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How To Strap A Kayak To A Roof Rack? (3 Steps)

Kayaking is a great outdoor activity that can be enjoyed by people of any age, from children paddling on a calm pond to adults white-water kayaking.

However, in order to make your kayaking experience enjoyable, you need to learn how to tie down your kayak properly. 

To strap a kayak to your vehicle’s roof, be sure to invest in the proper straps and roof rack, determine where to strap down your kayak on your vehicle, and follow all safety procedures. These include avoiding driving with a kayak in high winds, keeping your kayak 12 inches from your car’s bumper, and always have another person in the vehicle with you, in case of emergency.

Looking out your rear window and seeing your kayak fly away as you drive is a sure-fire way to ruin your day!

To avoid this kind of situation, it’s important to follow the steps outlined in this article when strapping your kayak to an aftermarket roof rack. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how to tie down a kayak to your vehicle, as well as other helpful kayak transportation tips!

What Do You Need To Transport A Kayak?

Red kayak strapped on top of an off-road vehicle

If you plan to transport a kayak, you’ll need a few essential items. All of these items can be found at your local hardware store or home improvement center:

  • A roof rack for transporting a kayak
  • Ratchet straps or cam straps 
  • Tie-downs that hook to the car’s bumper and then to the kayak

You’ll also need to combine common sense, and some strength in order to lift your kayak up to the roof rack of your car.

If you’re not sure which tools and products are best, there are plenty of online resources that can help. You can also visit your local outdoor or sports equipment store and speak with an expert.

What Types Of Roof Racks Are Available?

There are many different types of roof racks on the market. Some cars even come with factory-installed racks. 

On the other side of the spectrum, you can even choose a model that doesn’t even require tools to install!

If you have a fiberglass or plastic boat, it may be possible to simply strap the kayak down by wrapping the straps around it. 

However, if your kayak is made out of a heavier material, you may need to drill holes into the bottom of the kayak so that you can thread the end of the strap through.

If you’re unsure about what type of roof rack or transportation method is best for your kayak, it’s wise to speak with a kayaking expert or customer service representative at your local canoe/kayak store.

Where Do You Place The Kayak On Your Roof Rack?

Blue kayak on top of a green RV

Once you’ve determined which roof rack is best for your kayak and vehicle, it’s time to figure out where to tie down your boat on the rack.

Typically, people use a cam strap to strap their kayaks down by the cockpit. 

Depending on your car’s design, you may also want to adjust the position of your kayak for better aerodynamics or visibility while driving.

Speaking with an expert at your local canoe/kayak store is the best way to ensure that you are picking the right location to strap your kayak down to your roof rack.

3 Steps To Strap Your Kayak Down On Your Roof Rack

Once you’ve found a good location to strap your boat down, and you’ve picked out the right cam straps and tie-downs, it’s time to strap your kayak down.

However, don’t just throw them over the rack and under the kayak and pull each strap tight. This is a good way to damage your boat, and potentially yourself as well!

If you need a few pointers, let’s review the correct way to strap your kayak to your roof rack:

Step 1: Lift The Kayak Up Onto The Roof Rack

Before you lift up your kayak and place it on top of your car’s roof rack, you need to make sure that you have already placed the straps across your kayak properly.

There should be a few stern straps draped across the back of the boat, along with additional straps draped across the bow line of the boat. 

Make sure that the straps are long enough that the strap ends are hanging down from the boat – you’ll use these ends to tie down the kayak to the rack. 

Once you have the straps on, it is time to lift your kayak onto the roof rack of your car. This can be done by either two people or just one strong person. 

When lifting up the kayak, make sure that you are getting close to the roof rack but not touching it. 

If you scrape the kayak against the roof rack as you get it into position, it will leave a mark on your kayak.

Aim to set the kayak down directly on the kayak carrier without needing to shift or adjust it by sliding it on the rack. 

Step 2: Strap The Kayak To The Roof Rack

Once you’ve lifted your kayak up onto the roof rack, it’s time to strap it down. 

We recommend starting with one side first, and then doing another strap on the other side.

