Home > Kayak Theory > Transportation Theory > How To Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack (Tie Down WITHOUT Damaging Your Car!)

How To Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack (Tie Down WITHOUT Damaging Your Car!)

Mark Armstrong
Updated on:
- If you buy via a link on this page, we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you. Learn more
- Read our review guidelines
Pinterest Hidden Image

You’ve just bought your new kayak and you’re looking for a way to transport your kayak without a roof rack? You don’t have a roof rack or kayak trailer so how are you going to transport your first kayak? Obviously if you have an inflatable kayak, you may not need to consider these other methods, as it can fit in your trunk.

There are plenty of options for kayak trailers and racks if you have the cash to splash but what if you don’t? Or maybe you’re just looking for a temporary solution so you can transport a kayak without a roof rack until you can decide on a more permanent method of transportation.

> How to transport a kayak on a car

Until then, here’s a DIY roof rack system that you can assemble with some pool noodles and a ratchet strap or two until you find the right trailer. 

If you DO have a roof rack, check out our other guide on strapping kayaks to car roof racks. We also have a useful kayak roof rack installation guide.

How To Transport Your Kayak Without A Roof Rack

What You’ll Need

  • Pool Noodles – to provide padding for your car and your kayak
  • Ratchet Straps – for tie down straps to secure your kayak to your vehicle

Be very careful throughout this entire process. There is a chance that you may damage your car’s paintwork if you are not careful!

Step 1: Put The Pool Noodles On Your Car

Pool noodles? Yep, as simple as that. Make sure you get heavy duty (thick) pool noodles, that can take some punishment.

These lightweight and affordable foam pool noodles will create a soft bed for your kayak to rest on, which can protect your car roof from scratches and damage, as well as protect your hull. These can usually be less expensive and easier to use than foam blocks. Foam blocks could be more difficult to secure on your vehicle’s roof than pool noodles because of their shape and a foam block might be more likely to move around on your car’s roof.

Once you’ve got your pool noodles, place them across the roof of your car. You should put one pool noodle near the front of your car’s roof, one in the middle and one near the back.

You can use more if you want extra padding but you’ll probably find that three will be enough for the average vehicle’s roof. But two pool noodles or two blocks may not be sufficient for most cars. This also may not be suitable for carrying two kayaks.

You might find that the pool noodles are longer than the width of your car or vehicle’s roof. If this is the case, you can always cut each pool noodle to size. You could even thread a strap through each of the pool noodles and secure the pool noodles through the inside of your car for more security.

Use Pool Noodles? Yup!!!

Step 2: Lift Your Kayak Onto Your Car

It’s easier to do this with another person helping you to share the heavy lifting, so that one of you can grab the bow of the kayak and the other can grab the stern to lift it on. It’s better to have your yak facing the right way up with the hull on the noodles.

If you have a more curved hull, you might find it’s more convenient, however, to place it upside-down on the roof of your car, so that it’s more stable with less chance of it moving from side to side.

After you secure the pool noodles and your yak is resting on top of them, you can lift any part of the kayak to readjust the pool noodles and make sure they’re all parallel with each other. The yak should obviously be positioned perpendicular to the pool noodles so that the bow or stern is facing the direction your car will be traveling.

Different Ways Kayaks Are Transported - Pie ChartPin
Courtesy: americancanoe.org

Step 3: Secure It With Straps

You should have two sets of either ratchet straps or spring-loaded straps with adjustable buckles and the front and back doors of your car should be open (you can find these in hardware stores or automotive stores and other places selling outdoor goods).

With all open doors on your car, secure the center portion of your yak by putting the ratchet strap over the body, so that you have the ends of the ratchet straps at either side of your car. Grab the two strap ends and have the ratchet straps run through the front doors so they meet inside your car.

Keep all car doors open until you complete this step.

Time To Strap!

Twist them and tighten them so that it’s a snug fit (but don’t over tighten) and remember to keep the buckle on the outside near your yak so that it’s easy to tighten.

The twisting of the ratchet straps will help to prevent the loud noise that will be created from the wind as you’re driving and could help improve gas mileage as it can minimize wind resistance. But you may not want to haul your kayak on a homemade rack for long periods.

You should then repeat this with the second ratchet strap being secured through the back doors of your car. Don’t tighten the straps too much, otherwise this could damage the hull of your yak or the roof of your car. If you’re traveling to cooler temperatures, you should also remember that the ratchet straps may loosen.

Tie Straps The RIGHT Way!

Step 4: Tie Down The Bow And Stern

For extra security and safety when you’re on the road, especially to transport a kayak without a roof rack, it’s a good idea to tie down the bow and stern of your yak in case you brake suddenly. This you can do with spring-loaded or ratchet straps, same as the tie down strap you’ve just secured your yak with.

Thread the straps through both the front and back carry handles or toggles and secure each ratchet strap to a tie-down spot underneath your car, either with a carabiner or a hook. If you have a towbar on the back, this can work well as a place to secure your ratchet strap or tie down strap.

Underneath the front of your car you should have tow points built-in, or towing eyes, designed for towing your car. These will work well for attaching the front straps and you can finally transport a kayak without a roof rack. You may need more straps if you want to secure more than one kayak.


Now you know you don’t have to spend a fortune to be able to transport a kayak without a roof rack wherever you need to go.

Just remember that safety is always important when you transport your kayak, so make sure it’s safe and secure with ratchet straps on top of your car before you drive away. Spending time driving long distances with this is probably not ideal, however.

Did you enjoy discovering this inexpensive alternative to a roof rack or kayak trailer? We hope you’ll be able to try out this DIY kayak rack the next time you want to move your kayak without a roof rack.

Don’t forget you can let us know how you get on by leaving a comment or maybe you want to share this so others can check it out.

> Fitting a kayak inside an SUV

How To Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack - Pinterest ImagePin

13 thoughts on “How To Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack (Tie Down WITHOUT Damaging Your Car!)”

  1. Thanks for teaching some affordable and cost effective way to transport a kayak. I asked my friend to have a look at this article. He recently had his kayak transported from the dealer through http://www.wewilltransportit.com. After having a look at this article, he realized he must have taken his car to bring the kayak home. Your videos helped us understand the procedure neatly. I had recently transported my kayak using 12-foot straps with cam buckles. But that didn’t go well. I now understood the correct procedure. Thanks a lot for the brief explanation.

  2. I lease my vehicle and do not have roof racks. What is the best option to transport a kayak and for a long distance trip?

    • Michelle,

      Walmart sells a nice system that includes pads, buckle straps & nylon rope to tie off the bow & stern as well! Very affordable at approximately $25.
      Hope this helps!

      • As Scott says, there are probably plenty of options in physical stores near you.

        Whatever you do, just be careful. I don’t know what the terms are of your car lease, but you might have to be really careful with accidental scratches or marks. If it’s your own car it doesn’t matter so much…

  3. Thanks so much for the info! I am a new kayaker, and have many questions, but you helped solve the most important one…transportation!! It’s essential!

  4. I love this method, but I have an antenna on the roof at the back…will this method work with that? Any suggestions? Does the antenna fit inside the cockpit?

  5. Hola! I need to transport small kayak (45#, 10’4″) 1,000 miles with a Honda Fit. If we could afford to ship it we would, but we can’t. Oh, also, there’s no roof rack.

    I’ve seen the “pool noodle” mode of moving before, but I always assumed it was for short distances and/or modest mph. Can you recommend a way for us to move this thing?


  6. Hi… I’m thinking of purchasing the Pelican Catch PWR 100. I have a Jeep Wrangler two door and I’m looking for a secure way to haul it, what would be a good rack system for it.


Leave a Comment