How to Tie Down a Kayak Properly

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Making sure that you transport your kayak correctly is perhaps one of the most important aspects to figure out for your kayaking trip. Whether you’re going on an all-day kayaking trip on a nearby lake or you’re taking your kayak on a weekend camping trip, it’s vital that you transport the kayak properly by tying down the boat. But how exactly should you do this? Here is a guide that teaches you how to tie down a kayak using a roof rack as well as other methods.

What Happens When You Don’t Tie Down a Kayak Properly?

If you don’t tie down your kayak properly, then you risk hurting your kayak and even causing a car accident. Especially when driving down roads at high speeds, you’ll need to ensure that the kayak is properly and tightly secured to your vehicle because, without it, the kayak may potentially fall off of your car and hit other drivers around you. This YouTube video is a perfect example of a situation in which that might happen.

If your kayak isn’t secured correctly, it will slide off of the top of your vehicle and fall to the ground behind you. If no one is behind you, then you’re in luck. But your kayak will likely have experienced a great amount of damage. And if there are other cars behind you, then you risk hitting them and causing dangerous car accidents. Even if there aren’t any vehicles directly behind you, the kayak can still move around when it flies off the back of your car with the wind. That being said, you could cause a multiple-car accident without even meaning to. To avoid this, you’ll have to double-check to make sure that you’ve properly tied the kayak down to your vehicle.

What You Need

A Lift System (One Person)

If you’re traveling by yourself with a kayak, then you’ll find that it can be difficult to try and lift the kayak into your vehicle by yourself. But you can make this process easier by utilizing a lift system. A lift system is an integrated device that’s responsible for safely and accurately lifting the kayak closer to the top of your vehicle.

This system prevents you from having to lift too much weight up that high, and they can even make the process easier for when you remove the kayak as well. These types of systems tend to be more costly, but they can easily be stored onto your vehicle along with the kayak itself.

kayak on a jeep in the dark

Wheels/Blanket (One Person)

If you’re looking for an easier way to load your kayak onto your vehicle while on a budget, then you can use either a method with wheels or a blanket. The wheels method involves you utilizing rolling wheels that allow you to place the bow of the kayak onto a set of wheels. After you’ve securely placed the bow onto wheels, then you can easily pick up the stern end of the boat and push the whole kayak to the front of your vehicle. This method is cheaper than buying a lift system, but using a blanket is perhaps the cheapest option available.

To use a blanket to load your kayak, all you have to do is place a large blanket on the top of your vehicle where your kayak will eventually lay down. After you place the blanket down, you can then put the bow end of the kayak onto the blanket and push the rest of your kayak up onto your car. This is the simplest and cheapest method available, but it’s not as convenient or accurate as other methods.

A Rack or Racks

The contraption that holds your kayak securely to your vehicle is the kayak rack. You’ll place your kayak into the rack or racks, and they’re specifically designed to withstand the design, shape and weight of a wide range of kayaks. There are usually either J-shaped or V-shaped kayak racks that you have the ability to choose from. J-shaped racks are more recommended for lighter, smaller or more standard-shaped kayaks, while V-shaped racks are more suitable for heavier kayak designs. Because there are multiple designs to choose from, you’ll want to make sure that you purchase the right kind of kayak rack that’s suitable for your particular kayaks.

Even more, you should also make sure that the particular kayak rack you’re purchasing is compatible with your vehicle. Most kayak racks are designed so that they can fit onto practically any type of car’s roof, but it’s still helpful to make sure before you buy. If you’re planning on transporting more than one kayak, you’ll want to have more than one kayak rack. Most racks are only able to hold one kayak at a time, so you’ll need to purchase multiple racks if you’re planning on taking multiple kayaks.

Overall, you can choose between roof-mounted rack systems and factory racks. Roof-mounted systems tend to be the most stable and secure while delivering the most long-lasting use. They’re also extremely versatile, so you can transport a variety of other large items in their design other than just kayaks. On the other hand, factory racks require more materials for installation, like adapters and other attachments. But they’re also long-lasting and offer optimal stability.


For those of you that are planning to transport kayaks on the roof of your car without a roof rack, then you may want to consider purchasing foam for your kayaks. Usually available in block formations, foam offers a cheap and more temporary method of transportation. Similarly to kayak racks, foam blocks come in a variety of designs to account for various types of cars and kayaks.

They all typically function by keeping your kayak in place with bungee cords. The straps will be pulling down on the kayak, keeping it secured against your car. And the foam padding helps to prevent the kayak or your car from developing any damage during the transportation process.

You’re recommended to use foam as a method for transporting your kayak if you don’t kayak that often or you only need a quick and easy method of safely transporting your boat. They’re typically the easiest to install and remove when you’re done, and they’re also very inexpensive as well.

Cinch Straps

Cinch straps are the most reliable type of straps to use for tying down your kayak, given their flexibility and strength. They involve a flexible cloth fabric that’s attached to a ring. This ring allows the fabric to be adjusted, letting you easily tighten the straps to fit correctly around your kayak.

Also referred to as cam straps, cinch straps can quickly and safely hold your kayak securely against the roof of your car. You’ll want to make sure that you have more than one cinch strap, and they should be long enough to fit fully around your kayak’s design.

