How To Tie Down A Kayak On A J Rack: Step By Step

Kayak on roof of car strapped down

J Racks are an excellent way to transport your kayak to and from the water with ease. They make it easy and secure and help truck owners keep that bed open for other gear. They're also one of the most affordable ways to transport your boat. But, if you've just purchased your pair of J-racks and are trying to figure out how to actually use them, it can be daunting.

No need to fear - we're here to help you set off on the right foot. Today, we're going to teach you how to tie down a kayak on a J rack. As you'll soon discover, it's really not all that complicated. But trust us - the last thing you want to do is make a mistake and risk damaging or losing your kayak. So, pay close attention throughout.

First things first - what are j racks?

What Are J Racks?

Kayak J racks, also referred to as J cradles throughout the kayaking world, are a convenient, affordable transportation solution. They mount to your kayak crossbars on the roof of your vehicle. The name is derived from the shape of these racks - they feature a J appearance.

The beauty of this rack style is that they can allow even small vehicles to transport large kayaks. The main reason kayakers prefer this type of rack is the cost. Compared to other style roof racks - which we'll cover in just a few moments - they're very affordable. And, they are incredibly secure because your kayak is transported sideways rather than upside down. This helps mitigate the risk of a heavy gust of wind from grabbing your boat and dislodging it.

But of course, all the benefits of J racks only apply if you understand how to tie down a kayak on a J rack the right way. That's the main topic we're here to discuss today. But first - are J racks the right choice for you and your kayak? Let's take a look at a few scenarios where they may not be the ideal approach to transportation.

Are J Racks Right For Me?

J racks are great for a wide range of kayakers - but sometimes they miss the mark a bit.

One such instance where the J rack system may not be your best bet is if you struggle to load the kayak yourself. If you always have another set of hands to help you in loading and unloading your kayak, this is not an issue. Plus, many solo kayakers are strong enough to lift their boat up onto the J rack - especially with lift assistants like we'll discuss later on.

However, there is no doubt that some kayakers prefer to load from the rear with kayak saddles and a kayak roller to assist in this. If you have a heavy kayak and don't feel confident in your ability to lift it yourself - you may want to consider an alternative.

And, while J cradles are a great option if your car has crossbars - not all vehicles do. This means you'll have to factor in the cost of crossbars into your budget. One final scenario where J rack systems may not make sense is if your kayak exceeds the weight limit. J racks aren't the strongest in terms of weight capacity - so if you have an extra heavy kayak, you may consider saddles or even a kayak trailer.

J Rack Alternatives

As we discussed in our article on how to transport a kayak, there are alternatives to the J rack. This is just one of a few approaches you can take to getting your boat to and from the water. Here are all your options:

To learn more about which of these styles best suits your needs, read our guide on transporting your kayak - we break it all down for you there. For now, though, we want to get into the reason you're here with us today: to learn how to load a kayak on a J rack.

How To Tie Down A Kayak On A J Rack: Step By Step

Ready to learn how to tie down a kayak on a J rack? It's something you need to take seriously in order to protect your kayak investment. The last thing you want is to cause damage or worse - lose your kayak - while in transit. However, it's really not all that complicated. In less than 10 steps you can get your kayak loaded up on the J rack with ease. Let's start by explaining how to get your J rack on your crossbars.

Step 1) Attach Your J Rack To The Crossbars

We're going to assume you already have crossbars mounted on your vehicle. If so, you can easily attach your J cradle to the crossbar system. J cradles typically have clamps that allow for quick and easy mounting right onto the crossbars. You might be wondering about compatibility since crossbars vary from round or square. But, you don't have to stress about this - most J racks include adapters to fit various crossbars styles.

Furthermore, most J racks come with a lock to truly secure the rack in place. If not, you'll want to get your own lock. Not only does this add a layer of security in terms of transportation, it also ensures nobody tries to steal your racks while your car is parked and you're out on the water paddling around. Trust us - you don't want to head back up to the car as the sun's going down only to discover you're the victim of theft. Not only will you need to buy another set, but you have no way of getting your boat home in the meantime!

Step 2) Put Your Straps On The J Rack To Prepare

Once you've got your J racks locked onto the crossbars, you're ready to prepare your kayak straps and tie downs. If you have your own cam straps already, you don't need to go out and buy special kayak straps - although these are optimized for use on these types of racks in particular. So if yours are old and worn, they're worth upgrading to.

Ok, back to preparing your straps. This is something we see so many kayakers get wrong. They think that the first step to tying down their boat is getting it up on the racks. Wrong. You want to line up your straps first! It makes things so much easier once you do put the kayak on the rack.

In terms of actually putting your straps on the J rack, loop them up through the upright of your rack. Some J racks even have a little clip that you can loop your cam strap through to hold it in place while you put your kayak up. This clip sits at the top of the upright. However, many of us feel it is easier to just loop the cam strap through the upright and let it fall to the bottom. Experiment with both and see which you prefer - there is no right or wrong answer here.

