak Rack

Kayak Car Top Carrier Dune GrassPin

A kayak rack can be one of the best ways to transport a kayak with a car. These racks are specially designed to accommodate the shape and size of a kayak.

The best kayak roof racks are also designed to protect the hull of your kayak from damage both during loading and while it’s on your roof, usually with some type of foam padding.

Some kayak racks can let you transport more than one kayak on your roof at a time. This can be useful if you have two or more kayaks.

However, the number of kayaks you will be able to carry on your car will depend on the width of your roof and the size and weight of your kayak. It will also probably depend on the type of kayak rack you have.

Remember, you will need to already have crossbars installed on the roof of your car.

Pro Tip

For heavier kayaks or if you think you’ll struggle to lift your kayak onto your roof rack, there are lift-assist or load-assist products that can help. Some of these products double as kayak roof racks.

Types Of Kayak Racks


These types of racks let you carry a single kayak on its side. A J-rack features two sets of J-cradles. Each J-cradle is attached to a crossbar on your roof rack so that your kayak is transported on one side of your roof, parallel to the length of your car.

This means you can potentially haul other equipment or another kayak on the other side of your car.

> J-rack review roundup for kayaks

Stacker Racks

Stacker racks can let you carry one or more kayaks – sometimes up to four kayaks. These racks are designed to be fitted to your crossbars and usually come in pairs.

This type of rack features a post that stands vertically on your crossbar.

Saddles Or Cradles

These types of kayak racks are designed to allow you to transport your kayak the right way up, with the hull resting in the cradles.

This can usually be a good way to carry a single kayak on the roof of your car, as the rack is generally designed to be mounted in the center of your crossbars.> The best

2: Transport It Directly On Your Roof Rack Crossbars

Car With kayak canoes On TopPin

If you don’t want to purchase additional hardware to install on your crossbars, you could carry your kayak directly on top of your roof rack’s crossbars.

There are some products you can buy to wrap around your crossbars so that you have suitable protection for your kayak.

If you’re carrying your kayak directly on your crossbars, it can be a good idea to transport only one kayak. And it can be useful to center the kayak on the roof, so that it doesn’t unbalance your vehicle.

You may find it easier to load the kayak upside down, as this can help to prevent damage to the kayak’s hull from pressure points on the crossbars once secured.

Instead of purchasing padded crossbar covers you could use pool noodles as a cheaper alternative.

Pro Tip

Kayak loaders and lift-assist devices can be useful for loading a kayak directly onto a roof rack. There are various products that can let you either load from the side of your vehicle or from the back, depending on what suits your vehicle and kayak best.

> Good kayak loaders reviewed

3: Without A Roof Rack

If you don’t have a roof rack, it is still possible to transport a kayak on the roof of your car. But you will probably need some type of padding to protect both the roof of your vehicle and the hull of your kayak.

Pool noodles can usually be your best bet when it comes to affordable padding to provide a safe spot for your kayak to rest. You’ll probably need at least three pool noodles – one at the front, one at the center, and one at the back.

Alternatively, you can also use foam blocks.

Pro Tip

Use straps to secure the pool noodles to your car. You can thread the straps through the pool noodle and through the inside of your car (using the door or window). This can help to keep the noodles from moving, especially when you’re loading the kayak.

4: Inside Your Car

If you have a very compact kayak and a large enough car, you may be able to fit your kayak inside your car.

Hatchback cars, minivans, and SUVs are probably the go-to cars for carrying a kayak inside, as you will probably need to load it in through the trunk and slide it over the backseats toward the front. If your backseats fold down, even better.

Additionally, if you have a folding kayak or an inflatable kayak, this should almost definitely fit inside your car. Most folding and inflatable kayaks are designed to fit in the trunk of a small car, so you should have no trouble transporting these types of kayaks inside your car.

> What size of kayak do I need?

5: Use A Kayak Trailer

A kayak trailer can be a useful piece of equipment when it comes to hauling kayaks. This can be especially true when it comes to loading and unloading. The low height of a kayak trailer can mean it’s much easier to comfortably load your kayak onto the trailer, as you don’t need to lift a kayak above your head.

This can be a great way to transport heavy kayaks such as fishing kayaks, especially if you’re a solo kayaker with nobody around to help you load and unload.

While most cars should be able to tow a small trailer carrying a kayak or two, some vehicles may not have the towing capacity to haul a heavy trailer.

A downside to a trailer, however, is that you’ll have to consider the extra length for your vehicle when parking and turning, for example.

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