Ultimate Guide To Transporting Your Kayak

how to transport kayaks by vehicle type

Transporting your kayak can be quite stressful, especially on your first trip. Can you fit your boat on your car roof? Will your car support the weight? Will it fit in the back of my pickup truck? Don’t worry, we will get everything figured out, so this can be an enjoyable time.

The average mid-sized car length is 14.5 feet. With the average recreational kayak length being 10-foot and at 43-pound weight, you should be able to carry your kayak on the roof of an average car.

Well, let’s get started!

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What Are Typical Kayak Transport Options?

It is the first question the person selling a kayak asked me. How will you get this home?

To answer how to transport your kayak, you need to know 3 things:

  1. What kind of vehicle will you be using?
  2. How many kayaks do you intend to haul?
  3. Will you be transporting your kayak on the vehicle roof, a truck bed, or a kayak trailer?

These are important questions that lead to the main question. How do you transport your kayak? In this post, we provide important facts to give you what your options are and which best suits your situation.

How Long Are Kayaks Typically?

You will need to size your kayak to the maximum length your hauling vehicle can manage.

There are 6 basic styles of kayaks and here are the typical lengths of each:

How Long A Kayak Can Your Vehicle Carry?

The longer the kayak the more wind will try to lift and sway it when traveling at highway speed. Therefore, the main goal is to properly secure the kayak to your vehicle.

The best technique to strap it down at the bow and stern at an angle to keep it from spilling on your hood or behind you into traffic.

Because of this, we recommend limiting kayaks to 3 feet shorter as a minimum. This allows for the tie-down points to be secured tightly at the front and rear.

Here is a guideline of vehicle size classes with length and recommended kayak maximum length.

Recommended Kayak Size Limits By Vehicle Size Class

Size ClassModel examplesCar Length (Ft)Kayak Length (Ft)
Mini CarsFiat 50011.68.5
Small CarMitsubishi Mirage12.59.5
Mid-SizedChevy Sonic14.511.5
Full-SizedFord Edge15.712.5
Small SUVJeep Cherokee15.112.5
Large SUVFord Expedition17.514.0
Small PickupChevrolet Colorado17.714.0
Large PickupChevrolet Silverado19.115.0

Additionally, each state has laws pertaining to extended or oversized loads.

A vehicle or combination of vehicles may not carry a load that extends more than three feet beyond its front or, except as permitted by other law, more than four feet beyond its rear.

Texas Department of Public Safety | Extended Loads

Do You Need A Roof Rack For A Kayak?

Yes, kayaks need a roof rack to secure to the vehicle roof top. Car roof racks are designed to attach to a bare car roof.

Factory-installed or aftermarket car roof racks allow for up to 165 pounds (75 kilograms) to ride on a car roof.

DIY roof racks, including pool noodles, are known to fail and cause damage by warping and bending the kayak hull or dent or warp the car roof. At worst, the kayak can work itself free if not the DIY rack is not engineered properly.

These should be avoided for the safety of you and other vehicles on the road.

Kayak Roof Racks

What kind of roof rack do I need for a kayak?

SUV’s and Jeeps usually come with side rails as a minimum. You will need rack towers and two crossbars installed on your vehicle as a minimum.

Learn more about roof racks for different roof styles in Choosing the best kayak roof rack.

How Many Kayaks Can Your Vehicle Carry?

The number of kayaks you can transport and the safety of your car roof is dependent on the roof rack system that is fitted to your car.

Most vehicles outfitted with aftermarket roof racks can carry 132-165 pounds on the roof. This realistically would limit you to one heavy kayak or 2-3 lightweight kayaks depending on the rack system.

There are a few factors to consider before attempting to transport kayaks using a roof rack:

  • Know the load limit of your car. It is found on the driver-side doorjamb.
  • Don’t exceed the load limit of your car. Calculate the load weight without a kayak. This includes the weight of all passengers, cargo inside the car, and the roof rack weight (including the kayak carrier(s).
  • If towing a trailer, add this weight also.
  • The remaining load capacity is the available weight for your kayak.
  • You would then be truly limited by the weight limitation of the roof rack system which is usually 132-165 pounds.
  • This realistically would limit you to one heavy kayak or 2-3 lightweight kayaks depending on the rack system.

So, for example, if your:

  • Car load-capacity is rated at 850 pounds
  • roof rack and kayak cradle combined weight is 40 pounds
  • driver and passenger combined weight is 400 pounds
  • total non-kayak cargo is 35 pounds
  • then you would have 375 total pounds left which you must not exceed.

You will need to distribute the weight and spread out and evenly.

Factory And After Market Rack Weight Limits

Size ClassModel examplesFactory Racks After Mkt Racks
Mini CarsFiat 500Not Available132 pounds
Small CarMitsubishi Mirage132 pounds132 pounds
Mid-SizedChevy SonicNot Available165 pounds
Full-SizedFord Edge165 pounds165 pounds
Small SUVJeep CherokeeRails only165 pounds
Large SUVFord Expedition165 pounds165 pounds
Small PickupChevrolet ColoradoNot Available165 pounds
Large PickupChevrolet SilveradoNot Available165 pounds
  • Rack systems include crossbars and base towers

The most important piece needed to build your perfect kayak hauler is the roof rack. It is made up of the following:

  • Roof side rails
  • Crossbars

Side rails and crossbars can come standard or as a factory option on some vehicles. Additionally, side rails can come with crossbars that run from door to door.

These roof racks are usually limited in two ways:

1) they are generally lightweight and not made to carry a lot of weight
2) the crossbars do not extend beyond the posts on each side. This limits the number of kayaks you can load side-by-side.

You have two options:

1) you can replace the factory crossbars with a stronger, longer set to hold more capacity
2) choose a roof rack system from bare roof vehicles.