Then, pull it out of the way. You'll pull the front strap down towards the front tire, and the rear strap towards the rear tire. You want them out of the way so they don't get stuck under your kayak once you load it up.

Step 3) Bring Your J Rack To The Proper Angle

If you haven't already, make sure your J rack is angled all the way open so you can easily rest your kayak in the "J". There is nothing more frustrating than picking up a heavy kayak and preparing to load it up only to discover your J rack is closed. You'll then have to put your boat down, open the J rack to the proper angle, and pick the boat up again. Trust us - it's worth it to make a habit out of checking your J rack angles before lifting the kayak up off the ground!

Step 4) Prepare Your Kayak At The Side Of The Car

Most kayakers will agree that lifting your boat from the side of your car is the preferred loading approach. There will be instances where this may not be an option - like when you're stuck in a crowded parking lot. In this case, you may have no choice but to get some assistance with rear loading - especially if you have a heavier, longer boat.

For now though, we'll discuss side loading. Bring your boat to the side of your car and place it right beneath your J racks.

Before loading it, ensure you've emptied the cock pit of anything that could fly away during transport. Once your boat is loaded on the racks, you won't be able to reach in and move things around as easily.

Step 5) Load The Kayak On The J Rack

Now comes the moment you've been waiting for - actually load the kayak on the J rack. This is something you should carefully think about before attempting: are you capable of lifting the kayak yourself? Plenty of kayakers are strong enough to do so - even with larger, heavier, more cumbersome boats. But if you are not - don't attempt to lift the kayak yourself. There is no shame in asking for help.

Trust us - trying to be a hero and lift too much on your own is a surefire way to end up hurting yourself, dropping and damaging your kayak, or damaging your car. None of these are worth it - put your ego aside and ask for help if you need it!

With that said, go ahead and lift your kayak up onto the J rack system.

Step 6) Adjust Your Kayak To Evenly Distribute Weight

Once your kayak is loaded onto the J rack, you can go ahead and adjust it to the proper position. There are a few things to note here before you get to tying anything down: first and foremost, ensure the weight is distributed evenly on both J racks. You don't want the front J rack taking on more weight than the back J rack. The center of your boat should be in the center of the roof rack system.

You should also take note of whether or not your kayak is "in the pocket". What this means is that your boat should be sitting snug inside the J roof rack. you can confirm this is the case by wriggling the boat around - if there is excessive movement, it means you need to adjust further. Most of the time, wriggling the boat will help it fall into place. You'll be able to tell if something is not quite right.

Step 7) Tie Down The Kayak On The J Rack

Ready for the fun part? Actually tying down the kayak on the J racks. If you followed our advice and looped your straps through in step 2 and got them down out of the way, actually tying down your kayak is the easiest part of this process.

You'll simply pick up your cam straps, bring them around and behind the boat, and throw them over to the front. Before actually tying down anything, pull the strap tight so that it loops around the top of your J rack frame. You don't want it loosening up during transit. From there, you can take the tag end without the cam buckle and pull it. This will bring the cam buckle up on the kayak - you want it to rest about halfway up your boat.

Then, take the tag end and stick it through the hole on the bottom of your J rack (right above the crossbars). Pull this tag end through and under your crossbars. Pulling the strap underneath the crossbar before pulling it back up to the cam buckle is a really, really important step. This adds a level of strength to your tie-down. You have the strength of not just the J rack - but the crossbars and roof rack itself. This failsafe adds a level of security and peace of mind.

Then, after you've looped your strap around the crossbar, bring it back up through that same slot in your J rack and attach it to your buckle. Be sure the buckle is up high and about halfway on your kayak. This will help ensure that the buckle doesn't hit your car or window and cause damage. We recommend using straps with rubber buckles rather than metal buckles for this exact reason. This will also protect your kayak.

Pull the strap and buckle tight - as tight as possible. Tie off any excess strap dangling on the side of your car so you aren't flapping around while driving. Then, repeat the tiedown process on the other J rack.

Step 8) Drive Off!

At this point, your kayak is securely loaded and tied on the J cradle. As you can see, it's not so tough! You're ready to hop in the car and head to the water. To get your boat off the kayak racks once you reach your destination, you'll just loosen your straps, unloop them, and carefully lift your boat off the rack.

Final Thoughts On How To Tie Down A Kayak On A J Rack

Now that you know how to die down a kayak on a J rack, you should be feeling pretty confident in setting out for your first adventure with your new roof rack. As you can see, loading a kayak on a J cradle isn't all that difficult - it's as simple as 8 easy steps. You can likely do it alone, but if not - never shy away from asking for help. Fellow paddlers in the parking lot with you would rather you come and ask for help than see you injure yourself or harm your car/boat.

So, what are you waiting for? Head out to your car and get your kayak loaded and tied down and enjoy your day on the water!

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