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How to Load and Tie Down a Kayak on a Roof Rack by Yourself

Learn how to strap a kayak to a roof rack by yourself and prevent costly mishaps in our step-by-step guide.

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Did you know most kayak damage happens during transport? It’s an ironic and unfortunate truth that your kayak is most vulnerable when it’s out of the water. This makes learning how to tie down a kayak an essential skill for every kayaker.

This article will guide you step-by-step through the process of securing your kayak to a roof rack, ensuring that it stays safe and undamaged.

What You’ll Need to Tie Down Your Kayak

Before we delve into the step-by-step guide, let’s make sure you have all the necessary equipment:

  • Crossbars: These are horizontal bars that go across your vehicle’s roof. Crossbars attach to the factory-installed rails that run from the front to the back of your car. If your vehicle doesn’t have factory-installed rails, you can find suitable options in our guide to the best kayak racks for cars without rails.
  • Kayak Carrier or Padding: When it comes to choosing a kayak carrier, there are several options available, and the right one for you depends on a couple factors, such as the number of kayaks you intend to transport and your desired level of convenience. Foam blocks or crossbar pads are cost-effective and provide a secure, cushioned surface for your kayak. However, for multiple kayaks or more frequent transportation, a dedicated kayak carrier, such as J-cradles or saddle-style mounts, might be more suitable.
  • Cam Straps: It’s crucial to avoid ratchet straps, as they can exert excessive pressure and potentially damage your kayak. Instead, opt for cam buckle straps, which provide the right amount of tension without risking damage. Get straps that are at least 12 feet long, as this extra length makes it easier to swing the entire strap over the kayak when tying it down.
  • Bow and Stern Lines: These lines secure your kayak’s front (bow) and rear (stern), preventing wind from lifting it while driving. While non-stretch, water-resistant rope is suitable, ratcheting lines can make the job quicker and easier.
  • Hood Loops: If your vehicle lacks a suitable attachment point for the bow and stern lines, hood loops are an excellent alternative. They can be easily installed and provide a secure tie-down point.
  • Protective Cushion: A gear bag, bath mat, towel, or blanket can act as a protective barrier when loading your kayak onto a roof rack. Additionally, they can cushion your kayak when it’s placed on the ground.

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