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Carrying a boat on your cartop

Carrying a boat on your cartop

It's time to put that boat up on the car and get it to the water.  What's the best way to do this?

You will either need foam blocks or a rack system with crossbars. But first, some basics for either system:

  • Centre the boat on the crossbars or foam blocks.  On a canoe there is usually a yoke or thwart in the centre of the boat and SUP's often have a handle hole there so it's easy to tell.  The centre of a kayak will be about mid-cockpit.
  • Use two ropes or straps to run over the boat crossways and tie down (either to the rack system or through your doors).  Position these straps over the crossbars or foam blocks so the pressure is directed downward where the car supports the boat.
  • Tie the front of the boat down to a secure point under the front of your car or to a hood loop.  If it's windy, you're using foam blocks, or are traveling on the highway, tie the back of the boat down as well.
  • Drive accordingly!  No matter how good your rack system is, your boat acts like a big sail on top of your car and will affect how it handles.  We have heard of entire roof racks being torn off the tops of vehicles who were driving in big winds.  Use caution and pull over to check your boat if you need to.

For more information check our blog post How to tie a canoe onto your car.

Tying a canoe onto a car

Foam blocks

Foam blocks are the cheapest way to transport a boat and usually work well if you tie the straps down securely over the boat.  

The best way to use foam blocks is to position them on the strongest parts of your roof if possible, such as near the doorframes and just behind the top of the windshield.  If you need to position them on a weaker section your roof may compress as you tighten the straps over the boat.

We have foamies for canoes, kayaks and SUPs.

boat foam blocks

Rack accessories

If you have crossbars on your vehicle (factory rack or after-market rack such as Thule or Yakima) there are a number of mounting accessories you can get that secure your boat better than foam blocks.

Canoe brackets - Although you don't really need these to safely transport a canoe on crossbars they really help keep the boat from sliding sideways in a wind.  Most of us at the store use them for transporting our canoes.

SUP pads - These snug around your crossbars to protect and cushion your board.  When carrying two boards put two foam blocks or rolled up towels between them.

SUP carriers - Basically the same as kayak saddles, these support your board at four points so it is off the crossbars.

Kayak saddles - Gentle on your boat, these saddles support your boat's hull so it sits right-side-up on your rooftop.  Front saddles are usually rubber lined to grip the hull whereas the rear saddles are often lined with felt so you can slide the boat up from the back of the vehicle.

Kayak J-cradles – If you want more room on your rooftop for another kayak or a cargo box, cradles make the most sense.  Some are fixed but the more expensive ones fold down flat so you can get into your garage.

Kayak lift-assist mounts - The most expensive option, but the right one for many people.  Load your kayak at waist height, then let the gas-assist struts take up to 40% of the kayak's weight as it loads up onto the cartop.  

kayak j cradles loaded on cartop


If you don't have the strength to lift your boat onto your car top, here are some tips:

  • Slide your boat onto the rack from the back of your vehicle.  (This doesn't work with foam blocks.)
  • If you have Thule square bars and a kayak, get a rack extension like Thule Outrigger and perch the nose of your kayak onto it.  Lift the back end of your kayak up and onto the rack.  Lift the nose in and then slide the Outrigger back into the hollow bar.
  • Get a lift-assist rack for your kayak.
  • Look at getting a small boat trailer which is much lower to load onto.

Malone Seawing Stinger

Previous article Which SUP is right for you: hard board or inflatable?


ebsadventure - September 29, 2020

Hi Tom,
Sorry, this blog was meant for smaller personal craft like canoes and kayaks. We don’t deal with racks that raise and lower dinghies.
the Eb’s crew

tom coleman - September 29, 2020

can you suggest a roof rack for my pickup for hauling and lowering an 8 foot dignghy

matvey - April 14, 2020

this will come in handy in my future. canoeing is so fun so I will definitaly be dealing with this kind of stuff.

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