Bow and Stern Tie-Down Lines

Having just gotten into kayaking, I’m now dealing with the issue of hauling something around on the roof of my car for the first time. Any advice on the matter would be appreciated. Here’s the story…

I have a Subaru Outback with a factory installed roof rack and bought a Thule Glide and Set rack system. It came with self-ratcheting bow and stern tie-down lines.

Long story short, there are some issues with the bow tie-down lines that cause them to be a problem without some further fussing. In talking with a few different people on this subject, I’ve gotten mixed feedback on the necessity of the tie-down lines. Here’s what I’ve heard…

  1. You don’t need the tie-down lines. The straps will hold the kayak on the roof rack just fine. (In noticing a few other vehicles on the roads now with kayaks, I haven’t seen anyone using tie-down lines.)

  2. The tie-down lines should not be considered optional. The constant upward drag created while driving will take its toll on the roof rack if you don’t use the tie-down lines.

  3. Always use at least a stern tie-down line as it will keep the kayak from becoming a projectile in a collision should the straps/roof rack fail.

  4. The tie-down lines are your back-up if your straps/roof-rack fail. Always use them.




My own tyhoughts…

– Last Updated: Jul-08-07 3:02 PM EST –

Ditch the ratchet tie downs. They have a tendency to either be too loose or too tight. There is no "just right" setting. And it's way easy to crank them down too tight. Either use a rope, or a strap with a cam lock buckle.

I use a bow tie down only. Mainly in the event the straps let go (just a precaution on my part). I'm not concerned about it coming off forward in a collision. That would be the least of my worries.

A clarification...
I use two lines on the bow.

You’ve already discovered the problem with this question. Everyone has their own opinions on bow stern tie down straps. In the end, it’s a descision you are going to have to make for yourself. How valuable is your kayak to you, and how much safety buffer are you comfortable with? For me, I’ve payed entirely too much for my kayaks for me not to spend an extra minute or so on the added measure of safety that the bow and stern tie downs provide. And contrary to previous poster, I don’t see any problem with the “ratched” tie downs that came with your rack attachments. I’ve got similar ones, and they really work in more of a “cam” fasion. When most people think of racheting, they are typically thinking of the racheting straps with the handles that you crank, and these are typicall bad because of the risk of over-tightening.

Tie Downs
I do something different depending how far I am going and the wind.

If I am going to the lake a mile or two away and it is not windy, I sometimes will just use one strap and a bow tie down.

If it is fairly windy and I am driving any distance, I use two straps and two tie downs, bow and stern. I have a tendency to be paranoid that something will give way in the wind, and I like having the two tie downs just in case.

But, I have canoeflyoffaphobia so dont listen to me. :wink: You have to do what you feel comfortable with.

bow and stern

– Last Updated: Jul-08-07 1:21 AM EST –

tiedowns can be a problem with some vehicles. Im lucky, mine are easy.
Sometimes I use them and sometimes I dont, it depends on which boat/boats Im hauling.
I would never suggest to anyone not to use bow and stern tiedowns. I think using them is a great idea. I also think that the world isnt going to suddenly end if you dont use them, so its a personal call and depends on the boat, the vehicle and the road/wind/traffic conditions. This is probably why you get such varied responses when asking people what they think of them.
Just so you know, the problem with not using bow/stern tiedowns isnt so much the boats flying off the rack, but the whole rack flying off the vehicle. You would be concerned if you could see the size of the sheetmetal screws holding your rack to the car.
If you decide you should use them, someone makes hood clips that attach under the hood so you can tie the bow off. I'll see if I can find them.
Here are some options:

A friend had her kayak rack fail on
the way back from Florida (a Thule, no details), the bow strap saved her kayak. It takes 2 minutes to tie both bow and stern down. Maybe not necessary, but its cheap insurance.

I always use them.

– Last Updated: Jul-08-07 2:39 AM EST –

Jane, my thinking aligns with number 4 in your O.P.

A few more points.

The bow and stern lines make a good tell tail for slippage of your boat or rack. If the boat moves, the line will go slack and you'll see it bow or flop, and you'll know to pull over and check things out, before the problem gets real serious.

If your boat ever does fly off the car, and property damage or injury is done to others, you could be at more legal risk if you didn't have bow and stern lines, because you didn't (perhaps in the eyes of a judge or jury) demonstrate reasonable effort to keep your boat on your vehicle.

You don't want to put a lot of tension on the bow and stern lines, IMO. (Viewpoint #2 in your O.P. implies tensioning them down.) You'll just put unnecessary stress on the hull that way. Lot of torque when pulling down on the ends. Make them just snug. They're just there as a safety line.

I like just plain old nylon rope. I put a carabiner on one end to attach to steel rings that I installed under my car. I use a truckers hitch to tie the line to the boat.


