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Selecting a Kayak Rack for your Vehicle

Forrest Wells // February 03, 2018

Forrest Wells

Forrest is a BCU 4 star paddler, ACA open water advanced instructor, ACA SUP instructor, Alaska Kayak Guide and has his 200 ton Master's ship license. In addition to keeping the KPS ship headed in the right direction and running efficiently, he is an avid outdoorsman and kayak/SUP racer. He also helps coach water polo, plays a mean guitar and can cook up a tasty oyster on the half-shell.


The number one way kayaks end up damaged is during transport. A proper roof rack and accessory can go a long way to minimize damage to your gear and minimize the risk to others on the road. Selecting the proper roof rack and accessory can also have a lot to do with how often you go paddling, let me explain. When it comes time to load your kayak on your car or truck and head to your local put in you want to have rack that makes the process easier for you. If loading a kayak onto your car or truck is a "pain" then you are far less likely to go out and hit the water.

This guide will talk about all of the different ways you can transport a kayak safely. Matching the rack and accessory is a function of vehicle: height and configuration, user stature and the gear you are looking to transport.

Factory Racks:

Many cars and SUV's come equipped with factory installed roof racks. A factory roof rack has rails that run front to back and oblong crossbars that run side to side. You can connect a number of user friendly accessories to these factory racks. Keep in mind that you have a limited foot print and weight limit to work with. Check the manual for your vehicle to figure out the maximum load limit and do not exceed. Most factory racks have a capacity of 50 - 90lbs. Which means that you can carry most kayaks without issue, but transporting multiple kayaks / pieces of gear will require an aftermarket base rack (increased space and capacity) which will will talk about a bit later.

There are many accessories that will work great with your factory rack. We definitely recommend going with an rack accessory that will transport your kayak flat, cockpit up. The reason being, this can save on gas mileage (especially if you use a cockpit cover) and they can be a bit easier to load.

Base Racks from Thule or Yakima (Cars and SUV's):

The term base racks simply means the user has elected to install and aftermarket solution to their vehicle, which is a function of fit or to increase the carrying capacity of the rack. A base rack consists of four feet and two bars. The exact feet needed and length of bars are a function of the make model and year of your vehicle. Manufacturers assign vehicle specific fits that will provide the parts that you need for your vehicle.

Look up your Thule Fit                                                              Look up your Yakima Fit

For example: you may have a vehicle with a naked rook meaning, there is nothing atop your car or truck to attach an accessory to. This will require the user to go with a base rack. 

Looking to transport multiple pieces of gear? Kayaks, Bikes, Skis, Boxes Etc... This will also require a base rack that will a.) Increase the maximum amount of weight you can carry and b.) increase the usable space on the top of your vehicle.

The user can accessorize their Thule or Yakima rack a number of ways in order to best serve their needs.

Base Racks for Pickup Trucks without Canopy:

So you have a pickup and want to get your kayak to your favorite put in but don't want to put it in the bed because it is hard on the kayak or the kayak is too long and awkward to secure and transport safely. There are a couple of different ways to get the job done. The simplest and cleanest way is to get towers that clamp to the cap rail of your bed. These towers vary in height based on your truck size but allow you to get the kayak on bars up over the bed and cab of your truck simply and securely.

Thule Xsporter Pro 

Yakima Outdoosman (Compact or Full Size)

The Second options for folks with Pickups wanting a rack to help get their kayaks to the water would be to use a hitch mounted solution. This type of accessory mounts into the hitch receiver on the truck. These accessories provide a stable frame to load a kayak or any other large load onto. Folks who are interested in a hitch mount system will also need to install a bar on the cab of the truck to accommodate the forward section of the kayak. 

Kayak Rack Accessory Types:

1.) Kayak Rack with Lift: This type of rack accessory lowers along the side of your vehicle to allow you to load your kayak from a manageable height. Once loaded the accessory will allow to load you kayak on the roof much eaiser by simplifying the awkward process of picking a kayak up and setting it on the roof of your car or truck. Some accessories will also give you a hand. That's right! The Thule Hullavator, provides up to 40 lbs of load assist. So if your kayak weighs 57 lbs, when using the Thule Hullavator you are only lifting and loading 17 lbs. Pretty nice.

*Both accessories listed below transport the kayak flat on the roof of your vehicle.

