How to Strap a Kayak to a Roof Rack in 4 Steps (With Pictures)

Anyone who has ever set their coffee on their vehicle roof and driven off can attest that this is the kind of thing that can ruin a perfectly good morning. Your kayak flying off the roof on the highway, however, is unquestionably an even bigger tragedy (not to mention a significantly more dangerous one).That's why it's important to properly strap your kayak to your vehicle roof and secure it in place. Fortunately, it's a simple process once you've done it a few times. We'll walk you through it step by step below.
Vehicle with Kayak Roof Racks
*Note: Consult your vehicle's owner manual to confirm the weight carrying capacity of your roof prior to loading.
Watch Now: Tying Down a Kayak

Step 1: Choose a Kayak Carrier

The right kayak carrier for you depends on the size/weight of your watercraft, how many kayaks you want to transport, and how convenient of a setup you prefer. Note that some types of larger kayaks should not be used with roof racks. Check your manufacturer's instructions for details on your kayak.Kayak carriers come in many different styles. If you don't haul your kayak frequently, or if you don't have a roof rack, a foam block carrier can be a great option. These blocks are lightweight (saving your roof's capacity for your kayak) and cost-effective. If you do have crossbars, crossbar pads are another economical option. These options provide simple, temporary installation, so you won't have to permanently alter the top of your vehicle.J-style carriers are another very popular type. These carriers attach directly to your crossbars but are more compact than other types of carriers, so you can fit more gear on the roof. These are more of a permanent solution and are typically preferable if you plan to haul your kayak frequently.For longer or heavier kayaks (over about 80 lbs or 12' long), consider a load extender to increase the weight capacity of your setup and provide more stability for your watercraft.If you have a large kayak, or if you struggle to load it alone, you may also want to consider a carrier with built-in load assist. A load assist system will take the struggle out of loading your kayak.Can I Strap 2 Kayaks to a Roof Rack?Yes! Fortunately, this is a simple task with a double capacity carrier. Most J-style carriers can accommodate two kayaks on your roof. (Just make sure not to exceed your roof's weight capacity!)You can view our complete offering of kayak carriers here.
J-style carrier for kayaks
A J-style carrier for 2 kayaks

Step 2: Load the Kayak

Assuming your roof rack and kayak carrier are already installed, lift your kayak onto your vehicle roof. The front of the kayak should be facing forward. Unless you are carrying two kayaks (or other gear) side by side on the roof, your kayak should be centered on your vehicle roof.You can purchase a kayak carrier with integrated load assist, or you can purchase a load assist system separately.
Load kayak without load assist
Loading the kayak onto the vehicle - no load assist
Loading kayak with load assist
Loading the kayak onto the vehicle - with load assist

Step 3: Strap the Kayak to the Crossbars

Loop your tie-down strap beneath your crossbar on one side, then toss the two strap ends to the other side of the vehicle. Run the end of the strap underneath this side of the crossbar too, then secure the end of the strap in the buckle.
Loop Tie-Down Strap Around Crossbar
Loop the strap around one crossbar, then toss both ends of the strap to the other side
Loading kayak with load assist
Loop the strap under the other side of the crossbar, then secure it with the buckle
Kayak Secured to Crossbars
Example: Kayak secured to crossbars
Kayak Secured with Strap
Example: Kayak secured with strap
Most tie-down straps provide a rubber (or similar material) cover for metal buckles so they don't scratch your car. Pull the strap tight enough to be secure, but not so tight that it damages the kayak. Secure any excess strap—you don't want it flying around in the wind while you drive!
Pro tip: When possible, twist the strap a few times before you secure it to help prevent flapping while you're on the road.
Repeat these steps with the second strap on the other crossbar.
Twist Tie-Down Strap Around Kayak
Twist the strap to prevent flapping
Secure Kayak with Strap and Buckle
Pull the strap through the buckle to snugly secure the kayak
Secure Excess Strap
Secure any excess strap
Note: Choose a strap based on its safe working load limit (WLL). The weight of the secured cargo must not exceed the combined WLL of the straps being used. For example, if you are using straps with a WLL of 500 lbs each to tie down a 1,000-lb load, you need at least 2 straps to safely secure that load.To determine the maximum load, or break strength, of the strap, multiply the WLL by 3. The WLL is always one-third (1/3) of the maximum load. It is recommended that you always use straps in pairs.

Step 4: Strap Down the Bow and Stern

Now that your kayak is secured side to side, you can move on to securing the front and back. For this step you'll need a set of bow and stern straps. Bow and stern straps will run front to back across your kayak and keep it from sliding off the end of your vehicle. There are different types of bow and stern straps available with different attachment styles.

Straps with Temporary Anchors

Some straps come with temporary anchors that can be secured by closing them within your trunk or under your hood. Your straps can then be secured to the loops that protrude from the vehicle. Note that anchors should be placed away from any heat sources beneath your hood.You can also purchase the anchors separately from the straps.
Temporary Anchor Tie-Down
Anchor placement inside a vehicle hood
Bow/Stern Straps Secured to Anchor Loop
Bow/stern strap secured to temporary anchor loop
Straps with HooksYou can also purchase straps with hooks, which typically attach to the frame, bumper, hitch, or tow loops of your vehicle. They can also be attached to the temporary anchors discussed in the previous section.
Bow/Stern straps with hook secured to frame
Bow/stern strap with hook secured to frame
Bow/Stern strap with hook secured to anchor loop
Bow/stern strap with hook secured to frame
1. Whichever tie-down type you choose, you'll begin by attaching the strap to the bow of your kayak. Loop one strap through/around the attachment point on the bow.If you don't have an attachment point on the kayak, you have a couple of options. Straps like the Rhino-Rack # RRRBAS2 are designed to secure gear without tie-down points. Kits such as Yakima's # Y04031 include loops for your kayak.
Run Strap Through Kayak Attachment Point
2. If using a strap with a hook, attach the hook at a secure point on your vehicle. If using a bow/stern strap with an anchor loop, run the strap through the loop, then bring the strap through the buckle and secure. If you don't have a buckle, you'll have to tie a secure knot in your rope/strap. You'll want the knot low enough that you can reach it, but high enough that you can glimpse it through the windshield for peace of mind while you drive.
Secure Bow/Stern Strap With Anchor Loop
Knot Securing Kayak to Roof Rack
Hook to Vehicle Attachment Point
3. Bundle any excess strap and secure it. Repeat these steps for the stern.
Vehicle with Kayak Strapped Down on Roof Rack
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Related ArticlesRelated ProductsWritten by: Amber S.Updated: 6/28/19

Questions and Comments about this Article

Alex S.

I have a 2013 golf TDI Volkswagen and I have the original arms from my old existing car but I still have my blades but you guys call bars I believe to go across a car which arms would I how to purchase from you guys to put these on my golf 2013 TDI hatchback..

Etrailer Expert
Reply from Jon G.

If it's an OEM roof rack then we wouldn't have the parts that you need. If it's an aftermarket roof rack who is the manufacturer and what was your old vehicle year/make/model?



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