Lots Of Posts
Bow and stern line requirements is right up there with rudders or no rudders in terms of points of controversy. You have to decide on your own. A few points could be made though. The ratchet straps should be ditched. They will not serve you as well as normal non poly lines or better, nylon tie down straps with cam locks as previously stated. Next, there is not a great deal of lift or upward force on your car roof, at least with my set up. The bow and stern lines, when used, should not be tight as they are relatively far from the lever fulcrum, your saddle, and could cause damage if over tightened.

I may be just dumb lucky but have traveled all over the SE with one or two boats up top and I don’t use bow or stern lines.


I’m afraid…
…you won’t find a single opinion on this.

I personally use lines of reep (6mm, mantled kevlar) as tie-downs, with trucker’s hitch on the one, and a bowline on the other side.

I use a stern tie-down “as it will keep the kayak from becoming a projectile in a collision should the straps/roof rack fail.”. Or to put it another way - at least I don’t have to walk so far on the highway with my broken boat on the shoulder, after the fact. :slight_smile:

Why I don’t use gadgets instead of the knots? Well, I have seen enough gadgets either fail, become stuck, or be unoperable unless you know some arcane secret about them. Everybody can open my knots (though I let nobody else tie knots on my car) at least, and through experience I am very sure that the knots will fail less than gadgets. (Not talking about crashes here, but about normal day-to-day usage).

not optional
You spend a lot of money for the kayak. It really secures your kayak from side to side movement which can rip your whole rack off depending on the force of the wind. I find that it only takes a minute to secure the bow and the stern. I use two point tie down on bow and one on the stern.

I used them for a while
and found they were best at scuffing the paint on the hood of my car. I wrapped part of the tie down with terry cloth which helped.

Everything fails at one point or another. What you want to do is realize the risk and try to minimize the risk with expending a disproportionate amount of effort.

The method with the least likely hood of failure is foam blocks with ropes across the kayak and rope tie downs. With that system the only mechanical failure is will happen at the crossbars on your roof rack.

How long is your boat?
If it’s a 6 foot white water boat, no bow and stern lines needed. I’ve got a 10.5 footer and a 14 footer. I tend to not use bow/stern lines on the shorter boat when traveling a couple miles. When going across town or longer trips, I’ll use bow/stern safety lines on both boats…only snug, not tight. 3 min. of extra time might save a life.

I do it a little different than most folks though.

The boats go on the car, deck down.

I use one long rope for each boat, starting from the trailer hitch, up to a half hitch around the whole stern, pulled the length of the boat, half hitch around the whole bow, then down to the factory tie down rings under the bumper (Toyota 4runner). A taughtline or truckers hitch each end, with a hook on the front loop for speed. Snug, not tight…basically take the slack out of the rope. I don’t trust the ‘carry handles’ on the front and rear of plastic kayaks…I’d rather loop around the entire bow/stern…and it’s quicker. After the first time you do this, your rope will be the perfect length for the boat and will only take 30 seconds to do again.

This method eliminates a rope per boat and makes bow/stern lines really quick, and arguably stronger. Use a good 3/8" nylon braid rope…it’s supple and lasts years.

I also made my own rack tiedowns from real 1" climbing webbing (.35 a foot and 2000 lb. strength) and sewing 5" loops on the ends. A truckers hitch knot instead of a metal cam buckle to cinch it down. I don’t like throwing metal buckles on the roof of my car and climbing webbing is way stronger/tougher than what comes with store bought tiedowns.

Learn your knots! You can eliminate a lot of hardware that way. You also don’t need crushing tightness on all those straps…snug so the load doesn’t shift and you’re good to go.

Four years of intense sea kayaking…

– Last Updated: Jul-08-07 8:41 AM EST –

..with 18 foot boats and plenty of long drives at 80 mph, and my answer to your question?

1. You don't need the tie-down lines. The straps will hold the kayak on the roof rack just fine.

Note:i use RATCHET straps, not hand pull straps. Love 'em/.

If that low-tension bow line, and others HAVE posted about this in the past on Pnet, for any reason comes undone from the boat while you drive, you will potentially have a major issue with the rope and buckle smashing your window, ruining the paint job on your hood or going under your vehicle where it could do plenty of damage (such as causing you to overreact when driving and causing an accident itself).

Using ratchet straps, yes, the crank ones that back_pakn despises above (I respectfully disagree with everything he posted), and tightneing them appropriately for the type of boat (more for plastic, less for my carbon kev boat) does it make any sense to not use the most secure strap type which is cam ratchet because "it might break your boat"? The boat owner controls the tightness. Why would I use a lesser hand tightened non-cam locked strap which cannot generate any tension just so I don;t become a ninny and overtighten my straps and harm my boat, and then add useless bow and stern straps just so I feel,better about my inferior strap job on top? Why not put on two over top ratchet straps for short sojourns, and three for longer travels, and be secure with it? That's what I do. The boat is so secure one could lift the vehicle by the boat if you had a hoist crane. There is no give, and the straps do not loosen unless there is faulty installtion of the cam ratchet, again, operator dependent. You hav eot know how to use them.