The specific brand that you choose regarding your cinch straps doesn’t matter as much as the type of strap that you use. Overall, you’ll want to refrain from using ratchet straps. Many people use them thinking that they’ll be stronger and can more securely tighten your kayak to your car, but they couldn’t be more from wrong. Ratchet straps are problematic because you can easily over tighten them and cause damage to your kayak’s design. When you over tighten your kayak, you can actually alter the design and shape of your kayak, negatively affecting your boat’s performance .

Placing the Kayak Onto the Rack

After you have all of the right equipment and you’ve lifted your kayak safely onto your vehicle, you’ll then want to place the kayak onto the rack. Regardless of what type of rack you have, you should make sure that your kayak is running parallel with your car’s body and that the kayak’s center is placed in between the kayak racks or the J cradles. If it’s not center, then you risk your kayak developing lopsided damage or even the straps coming loose because there will be too much of the kayak’s weight on one side of the racks. This can potentially cause the straps to come loose and even undone, resulting in the kayak sliding off of your car. This YouTube video will help you better understand where to place your kayak on the rack system once it’s on top of your car.

Tying the Kayak to the Roof

After you’ve correctly placed the kayak onto your kayak rack, you’ll then want to correctly tie it into place. Once the kayak is centered and you can see that the side carry handles are centered within the racks, you’ll then want to take a cinch strap and place it so that the buckle of the strap is located on the side of the kayak above the crossbars. The other end of the cinch strap should be on the other side of the kayak with the strap itself resting over the kayak’s body.

Then you’ll want to grab the other end of the strap opposite of the buckle and reach it around your boat after placing it under the other crossbar on that side. After you make sure that the strap is running through your vehicle’s crossbar and is out on the other side of your vehicle with the buckle of the strap, you can then tighten the strap so that your kayak is snug against the roof of your car.

You should repeat this process for the other cinch straps, but make sure that you don’t fully tighten the straps until all of the straps are wrapped around your vehicle’s crossbar as well as the kayak. To prevent the leftover portion of the straps from causing in any damage to your car or your kayak, tie off the excess strap to your car’s crossbars. For more help with tying your kayak to your car, you can watch this YouTube video. For more specific instructions for the method that you’re using, you can also follow these particular directions if you have a rack or J-cradle or without a rack.

With a Rack or J Cradle

  1. Loop the strap beneath the crossbar
  2. Throw both ends of the strap to the other side of the boat
  3. Place the strap end under the crossbar on the other side of the car
  4. Secure the strap into the buckle


Without a Rack

  1. Put the strap over the kayak’s hull
  2. Attach the ends of the strap together
  3. Put the other strap over the kayak’s other end
  4. Secure both straps into place without over-tightening
  5. Tie down the bow and the stern by passing the strap through the carry handles of the kayak
  6. Secure the straps to the towing eyes of your car’s bonnet


Tying the Bow and Stern

Whether you have a kayak rack, a J cradle or you don’t have any secure mechanism on your car, you’ll have to tie the bow and the stern to your car. Once you have the kayak placed in the right position, you can then tie the kayak to your car. But tying the kayak to the roof of your car only ensures that your kayak doesn’t fall off of your car while you’re driving. It’s important that you tie both ends of the kayak to your car as well since this will prevent your kayak from moving around while you’re on the road, and this will prevent any damages from occurring to your kayak.

There are several different ways that you can do this, and you can use different types of lines and straps. But this is the most common way that can provide the most security and prevent your kayak from moving at all while you’re going down the road.

1. Attach the line to the front of the kayak

You’ll want to start by hooking the end of the line with some type of attachment mechanism so that the front of the kayak is secured into place. Most kayaks have a carry handle located in the front part of the kayak, and this makes for a great place to attach the line.


2. Attach the line to the front of your car

After you’ve attached the line to the kayak, you’ll then want to find a secure place to attach the line to your car. This secure point depends on the type of car that you have, but most cars should at least have a tow hook located in the front of their car that makes for suitable placement. If there isn’t a tow hook or any other option, you can assemble a hood loop that utilizes the lock on your hook.

how to tie down a kayak

3. Adjust the line

Next, you should adjust the line so that it’s snug and taught between the front of the kayak and your car. Don’t over tighten the line, as this could potentially create too much pressure on your kayak and bend its shape. But you’ll want it to be tight enough to prevent your kayak from moving with the car’s movement or the wind.

4. Do the same to the rear end of the kayak

Lastly, you’ll want to repeat the same procedure to the rear end of your car and the kayak’s stern. There should also be a carry handle on the stern of the kayak as well as a tow hook on the rear end of your car. That being said, this step should be easier on the rear end. Overall, you may want to twist the cinch straps some before you tie them down into place since this helps to prevent the straps from moving with the wind too much while you’re driving, which can be annoying.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it’s important to make sure that you properly tie your kayak down to your vehicle in order to prevent your kayak from experiencing any damage and even prevent future car accidents from occurring as a result of a poorly assembled kayak system. The first step to making sure that your kayak is secure is by ensuring that you have all of the right equipment. You’ll want a proper lift system or another method of safely lifting your kayak to the top of your vehicle.

Aside from the lifting mechanism, you’ll want to make sure you have the right rack or foam system on the roof of your car to securely hold your kayak on your car without causing any damage to your car or the kayak. Lastly, you’ll need to have the right kind of straps to securely hold your kayak into place and prevent it from shifting while you’re driving down the road. Hopefully, this video helped you throughout your kayak transporting process, and you’re recommended to watch the included videos to ensure that your traveling with kayaks goes safely.

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