Bow/Stern Tie-downs for pick-ups

I’ve already reviewed the old debates over use of bow/stern lines as I know it’s been debated for a long time, but I could only find one poster who specifically mentioned tie-downs with a pick-up (that was big enough to align the stern over the windshield, which I can’t do) and would appreciate more advice.

Right now my rack consists of a Yakima half-rack (uses the q-clips) on the cab of my Ford Ranger (small pick-up) and the Yakima Outdoorsman rack at the back of the bed, which gives me quite a bit of distance between the racks. With the way the canoe levels/balances out, it overhangs approx 4 feet past the tailgate/rear rack and about one foot past the top edge of the windshield (about 4 feet in front of the front rack). I can’t push the canoe further back so that there is no overhang because the racks aren’t adjustable in height, so the canoe would be tilted up. Each cross bar also has gunwale brackets that prevent side-to-side motion, and I use two cam straps to tie down over the front rack and one at the back.

I’m using stern lines because if I get in an accident then they keep the canoe from becoming a projectile. But the bow lines really annoy me–in terms of blocking my vision (because the canoe doesn’t overhand far, the cam locks end up being in about the worst spot they could be) and the lines themselves obstruct my view more than I’d like. I find it a little harder to focus on traffic because of this.

The lines themselves are thin, but I find with them rather close to the windshield they’re just “in the way” and I have a tendency to focus on them sometimes. They really annoyed my wife as well, and I want to to be happy and enjoy views while traveling so she keeps going camping with me!

I do know bow lines are helpful, so I have two questions:

  1. Are bow lines still highly recommended when a few feet of the canoe overhangs from the front rack, and only one foot or less over the top edge of the windshield? Or are they generally more critical for people with cars with little spread between racks and a canoe far overhanging the windshield? I don’t think torquing the canoe is much of an issue with the small amount of overhang I have, so I guess the two issues are having a back-up, and saving the rack from a bit more upward force.

  2. If you would still recommend them in my case, would having a second roof rack right at the front of the roof/above the windshield (there would be about two feet overhand past it) be enough to not need the bow lines? I’d then have three racks, with two at the front to counteract the upward thrust from the effects of wind.

    I should note that the tie downs for the bow/stern lines are the aluminum thwarts, which are set back approx one foot. This is on a tuff-weave Wenonah Adirondack. It seems to me that the extra rack in the front would be as safe/stable as the bow lines, even for cross-country highway trips, and add in the helpful redundancy (something can always fail…), and would enable me to have the view I’d prefer, but I’d appreciate other’s input.

My thoughts

– Last Updated: Nov-03-13 11:06 PM EST –

Personally, I would use bow lines, the main idea being that if your tie-downs to the front cross bar, or the front bar itself were to fail, the bow tie-downs would keep the front of the canoe from flipping up into the slipstream and causing it to sommersault toward the rear. There are people here who say don't worry about such things, and if you adopt that view, go ahead. This is just my opinion, and in my opinion, bow tie-downs are a justifiable safety precaution.

You mention that the bow lines are distracting to you, and that the camlocks end up in a bad place, as far as blocking your vision or otherwise distracting you. The obvious solution as I see it is to use rope instead of straps. Personally, I can't envision a single reason to use straps at all for that application. Learn some proper knots and use rope, and you'll greatly reduce the obtrusiveness of the tie-downs. Beyond that, with some practice you can probably learn to "look right past them". After all, almost any other time in life that small objects are in the foreground, they don't keep you from seeing what you need to see, and they don't cause you to focus on them instead of what you need to see either. If you can do that at other times, you can do that while driving too, or at least, I can, and I suspect you can learn to. By the way, if the cam buckles are in your line of sight, that means an extra length of strap is in your way too which only makes the problem worse. With rope, you can put the zone of double-lining (where the adjustable knot is located) at the other end of the system, out in front of the grill or at least barely higher than the hood. The knot that attaches to the boat can be small and out of sight above the roof line.

