3 Kayaks 1 Weak Mama & 1 Little SUV

I’m trying to solve my dilemma once and for all. I bought my two boys kayaks years ago so the three of us could go kayaking together and I never could figure out a way to comfortably load the three onto my Subaru Forester and as a result we’ve never made it out on the water. I’ve gotten us a couple of water front campsites for the summer and am committed to once again revisit the topic.

I’ve considered getting us a canoe or a tandem kayak so I would only have one or two boats to contend with but I think we would have more fun in individual kayaks. I’m secretly a llittle concerned with managing two headstrong kids (11 & 12) and keeping us all together, but that’s another topic which I think I’ll just handle starting with easy small ponds in the area.

The major concern is how to load all three kayaks, and I’m now even older and less strong than I was a few years back when I bought these. I have Thule Crossbars with J carriers on one side and saddles on the other. I think my thought was to maybe use J carriers on either side and they would function as a stacker for a middle kayak, but I think I determined that I would have very little space between j carriers for a third carrier.

I’m sure stackers is really the logical solution space-wise but it seems I would need more height and strength to lift the kayaks up sidewise as I would need to do. Unless perhaps someone knows of a lift-assist tool that would guide kayaks up sideways into the stackers?

Another idea suggested was to invest in longer crossbars which extended beyond the sides of my vehicle. While this seems like an eyeball injury waiting to happen, I’m starting to wonder If this would maybe be the best way to give me enough width for that third kayak.

I think my Forester does not have a hitch but may be able to take one? Not sure. I suppose if compatible I could consider a kayak trailer as well but I’m not 100 percent comfortable in my ability to tow one without wiping out everyone on the road. Lol

I’m just curious of how others have addressed this issue. If I can actually pull off the logistics of fitting the kayaks, and can do so without injuring myself, we stand a chance of actually spending some quality time on the water. I appreciate any help you can provide!

Wide bars on a Forester
are fine by me. I have 78" bars on mine & don’t have a problem. I have seen people use step stools to load boats on tall vehicles. I have Thule glides on the back and rest the kayak on them & only pick up the back to slide into place however, my kayak is 17’ long. You can also get roller attachments that protect the back roof when sliding a kayak up and on.

You may be able to get 3 up with 2 on edge rather than flat. In any case, be sure to have bow and stern lines attached from all three kayaks to the car.

Tennis Balls
On the ends of the crossbars is what I see people using when walking into them is a possibility.

That’s the only problem I can help you with. I just throw them up into the cradles.

Stand them on edge

– Last Updated: May-18-16 5:27 AM EST –

Get rid of the J carrier and saddles and stand the boats on edge. Once you get the first boat strapped down it becomes the "stacker bar". The other boats lean against it, and a long strap or rope goes over all three to hold them all together. This was four smaller whitewater boats, but your'll get the idea.


I'll sometimes strap each boat down individually, and then run the long strap over the top. I don't think you need longer bars. Not sure what you do about the "Weak Mama" issue - get the kids to help?

I have a Subaru Forester and use …
78" bars and have no problems at all.

I have J cradles on each side for our two kayaks and I can carry a third on saddles in the middle or our 17 foot canoe

I am 5’-9" and can just walk under the over hanging bars, but I usually warn automotive techs when I am getting the oil changed.

Jack L

I’d go for a trailer
with 3 kayaks. I have a forester also, it doesn’t have a hitch on it but my wife’s outback does. She says to go ahead and take hers but I haven’t checked it out to see if it’s compatible. A small jet ski trailer can be rigged up to carry multiple trailers pretty easily. If I was going to lug 3 at a time, that is the way I would do it. But then again, I’m carting fishing yaks which tend to be heavy. I’m getting another one this year for my 16 yr old so I might have to go that route. Not to mention it’s a lot easier unloading from a trailer than the top of a car… especially when the yak with gear weighs almost 100#!

Turning around a trailer…
can be a pain at the put-in - especially if you are not use to driving one

Stackers don’t mean lifting

– Last Updated: May-18-16 7:58 AM EST –

I use them, in fact my husband and I went back to them after trying saddles.

Get this - I will be using it in a few hours in fact to solo load on a car with a taller roof than the Forester. I used it to solo load when he was not coming out for a long time and he passed away so it is always a solo load now. It hangs over the back of the car and all you have to do is get the front of the boat over it. Then grab some other portion of the boat and keep your angles straight while you slide it up over the roof.


That said, I see in another post that you are talking about boats like the Carolina. Even with stackers, you are going to have to aim the third boat well. I suggest that you get a set of saddles for the third boat, and shift the stackers off center. You put the first boat that will go on the outside of the stackers up with the stackers down then lift the stackers as you shift it into position against them. Wiggle in the second boat that will lie inside against the stackers second, then load the third boat onto saddles so it goes up straight.

You will still want long bars to give yourself real estate for aiming the boats. You flat out need the width. Put colored tape around the ends for visibility. And when you do forget and hit them it'll actually be with your head, not your eye, when you get out of the car and turn around. Really is pretty rare though, I bump into things like the tops of car doors all the time and I rarely hit the ends of the rails.