The only downside I have had for cam ratchets over the years is the cam itself must be positioned off the boat and the vehicle, so you have to play with it the first couple times to assure that the cam buckle does not marr finishes by touching/rubbing. Over the cockipt is one option, but there is usually enough room aside the hull and above the rack to accompdate the cam ratchet.

It never ceases…
to amaze me how many people hauling a long,light voluminous object, with a small pivot point,have never encountered a wind gust,or a passing tractor trailer,and have never seen their canoe /kayak whip from side to side. The side to side whipping is what causes rack/strap failure.Bow & stern lines are a safety against high speed wind uplift pressure,and side to side whipping that causes rack & strap failures. True most modern cars can be a real pain to find tie down points. There are ways to make Nylon hood loops that will work with any vehicle with a hood or trunk,and will hide away when not in use.Tie down lines can be just simple,cheap high strength 1/8- 1/4" nylon line with well tied knots.Most nylon line in that size will have a break strength of 80 + lbs.

It is my firm belief it is sheer lazyness, the misgiven attitude that “it will never happen to me or my rack system”,lack of disregard for safety of others and their own property,or the lack of not wanting to spend an additional 5 minutes at the put in, for people that don’t use bow & stern lines. Use them ,and be smarter.

Always uses bow & stern lines billinpa

Paddlecraft Tie Down
Generally, two cam lock buckles, used in conjunction with gunwale brackets or kayak cradles will keep your boat where it belongs when driving. Rachets are risky - too easy to get too much pressure and break the boat.

Longer boats and windy days suggest twin bow kines to eliminate yaw. A single bow line is ~ useless, the bow can still swing widely to either side. Two short cords to the corners of the car eliminates yaw potential.

The issue is the force of 75 mph winds generated by driving down the road. That is why we do not need stern lines - most cars won’t hit 70 in reverse.

And, it is easy to mount web attachment points on a Subaru. Just tie an 18 in piece of nylon webbing around the top radiator frame, leave it sticking out from under the hood. [Good pics on the placidboats web site.]

I consider bow & stern lines to be a social responsibility.

I have had racks come off a car once, and I know 4 other people that have had it happen as well. Most of us used bow & stern lines, and nothing really happened other than a little inconvenience and some scratched paint on the cars. One other, though, could have killed somebody. The rack and two NDK Explorers took flight off the car into the highway. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and the boats landed rack first and skidded, and only needed semi-major repairs.

There was an incident in New York about 20 years ago at a tollbooth where a car carrying a windsurfer rearended another car, and the windsurfer shot off the racks into oncoming traffic and decapitated an innocent motorist. Now a windsurfer is much harder to secure than a kayak, but kayaks probably make better missiles.

It’s not always about your convenience.

Your call, but I only forgo the lines when I’m going to the lake down the street to paddle, and the speed limit is 25 mph. Even then, I’m real careful about how I drive.

You need them.
Not for your boats but for preventing your rack from detaching and impacting another car. It is a no brainer for the safety of other drivers. People who don’t use them when driving at freeway speeds are irresponsible in my view.

Don’t use the ratchet system. When the tie down goes slack either or both of the hooks can easily come out and make your tie down useless. Use good rope instead.

Subarus have tie down points already. There are two rings under the front and one ring under the back. So skip the business about adding something under the hood.

No real downside
I use webbing loops in the hood/fender gap as tiedown points, so there’s easy access and no hood contact. Similar loops are rigged on the rear of the car. The time and effort to add bow & stern lines is minimal, and the potential value is huge.

I will say that I drove with a pair of sea kayaks for years using only two web straps each, and never had a problem. But the idea of launching them at someone else on the highway makes me add the tiedowns for all but the shortest trips.

If I may relate a story
My kayaking buddy uses a Yakima system with the Landsharks on his car. He never, ever uses a bow/stern line and of course his front ratchet strap failed and the front end of the kayak came straight up in the wind. The effect of this was that the it put a huge dent in his trunk and bent the stern of his boat. He was very lucky because he instantly realized what happened and slammed on his brakes, causing his boat to fall straight back down…

I now use bow/stern lines ALL the time… and he still does not…


The thing is
like other people have said, it take about a minute a line, so why not do it?

My main worry is not my boats, but people in other cars being killed if something fails.

Good point about the tie downs helping you monitor the boats shifting too.

I guess this is a topic to be filed with wearing your PFD. :slight_smile: