How To Strap A Kayak To A Roof Rack

May 06, 2022

Canoe on the top of a car

Want to learn how to strap a kayak to a roof rack? You've come to the right place. In this complete guide, you're going to learn all the different ways you can strap a kayak down on your roof. We'll teach you our favorite approach, and then walk you through the step-by-step process to get your kayak tied onto the roof safely and securely.

Whether you're just using the crossbars on your car or you have J cradles, a kayak stacker, or any other type of roof rack - you'll soon know how to strap your boat down safely. And if you don't already have a roof rack, don't stress - we're going to explain where you can find the top selection of kayak roof racks online towards the end of this article. Let's get started!

First Things First - What Type Of Kayak Roof Rack Do You Have?

Before we can teach you how to strap a kayak to a roof rack, we have to cover the different types of roof racks out there. Recommendations will vary depending on your specific roof rack style. For example, the steps to get a kayak loaded on crossbars alone will vary from the steps to tying your kayak down on J racks.

The most popular roof rack styles are J cradles, stackers, and saddles. But there are also rollers and crossbars that can be used to strap down a kayak. Depending on the type of car you have and the type of kayak roof rack you have - you might need to use one or more of these methods to strap your kayak safely onto the roof.

  • J Cradles: Kayak J Cradles are probably the most common type of kayak roof rack. They're great because they hold the kayak in place on its side, which makes it easier to load and unload by yourself. Most J cradles will also have some kind of padding to help protect your kayak from scratches. We actually wrote a complete guide on how to tie down a kayak on a j rack if this is the type of rack you have - take a look!
  • Stackers: Kayak stackers are similar to J cradles, but they hold the kayak upright on its stern. This is a great option if you have a taller vehicle and you're worried about the kayak hitting the roof when you're driving. It's also a good choice if you're loading multiple kayaks onto one roof rack, as it will help keep them from bumping into each other.
  • Saddles: Kayak saddles are designed to sit underneath the hull of the kayak and support it from below. They're a good option if you want to be able to load your kayak by yourself, as they make it easier to lift the kayak onto the roof.

Now that we've gone over all of the different types of kayak roof racks, let's move on to choosing the best one for you.

Choosing The Best Kayak Roof Rack For Your Car

There are a few things you'll want to consider when choosing the best kayak roof rack for your car. First, think about the type of car you have and what kind of roof rack it came with. If you have an SUV or van, you probably have crossbars already installed. In that case, you might just need some rope or straps to tie down your kayak. But if you have a smaller car, you might need to add a set of crossbars first.

Another thing to consider is how many kayaks you want to be able to carry. If you only ever plan on carrying one kayak, then any of the options we've listed above will work. But if you want to be able to carry multiple kayaks, then you might want to consider a stacker or J cradle system. These will help keep the kayaks from bumping into each other while you're driving.

Finally, think about how easy you want it to be to load and unload your kayak by yourself. If you don't mind lifting your kayak onto the roof, then any of the options will work. But if you want an easier time, then you might want to choose a saddle or roller system.

Now that we've gone over how to choose the best kayak roof rack for your car, let's get into the matter at hand today - actually learning how to strap down a kayak on a roof rack.

How To Strap Down A Kayak On A Roof Rack

Once you've determined what type of roof rack you have (or are going to use), it's time to actually explain what you came here to learn - how to strap down a kayak on a roof rack. Fortunately, this is easier than it sounds. It can be made even easier with a bit of help from a fellow paddler. But if not, you can use kayak rollers to easily lift heavy, awkward boats onto your roof alone. More on that later. Let's start with the first step - adding your crossbars (if necessary)

Install Crossbars On Your Vehicle's Roof (If Necessary)

If you don't have crossbars already installed on your car, you'll need to add a set before you can strap down your kayak. Crossbars provide a solid surface for the straps or rope to tie onto, and they help distribute the weight of the kayak evenly across the roof.

Most cars will have factory crossbars available, but if not - there are plenty of aftermarket options to choose from. Just be sure to choose a set that is compatible with your car's roof type. We have a wide selection of

Once you have your crossbars installed, you're ready to move on to the next step.

Install Your Roof Rack (Unless You Are Strapping Your Kayak Down On The Crossbars Only)

Unless you're planning on strapping your kayak right onto your crossbars (not the ideal approach, but it can work), you'll need to install your roof rack next.

This is a common misconception people have - crossbars in and of themself are not really a roof rack. Rather, they provide the ability to install a roof rack. With that said, we know many paddlers strap their kayak down right on top of the crossbars. It is ultimately up to you. But to keep your kayak safe and secure - and prevent the risk of damaging either your car or your boat - we encourage you to install one of the three types of racks we discussed above.

With that said, we'll move on to the fun part next - actually getting your kayak on the roof and strapping it down.

Load Your Kayak On The Roof (Use Rollers If Necessary)

Getting your kayak up on the roof of your car can be difficult. This is even more true when you have a larger vehicle. If you find yourself struggling, get help - don't risk hurting yourself. Or, you can try using kayak rollers.

These devices attach to the side or rear of your car and provide an easy way to lift and slide your kayak up onto the roof. Kayak rollers are especially helpful if you're traveling solo and don't have anyone to help you load and unload your boat.

How To Actually Strap Your Kayak To The Roof Rack

Once your kayak is in position on the roof, it's time to strap it down - this is the moment you've been waiting for! First things first - be sure you have quality kayak straps and tie-downs. Remember that these are the only things keeping your kayak on your car while traveling at high rates of speed. Don't try to skimp on quality here.

Start by feeding the straps through the buckles, and then around the kayak. Next, pull the straps tight and cinch them down. You want the straps to be tight enough that your kayak doesn't move, but not so tight that it damages the hull. Finally, attach the safety leash to your kayak paddle, and you're all set to hit the road!

Now that we've gone over how to strap a kayak onto a roof rack, let's briefly touch on how to get a kayak off of one. This is something many new paddlers don't even consider - but it can be just as difficult as getting your kayak on the roof. Let's discuss.

How To Safely Get A Kayak Off Of A Roof Rack

The process of getting a kayak off of your car is actually pretty similar to putting one on. Start by undoing all the straps and leashes that are holding your kayak in place. Next, lift the kayak off of the roof rack and lower it down to the ground. If you have kayak rollers installed, this process will be much easier. If you don't have rollers, try and get help from a friend or fellow paddler nearby - unless, of course, you're capable of safely lifting the boat yourself.

From there, you're ready to get in the water! Our kayak trolleys make getting from the parking lot to the water a breeze - especially if you have a bit of a hike to your launching point.

Final Thoughts On How To Strap A Kayak To A Roof Rack

Well, there you have it. As you can see, learning how to strap a kayak to a roof rack isn't all that complicated. You just need the right equipment - and now that you've read our complete guide, you're ready to safely transport your boat to and from the water with ease.

For more information on kayak transportation in general, read our complete guide on how to transport a kayak. There, we cover other transportation strategies - including using a kayak trailer, loading the boat in the bed of your truck, and more. Otherwise, get to work loading up your kayak and enjoy your next adventure on the water - happy paddling!

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Stacey JohnsonCustomer Experience ManagerStacey has been with Outdoorplay for over 17 years, sharing wisdom from her years of experience and passion for all kinds of kayaking (whitewater, recreational, and touring), stand-up paddle boarding, and rafting. When she's not out on the water, Stacey also enjoys camping with her family and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the Cascade mountains.