What is the Best Kayak Rack for My Car?
Kayaking is a favorite escape for many, but before you can put your boat in the water you need to get it to the beach, to do that you need to figure out the best kayak rack that fits on your vehicle.
As you will see in this article, kayak racks come in a few various designs, but choosing one isn’t all that difficult, if you know what questions to ask. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can put a kayak rack on your car you will need a basic roof rack to mount the kayak cradles to.
What is a basic roof rack? Simply put, it’s two bars running across your vehicle, from door to door. Some vehicles will come with factory cross bars installed. While these will almost all work for kayaks, be sure to check the weight limit of the bars to ensure you don’t overload them with too many awesome boats. Also, not all rack options will work with a factory rack.
If your roof doesn’t have cross bars, no worries. You can read this article here to learn what roof rack fits your car. There are many different options for whatever you want to do, with just about any vehicle you want to do it with. If you have questions about base racks, give us a call.
What kind of kayaks are you carrying?
The first question is are you carrying sea kayaks or white water? While most of the racks would carry either type, not all kayak racks are ideal for each type of boat. If you’re unsure of what type of kayak you have, just use these as a rule of thumb:
- If your boat is longer than 10 feet, consider it a sea kayak.
- If your boat is anything other than plastic, consider it a sea kayak.
How to carry long (sea) kayaks on your car
There are two things to consider when looking for a kayak rack for a big, long boat. The first, and most obvious, is safely transporting your boat on your vehicle, but the second is equally as important (and sometimes less considered): how do you plan on getting your boat on top of your vehicle?
If you have no worries or issues with loading your boats into a kayak carrier, then you can use just about any carrier you like. One of the more popular designs is a "J" carrier. These work for all kayaks and hold your boat at a 45 degree angle, giving you a bit more space on your roof rack for another boat, or perhaps a cargo box.
The Yakima BowDown is a folding J-cradle style kayak carrier that supports your boat sitting on its side, where it's most rigid. The Yakima BowDown fits round, square and most factory racks out of the box.
The Thule 834 Hull-a-port is a standard J-style cradle that delivers superior carrying performance and protection with its 4-touchpoint adjustable padding and rust resistant steel design.
If your vehicle is tall, or if you are ever going to be kayaking alone, you might struggle to get your kayak loaded on top of your car. Even if your kayak is light enough for you to lift, the length and angles can make it challenging for most people.
If you think you might find yourself in this situation, you will want to consider a kayak rack system that aids in lifting your boat up on to your cart. To do this there are three main designs.
The Thule Hullavator kayak rack
The most elaborate, and convenient, option is the Thule Hullavator Kayak Rack. This rack lowers down to about the height of your hip on the side of your vehicle. All you have to do is lift your boat and load it on to the rack at the vehicle’s side where it’s easy and convenient.
Once your boat is loaded and secured at waist height, the rack will assist you in lifting the kayak onto the roof of your car. This rack will take up to 40 pounds of the kayak’s weight, leaving you with very little to actually lift on your own. Hands down, this is the easiest way to load a big kayak onto your roof. It loads one boat, but it’s possible to put one on each side of your vehicle for a second boat.
It’s important to note that this rack requires a Thule or Yakima roof rack. It’s not built to work with factory racks, as the amount of force it puts on the cross bars when lifting your boat is too great for some factory rack installations.
The Thule 898 Hullavator Pro is the ultra premium lift assist carrier that reduces up to 40lbs of a kayak's weight and allows side of vehicle loading, unloading and strapping. New Pro model now holds up to 36" wide hulls.
Car rack kayak rollers
Both Yakima and Thule make roller options for loading your kayak. These options don’t offer the same level of loading assistance as the Hullavator, but they make the job easy enough for one person to do in all but the most extreme scenarios.
With a roller, the idea is to lay your kayak down behind your vehicle, and then lift the bow over your head onto the rollers, meaning you only have to lift about half of the boat’s weight, and more importantly you don’t have to struggle with the awkward length. Once you have the front of the boat resting on the rollers, you walk to the stern where all you have to do is lift and walk forward, the rollers letting the boat roll forward until your kayak is resting comfortably on the saddles.
Now there are various choices with a roller system, but we can group them into two categories.
The first option is a stationary roller, affixed to the back bar, such as the Yakima SweetRoll. These options are cheap and minimal, but are only ideal if the rear bar of your roof rack is very near the rear of your vehicle. If the bar is too far forward to easily rest the boat in the rollers, you’re going to have to go with a different system.
The Yakima SweetRoll includes 2 front saddles and 2 rear saddles with integrated rollers for easy boat loading. And the spring-loaded base adjusts when loading. You'll crave everything about this boat carrier - sweeeeeet!
