Attaching a Canoe to a Vehicle

Regarding the video piece on 23-Oct-2013:

Wow that is really bad advice for how to attach a canoe to a vehicle,

not to mention very dangerous to other drivers. You should always use 2 straps on the bow and at least 2 on the stern, forming an upside down V from the ends of the boat to the outside edges of the bumper. This will keep the boat from moving sideways in a crosswind. Make sure you attach the straps to a solid part of the canoe, not to a grab loop. You should NEVER depend on any car top rack to hold the boat on, whether it is from Thule or Yakima or factory installed. The boat needs to be secured to the vehicle, not the rack. You need 2 straps around the belly of the boat to be safe, whether you have a rack or foam blocks. Passing the belly straps through the windows in your car is not a bad idea but you can’t do it through the front doors or you can’t open the doors. You should also have 4 straps coming from the rear bumper: 2 attached from opposite ends of the bumper to the end of the boat, the other 2 attached from the bumper to opposite sides of the boat about 6 feet in from the end. You can usually find a gunnel or seat to use as the attachment point. This will keep the boat from flying off the front of your car if you have to make a sudden stop on the freeway. You don’t want to slam on the brakes and launch your boat into the car in front of you. Finally, on many cars and trucks, it’s very difficult to find solid attachment points on the vehicle, especially if the vehicle has plastic bumpers. Spend some time crawling around under the car looking for places to attach to the frame, and remember that if you put the strap or rope too close to the exhaust pipe it will melt.

MOST IMPORTANT, you should always test how tightly the boat is secured before driving away. Stand in front and try to push it sideways. Try to pull it forward or push it backward. If it is attached well, you

should be able to shake your car a bit by shaking the boat. Then bring

along an extra strap or two, in case your system doesn’t work very well

once you get on the road. Put down your coffee cup and hit the brakes

hard on your way out the driveway to make sure you did a good job.

BTW, that loud humming noise at freeway speeds is the straps vibrating. You can get it to stop by putting a twist or two into each strap when you are attaching the boat.

sort of
You are right that you should never be happy to tie the boat just to the rack. I had a Yakima tower fail at 70 mph and it stripped the carrier and boats off of the car in one piece. Fortunately, while the boats and rack were destroyed, there was no one behind so I did not kill a van full of nuns with that stunt.

I am not sure, however, that you need to have two bow and stern lines to keep the boat from moving sideways. The racks in the video are like the ones I use and they have mounts that lock in the sides of the canoe and stop lateral movement. Of course after the incident above, I run two straps off of each end anyway because I know my luck is limited and largely exhausted.


Good points
But are you suggesting that best practice is to put 2 straps on the bow, 2 on the stern and 2 on the rack/through the car?

6 seems a little excessive. 2 tie downs are certainly insufficient, but 6 seems overkill. 3 or 4 is quite adequate in my experience.

You can carry my boat

– Last Updated: Oct-23-13 2:35 PM EST –

You'll find differences of opinion about which tie-downs are needed and which are not, or which ones are good insurance and which are overkill. One particular pair of tie-downs you mentioned is a pair that I use, but which I've never seen anyone else use, and that's the pair that run from each outside rear corner of the car, going FORWARD to a thwart on the canoe. Discounting the integrity of the rack itself, those are the only connections that can function efficiently to keep the boat from sliding forward. To counteract those lines, it's also best if the bow tie-downs attach very far forward, at the bumper rather than alongside the hood (though I think that method is reasonably good, especially in the absence of sloping lines at the back), so the boat is "stretched" between those two pairs of lines and can't move forward or back. The typical pair of lines running from the rear bumper to the tip of the stern accomplishes nothing in the way of forward/rearward sliding that isn't already accomplished by the front pair (this type of rear tie-down does the same thing as the front pair: it keeps the boat from sliding rearward), which is why I never run lines to the tip of the stern at all (but if the front tie-downs are nearly vertical, anything extra at the stern will be useful).

I do something similar
I have not had a rack fail and come off but I have heard of it happening to several people. I know some of the older Thule towers had a sleeve part that the bar went through that was attached to the foot of the tower by nothing more than a pair of aluminum rivets.

I too have found that triangulated lines running from the forward stem of the canoe to points at either side of the front bumper, or to short nylon straps mounted either side of the hood for those vehicles lacking suitable anchor points below the bumper, do indeed reduce yaw induced by cross winds and semis considerably.

I don’t find that triangulated lines at the rear add that much and don’t routinely use them. I usually bring a painter mounted to the rear stem of the boat forward and loop it over a thwart, then run it back and tie it to one of the crossbars behind the thwart. This very effectively prevents the canoe from sliding forward during a panic stop. More effectively than lines running from the rear bumper to a thwart, since invariably some slack must be taken up in such lines before the canoe stops sliding forward.

