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How to tie a canoe onto your car

How to tie a canoe onto your car

Tying a canoe onto a car may seem fairly straightforward.  Murphy's Law dictates that the first time you try this you will be surrounded by curious but non-helpful onlookers shamelessly judging your outdoorsmanship.  Their judgement will pass based on this single task and you will be forever labeled either a Joe/Josie Schmuck or - what you are aiming for - THAT OUTDOORSY GUY/GAL.

(Note: guys, it helps your outdoorsy image if you also sport a plaid shirt and a grizzled beard.  Gals, it helps your outdoorsy image if you sport a plaid shirt and a .... um, let's leave it at that.)

This post will help you nail that boat tie-down. We've shared a few videos at the bottom too so make sure you check those out.

Ok, first things first.  Best case scenario you have an after-market roof rack (like Thule) with bracket accessories mounted on the crossbars.  If you've only got a factory rack with crossbars, good enough.  If you've got nothing up there, you're going to need some foam blocks to support the canoe and keep it off the top of your car.  When using foam blocks, position them on the strongest points of your roof - usually just behind the windshield and near the back of the roof.  If you can depress the roof with your hand, don't put the foam block there. 

Position your canoe so that the yoke or middle thwart is equi-distant between the contact points with the car.

canoe on roof rack

 Tie your canoe across the centre where it is supported by the rack or foam blocks.  You can use cam buckle straps, or ropes.  Straps spread the load out a bit and are easy to use, but tie the strap ends down after cinching them just in case the buckle fails.  Ropes are fail safe if you know the right knot (and you will, after you finish reading this).  Use polyester rope (such as a double braid marine rope) because it doesn't stretch when wet.  Whatever you do, STAY AWAY from that crappy yellow nylon stuff.  It's a disaster.

If you are using foam blocks, you'll need to pass the rope through the doors (not windows!!) of your car in order to tie the canoe on.  Pull the straps or ropes nice and tight - but not so tight that you crack your fibreglass canoe or deform your plastic one.

canoe tie down strap

Tie the bow to two points on your car.  If you are lucky you may find some good anchor points under the front of your car.  Don't tie to anything that is plastic or might get hot.  If you don't have good anchor points, you'll need to insert some strap loops under your hood or make your own.  

hood loops

Here's where you need to know one of the most AWESOME knots known to humankind: the Trucker's Hitch.  Get this baby down and you will look like MacGyver.  Attach the rope to the bow of the canoe so there are two ends that come down: you want a triangle to be formed when you tie the bow down.  Use the Trucker's Hitch to tighten the lines.  When everything is tied down, give the back of the canoe a shove back and forth - the car should move, not the boat.

canoe tied onto car

Trucker’s Hitch:

  1. Make a loop with a twist.  Make it about a halfway down the rope from the bow of your canoe.  
  2. Make a loop with the slack line in your hand and poke it through your first loop.
  3. Pull the loop tight.  If you pull on the slack line now, the loop will pull out easily.
  4. Take the free end of the slack line and pass it through the anchor point on the car.  Pass it up through the loop.
  5. Pull on the free end to crank everything tight.
  6. When it's tight, pinch to hold it in place and put in a couple of half hitches to secure your knot.  Tie the loose leftover line so it doesn't whip around and annoy you as you are driving.  Presto!!  MacGyver.

how to tie a Trucker's Hitch

If you are using foam blocks, it's a good idea to tie the stern of the canoe down as well.  Otherwise don't worry about it.  And if your boat extends over the back of your vehicle more than 1.5m (5ft), you need to tie a safety flag on the end to be legal.  It'a a good idea anyways so you don't crank yourself on the head (this has happened to the best of us).

red flag on boat

There you go folks.  Practice at home once or twice.  Next time you load your boat at the lake you will look like a pro.  Just beware - you'll be asked to tie everybody else's boat down once they know you're THAT OUTDOORSY GUY/GAL.




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ebsadventure - June 3, 2021

Hi Angela,
Do you have a single tie down in the front of your vehicle, or one on each side? You want to make a triangle of rope, from the bow of your canoe to the two front corners of your vehicle if possible. This reduces the side-to-side effect of wind buffeting your boat.
If all you have is a single centered tie down you can make do with a single rope, it’s certainly better than nothing. Be aware that when semi trucks pass you on the highway or you are in gusty cross winds a canoe can be blown sideways across your car quite easily, and the “triangle” helps prevent this.
The back of the canoe can be tied to the vehicle to a single tie-down point. It’s the front that’s most important to make the triangle.
Hope this helps,
-the Eb’s crew

Angela - June 3, 2021

I have a tie down under the front of my vehicle. Would I tie the front down like the back?

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