The Thule 884 Roll Model is a load-assist carrier that centers and guides the kayak for easier loading and unloading. The Thule 884 Roll Model combines all the benefits of the Glide and Set saddles with the Roller Coaster, kayak carrying is a cinch.
The second type of roller system is designed to eliminate the only problem with a system like the HullyRollers. This system extends back beyond the rear of your vehicle when you are wanting to load your boat. It’s going to cost you a little more, but if it saves you from denting your vehicle, it’s worth every penny.
The Thule 887XT Slipstream is a premium load-assist carrier that supports up to 50% of your kayak's weight while ensuring there is no contact made with the vehicle. The Thule 887XT Slipstream fits most kayak sizes and shape for safe transportatio
The versatile Yakima ShowBoat load-assist roller makes it painless to get your kayak on top of your vehicle - even if you're loading multiple boats onto your car rack system all by yourself. Comes with a pair of Yakima 66-inch crossbars
Kayak Rack load assist
The final option for assistance with loading your kayak is basically an outrigger, and Thule has named their product exactly that. These items replace the end cap on one of your Thule (square) or Yakima (round) bars, and will slide out allowing you to rest your kayak’s bow on the outrigger, making it easy to lift the boat up into the rear saddles.
You will still need to be able to reach up and over the top of your vehicle, and lift the majority of the kayak’s weight to use this option. It will also only work with the standard Thule square, or Yakima round bars. If you have the strength and size to be able to load your boat without any assistance, this product is a great choice to make your life a little easier. If you don’t have these qualities, you will want to consider one of the previous options.
If you do go with this option (or you don’t think you need any assistance at all) you are able to use a standard kayak saddle, with the boat resting on its hull, or you can use a ‘J’ carrier, carrying the kayak at an angle.
The Thule 847 Outrigger II Lift Assist replaces the discontinued Thule 547 Outrigger. A brand new design that makes it even easier to load and unload boats alone. Great for the lone paddler, the extension bar provides the extra hand when loading.
The Yakima BoatLoader is the extra set of hands you need to slide your boat on or off your crossbars. Fits Yakima round bars only. The Yakima BoatLoader keeps your boat away from your car while loading and unloading.
How to carry whitewater kayaks on your car
White water, or smaller plastic kayaks, don’t really benefit from rollers or outriggers all that much. And while you can absolutely use a Hullavator with these kayaks, it might not be your ideal choice.
If you only need to carry a single or a pair of boats, you can use just about any kayak carrier you desire, but white water boats allow you to use an ‘upright’ carrier, saving your room for other items on your rack.
Sea kayaks must be transported sitting flat (or at a 45 degree angle) by the hull, meaning it’s difficult to get more than two boats onto the roof of any standard sized vehicle. But white water kayaks are built tougher, and their smaller size allows them to be transported on their sides.
If you have a river boat, and don’t mind resting the side of your boat directly on the cross bars, then you have options like the a Kayak Stacker. These allowing you to stack four kayaks next to each other along your bars, with the stacker kayak carrier holding them up on one side, with the included straps bundling them all together, and giving you a good place to tie them all down.
To be honest, probably the best choice for white water kayaks (especially if you want to carry both white water and sea kayaks with the same rack) is the Yakima JayLow. This kayak carrier will hold one boat at the 45 degree angle, or two boats stacked on their sides. Get two sets and you can double that capacity.
The Yakima JayLow allows you to carry 1 boat in J-cradle position or 2 boats in vertical position, and folds down when not in use.
If you are fine always carrying your kayaks on their sides, and you want to carry up to four boats, then you can save some money and opt for the Thule stacker instead.
The Thule 830 Stacker kayak racks carry up to four kayaks and are the most efficient way to carry multiple whitewater kayaks. The Thule Stacker can be mounted directly on Thule load bars, Yakima round bars and most factory installed crossbars.
No matter what kind of boat you are transporting, it’s crucial you remember to secure them properly with straps around the boats to the rack, and with bow and stern tie down straps. In most places having the bow and stern tied down is the law, so save yourself from a ticket or worse and tie down your boats!
Luckily for you, just about all of the kayak racks we sell at Rack Attack include bow and stern tie down straps, or you can get extras here:
With the Yakima BowStern Tie Down Straps a sliding ratchet ensures you never have to tie knots again. Yakima BowStern Tie Down Straps are sold as a pair so you can secure the front and rear of your boat to your vehicle.
The Thule 855XT Quick Draw Rachet Ropes are ratcheting bow and stern tie-downs with carabiner that attach easily to your kayak and provide maximum boat hold and security. Sold in sets of 2.
As always, if you have any issues or questions don’t hesitate to give us a call or stop by. With 11 locations across North America we’re never too far away!