Thule Hullavator Pro - "This premium lift-assist carrier reduces up to 40 lbs. of your kayak's weight, letting you load, unload and hit the water with ease—even if your paddling buddies are stuck at work."

*The Thule Hullavator Pro will only fit a Thule or Yakima Bar. It will not fit your factory Crossbar.

Yakima ShowDown - "The lightweight mount tilts down more than two feet from the roof rack, takes on up to 45% of the boat’s weight, then helps gently raise it up to the top of the vehicle."

*The Yakima ShowDown will fit most racks

2.) Kayak Saddle with Rear Load Assist: 

Many of the accessories that will keep the kayak flat and work with your factory rack also will be able to provide some rear load assist. Rear load assist means that the accessory will give you a hand when loading the kayak from the back of your vehicle. This configuration either has a low friction pad or a roller that enable the user to load the bow of the kayak into the rear saddle and slide the kayak, by pushing from the stern, into position. These accessories work great when the rear crossbar is close to the back of the vehicle, so most SUV's. If your vehicle has a trunk or if that rear bar is further than about 12" away from the back of the roof you will want to consider an alternative or consider using a second product that extends out from the rear of your vehicle to kayak from scraping up your ride like the Yakima Showboat to help you get the job done.

The rear load assist accessories work by proving a low friction saddle in the back to allow the user to lift the bow of the kayak into the saddle and then slide the boat forward onto the roof. A great option for use on shorter to medium height vehicles and for paddlers who are taller. If you have a taller vehicle or a small stature paddler you may need a stool.

Examples:

Yakima Sweet Roll (Rear Load Assist)

Thule Dock Glide (Rear Load Assist)

Yakima HandRoll with Yakima DeckHand (Rear Load Assist)

*will fit most racks

3.) Kayak Saddles:

If your vehicle won't work well with a rear load assist you can go with something that has four conventional saddles, 2 forward and 2 rear, for a little more support and often times a little less mula. These accessories provide a a secure and supportive option for longer trips. This type of solution will usually require two folks to life the kayak into the saddles.

Thule Dock Grip

Yakima Deck Hand

*will fit most racks

4.) Pedestal Feet or Foam: 

For those of us on a budget who are looking for a solution to transport the kayak locally. (Running around on local roads for shorts distances)

Thule Top Deck

Yakima EvenKeel 

18" Foam Block

*We do not recommend these products for high speed longer duration transport since there is not a lot to cradle the sides of the kayak. You end up having to cinch the boat down very tight to ensure they are secure. This can of course lead to damage to the kayak.

 5.) J-Shaped Cradle:

A J-Cradle is designed to transport your kayak on its side. This method can reduce the stress on the hull. The side of the kayak is much stronger than the hull. However, the main reason to go with a J-Cradle is to maximize the space on your roof. Most folks who are looking to transport multiple kayaks or multiple pieces of gear along with the kayak should consider a J-Cradle. By transporting the boat on its side you essentially halve the amount of space required on your roof. This will allow you to make room for other toys.

The downside to this type of accessory being they are a bit more difficult to load and they cut down on your mileage a bit more.

Yakima JayHook

Yakima JayLow

Thule Hull-a-Port

Thule Hull-a-Port Pro

*will fit most racks

In short, remember that the rack you choose should be something that you can load and unload easily. Because let's face it, if you dread getting your kayak on and off the top of your vehicle chances are you won't be using it much. The right rack and rack accessory will also minimize damage to your kayak and minimize the risk of loosing your load while you speed down the interstate at 70mph! Also, check your rack frequently to make sure the feet are still secure on your vehicle. Some feet will need a bit of adjustment every now and again. 

Please contact us if you have any questions regarding vehicle fit or accessory selection, we are happy to help! 

*Local customers in the greater Seattle area, we offer free rack installs on rack purchases over $750


expert-advice   kayak   rack  




Forrest Wells

Author

Forrest is a BCU 4 star paddler, ACA open water advanced instructor, ACA SUP instructor, Alaska Kayak Guide and has his 200 ton Master's ship license. In addition to keeping the KPS ship headed in the right direction and running efficiently, he is an avid outdoorsman and kayak/SUP racer. He also helps coach water polo, plays a mean guitar and can cook up a tasty oyster on the half-shell.



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