How to transport your canoe

How NOT to lose your canoe (or kayak) off your car

As a manufacturer of canoes, the single greatest concern I get from my customers is how they are going to transport their new pride and joy home. It’s always sort of perplexed me, mainly I guess because we do it so often, but for some people it seems to give them sleepless nights. To be fair, making sure your new watercraft doesn’t end up embedded in someone else’s windscreen is probably a good idea, so in an effort to alleviate insomnia in new canoe owners here are my top tips on tying down your canoe.


The first thing to consider is your roof racks. For canoes and SOT kayaks, a standard 2 bar roof rack system is perfect. For sit inside kayaks or SOT with lots of accessories a set of cradles is a really good idea. Don’t fret if you can’t afford roof racks for your boat, a good quality set of temporary tiedown bars or ‘soft racks’ will do the trick. Sea to Summit make an awesome set that I use all the time on my partners car.


Next, we look at orientation on the racks. Obviously with kayak cradles the kayak will sit right way up in its mounts, however for canoes and SOT kayaks, upside down is the go. When we turn the boat over and sit it on its gunwales, we have a flat, wide and stable surface to sit onto our roof racks. Sitting like this, the canoe (or kayak), has the most resistance to overturning or twisting around in strong wind. It also reduces the chance of your tiedown straps from damaging or crushing your craft.


The other important orientation to check is that the craft is centred over your roof bars. Ideally the widest point of your canoe / kayak, usually right in the centre, should be sitting centrally between you roof rack bars. Getting the boat centred will reduce excessive load on the straps and help stop it sliding off the roof racks when braking or accelerating. The attached photo shows a canoe sitting centred over the roofbars on my Triton.


Just a quick note at this point about length of craft verses length of car. First and foremost, it is perfectly OK to have an item on your roof that is longer than your car! Sure, there are rules to follow and you have to be a little more careful, but it is still perfectly safe and legal. In Queensland you can have up to 1m overhanging the front of your car and 1.3m overhanging the rear. If you take your average hatchback length of 4.5m, this means you can comfortably transport a 5.5m (18ft) canoe and still be within legal guidelines! Check out the photo of an 18ft canoe on the roof of my Triton for comparison.


Now that we have the canoe positioned correctly on the roof, we need to tie the thing down. The best and easiest method to use is straps with camlock buckles (see photo). These straps ensure adequate tension can be applied to the straps without crushing your craft. The straps should be fitted such that they pass under the roof bar on one side of you craft, both ends pass over the top of you craft and then under the roof bar on the other side before being joined and tightened. In effect they make a big loop with both ends passing over your boat. Check out the close up photo of the canoe on the roof of my Triton to get a better visual of this.



Note also that the looped strap sits right beside the edges of the gunwales where they touch the roof bars. This is really important! When the straps are configured like this, they prevent the load boat from sliding side to side. I see a lot of people tying down their craft and having the straps or ropes coming off at an angle to the roof bars. Doing this allows the boat to slide and twist around under the tiedowns and eventually work its way out from under them. Not good if you’re in the car behind!


If your canoe or kayak is 12 foot (3.6m) or less, a tiedown strap on each roof bar is usually enough to adequately secure it to your car. Longer boats will however require a line from the bow or stern (or both) down to the front and / or rear of your car. If you have a bulbar or towbar, too easy, you have an instant tiedown point. If you don’t, there are loops available for purchase that can be closed into your bonnet / boot to provide a tiedown point.

Having a bow or stern line helps keep long craft from twisting around in a strong wind. It also helps share the load when a strong gust gets under your craft.


Most of the pointers I’ve passed on apply equally for kayaks and SUPS as they do for canoes. Kayaks carried in cradles are tied down to the racks in the same manner and longer ones definitely need bow lines. SUPS are really just like a flat canoe and transport really easily on a 2 bar system.


Tying your boat down to your car doesn’t have to be a chore if you follow the few simple rules outlined above. The keys are getting your craft oriented on your bars correctly and using good straps that hold your boat snugly onto them. A good wiggle of your boat on the racks will soon tell you whether you have it adequately fastened! Even if your boat is quite long, there are good products and techniques available that will ensure your pride and joy gets home from the water safely.


If you have any further questions or need some guidance on a specific problem, please give Dan from One Tree Canoe a call to discuss. Contact details at www.onetreecanoe.com. Happy Paddling!

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