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?
Sea kayaks come with their advantages and dis-advantages when trying to put them on your rack. Generally, they are lighter and more compact, making lifting them a breeze. However, due to their lighter, more delicate structures, you need to be extra careful with how you load/un-load them.
With long sea kayaks, the simplest style of rack to use is a rear-loading rack. These style racks hold your boat flat on it’s bottom and are loading at the rear of your vehicle. By placing ythe front of your boat on the rear saddles, these racks either use felt pads or small wheels to help guide your boat up and onto your front set of saddles.
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!
A flexible, kayak carrier with felt-lined saddles that make it easier to load and unload.
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.
J-Style kayak racks
These style racks get their name from the shape they make on the roof of your vehicle. This is one of the most common style kayak racks you will come across and for good reason. These racks make loading and securing lighter boats a breeze and save a tonne of space on your roof rack for whatever else you may need to bring.
With a J-rack, the idea is to lift your kayak up next to the side of your vehicle and raise it up towards your roof rack. The J-rack will then provide you with a padded place that the edge of your boat can rest on, while the hull of your boat sits against the upper arm of the J shape. While some boats may be heavier than others, the simplicity of the J shape makes loading this rack with a partner as easy as possible.
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.
Thule's versatile, lockable kayak rack that carries one or two kayaks and folds flat when not in use. The best of all worlds in one!
How to carry whitewater kayaks on your car
White water, or smaller plastic kayaks, don’t really benefit from rollers or lift-assist racks 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.
Traditionally, the easiest way to fit multiple boats onto one vehicle was a “stacker” rack. These worked by giving you a vertical post that the boats could be strapped to. This is still a great value option but does leave the boats sitting directly on the rack which can cause scuffs and scratches.
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.
More recently, Brands like Thule have begun to create more versatile water sport racks that can carry two kayaks’ at once and do so on a padded base. Products like the Thule compass allow you to carry your boat or boats in a variety of different positions depending on the situation.
Versatile water sport carrier that can transport either kayaks or stand-up paddle boards with one system.
Kayak Rack load assist
If you have tried putting your kayak onto your vehicle and you are still struggling to lift it up to the rack, don’t give up. There are a handful of options still out there that can work with your existing kayak rack to make life a little bit easier.
The first option is a simple outrigger bar that can slide out the side of your rack and makes getting the boat onto the saddle easier. 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.
The Yakima BoatLoader Evo is the extra set of hands you need to slide your boat on or off your crossbars.
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 final tool to help load your boat assist from the rear of your vehicle and works in addition to your kayak rack. The first is from Yakima and is called the Showboat 66, this system provides you with a rear roller that extends over the back of your vehicle, protecting it from incidental contact from your boat. These rollers also help line up your boat with the kayak racks mounted onto your roof rack.
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
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 25+ locations across North America, we’re never too far away!