Boat Trailer vs Roof Rack

I have a hatch back car. Would a kayak trailer or roof rack be better for transporting a 17’ sea kayak.

I like trailers
Most of my put-ins here are boat ramps,so I don’t have the problem of finding room for the trailer. I like not having to lift the boats on top of the car and I’ve gotten pretty good at maneuvering a trailer.

For heavy boats and tall trucks a trailer is a huge help. For light boats on small cars, a roof rack is fine.

A luxury
I feel trailer is a luxury:

  1. no need to lift the boat
  2. no need to even take the boat off the trailer (if you have room for it in the garage)
  3. no roof rack wind noise
  4. no roof rack to cost gas milage penalty when not transporting boats


  5. it cost more to travel in toll roads
  6. the trailer itself cost quite a bit

It’s up to you,
I have both, but I don’t use the trailer unless I’m hauling more than two boats. For me, throwing a couple of racks on the car, followed with a couple of boats is easier than getting out the trailer and having the manuvering and parking issues. It’s not inexperience, I’ve had many trailers over the years, from utility trailers to a 28’ camper.

But my boats are light, my health is mostly still good,and I’m tall enough where the reach isn’t too bad even if we take the truck.

My trailer for the yaks is an old (1965) 18’ galvanized boat trailer modified for kayaks and/or canoes, so it’s not the lightest thing in the world. But it was free, so there it is.

Your equipment will be different, so you assesment will be based on what you have available, I’m sure.


I agree
I too have a trailer… and dislike having to figure out what restaurants and motels have ample parking in the dark in strange areas. I do a lot of long distance driving. I will only trailer with three or more boats.

But I will point out that if your boat prevents your hatchback from raising far enough and you find yourself squatting over to rummage in the back or you keep whacking your head you might get tired of roofracking quick.

There is good and bad in both trailering and roofracking.

I’ve never used
a trailer for canoes and kayaks but I am getting to the point where my age, lack of fitness, and two prior shoulder surgeries are making it hard to load my boats on the roof. I have been looking at trailers and I think a trailer might be in my future. The only thing holding me back now is the price tag. But if you are not having trouble physically getting your boats on the roof (and there are many rack configurations aimed at making it easier to do so) I guess I would stick with racks for all the reasons mentioned.

For trailers can be less, but it depends on how handy you are. I found a used boat trailer for $200. Spent about another $100 to adapt it. Also bought a Harbor Freight Trailer on sale for about $250. Some assembly required.

For difficulty in loading and unloading boats, I think those new hydrolic boat loader gizmo might be a better option. They cost no more than trailers. They also don’t have the wear and tear of the trailer traveling on roads (tires, lights etc).

For a single boat, the only advantage of trailer is if you have a double garage so can just leave the boat (and all the paddling gear) on the trailer, such that you can hitch-and-go when you want to go really quickly for a short paddle say, after work.

If its just me, or my wife and I with the tandem, then it’s on top. Putting my kayak on top myself, or the tandem with both of us lifting, its just easier than hitching the trailer. If we are taking multiple boats, such as the canoe and the tandem kayak, then the trailer is much easier. And, with the kayaks on the trailer I can put all of the stuff paddles, pfds, cooler, drybags, etc in the boat at home, put the cover on, and spend less time getting ready at the put in. At the end of the day, all the wet dirty stuff goes in the boat and not the car. This also comes in handy when we need the space in the car for other stuff, like if we are going camping. I use a regular boat trailer that I adapted for use with paddle craft. I got it for free.

cartopping vs trailer
I have a trailer and also only use it when carrying 3-5 canoes/kayaks. I dislike the parking issues and am still able to load on cartop racks.

Another issue with trailer is increase toll expense. It varies from state to state and bridge to bridge, sometimes slight increase and sometimes major. On a multi state trip those increased tolls add up.



– Last Updated: Dec-24-12 5:34 PM EST –

I have delivered thousands of canoes on 6 to 40 hauler trailers. I will do almost anything, including triple stacking to keep from dealing with a trailer.

An engineering type, I do not understand the electrical lighting problems endemic to trailers, but have spent lots of time on my back in the snow/ rain, mud fixing same.

Trailers compromise parking, even turning around in some places.

Trailers can tip over in extreme cross winds. So can SUV's but the latter has never happened to me.

As per PRG51 below, wheel bearings are another, constant, issue, but Bearing Buddys and a grease gun go a long way towards solving that one.

