Transporting kayaks can be tricky, and with the summer season in full swing, lots of us are heading out with kayaks and canoes loaded high on our roof. Here are our top tips for safely loading kayaks onto a roof rack.

Use straps

That old hemp rope from your dad’s garage might have done the job thirty years ago, but cam straps work so much better, and are quicker and easier to use. Simply loop around the bars either side of the kayak, slide the buckle into the right place, pull tight, and tie off any spare end you may have. Cam straps fasten automatically, and are easy to undo, unlike that fiddly cluster of boy scout knots knitted around your roof bars!

One boat, strapped on correctly, cam buckle in place, strap pulled tight

You can never have too many cam straps. Roof rack straps are like socks, no-one knows where they go to, except sometimes they turn up unexpectedly on a friend’s car.

The lemon pip principle

Round things are hard to tie down to flat roof racks – kayaks and canoes can be an awkward shape too. The fattest part of your boat should always be between the two straps. Tied on even slightly too far forward or too far back and over the course of your journey your boats may wiggle themselves free. The boats squeeze their way out from under the straps, similar to squeezing a lemon pip between your fingers.

The widest part of your boat should be between the two straps

This one’s about to make its escape

For more than one kayak, uprights are great

When you’re carrying two or more boats, upright bars make strapping boats on much easier, and lets you rest boats on their side. This is a more stable system than stacking boast on top of each other, and saves you from warping or damaging the bottom of your kayaks.

Uprights and pads make for stable, happy kayaks


The way a sea kayak narrows at the ends makes it hard to get a good contact area between your boat and bars. Open canoes too, unless loaded onto your roof gunwales down (which can take up a lot of space) don’t sit well on a roof rack. Both open canoes and composite sea kayaks are not so strong in compression when on their sides. So get yourself some J-bars, which will cradle your precious open canoe or sea kayak, increase the contact area to spread the load and hold them firmly in place on their side.


As well as protecting your boats from damage, a set of soft foam pads for your roof rack will increase the friction between the hard boats and hard roof bars, helping to hold them much more securely in place.

Tie your straps through the grab handles

We’ve all heard stories of boats coming loose, or falling off racks altogether. By attaching the straps, or loose strap ends to a grab handle, you can at least be sure that if a boat comes loose it’s still attached to the car, so can’t fly off into oncoming traffic.

Tie your strap ends off on a grab handle

Beware the one strap wonder

It’s often tempting to wrap a single strap all the way around both bars, and if done carefully, this can be made to work OK. Especially if you have uprights on your bars, cross tensioning them towards each other puts a huge strain on the roof rack attachment points, and has on at least one occasion pulled bars clean off a roof. Always use two straps, one for each roof bar.

Avoid cross tensioning your bars, especially when using uprights

Uprights work best with one strap each

Do the twist

What’s that loud, infuriating hum you ask as you hit 80 km/h on the motorway? The wobbles in the air flow over your straps have reached their resonant frequency, and they won’t stop humming ‘til you leave the motorway or retie all your boats at the service station. Prevent this by putting a twist or two into the strap across the top of the kayaks, or wherever else it bridges a gap. The twist breaks up the flow of air and kills the noise, simple!

Put a twist in your strap to avoid the buzz

Overhanging loads

If you’re carrying touring boats on your roof, you may have an overhang at the rear. As an extra precaution you may want to tie the front and/or rear ends of your kayaks to your car’s towing loop. If the overhang extends more than one metre to the rear (but less than two) then you’ll need to make it clearly visible by attaching something bright and obvious to the end. A brightly coloured empty drybag does the job nicely!

A bright drybag makes a great marker for overhanging loads

As driver, it’s your responsibility to make sure everything is properly tied on, so even if you trust your buddy’s tying, check your load just before you set off.

All set and ready to go