In the interest of full disclosure, after years of this I am getting close to pulling the trigger on a Hullivator. But I have been relying on the above device for over a decade, it works fine.

Thank you and more questions
Wow, lots of great suggestions, thank you. Seems like a lot of people go with larger crossbars, which I really haven’t noticed in cars on the road in my area. I’m kind of amazed by the 78" cross bars on a Subaru Forester. I currently have 50" cross bars per the Thule guide, and 78" would take me all the way to the outside of my mirrors. Our summer is pretty short here in New England, wondering if you all keep such mammoth bars on year round.

I guess my real question or observation regarding the cross bars is this:. It’s really the feet on the side bars that cost valuable real estate and cram everything inward. If I extend further out then I need to extend far enough out to install a j-carrier outside the foot, no more, no less. Is this really the recommended practice to place all the weight of a kayak outside the foot? Just seems like all the weight bearing should be between the feet.

Celia, thanks for the recommendation on the roller thing. I had been looking a little bit at that before. Do you use it as a dolly as well? Did you go with 8" or 10" tires, do you know, and do you think that makes a difference? And it sounds like you lift kayaks up on their side with it rather than on their hull? Sorry if I missed the technique.

I will admit the hullivator certainly looks tempting as well, but that only makes one out of three kayaks easy to load, so probably not a total solution for me.

Thank you all for your help!

buy a trailer
Buy a trailer, no lifting at the end of a long day paddling, no hot roof, no worries about a yak falling off on the highway.

Stackers will work fine
I used to own two Carolina XSes, just like the ones you got for your boys. I carried them for years using whitewater stackers. With 50" bars, you should easily be able to carry 3 boats.

Set the stackers off center so that there’s room for one boat on one side and 2 on the other. Loading works like this: Thread the straps or ropes around the stackers and drape them where you can reach them after the boats are loaded. Put the first boat up on the bars. Don’t worry about it being on edge. Just get it up there. Then flip/slide it up on edge and let it rest against the stackers. Unless you’re parked on a side slope, it should stay put. Load the second boat, facing the opposite direction (the boats are not symmetrical, so they nestle together better this way), and flip/slide it up on edge against the first boat. Bring one strap/rope up over both boats, wrap it around bar or tower, snug it up. At this point, the boats aren’t going anywhere, and you can mess with getting them situated so they won’t move. Get the other strap in place. Then tighten both straps/ropes down. Repeat process for the other side with your third boat.

Using the Roller Loader Etc
It is pretty easy to take these racks systems off. A bit more unwieldy if you have stackers or whatever also attached, but most of these systems go on and off in under 15 minutes once they have been set up the first time. You disengage the towers, not the bars.

As to being outside of the towers, you are generally only talking one foot of the device - Jbar or saddle - and these third party cross bars are rated at pretty high weight loads. I found some advice online from outfitters that sell racks saying the same thing we have always done, the bar can support some weight outside of the tower foot. The overhang you are talking about is not as wide on either side as one of your boats. We have regularly traveled with a sea kayak bearing some of its weight just beyond the tower, no problem.

I do not lift the kayaks up to the car with the roller loader on the kayak. It is attached to the car and I lift the front of the kayak to it, then slide the kayak up and over the roof to sit on the cross bar next to the stackers. Or into the saddles if I had them. The angle the roller loader fits on for a hatchback is not the same as for a sedan. If you look at the graphic picture in the middle, underneath the photos of the guy loading the blue boat on the manufacturer’s site at this page (http://www.amagansettbeachco.com/rollerloadercom), that is how it affixes for a hatch.

If you want to protect the stern of the boat you can put a blanket under that end. Or you can have had someone put in a keel strip and abuse that.

Mine is the 8 inch wheels, didn’t have the 10 inch wheels when we got ours. I would have to think hard on going to the bigger wheels unless the vehicle had such a huge overhang in back I had to go bigger to get around it. The 8 inch wheels are OK with the Rav4, which has a decidedly deeper overhang than the pre-2010 Outback had. That is two inches more of height for the boat to twist around on you when getting it up there.

I slide my boat up/down on their hull, at least most of the way. That is how it works best for the rolling part. The kayak will lay onto its side a bit when I get to the really fine ends, but I make it stay centered under the hull for the bulk of the load.

Actually loading the boat to the roof took me just a few minutes earlier this week. Getting things strapped down took a bit longer because there is now a step stool involved for a couple of the spots.

And pool noodles over the inside strap
To protect the inner boat’s hull if carrying shiny composite boats. Did a number of summers in Maine with four boats on the rack that way because we wanted a choice of boats for ourselves based on conditions and a solid guest boat or two if needed.

Long bars and “foot” locations
There’s nothing wrong with the weight of a boat being located outside of the roof-attachment points. You’ll have another boat on the other side, and if that boat also is outside the bar support, the load distribution will be exactly the same as if both boats were equal distance from center but inside of the attachment points. If one boat is outside the attachment points and the one on the other side is inside those points, the total load will be just a little unevenly distributed, but not enough to worry about. Only if carrying just one boat will the load end up being highly off-center if positioned outside the bar supports, but in that case, the supports closest to the boat will be carrying about the same load as they would if you had two boats evenly positioned, so even then I’d not worry about it.