3 kayaks cartop?

Would you recommend transporting 3 kayaks cartop?

The boats will be one 12’, one 16-17’, and a tandem. The first two of will be purchased within a month, but want to make sure I’ve thought about logistics before spending the money.

What cartop method works the best? The vehicle is a Volvo wagon (850) with factory roofrack (beefed up version, rated for 150lb), already have cross bars. Tandem in the middle sitting flat and the singles on J-bars?


kind of depends on you
You just said the weight limit is 150lbs. I know my kayak weighs 60lbs by itself. Now you add the weight of a tandem, my old one was over 70lbs, both plastic of course, and you are within 20lbs of the racks limits. Now add a 12’ boat and how much do the three add up to?

Yes I have seen many people sucessfully carry 3 boats mile after mile never encountering any problems. That is why I say it really depends on you and what you feel is safe.

If you do load all three on your vehicle, the J racks from what I have seen do a pretty good job and normally the tandem is the one you want laying flat. Good luck and stay safe with whatever you do.

tandem in the middle on sadles with 2 kayaks on j cradles facing out works fine. an easier alternative is 3 kayaks side by side on rails using a stacker.

My Set Up on my Subaru Wagon
Yakima lowriders on factory rails with 58 inch (rather than 48 inch) bars.

Driver’s side J cradle for my 17 foot stitch and glue boat.

Second boat in the middle on noodle paddling (saddles would be nice, but not necessary).

The middle boat is essentially wedged between the J-cradles and Yakima Kayak Stackers, so it won’t shift around.

On the passenger side of the Stackers, the third boat is tied down.

And of course, bow and stern tie downs for all three boats. This system is very secure.

This system just evolved over the years as I changed boats and bought different Yakima accessories as needed. You could also go with two sets of J-cradles, or two sets of stackers. It is worth coming up with some system that assures the middle boat can’t float left/right. Saddles would accomplish this, too.

Finally, for the heavy, long tandem, you might want something like Hully rollers mounted in the middle on the rear bar, so you can lift the bow over the back of the car and slide it into place.

You might as well just buy stock in Yakima or Thule.

Cheaper, but easier?
I always found the exercise of attaching two boats on their side to the same side of the stackers to be the kind of action where you wished you had three arms. Especially with longer boats.

Of course one advantage of the Stacker is the J-cradle means hefting the boat a few more inches up to get it on the cradle.

Very Funny
Yup, I know that story.

Started out with one set of Thule J hooks for my 16 ft Elaho. I couldn’t lift the kayak over the ends, so then I got Yakama Mako saddles. Still couldn’t quite get it up there, got Hully rollers for the back end of car. Got the Thule truck racks for the Ford F350, and then another set of Thule J hooks.

FINALLY, my boyfriend bought me the Hullivator this year for my birthday. I should have stock by now.

Donna :slight_smile:

I have taken 4 boats on my mini-van…
a set of j-cradles on each end and a stacker in the middle. Three won’t be a problem, you just need to figure out the most convenient system. And I agree, this is a time for bow tie-downs.

Three Boats On Top of Car
We just transported 3 kayaks (sea kayaks 2-16’6", 1-17’) from SC to Ohio yesterday. Jeep Grand Cherokee, two set-up w/saddles and rollers, foam padding in the center, center boat gets turned up on it’s side. Yes we use bow and stern lines. Done this many times, no problem.

get creative
I’ve seen lots of setups with multiple boats on them. I went paddling with some friends the other weekend, and we had 7 boats strapped onto 2 different vehicles (one was a Nissan Xterra and the other was a Hyundai Elantra). The Hyundai had a canoe and 2 rec kayaks on it. The Xterra had 2 touring boats (1-16’, 1-14.5’) a whitewater yak, and a rec yak.

On the Xterra, they just used a stacker to hold all 4 boats. On the Hyundai, the canoe was sitting in a Thule canoe holder, with one yak on end and the other on top of the canoe (on foam blocks).

I also know a guy who figured out how to carry 3 canoes on top of a Jetta Wagon (and raced the car around the Indy Motor Speedway with all 3 boats on top).