We spend several thousand dollars and engage title and licensing, lighting issues when we must because we're hauling a significant number of hulls for a camp, college or manufacturer. I need to be paid to haul a trailer.

To haul a couple, up to four hulls? Get a long combi like my late, lamented Saab, a BMW/ Audi/ VW/ Subaru station wagon, save money and frustration and simplify your life.

You forgot wheel bearings-
they always seem to go south at the worst time. All you say is true. Trailers are a PIA. But, a nice small and light trailer built for just 2 or 4 boats, not so bad. When your shoulders stop working over head it may be the only alternative if you want to keep paddling.

I’ve done both. I stopped hauling my composite boat on the trailer because it does not provide the soft and safe ride that that a weighted vehicle suspension does.

It is almost impossible to design a trailer that rides well with such a light load on it. A lot of thought needs to go into how to cushion the boats when riding on a trailer that will go airborne over every pothole and railroad track.

Consider elevating the yak on the rack
I have a lot of canoes and kayaks and wouldn’t use a trailer for all the negative reasons already stated.

One thing to consider if your hatchback is hitting your kayak. You can try to raise the yak higher off the roof.

You can raise the bars higher off the roof with some systems by using taller towers, if available. Extra tall towers used to be available from Thule if you used their false gutter mounts.

You can also lift the hull higher off the bars if you attach foam blocks, saddles or J racks onto the bars and into which the hull will rest.

What is the vehicle ?

– Last Updated: Dec-25-12 6:01 AM EST –

My 4'-11" daughter has a small hatch back and halls an 18 foot sea kayak on it at times and other times canoes.
She has no hassel with any extra registration, insurance, parking, wheel bearing maintenance or trailer storing, and is very happy with her set up.

I have a Ford Escape with a hatchback, and carry two sea kayaks and one canoe

With all that said, I imagine it is a lot easier to load and unload off a low trailer

Jack L

Does raising hatch become a problem
…when the boat is on the roof? Do you intend to keep the kayak on the roof at all times except when paddling, and if so, would it keep you from using the hatchback for loading or unloading other items?

We need more information from you.

In your experience, do you prefer one over the other? And why? What would make you consider another option?

Do you have storage space for a trailer?

Do you have physical limitations (height, injuries, etc.) that favor trailering?

The trailer wheel bearings are easy to deal with: Just keep them lubed (not overlubed) with a grease gun; it only takes a minute to do.

I have a trailer as well as a roof rack. The trailer gets used to haul the kayak(s) almost every time. Even if it’s only one kayak, because if there’s only one kayak that means it’s only me to load and unload it, which makes trailering the better choice. My husband hates rooftopping as much as I do, so even when we both go paddling, we use the trailer.

The only time I rooftopped on a solo trip was when I knew I would not be stopping to paddle on the way out or back. It allowed a bigger choice of motels on the route, since the ones that are in towns sometimes don’t have much parking. The ones in rural areas or along Interstates usually have enough space for trailers.

Make loading the boat easier
I think the biggest drawback to roof racks is the loading of the boat on the rack. With good cradles it is easy to roll the boat up onto the rack from the front of the car with most any cart. C-tug has a video showing how to do this.

Most folks can lift the boat onto the wheels on the hood. From there is it easy to go to the other end of the boat and roll it up onto the rack.

The only advantage of the trailer that has not listed is the box in the bottom is a great place to put all the wet stuff for the ride home.

The cost of the trailer is minimal compared to the cost of taxes, titling, registration, and insurance over the years.

Parking can go either way. In SC there are ramps where you may not use the parking unless you are pulling a boat trailer.

Boat Trailer vs Roof Rack
Thank you for your input. You all brought up many excellent points that I had failed to consider. My car is a 2013 chevy volt. I will go with a thule roof rack, the only one currently available for the volt, with a hull-a-vator. The hull-a-vator should address all the lifting and hatchback issues you all brought up. And the roof rack should address all the disadvantages of the trailer. I am still deciding between the aerodynamic and standard cross bars. Any input on the differences there would also be appreciated.

Bad Advice
The members of this site usually do a pretty good job with newbie advice. I think you missed the mark on this one.

We’ve been trailering our boats for three years now and I would not go back to roof top transport for anything. The boats are always loaded and ready to go. No overhead lifting. I can always just unhook and walk it around in any parking lot. Tracks beautiful and sorry but no airborn bouncing. The tolls are an extra buck. Big deal. Come on guys, you got this person buying a one boat monstosity which is way north of cheap. Try again.