To strap the kayak down, it’s best to use a ratchet strap or cam strap, and hook it to a secure point on your car’s bumper or a trucker’s hitch, after making sure it’s wrapped around the kayak and kayak carrier.

Finally, make sure that you strap down both sides of the kayak using the straps you laid across the boat before you lifted it onto the rack. This is important to ensure that your kayak doesn’t go anywhere. 

After there’s at least one strap across both the bow and stern lines, it is also a good idea to pull a second strap down the center between the bow and stern. 

You can attach this center strap underneath your car’s front bumper and back bumper, which will help keep your kayak secure and strapped down.

Take the loose end of the strap, and tie it to the rack or itself so that it doesn’t damage your paint job during the drive.

Step 3: Load Up Your Gear And You’re Set!

Man loading a dry bag in the back of a car

Now that you’ve secured your kayak with tie-down straps, it’s time to load up your gear and get on the road! 

Make sure you throw any loose straps in the back of your car or truck in case you need them when you load up after your water adventure.

Before you head out, make sure that you have a good amount of water, snacks, and other gear. 

When you go kayaking, be sure to always plan ahead for emergencies, know where you’re going beforehand, and pack a first-aid kit in case of injuries.

And last but not least, always double-check your straps before you pull away. 

3 Tips For Driving With A Kayak Attached

Now you’re ready to get on the road and enjoy your kayaking trip!

To ensure a smooth ride, we have a few final tips for driving with a kayak attached to your vehicle. As long as you follow these, you’ll be sure to arrive at your destination without any trouble.

Tip 1: Avoid High Winds At All Costs!

Whether you’re driving with one kayak or two kayaks on your car, avoid driving in high winds whenever possible. 

Driving through high winds with kayak carriers, especially for long distances, puts your boat(s) at risk of coming loose and flying away or hitting other cars on the road.

Tip 2: Keep Your Kayak 12 Inches From Your Car’s Bumper

To further reduce the risk of your kayak coming loose, try to keep the bow and stern of the kayak at least 12 inches from your car’s bumper. 

This will prevent your kayak from getting whiplash if you hit a gust of wind or have to speed up quickly.

Tip 3: Always Have Someone In The Car With You

For extra safety while driving with a kayak, you should always have someone with you in your car. In the unlikely event that your kayak does fly off of your car, the other person can react quickly and help prevent a serious incident from happening.

Unstrapping Your Kayak

When you get back home after a fun day of kayaking, it’s time to remove the straps. We recommend following the reverse order that you used when putting them on.

If you’re using ratchet straps, find the buckle end, and be sure to loosen the strap by turning the handle counterclockwise before trying to unhook them from the bumper. 

This will ensure that you’re not tightening the ratchet strap down when trying to unhook it, which could lead to damaging your straps or car.

Tips for transporting your kayak

Transporting your kayak safely is an important part of your kayaking trip. Here are some tips for transporting your kayak:

Recheck the ratchet straps on your roof rack before traveling. Double-check all of them, because even one loose strap could lead to disaster.

Don’t forget to bring along some emergency supplies, in case you get stuck somewhere! A good first-aid kit, phone charger, map, and extra snacks are incredibly important when you spend the day kayaking.

Always have someone in the car with you when transporting your kayak, in case anything happens. 

Also, make sure that the bow and stern of your kayak are at least 12 inches from the car’s bumper

Avoid driving in high winds when transporting your kayak! Wind can easily cause your kayak to come loose and fly off of your car, which is the last thing you want!

Tips for Strapping Down Your Kayak

When strapping down your kayak, make sure to strap down both sides of the kayak using ratchet straps. Next, tighten your middle strap before strapping down your bow and stern lines. 

Finally, always have at least three tie-down straps attached to the kayak roof racks from the kayak.

How do you unload kayak off of the roof rack?

To unload your kayak, first loosen any ratchet straps that are holding it down before trying to lift it off. If you have strap retainers, unsnap them now as well. 

Now you can easily pull your kayak off the rack.


As long as you follow these safety tips for attaching your kayak to your vehicle properly and transporting it safely, you’ll be able to have a safe and fun adventure out on the water!

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