How to Tie Down a Kayak


Unless you're lucky enough to live on a lake, carrying your kayak on your car when you want to paddle is a fact of life. Good equipment and technique for tying down your kayak keeps it safely anchored during stop-and-go traffic maneuvers and the strong air turbulence that swirls around your vehicle at higher speeds. With a bit of practice, you can have your kayak secured and ready to travel in 10 minutes.

Things You'll Need

  • A sturdy pair of roof racks for your vehicle
  • Two flat web tie-down straps with attached cam buckles, 3/4 inch wide by 9 feet long
  • Two pieces of nylon rope, 3/8 inch thick by 9 feet long
  • Kayak saddles for your roof racks (optional)
  • Stepstool or stepladder (optional)
  • Loop a strap around one of the two horizontal crossbars on the roof racks, being careful to keep the strap inside the mounting brackets that secure the rack assembly to the roof of your car. Pull the strap around the crossbar until its two ends meet each other, and let them hang down off your vehicle where you can reach them. Repeat the process for the other strap and crossbar.

  • Place your kayak on top of your vehicle, with the help of a friend, if necessary. If you have kayak saddles on your roof racks, the kayak should be right-side up with the bottom facing the roof of your car. If you're tying your kayak directly to the roof rack, without saddles, the bottom should face up and the cockpit should face down Slide the kayak forward or backward until its widest part (usually at the seat) is centered between the front and rear roof rack.

  • Pick up the two ends of one of the straps and swing them up over the top of your kayak, then down to the opposite side of your vehicle. Repeat for the other strap.

  • Move over to the opposite side of the car. Grasp the two ends of one of the straps, one end in each hand. Pull down on the plain (non-buckle) end of the strap with one hand while you play out the buckle end of the strap with the other hand, until the buckle sits against the hull of the kayak. The plain end should dangle almost to the ground. Check the strap and undo any twists.

  • Loop the plain end of the strap under the roof rack, again keeping it inside the rack's mounting bracket and watching out for twists. Bring the plain end up on the other side of the rack bar toward the buckle cam.

  • Pinch the buckle cam with one hand. With your other hand, feed the plain end of the strap into the cam from the bottom rear of the buckle and up through the front. Tighten the strap until your kayak is difficult to move when you shake it by hand. Repeat the process for the second strap.

  • Use the braided nylon rope to secure the bow and stern of the kayak to tie-down points on the front and rear of your vehicle. Secure all loose ends.

Tips & Warnings

  • Aftermarket sport racks provide the most stable platform for carrying a kayak on your car. Look for brands like Yakima and Thule and follow their recommendations for installation and weight limits.
  • Web straps with cam buckles are strongly recommended and are available from paddler's-outfitter catalogs.
  • Kayaks smaller than 10 feet long may be tied directly to the roof rack, without saddles. For longer kayaks, saddles are recommended. Some saddles have built-in tie-down straps with cam buckles.
  • Use a folding stepstool if you're unable to reach the top of your car.
  • Spend a bit of extra time adjusting the tightness of your straps after you've tightened both of them. If they're too tight, they can stress the hull of your kayak. If they're too loose, your kayak could fly off your car in traffic.

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