As to your idea of having two cross bars in front, keep in mind that if your canoe has any "swoop"-type curvature in its profile as viewed from the side (if the hull is deeper at the ends than a few feet in from the ends), you won't be able to tie it firmly to all three cross bars. In that case, only the forward-most bar and rear bar will contact the gunwales, while the second bar back from the front will have a gap between it and the gunwales. In spite of that problem, you'll get a little more anchorage potential, and since both front bars and both tie-downs would be unlikely to fail at the same time, this might be a reasonable solution. I still like the idea of front tie-downs, still think they'll provide better control of the boat if something about the front rack fails (unless you find a way for the boat to make full contact with all three cross bars), and still think that if you ditch the straps and cam buckles in favor of rope, you'll find the problem to be mostly solved right from the start.

Second the rope
Going to loops on either side of the hood, where the knots are low and out of line of sight. I don’t have any trouble not seeing them although I understand your problem having had the slip knots in my line of vision one time, which was very annoying.

The biggest gain I get from bow lines is , if they haven’t moved the canoe is right where I left it. That peace of mind is worth learning to look past them.

"Canoe is right where you left it"
I agree with that, just knowing the boat is positioned properly - showing that nothing has come loose - is nice. Others here can report that NOT having that visual cue can lead to forgetting that the boat is there when entering the garage or in other low-clearance situations!

My canoe does have curvature in it’s profile, but I believe if I didn’t use brackets on the front crossbar but kept them on the rear cab crossbar (making it effectively “higher”), then it might fit just right. It might not–and if it didn’t then I’d just have to push the canoe forward a bit, though that negates some of the advantage of having the second rack as close to the stern of the canoe as possible.

I’ll think about using ropes and knots. I agree I can probably learn to look past the lines, though I’d still prefer not to have anything there and I don’t mind the cost of an additional rack if it’d be just as safe. Still, when it comes to transporting a canoe on the highway I’d prefer to be a belt-and-suspenders guy–I read enough accounts of boats flying off cars and I don’t want anyone to get hurt (canoes are easy to replace, lives aren’t).

My hope is that the third rack would be as good or better than bow lines, but if it isn’t then I’ll just have to learn to deal with them. I’ll definitely be using one or the other for the longer trips or anything at highway speeds.

Hadn’t thought about that
While I don’t think I’d forget the canoe is there (since I can see part of it), I hadn’t thought about the visual feedback as far as whether the canoe has moved (easier to see if one line is taught and another is slack vs. trying to remember where exactly the tip of the stern seemed to be before).

Sounds to me as if you are . . .
… seeking approval or permission not to use bow lines.

I don’t see that as my role, but I can say that I have driven many tens of thousands of miles without any bow or stern lines on canoes and kayaks (and probably more miles with such lines).

The failure is not likely to be the belly straps, but rather the rack attachment to the roof. Mine have always been screwed into the roof or clamped on rain gutters, so I feel very confident that they will not fail. And I have a very wide bar spread on my van.

However, bow lines (yes, use rope not straps) need not obscure vision. I have 78" bars on my van, and a single boat is always positioned way over near the passenger side edge of the bars. The bow rope, attached to a under-hood loop on the passenger side of the hood, is nowhere near my important field of vision.

If you have confidence.
with your straps, (double looped cam-lock buckle type) and your rack system, don’t even bother with front and rear tie downs.

If you don’t have confidence then use them.

I carry two 18 foot kayaks and a canoe, on my pickup and don’t use them, but like the post above, my racks are bolted to the pick up cab roof and the cap on the back.

The only time I use them is when I have one of my long delicate lightweight racing canoes on, and that is just on the front to protect the bow from the torque when a eighteen wheeler comes flying by at 80 MPH.

Jack L

My setup is slightly different

– Last Updated: Nov-04-13 11:44 AM EST –

I have an 8 foot bed with the racks front and back and dont't use bow or stern lines. Instead of those lines, I tie from thwarts to in bed tiedown points.

Edit to clarify: Both front and back racks are attached to the bed. I don't attach anything forward of the bed which the canoe on the racks is centered over. A front tie down would not provide any advantage over the tiedowns inside the bed.

Additionally, depending on the truck, the difference of movement between the cab and bed could place stress on your hull.

What do others think of that idea?
Here’s a photo, in case it helps. I have tie-down anchors just behind the box.

Also, looking at the photo, I don’t think an additional front rack would line up well enough to maintain contact with all three racks.