Plusses and minuses there

– Last Updated: Oct-23-13 3:41 PM EST –

I find that my rear lines, as described, have enough forward slope that I really can't push the boat forward much at all, though admittedly, it's not quite as effective as a straight-line pull would be (though speaking of straight line pull, I don't understand why one would multiply the length of line by 6 or 8 times via that pulley effect of going around the thwart, when the resulting extra line running 2/3rds the length of the boat accomplishes nothing except to increase the the stretch factor). Anyway, I mainly intend for the lines I described to restrict boat movement in three directions IF the rack were to fail, while your method only keeps the boat from going forward, and only when the rack does not fail. I think the most likely situation where right/left/forward control is needed would be after rack failure due to a front-end collision (the car might be wrecked, but maybe at least the boat will still be okay if not allowed to take off on impact). On that note though, I'm sure the attachment of the rack to the roof of your pickup-truck topper is a lot more secure than a lot of standard car-roof attachments.

No method does all things perfectly. Still, you are the first person (other than the original poster here) that I've encountered who has a method to stop forward slippage that isn't simply dependent on the belly straps and/or gunwale brackets (both of which may be okay, but again, not if the rack fails).

Why not just throw a net over the …
whole vehicle?

Or better yet, stay home and don’t go paddling.

Don’t follow too close behind me because I never use rear tie downs, and the only time I use front ones is if I am going on the interstate at 70 MPH. Then it is only to keep the front of my long canoes and kayaks from shuddering when the big rigs come sailing by at 80.

Jack L

Multiply the length 6 or 8 times?

– Last Updated: Oct-23-13 5:23 PM EST –

Don't know what you are thinking there.

My painters are typically no more than 12 feet long. There is often plenty of length to loop one around a thwart and rack bar multiple times. To go around a thwart once and back to a rack crossbar requires only about 5 to 10 feet depending on the length of the boat. Sure, one can use a very short stub line tied to a thwart and directly to a rack crossbar behind it and not run it to the canoe stem, but what is the point when the painter is already there?

My rear rack attachment to my truck cap is quite secure as it uses artificial rain gutter brackets doubly bolted through the cap. All of the lifting force that tends to strip a canoe off a vehicle along with the rack is at the front.

For what it’s worth, …

– Last Updated: Oct-23-13 5:34 PM EST –

... my reasoning was as follows, though I didn't think "really carefully" about the dimensions, it was just a quick notion:

Likely distance from thwart to closest crossbar = 2 to 3 feet.

Likely distance from stern to thwart = 2/3rds the length of the boat, or something like 10 feet (this assumes that the rear thwart is likely to be behind the rear crossbar, and therefore not useable for this purpose).

10' + 2' or 3' = 12' or 13', which now that I actually see the numbers (I didn't give it that much thought the first time, and now that I look at it I don't think all the numbers are even close) gives a total length that is at MOST roughly six-times longer than needed. It's no big deal really, but since you asked, that's the rough idea of how I pictured the extra length, simply picturing a boat on the roof but not actually quantifying any lengths in my mind.

And like I said, I'd trust your roof rack a lot more than most.

I’m not sure a nets gonna do it, Jack
…Unless you mean a stainless steel cable net. Then I’d only back that up with 4 to 6 extra straps and feel pretty good.


for a few years now have adopted …

– Last Updated: Oct-23-13 11:43 PM EST –

..... the strap through the doors as a rack failure back up . This final strap is in additiuon to the regular straps and ropes which attach to the rack , and the bumpers .

Not through the windows ... the strap goes through the interior (buckle inside) , and the doors close on the strap . the strap exterior is wrapped around a canoe seat (canoe upside down) , and never even touches the rack .

When I started doing this , I immediately felt better about the security , and still do . I figure this back up strap will be the last to blow in a collision or unexpected rack failure ... who knows ?? Hope it's never needed and hope I don't ever have to find out how well it works !!

"You should always use 2 straps on the bow and at least 2 on the stern, forming an upside down V from the ends of the boat to the outside edges of the bumper. This will keep the boat from moving sideways in a crosswind. "

Wow, had not thought of that, easy enough to pick up more straps but eventually, for shorter trips, I might eventually spend more time on boat security on the rack than I do in the water.

So far I have not had sideways movement but have had some rotation on the boat’s “axis”, I need to think through the best solutions, the saddles I have seem to do little to prevent it. What the hull needs is trunnions like on a muzzle loading cannon.


– Last Updated: Oct-24-13 1:14 PM EST –

Every car model is going to be different - but....

I have yet to see any modern car or light truck that has anything to gain from attaching the front tie-downs to the bumper, rather than to loops attached as close to the front of the hood as possible. Attachment to the bumper is just going to wrap over the leading edge of the hood anyway - so going with a shorter rope from the leading edge of the hood will reduce stretch in the line.

If you use gunwale brackets or some other centering device, there is no need for more than one rear line per boat. I run one line from the loops on my hitch receiver up over the rear of the roof to a thwart that is forward of the attachment point.

Between these and a couple belly straps, it ain't going anywhere.

Also - why not use the tug-eye loops for the front attachment? They typically go through one of the strongest parts of the boat. Arguably stronger than the gun'l to hull attachment that you would be relying on when tying off to a thwart.

Of course - all this assumes a boat that is not overly heavy and/or weak in construction.