How Can You Carry Four Kayaks On A Roof Rack?

Yes, wider vehicles like vans and SUV’s can transport four kayaks by using a stacker kayak mount. The stacker has 2 vertical bars that mount on the two crossbars.

You then tie-down the kayaks to the strap eyes at the top of each stacker. to the crossbar.

Finally, you strap down the bow and stern of each kayak to the front and rear of the vehicle. You can use attachable hood loops that you fasten to the front vehicle chassis.

Transporting four kayaks

How Can You Transport A Heavy Fishing Kayak?

Fishing kayaks are difficult to transport due to their weight and length. The optimal transportation is by a truck bed or a lightweight kayak trailer.

Since the maximum roof weight limit is 165 pounds for larger vehicles, the kayak weight limit should be less than 150 pounds or so. The ideal kayak mount is a simple saddle kayak cradle that loads from the rear of the vehicle.

I prefer transporting using my Ford F-150 using a T-bar bed extender. This will allow for a 14-foot kayak without a weight limit.

Transporting Kayaks On A Car

In most cases, a car should be able to transport between 8-9.5 foot kayaks. Larger kayaks will be difficult to tie-down at the bow and stern.

Most cars should be able to be outfitted with a roof rack system that can carry 132 pounds or two to three small to medium-sized kayaks. This is dependent on the roof rack and kayak cradle limitations.

transporting kayaks on a small car
Kayak over a small car

Kayak Car Racks For Cars

Since nearly all cars have a naked roof, without side rails or crossbars, you use one of the naked roof options for your roof rack.

Kayak Cradle Mounts For Cars

Additionally, you will have an array of kayak carrier options that will mount to your roof rack.

Realistically, you have two options: the J-cradle rack and the saddle kayak rack. You can also use the stacker design as long don’t overstack and stay under the weight limit.

Transporting Kayaks On A Truck

Trucks have two surfaces for carrying kayaks: on the roof and in the bed. The truck cab can be treated like a car roof.

Most kayakers love the convenience of throwing their kayak in the back of the truck. After tying down it down, you are ready to go.

But, if you are on an extended camping trip, your truck bed will probably be loaded down with gear.

transporting kayaks on a truck
Carrying kayaks on a truck

Kayak Roof Racks For Trucks

For pickup trucks, there are two-door and four-door models. Since roof vendors require a 24″ span between racks, we will only address four-door cabs for adding a kayak roof rack.

Nearly all truck cabs a naked roof. Therefore, without side rails or crossbars, you will use one of the naked roof options for your truck roof rack.

There are additional options if your truck has a camper shell over the truck bed. The additional roof length is comparable to an SUV roof reviewed below.

Kayak Mounts For Trucks

As with kayak mounts for cars, you are somewhat limited in the kayak carrier options that will mount to your roof rack.

The J-cradle rack and the saddle kayak rack are sensible choices. The stacker is not a good option here.

Hauling Kayaks In A Truck Bed

Having a truck makes hauling a kayak much easier and convenient for several reasons.

First off, there are no weight limitations for carrying kayaks in the back of a truck. So, you will have no problems carrying a heavy fishing kayak in the back.

There is a practical length limitation of around 12 feet based on the length of the truck bed. Longer than that, you can risk extending too far to support its weight.

how to transport a kayak in a truck
Truck Bed Extender

Transporting Kayaks On An SUV

A sport utility vehicle has the longest roof surface area giving it the most rooftop options.

Most SUVs come with side rails with optional crossbars. The maximum weight is 165 pounds for Jeeps to Suburbans. The estimated kayak length does vary for each size class however.

Transporting kayaks on an SUV
Kayaks on an SUV

While a Jeep Cherokee can comfortably carry a 12.5 foot kayak, a Chevrolet Suburban can carry up to a 14 footer.

It is important that you have a method to load large and heavy kayaks on the roof of SUVs.

Here are a couple of videos that demonstrate how to do this safely.

How to Top Load a kayak by Yourself…specifically for an SUV! –
Chris McFarland
Electric Kayak Loader – Unloading || Boathoist Loading Systems –
Boathoist Loading Systems

Transporting Kayaks On A Trailer

Another common approach is hauling a kayak on a lightweight trailer. There are fine trailer manufacturers that provide single, dual, and quad-kayak trailers. Many kayakers choose a DIY approach and either convert a Jetski trailer or a utility trailer.

Pros to using a kayak trailer

  • Easily back in trailer into the water to launch
  • Easy to load trailer in the water
  • No heavy lifting onto a vehicle rooftop

Cons to using a kayak trailer

  • Requires a trailer hitch on your vehicle
  • States require registration for all non-farm trailers operating on public highways
  • If your manufactured trailer’s gross weight exceeds 4,000 lbs., it must be titled.
  • Newly assembled trailers must be titled regardless of weight. This includes DIY trailers.

More information about trailer registration see in your state. For Texas see here.

Summary

  • Car roof racks are designed to attach to a bare car roof.
  • SUV’s and Jeeps usually come with side rails as a minimum. You will need rack towers and two crossbars installed on your vehicle as a minimum.
  • Most vehicles outfitted with aftermarket roof racks can carry one heavy kayak or 2-3 lightweight kayaks depending on the rack system.
  • Fishing kayaks are heavy and long, so the optimal transportation is by a truck bed or a lightweight kayak trailer.
  • Small cars can be outfitted with a roof rack system that can carry 132 pounds or two to three small to medium-sized kayaks.
  • There is a practical length limitation of around 12 feet based on the length of the truck bed.

Tracy Villarreal

I'm the owner of Active At The Beach. I grew up in a beach town in which I was fortunate enough to spend tons of time around the sea and the beach.

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