Fishing Kayaks | from Garage to Shore
One of the least talked about aspects of the kayak fishing revolution is transporting the boats. Every Truck, SUV, or car is capable of safely moving a couple of boats. There are a few tricks to the equipment, some pitfalls to avoid, and some common sense that comes with experience.
Types of Saddles for Roof Racks-flat carriers and J-style. And if you have a rack on your SUV, usually the saddles can be directly attached. There are exceptions so check the item for your vehicle before purchase. Yakima, Thule, and Malone make saddles that attach directly to the vehicle. Flat carriers hold the kayak in a natural, upright position. This works well with Sit-On-Top kayaks that are self bailing. A canoe, or cockpit style kayak can fill up with water in one of our weird rainstorm and potentially add tremendous water weight to you roof! Cockpit kayaks can be carried upside down if the weather is threatening, and canoes are usually and easily carried upside down. If you need to carry two (or more) kayaks, one boat (or more) will have to be carried on their side. Surprisingly, the largest SUVs are not wide enough to carry two boats flat! J-style saddles get their name from the basic shape. They carry the kayak on the side, and are surprisingly sturdy. In this way two or even three boats can be carried on a roof. The disadvantage is the racks stick up like weird antennas, when there is no boat loaded. And the car won’t fit in the garage! Newer J-style saddles fold flat to eliminate this problem. Rain water is rarely a problem when a kayak is on its side. Although, theft does not seem to be an issue on saddles, note that Yakima saddles have optional locks. Saddles usually come complete with tie down straps. More on tie downs to follow.
Vehicle Racks. If you have an SUV with crossbars, you are fairly well equipped already. Add saddle kits to your vehicle and you will be ready to roll. However, in an effort to raise the gas mileage of the vehicle (1 – 2 mpg,) Some car companies do not include crossbars as standard equipment. You can purchase from the car company, but consider the aftermarket crossbars. They are stronger, have a larger weight capacity, and can be any length! Popular companies are Thule and Yakima. If you drive a car with no racks, this is also easily accomplished. Rack manufactures will make adapters to fit almost any car. They are very sturdy, and some are aerodynamically styled. I recently installed a system on a Mini Cooper that was aerodynamic aluminum. It carried two 12ft. kayaks to the Keys in J-style saddles. The boats looked as big as the car, but the Mini handled great, and you would hardly know the kayaks were on the roof from the driver’s seat!
Trucks-If you are only going to carry one boat that is 12 feet long or less, just carry the kayak in the bed of the truck. Tool boxes dramatically shorten the available bed. Longer boats may need support out of the back of the bed. Bed extensions for carrying lumber are available and fairly inexpensive-they plug into a receiver hitch. Safety requires that the bow and stern be tied into the truck. Also, some type of red flag has to be attached to the end of the boat hanging into the road. A roll of red surveyor tape makes a lot of disposable flags! If you are carrying two or more kayaks on a regular basis, consider an overbed rack. Thule makes a great one. The bed is still free to carry stuff, and three kayaks can fit flat over the bed. New kayak trailers can carry up to eight kayaks and the Rack and Roll trailer even folds to store against the wall of you garage.
Straps are Critical-for safety’s sake, and for convenience. Bungee cords are an accident waiting to happen. They stretch and allow the kayak to move in all directions. Rope works well, 3/8 inch rope should be the smallest diameter used. Hardware store ratchet straps work OK, but are very cumbersome, and sometimes come with inferior webbing. The ratchet mechanism is heavy and can scratch the finish on your vehicle. Cam Buckle straps work the best. All kayak stores will offer a variation. They are easy to operate, and most are padded to protect the finish on the vehicle. Bow and Stern tie downs are necessary when taking kayaks at interstate speeds. They provide a secondary level of safety if something should break. Tie to the frame or bumper, but not to anything plastic. Some sedans have no place to tie under the front bumper. Here’s a tip- form a one foot loop of rope(square knot,) and close the hood through the center. This provides a loop hanging out the front-instant tie down! When strapping the boat to the vehicle. Always run both sides of the strap over the top of the boat. Double straps provides double friction against the kayak, and all of the pressure is pushing the boat against the saddles. Wrapping around the rack and kayak is a common mistake. Wiggle the boat to see if your straps loosen! Rain causes nylon straps and ropes to stretch, so check your load when driving in the rain.
Bargain option-Rope and pool noodles can successfully transport a kayak to the local lake, but interstate travel would be asking for trouble. Use the pool noodles to pad the roof of the car. Put them in a place where the roof is firm, because a kayak will flex the soft spots of the most expensive vehicles! These places are near the windshield and near the back window. Tie a loop to one end of your rope, pass it through the window, and over the boat. Use the loop to cinch down the boat tightly. Tie the boat with two ropes through the front windows and the back windows. Also tie the bow and stern to the front and rear of the car. Many canoes were hauled to the pond this way, but it will scratch the roof of the car, and keep your speed at 55mph or less.
Exotica-There are slide rail systems, and hydraulic lift systems that allow the smallest person to load kayaks on the largest SUV. These systems will do most of the loading for you. The Thule Hullavator system works extremely well. It’s sturdy design gives 42” of lift. Yakima and Thule make a system of sliding rails. The rails slid up the back of the vehicle, cutting the required lift to half. While very helpful, these systems are costly in comparison. However; they are worthwhile if loading the boat is the fuddle keeping someone off the water!
Common Sense-Tip One-My favorite is the rubber backed shower matt. Put it over the paint, rubber side down. It is easy to slide the boat across the roof to the appropriate saddles; friction free, and padding the roof paint. Tip Two, on a factory rack, attach saddles as close to the side rails as possible. The cross bars will not flex much and it’s easier to load the kayak! Do this with even when loading one boat-it’s easier, and the crossbars flex less! Tip Three-never shorten you tie downs, and buy 15 footers. While usually too long, 12 footers are too short too often! Tip Four, wrap your loose ends, and tie. The flapping straps and rope can whip the paint off a car much quicker that you think! Tip Five-if a strap is vibrating, take apart and put one or two twists in it. This will change the harmonics of the strap. Tip six-When strapping the kayak, make sure the buckle is on the high side so you can use your weight to tighten the strap. Works the same for rope, make sure the loop is on the high side, so you can use your weight to pull on the rope.
Safety is job one when carrying a kayak to water. A kayak flying at interstate speed can be a deadly missile! If you have any questions, contact your nearest kayak dealer, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This artice was originally published in Coastal Angler Magazine -Lakeland Edition July-2009