Ultimate Guide: How To Transport Your Kayak with More Confidence


how to transport kayaks by vehicle type

You just bought a new kayak, and your family is excited. You already have two kayak trips planned for the summer. But how are you going to haul your new boat without breaking the bank?

Utility trailers are expensive, and you’re not sure how much weight your car roof can carry or long a kayak you can safely transport. And the last thing you want is to drop your new kayak in the middle of the highway.

On the other hand, relatively inexpensive roof racks are designed for bare roof cars and can carry 132 pounds for small to medium-sized kayaks. SUVs and Jeeps with side rails can carry one heavy fishing kayak or 2-4 lightweight kayaks. And these are just a few of the possible choices.

Researching every car and truck weight might be a bit of a pain.

I get it.

So I put together a complete guide of all the options available to quickly determine the most suitable way to haul your kayak for your vehicle.

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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?

There are five proven ways to haul a kayak.

  1. Use a roof rack system. This is made up of a roof rack, crossbars, and kayak cradle mounts. Some vehicles come with factory-designed roof racks included.
  2. Adding a truck bed extender. This allows for up to a 14-foot kayak to ride in the truck bed.
  3. Carry inside the back of an SUV. You will need to secure inside for passenger and driver safety properly.
  4. Install elevated truck racks. This is one of the best solutions for long and heavy kayaks.
  5. Pull a utility trailer, a kayak trailer, or repurpose a Jet Ski trailer. Although this may be one of the costliest options, it is one of the most flexible. It requires the least amount of lifting and is easier to launch in the water.

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

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

These are essential questions that lead to the main question. How do you transport your kayak? In this post, we provide critical facts to give you options that best suit your situation.

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 have a roof rack system that can carry 132 pounds or two to three small to medium-sized kayaks. This weight limit is dependent on the roof rack and kayak cradle limitations.

transporting kayaks on a small car
Kayak over a small car

Recommended Kayak Size Limits By Vehicle Size Class

Size Class Model examples Car Length (Ft) Kayak Length (Ft)
Mini Cars Fiat 500 11.6 8.5
Small Car Mitsubishi Mirage 12.5 9.5
Mid-Sized Chevy Sonic 14.5 11.5
Full-Sized Ford Edge 15.7 12.5
Small SUV Jeep Cherokee 15.1 12.5
Large SUV Ford Expedition 17.5 14.0
Small Pickup Chevrolet Colorado 17.7 14.0
Large Pickup Chevrolet Silverado 19.1 15.0

Additionally, each state has laws about 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

Kayak Car Racks For Cars

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

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. Treat the truck cab 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 have 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 extra 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 more accessible 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 taking 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.

Learn all about hauling a kayak in the bed of a truck.

how to transport a kayak in a truck
Truck Bed Extender

Transporting Kayaks On An SUV

A sport utility vehicle has the most extended 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 14 feet.

You must have a method to load large and heavy kayaks on the roof of SUVs.

How To Top Load A Kayak Onto An SUV Using A Loading System

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

  • Quickly back in trailer into the water to launch
  • Easy to load the trailer in the water
  • No heavy lifting onto the top of your vehicle

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 fact includes DIY trailers.

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

How Long Are Kayaks Typically?

You will need to size your kayak to the maximum length your hauling vehicle can manage.
There are six basic styles of kayaks, and here are the typical lengths of each:

kayak-length-chart

When hauling a sit-in kayak for recreation, touring, or sea kayaking, use a cockpit cover to protect the cockpit’s interior from road dust and debris.

Learn all about what kayak size you need for all kayak types here.

How Long A Kayak Can Your Vehicle Carry?

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

The best technique is to ratchet 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 length 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 maximum kayak length.

Do You Need A Roof Rack For A Kayak?

Yes, kayaks need a roof rack system to secure a kayak to the vehicle rooftop. This system includes a roof rack with cross bars, and an associated set of cradle mounts. Car roof racks attach to a bare car roof by design.

Factory-installed or aftermarket car roof racks allow 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 deform the car roof. At worst, the kayak can work itself free if you did not engineer the DIY rack correctly. Avoid DIY racks 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?

SUVs 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 depends on the roof rack system that you fit onto your car.

Most vehicles outfitted with aftermarket roof racks can carry 132-165 pounds on the roof. This weight realistically limits 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. You find this weight posted on the driver-side doorjamb.
  • Don’t exceed the load limit of your car. Calculate the load weight without a kayak. This limit includes the weight of all passengers, cargo inside the vehicle, 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.
  • The weight limitation of the roof rack system, which is usually 132-165 pounds, is the actual limit.
  • This amount realistically would limit you to one heavy kayak or 2-3 lightweight kayaks, depending on the rack system.

So, for example, if your:

  • Carload capacity rates 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 it out and evenly.

Factory And After Market Rack Weight Limits

Size Class Model examples Factory Racks After Mkt Racks
Mini Cars Fiat 500 Not Available 132 pounds
Small Car Mitsubishi Mirage 132 pounds 132 pounds
Mid-Sized Chevy Sonic Not Available 165 pounds
Full-Sized Ford Edge 165 pounds 165 pounds
Small SUV Jeep Cherokee Rails only 165 pounds
Large SUV Ford Expedition 165 pounds 165 pounds
Small Pickup Chevrolet Colorado Not Available 165 pounds
Large Pickup Chevrolet Silverado Not Available 165 pounds
  • Rack systems include cross bars and base towers

The most crucial piece needed to build your perfect kayak hauler is the roof rack. It makes includes 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. The crossbars limit the number of kayaks you can load side-by-side.

You have two options:
1) you can replace the factory crossbars with a more robust, more extended 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 SUVs can transport four kayaks by using a stacker kayak mount. The stacker has two 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 tighten the load straps on each kayak’s bow and stern tie lines 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. 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. The T-bar will allow for a 14-foot kayak without a weight limit.

Summary

  • Manufacturers design some car roof racks to attach to a bare car roof.
  • SUVs 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 a truck bed or a lightweight kayak trailer.
  • You can outfit a small car 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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