I Have Two Yakima Outdoorsman

– Last Updated: Nov-04-13 9:40 AM EST –

Your setup is probably preferable to mine but mine is easy for me to load and tie down boats in the bed of a full sized pickup. If I had a Ranger, I'd use your set up. I put a couple of tie down straps under the hood on all our vehicles. you can buy them for about $6-10 bucks or make them with some nylon strap for pennies:

I also use straps for canoe "Bellies," however; I use rope in front. Even when twisted, straps are thicker than rope and I don't like buckles getting in the way and possibly hitting on vehicle or windshield. It takes almost as little time to attach a rope with a Truckers hitch and a few half-hitches as to apply a cam strap. I prefer straps for the "Belly" of the canoe, though, because I think they have more holding ability due to the bigger "Footprint."

On the rear, I either attach rope to the place on the hitch where you attach trailer chains or I secure the canoe with strap or a chain lock to rack. It will keep the canoe from slipping forward and/or becoming a projectile in a sudden stop. Here's a few more pics of my setups on present and last truck:

I use a Ford Ranger with an 8’ bed also, though mine has a cap to which the racks are attached. The racks come out to be about 7’apart, so there is good separation. I position the canoes so that there is about equal overhang from the racks front and rear. (So boats are centered on the racks, though not necessarily centered on the truck.)I installed under-hood loops as far back as I could in the engine compartment as this came as close to the front of most of my canoes (compromises need to be made to accommodate multiple length boats) as possible.

I think the long separation between racks is much much better than the narrower spacings most cars have and provides a great deal more secure mounting, assuming your racks are very securely attached - like I’m not convinced some factory racks that clamp to the door frame are. I’ve not done the long road trips without back-up lines that others here have mentioned, but I’m sure that what they say is true - its just that I think some extra insurance isn’t a bad idea.

But given a secure rack attachment with a wide separation, I personally have few qualms about skipping the stern tie downs. I’ve never seen boats move in the rear, but almost always there is a little shifting in the front without a bow line on highways in a wind.

So I don’t feel very comfortable about doing highway runs without bow tie downs. (On shuttle runs on back roads I’ll sometimes skip bow lines, but highway speeds and getting puffed by passing semis makes me feel the need for a backup. I often see that one leg of the triangulated bow line is taking a bit of load, which is stress that isn’t being taken by the belly straps. Disperse the stress - its a good idea IMHO.

My only problem with them is I’m now carrying some shorter ww canoes and the bow line comes very near the windshield. From your photos I don’t think you’d have that problem. But if you ever get into shorter boats, it can interfere with the windshield wipers if you’re not careful about where you make the knots fall.

Its pretty easy to get used to looking past the lines. Frankly, the thing that sometimes annoys me is that when I carry canoes with reflexed bows, I sometimes have to duck a bit to see stop lights.

If you decide to use three racks, carry a bag with some of those blue canoe pads and some foam pipe insulation pieces in various thicknesses. Put them where you need to to make contact with all the racks and put on extra straps next to them to make sure they don’t blow out when you hit a bump at highway speed.

Some additional thoughts

– Last Updated: Nov-04-13 11:36 AM EST –

I looked at the photo. Overall, I have to say your method is a lot better than what many people use. I'd still use front tie-downs for the above-mentioned reasons.

One additional thing I like about your setup is something not a lot of people do. Rather than the boat being centered end-to-end over the two contact points or over the vehicle itself (being centered forward of center relative to the contact points), it is more toward the rear of center, relative to the contact points. What that does is to provide a huge reduction in the tendency of the front end of the boat to get knocked laterally by crosswinds or by the turbulence of big trucks. Instead it acts like a weather vane. Having the front cross bar so close to the front of the boat also reduces the leverage that such crosswinds or turbulence have to work with.