Three kayaks on a rack can be fine, but what about the total width? The only time I’ve ever done it has been with three narrow sea kayaks. You’ll need a couple inches inbetween the boats to fit the saddles and tiedown straps, so take the width of all three boats, add probably 8-10", leaving a little space on the sides, and you’ll have the bar width. Gonna be long ones…

I’ve never used the vertical mounts before but that might be a good option.

i regularly do 3 boats
on top of my grand cherokee with stock roof racks.

tie the first two down like normal, then tie the second on top of that. Pretty much just pile em up and tie em down.

for what its worth, I use ratchet straps and over several years this method has NEVER failed me.

Ratchet straps are a bad idea
That much torque not good for boats.

says who?

– Last Updated: Jul-02-07 5:53 PM EST –

like i said, ive used this method for 4+ years, and it has NEVER failed me in ANY way.

no deformation of boats, I can drive at 100+ without them moving one bit.

They are much quicker, easier, and stronger than tying a bunch of sub par knots in a 50 ft mess of rope.

edit.... my boats have always been plastic or poly or the like.... cant use fiberglass since I mainly paddle ozark rivers where the bottom is very rocky and they wouldnt hold up to the abuse and scratches.

Done four…
on top of a Pontiac Vibe. Two 15ft sea kayaks, one 14ft rec boat and on 13ft rec boat. One stacker in the middle. Our biggest problem was the width of the bars. The four boats were exactly as wide as the bars. Getting them up there was definitely a two person job and took 30+ minutes the first time we tried. We did tie them down front and back. Drove about 400 miles with this setup with no issues.

Do an archive search and read guidelines
It appears to be collective Pnet wisdom. I’ve seen plastic boats damaged by too-tight cam buckles. Ratchets exert a far great force. Bnystrom is one of the most knowledgeable people on this board.



SPEAKING FROM 4+ YEARS EXPERIENCE using the above mentioned ‘wrong way’ I will say agian that it has never failed me, or casused any sort of deformation of any of my freinds boats, or my boats.

I have used this method on countless 2+hour road trips, driving anywhere between 70-100 mph (depending on traffic conditions and the area being traveled) with 2-3 boats.

I am very satisfied, and will continue to use the ‘wrong way’ until I find something better, or it fails me. Neither of which has happened yet.

Not everything posted on an internet message board is the ‘gospel’ and if you take it as such, then good for you. Personally, id rather have an open mind and try things for myself (or at least listen to reason)before I write off a new method of doing something.

In the end, does it matter one way or the other? Not one bit. Im just posting my personal experience so that someone else can read it and possibly get some use out of it. Whether that use be using my method, or deciding its the ‘wrong way’ is up to them.

^as is the purpose of an online forum. If there was only one right way to do something, this would be the pnet BIBLE and not the pnet message boards :wink:

If you are careful
the ratchets work fine. I’ve used them often myself. But, you have to be careful. Yes, there’s enough potential force in them to damage a boat. Don’t tighten them that much. If you’re not sure, don’t use them.

Sorry I offended you.
You can strap your boats anyway you like. I, of course, am free to read the assorted advice on this board, and weigh it according to what I know about the experience of the person giving advice.

In my mind, your confession to driving 100 mph with boats strapped to your car discredits your opinion on the matter. I’m more inclined to listen to the wide range of experienced and knowledgeable paddlers who have advised against it, and my own experience with plastic boats that can warp.

Let me repeat, you can strap your boats anyway you like, and don’t need my approval. Happy paddling.


– Last Updated: Jul-03-07 4:47 PM EST –

hey bud i wasnt offended at all.

discredited opinion or not, it works for me. And my confessions of driving over the posted legal speed limit were more of an example of the strength and stability of my 'wrong way' method holding up to forces I dont think a similar setup tied down with ropes or whatever would. What would I know though, ive only used this 'wrong way' sucessfully for 4+ years and countless trips.

as long as I get to my put in im happy. Faster I get there the better in that respect anyway lololol

Carried 4 on my Skyline wagon
using 78 inch bars. pic here http://foldingkayaks.org/gallery/album94/kayak3s