Advice for solo kayak roof carrier

I just bought a Delta 12S kayak. While it is light enough for me to carry…there is NO way I can load it onto my current Malone J hooks by myself. I am not strong or tall enough. I own a Toyota RAV4. Sadly…my kayak is spending more time in the garage than in the water.

Advice please from anyone who has used a sea wing system or similar? Which one do you like? Can you load on your own? Do they fit factory installed crossbars? Thank you!

If you are handy and have some tools you can make a teeter-todder style carrier from wood. The main frame tilts for loading and unloading. If you want, install a carabiner at the front and loop a long rope through it so you can pull the kayak up at you push it from the rear. By using wood it’s easy to make 2 cradles to fit the hull contour perfectly, so the kayak comes to rest exactly in the correct place ready to tie off. Making a tilt frame allows you to lower the rear of the carrier about 2 feet. If you then can just get the bow of the kayak up that far and set it into the cradle you need only push it instead of lifting the rest of the kayak up, and as you push you pull on the rope so the hull is guided into the front cradle, As it passes the center it becomes nearly weightless and you have full control of the tilting with only about 1 pound of pressure either way. I use the combing as a lash point to secure the boat from the rear (make a loop of rope to go from the rack around the combing and back to the rear again to pull tension) and the bow line (same one you used to put it up with) to secure it to the front. Throw a girth line over the middle and it’s good to go. Tension front, rear and around.
My wife also owns a Rav-4 and getting racks for it we found the roof rail were different on different years, so the method you’d use to secure the wood rack requires some thought. Steel Pad-eyes and pop rivets do a good job on many of them.

I just made such a rack for a friend on his Subaru about 2 weeks ago, and we pop-riveted lash points to the top rails to secure the roof rack to. Worked like a charm.

I use Marco saddles, which are similar in function to the SeaWings. My car has a lower roof (Subaru Crosstrek) and my kayaks are longer (15-19’), both of which make loading a little easier, but the principles are the same. I use a cheap foam Walmart bathmat on the rear spoiler - put the bow of the kayak on the bathmat, stern on the ground. Pick up the stern and slide up into the cradles. It takes some experimenting to figure out what works for you - I have a friend with the exact same car and she needs one of those suction cup rollers for the back window to stabilize the kayak - the height difference between us is enough that the angles don’t work as well for her.

I would be hard pressed to solo load into J cradles either without damaging the car, kayak or myself too! But getting a system that is easy makes a huge difference. I paddle every weekend (sometimes twice) and 95% of the time I am solo, so being able to load and unload my kayaks easily is a big deal.


I have been loading bigger boats onto increasingly taller roofs for a couple of decades. Rav4 for the last several years. I am closer to 71 than 70 years old and not big.

I have never been a fan of Jhooks because they are darned near impossible for a solo load once the car is taller or the person is smaller. What works better is saddles, rollers or stackers. All of which have you bringing the boat up flat. The thing you need with the Rav4 is something that sticks out from the car, at the back or the side, to prop the bow of the boat onto then slide it up.

My fave tool is something that is not available any longer. But I looked at the Sea Wing system and it appears that there is an extension that sticks out the back onto which you can prop the bow of the boat and slide it up. There are also systems with an extension that goes out the the side.

That said, I do have a concern about the length of your boat. In order to make most of these extension systems work, you have to be able to prop one end of the boat onto the extension with the other end resting on the ground. They have hardly made the Rav4 shorter… Can you tell whether your boat is long enough to bridge that gap?

You do have perimeter line, which is crucial making this happen, this is a good thing.

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I just thought of another option that might be worth trying too. My 19’ Mirage 580 has a unique stern rudder that prevents me from loading it the same way I do my other kayaks since I can’t put the stern on the ground. For that kayak I put the bathmat on the hood (a towel would work too), plop the kayak on the hood and slide it up to the cradles. Only caveat here is that your 12’ kayak might not span to the front cradle on its own and you’d need to be careful not to put pressure on the windshield. Maybe another bathmat/towel/foam block/suction cup roller at the top of the windshield would help.

This method looks really weird but actually works quite well and is easy to do. Another example of experimenting with things until you find something that works. When I got that kayak I was a bit stumped as to how I was going to load it until the lightbulb went on.

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Malone makes a load assist module for use with the Seawing rack, called the Stinger. It helps to load from the back. If your height is an issue, a small folding two step ladder is a good thing to keep on hand. I have to use one when loading my kayaks on my minivan.

Check out the Stinger and see if it will work for you.

If you’re looking to load into regular style J hooks, try resting one end of the kayak on the ground, preferably on a bath mat or something else soft, and lift the other end into the J hook, then lift the other end into the other hook. This way you’re not lifting the entire kayak all at once. It’s MUCH easier this way, and the only way I can get my Tsunami 165 the 6 1/2+ feet to the top of my vehicle. Again if your height is an issue, get a small step stool.


I understand what you mean. I have a Rav4 that I sometimes mount J racks and would carry my Pungo 125. I’m 6’ 2" and fairly strong, but it was just high enough that the combination of reach, balance, control and weight made it a struggle. I picked a small step stool at Harbor Freight and it gave me the reach to get it high enough to put it into the J Rack. Perhaps a step stool would help you get it higher up. You may need a stool with a couple of steps.

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That sounds like a great solution. I have two 17’ touring kayaks and have a Thule saddle system on my Crosstrek. Would you be willing to send me some pics of your construction?

I’m 5’4", 60 years old, a klutz, and had the same problem with a J-rack my Subaru Forester. Try a seawing carrier set (Malone Saddle-up Pro has slides on the back wings to make loading easier) and a concave foam roller suctioned onto the rear windshield to guide the boat straight onto the wings (Codinter Kayak Roller is inexpensive and sturdy, may require a little experimenting to find the flatest areas of the glass for best suction). Using this equipment, I can slide my yak right up by myself with no problem. A small folding step ladder gets me up to secure the straps.

Hope this helps. Happy paddling!