Boat Trailer vs Roof Rack

Trailer is by far the best option
I use a Sportsrig trailer. It is designed to handle light weight loads like kayaks and bicycles. It uses motorcycle suspension and conveniently folds up against a wall in my garage using a foot print of about 2’x4’. I have never been charged an extra toll for it. My gas mileage is almost unchanged as compared to no trailer, whereas a loaded roof rack will steal at least 10% of your fuel economy. In the 10 or more years I have owned it, and after thousands of miles of towing, the electicals all work and the wheelbearings are just fine. All the bugaboos verbalized in this thread have simply not proven to be true. I bought it after throwing my shoulder out when the wind caught my kayak while attempting to put it up on the roof of my car by myself. A trailer avoids that particular problem. A friend of mine forgot that he had a kayak on the roof and drove into his garage. He needed a new boat after that and a new garage door and frame. In strong cross winds, small cars with boats on the roof are blown around a lot more than small cars towing the boats on a purpose built trailer. The one and only downside to buying a trailer such as the Sportsrig is that they are expensive. On the other hand, the medical bills from my shoulder injury cost a lot more than the trailer did.

A trailer is the way to go, definitely re-think your decision.

Bugaboos are largely avoidable

– Last Updated: Dec-26-12 8:52 PM EST –

1. Keep the bearings greased; make it easy by having grease fittings (Bearing Buddies) on them, and you can grease both wheels in a few moments. And make sure you use WHEEL BEARING grease intended for high-temp applications (small wheels rotate faster for a given mph than big wheels do).

2. Keep the tires up to pressure. This means not airing them down too much, as so many advise. With such a light load as kayaks, you don't need to put the maximum pressure in them, which might be 65 to 80 psi for some tires. But you also should not let them go down to ridiculously soft pressures, because that causes overheating of the tires and uneven wear. On the Trailex SUT-350-M2 that I tow, the tires are the little ones with maximum pressures in the 60+plus psi range. Yet the trailer maker's decal says to use only 20 psi. I never go that high OR low and have had no trouble with hauling glass kayaks. I've put anywhere from 35 to 50 psi in them and settled on 38 psi. Tires are wearing normally and the ride is soft enough because of the soft leaf springs on that kayak-specific trailer.

Those are the two things to pay special attention to. But really, watching tire pressure is something you should do with your car anyway, so there's only one extra thing to watch for: adequate grease in the trailer's wheel bearings. And that is incredibly easy to do.

Now, for the bugaboo that you cannot control: In Colorado, tolls for trailers are extremely high. It wasn't always this way; things changed a couple of years ago and C470 Authority began gouging trailer users. It's based on number of axles, not actual weight or length. So my combined truck and trailer and payloads add up to less weight than a full-sized SUV with 1 driver and no passengers or loads at all. Go figure! But I sure wouldn't let extra toll or parking charges deter me from buying a trailer if it was better in other ways. (And C470 Authority and their incompetent recordkeeping can go stick themselves where the sun don't shine! Good riddance.)

A joke
If you have a Chevy Volt,a trailer would be beter so when it explodes your boats are saved.


“Bad advice” or just “not your choice”?

– Last Updated: Dec-27-12 1:34 PM EST –

To my way of thinking, I haven't seen any "bad advice" here at all. Trailers aren't right for everyone, and your arguments in favor of trailers over roof racks sound more like a statement of "my way is right" rather than logic. Lots of other people said they prefer trailers, some of the time or all of the time, but in most cases also stated some logical qualifiers.

As far as your reasons for trailer use being so universally correct, they aren't. For one thing, "no overhead lifting" is no reason for a non-disabled person to use a trailer if instead they could use a bit of imagination and ingenuity. I've been loading boats on roofs all my life, sometimes with boats quite a bit heavier than canoes or kayaks, and sometimes on full-size vans. I'm not exactly big and strong, but I AM totally intolerant of doing things the hard way, and know how to modify a rack and my loading technique to make the job easy. If you are actually reaching above your head while lifting the entire boat, you are doing it the hardest possible way, and the logical thing to ask yourself is "why do it that way"? If you don't have the ability to modify your rack to make the job easy, then using a trailer may be a good choice for you, but it's not the only way to make boat-loading easy.

As far as bouncing goes, any trailer you buy which is not specifically designed for ultralight loads is likely to have this problem, and virtually every cheap trailer will. On such trailers, you'll have to modify the suspension yourself. If you buy a nice trailer (such as special one for bikes or boats that has a nice, soft suspension), it will cost the same putting roof racks on a small fleet of cars. Even with a cheap trailer, you still have to put a rack on it, and the rack will still be fairly expensive if you can't build it yourself. Besides, the OP is only looking to carry one boat.

As far as having the boats "already loaded", that's nice if you have a place you can park a loaded trailer. Not everyone does. I eliminate the inconvenience of loading boats by making my boat-storage methods quick and easy to use. Even my biggest, heaviest boat can be gotten out of its rack and onto the roof in about three minutes, and then all I have to do is tie it down. I don't have to do any heavy lifting at any point in the process on account of the way I designed my storage systems.

You say you can walk a trailer anywhere you need, but that's true only for you, not everyone. Try doing that so you can turn around on a dirt road or a back-woods road that's really steep. It'll take a team of helpers unless you bought one of those terribly expensive specialty trailers, but even then, you are wasting time that you wouldn't have to if the boat had been on the roof.

Overall, I'd say the pros and cons of trailers versus racks have been well described. As many others have said, I agree that which is the better choice is not universal, but depends on the specific situation.

I agree
trailers are not a blanket solution with one size fits all.

For those of you who do not have to deal with increased tolls bully for you. But to call everyone else wrong…is just wrong. My tolls do go up… from $9.50 for boats on the roof to $20.75 for towing a trailer on the ferry. Multiply that by two…and its a factor.

And in the North Maine Woods turn around is an issue… As well as pulling onto twitch roads when a logging truck oncoming is taking up the whole road.

I do have a trailer. Currently its under two feet of snow. Using it in the winter is a hassle…it always has to be unearthed.

So everyones experience is valid. No one is giving bad advice. If it works for you fine. If not, fine. Its YOUR outing. Not mine.

Might want to re-think that Hullavator
The Volt is already low and small, as cars go. I assume since you think you need assistance lifting the boat, it must be a plastic monster that weighs a ton? On a small car, you should be able to get one end of the boat onto the rack, then slide it up the rest of the way. If you do that, you won’t have to lift more than about half the boat’s weight during any stage of the loading process. You can put carpet on the un-used portion of your cross bars, or use cradles, or substitute a set of rollers for one of the cradles. Alternatively, you can buy or build a temporary cross-bar extension that sticks out to one side, onto which you first lift one end of the boat. There must be a dozen ways to make loading the boat easy, and a Thule Hullavator seems like overkill for the average male paddler with a small car.

Not as much as a "fleet of roof racks"
The two trailers I’ve had cost under $1000 (in 2000) and about $1500 including shipping (in 2011). While each costs more than one roof set-up, it’s hardly a “fleet” of the latter, especially if there are things such as ShowBoats or Hullavators added on to make rooftop loading easier. And then it still wouldn’t be as easy as loading a trailer.

The real advantage of a trailer, costwise, is that mpg suffers less than with roof racks, and that the trailer can be swapped to different vehicles as long as the vehicle has the same size towing ball on it. In other words, you don’t need to keep buying different sets of roof-to-rack hardware because you sold your old vehicle.

That’s why we could keep our first trailer for 11 years despite several vehicle changes. The same applies to our current trailer. With built-in riser bars, all that’s necessary is some minicell kayak blocks–cradles not required.

Sports Rig won’t even publish prices

– Last Updated: Dec-27-12 7:33 PM EST –

I was referring to the expensive trailers. I figure Sports Rig trailers must be a couple thousand bucks at least, since they seem to go by the policy, "If you have to ask what it costs, you can't afford it" (in actual fact, I think Sports Rig is on the verge of going out of business, since NOBODY closes their website for several weeks just to "take inventory". Who believes a company that small has an inventory that can't be tallied by one person in a day or two? A less-cynical interpretation might be that it's such a small operation that if the boss takes a long vacation, everything comes to a halt). Anyway, I think I spent $200 (MAYBE it was as much as $250) on my roof rack, so yes, I think I could have bought racks for 8 or 10 cars ("a small fleet") for the price of a Sports Rig, but granted, I carry canoes and similar boats gunwales-down, so there are no expensive accessories. I'm thinking of replacing it this winter with one that's home-built from the ground up, which would have been the smart thing to do right from the start.

As to the mileage penalty of boats on the roof, I myself wouldn't use it to justify a trailer. A quick calculation using some rough mileage figures of my own, with and without boats, shows that at $4 per gallon, I'd need to carry boats for 110,000 miles under average conditions before recouping the cost of a Sports Rig (assuming it costs $2,000), and 50,000 miles under the worst possible conditions (high-speed driving into very strong headwinds). In any case the estimate is conservative because it's based on the unrealistic assumption that carrying boats on a trailer would not affect mileage at all. I'm not sure I'll ever reach 100,000 miles of driving with boats on the roof. However, if the price of gas goes up enough, especially if it were to force me to use a much smaller car, it would take considerably fewer miles carrying boats to recoup the cost. Therefore, it seems that for a small-car owner, a really "nice" (expensive) trailer starts to look pretty darned appealing.

Trailer won’t work for me, since I keep
a boat on my car during the week when at work. No place to park a trailer at work.

Not even any place to park a trailer at the city park lakes that I paddle the most.

Expensive does not equal "nice"
SportsRig and Yakima/Rack-n-Roll are the most expensive kayak trailers made, probably partly because they can be folded up.

Yet they are NOT the best kayak trailers out there. Ask around behind the scenes, and you’ll learn about the rust problems (SportsRig) and tongue breakage (Rack-n-Roll). I don’t mean just one or two instances.

What looks like the best kayak trailer (to me, anyway) is a new model made by Triton. It costs about $1500 and is much more solidly built and thoughtfully designed than any other stock kayak trailer. I wish I’d had this option when we replaced our old modified Triton snowmobile trailer.

We bought a decent Trailex kayak trailer in 2011; it’s good but not as good as the new Triton kayak trailer. Take a look at how electrical wiring and taillights are handled, for just ONE example of the attention to detail and long-term durability.

I’d take that new Triton any day over any slough of roof systems.

It depends
on what you are driving as to the extra for gas. I haul one or two kayaks on the roof of my 4X4 Silverado, and the highway mpg for cruising at 60 mph is about 1/2 mpg less, 16 1/2 vs 17. While there is a noticeable difference in reaction to wind, it doesn’t cause me problems. I would have serious problems turning around with a trailer some of the places I go. The bottom line is that no one solution fits all.

Capacity is most important in trailers
I’d love to have a Sportsrig or Yakima Rack and Roll trailer. Question is, who stole who’s design?

Both have “motorcycle” wheels, axles, and coil spring suspensions with shocks. I think capacity is around 250 pounds.

I have never seen a leaf spring axle assembly rated for less than 1000 pounds. Any typical cargo or boat trailer, NO MATTER how small, is probably equipped with 1000 pound suspension, and up. It is ridiculous. These trailers beat the crap out of lightweight boats on them. EVEN IF they have really really light springs, the unsprung weight of the normal trailer tires, wheels, and axles still make them ride rough.

There is another, much lower cost trailer out there called a Portage Pal. It has a solid suspension, but the boat rack on the aft end rides on springs. Seems to reason the boat rack on the bow end of the trailer rides soft because it is basically riding on the ball hitch…on the vehicle’s suspension.

I have at least three full sets of Yakima racks, with four tower types. Yet I would still use a trailer at times if I had one I liked.


Ummm, I use utility trailers
I’ve used them to carry lightweight boats over thousands of miles and haven’t “beaten the crap out of” any of them yet. Just telling my personal experience. Fiberglass, kevlar, and poly. Hasn’t hurt any of them. Sorry, real world experience.

Well, he’s right that they ride rough

– Last Updated: Dec-29-12 10:17 PM EST –

I have a standard boat trailer that has about the lightest suspension you normally see on such trailers. It carries a load that I think is somewhere around 400 to 500 pounds, and until I removed one leaf from each spring, it bounced terribly on any kind of "abrupt" bump, even small ones. The outboard motor used to bounce all over the place, and since the motor itself weighs 100 pounds that created a separate problem in itself. I finally got the bouncing under control though. Besides removing one leaf from each side, I built a bracket that removes all movement capability from the outboard motor's mount while in transport, and I put less pressure in the tires than recommended, so that they have about the same amount of "squat" as they would if at normal pressure when carrying the load they were actually designed for. However, running the tires with a lower pressure requires an additional modification - you must install an inner tube since they don't always remain sealed tightly to the wheel, and once you lose the seal there's no way to re-seat the tire with normal tools. The inner tube eliminates the risk of getting a non-repairable flat due to a bad seal.

Sure, you are correct that your boats won't be "beat to crap" as long as they are well secured, but I still haven't seen a trailer built from one of those kits that isn't sprung WAY stiffer than what remotely makes sense for carrying paddle craft, and they do bounce badly. It seems that people's tolerance for impracticality is inversely related to their understanding and ability to make things better, so yes, you CAN carry your boats on a 1,000-pound suspension, but plenty would chose to do it differently.

By the way, a guy in our local paddling club has a custom-built trailer for hauling multiple boats. It too is way heavier-duty than needed, but instead of the ultra-cheap, lightweight axles, tires and springs of kit trailers, it uses what I'd call a "real" trailer axle that's not made from stamped sheet metal, and the tires are as large as those found on something like a minivan, and the springs are far larger than what you see on any kit trailer. The longer leaves and progressive action of the springs provide a much smoother ride, and that combined with the relatively heavy weight of the trailer and the larger, cushier tires eliminates the problems associated with cheap trailers and their typical suspensions. It's a perfect example showing that there's more than one way to skin a cat, and that you get what you pay for.

This thread has me thinking even more
about a trailer. I’m 60 years old and I’ve had two shoulder surgeries. I have been struggling with all sorts of tactics and gizmos to help me get my boats on the roof for several years. Lord knows how many years I have left. It is starting to impact my interest in paddling - at least day trips. If I don’t do it now - when will I do it? Have to start setting aside some $.

One of the things I dislike re trailer
is loading boats waist high. Its not really much fun getting them inbetween the low bars and the high bars (that are around shoulder high0. But I have a four canoe trailer.

I have found the same for my friends 10 canoe Long Ranger. Its easier to load shoulder height than lower if you have bars above the boat.

We both have Mo trailers that are built to repel sway and bounce…none of which is a problem…at least so far in the first 20,000 miles…never say never.

The best thing
I like about using a trailer is you can keep a eye on the boats. I have a converted boat trailer that I built a rack on that is a little below shoulder height. The boats can be seen in the rear-view and both side-view mirrors. I can also load the bikes and camping equiment on the trailer for them weekend get-aways.

Let’s get back to the OP, please
Hard, I know, on pnet.

This is a person with ONE seakayak. That’s it. That’s the fleet.

I have stated my non-trailer preference, and don’t deny that trailers can be of benefit in multi-boat carriage and in vehicle loading for people with infirmities.

However, I don’t think I exaggerate my personal and objective experience by saying that, in more than 60 years of boating with thousands of paddlers, I can only recall one person who used a trailer to tote a lone kayak.

He drove a motorcycle.

um yes
headtopping is impractical.

I had a friend who used a Portage Pal T-1000 trailer to haul his solitary sea kayak. And he had an F-150 pickup truck.

It would not have been my choice, but he liked the convenience of leaving his boat and paddle strapped to the trailer. When he got home, he unhitched the lightweight trailer and wheeled it under a carport by his pool with his boat on it. He could be ready to go much more quickly than if he car-topped his boat.