That said, if it were my truck and canoe, I'd put the front rack at the front edge of the cargo box, or if I wanted to be fancy, attached to the front of the cargo box but cantilevered forward over the cab. That would reduce the two advantages I just mentioned (unless cantilevered over the cab), but it would mostly eliminate the twisting that the canoe is subjected to when the truck drives over uneven ground. Many modern trucks, especially small ones, twist less than certain full size trucks of many years ago, but they do twist. That's why the cab and cargo box are always separate structures (if the two were connected, the sheet metal of the body would buckle unless provided with a unibody framework). You can see how much twist there is by driving on uneven ground or diagonally into or out of a very steep driveway apron, while the passenger watches through the back window to see the relative alignment of the front edge of the cargo box with the cab. At top-of-cargo-box height, you'll probably see about an inch of misalignment on each side, and at roof-rack height it will be a little more than twice that much. Overall twist between the REAR of the box and the cab is greater than that seen at the junction of the cab and box, because the box twists too, but there's no easy way to observe that. Anyway, that's the twist your canoe "feels" when strapped tightly to the box and cab, instead of only to the box or only to the cab (and putting racks only on the cab is only feasible for 4-door trucks). It probably doesn't hurt the boat to twist, but some people like myself don't want to make it happen (I surely wouldn't want to carry a wooden boat that way though).

Oh, also, on bumps, the distance between the front and rear racks is compressed due to downward bending of the truck's frame at center. If you had a topper, you could see that happening too by looking at how much closer the topper "jolts" toward the top of the cab on bumpy railroad crossings and such (or you can listen to the banging sounds of ice blocks between the cab and topper getting pushed into the cab window in winter!).

As far as overall durability or dependability goes, the system you have looks pretty good.

Ranger with 8-foot bed?
Not that this affects anything else that’s been said so far, but we had a Ranger at work with the longest bed available. I remember determining that the bed of that truck was one foot shorter, or very nearly one foot shorter, than the equivalent long bed of a Chevy S-10, the model truck we had both before and after the Ranger. The bed of the S-10 we have now is 7.5 feet long, so that tells me that the Ranger’s long bed must have been 6.5 feet (also, I remember that a 6-foot cattle-watering tank would fit in the back of the Ranger with just a little bit of room to spare, while in the S-10, there was room for a pump and a toolbox between the end of the 6-foot tank and the tailgate). Heck, very few full-size trucks have beds longer than 6.5 feet these days.

The bow line’s necessity has been and will continue to be debated ad nauseum. To each his own, but I prefer to have one, and I too use rope. I also agree that if you try that you’ll likely find it doesn’t bother you nearly as much if at all. I use two contact points (tow hooks in my case, but there are other options) and tie a trucker’s hitch.

You’re right - its a little under 8’. (and a 2X4 isn’t 2"X4") Its 7’4" on the outside measurement, actually.

But it fits a 4X8 plywood sheet pretty well if its angled between bottom front of box and gate. I think actually they call it a “long bed”, which distinguishes it from my old one and is why the rack spacing on the cap comes out at 7’. (Incidentally, in case someone’s considering buying one, I think my old short bed was actually a little better at carrying canoes because the overhang of the boat cleared the windshield by a little more and I didn’t have the issue with ropes being so close to the wiper blades.)

BTW, That’s outside to outside on the rack measurement, in case you want to correct me on that. :wink: You’re right. Accuracy is a good thing. So is precision… I can get you the fractions also, if you need them.


– Last Updated: Nov-04-13 1:27 PM EST –

I hadn't considered the twisting of the truck at all. Though, I have a few issues I had to tackle with my setup:

1) I had to keep my box in place. Having a second bed-rack wouldn't allow for that unless I put it behind the box, which wouldn't give much spread. I found lots of cheap ladder racks, but they wouldn't have been compatible with the box either, though I do think a cantilevered steel rack would have been the most stable setup. Though I didn't want something permanent, and those things are rather heavy/bulky, and meant to stay on once you attach them.
2) I needed to be able to use the bed of the truck for long camping trips (which is why I didn't go with a bed-extender)
3) I didn't want a topper shell. Though it certainly could be very convenient for camping, I just don't like them.
4) Putting the canoe on a trailer just seemed far too inconvenient (in terms of driving a trailer--it'd obviously be easy to load!) and expensive.

The roof rack on the cab and the bed rack at the rear solved those problems pretty well. I hadn't thought about the twisting of the frame (though you're certainly right--I've noticed it before, I just didn't think about it...). Unfortunately I think it's something I'll just have to live with, and fortunately the canoe is quite flexible.

I'm leaning towards using paracord for a V-style front tie down to the under-hood straps I already have installed (you can see them at the front of the hood in the photograph). I'll see how moving them back makes a difference in my sight-line. I'll obviously keep the bow tie downs since they don't bother me or get in the way. And then for the really windy days/long journeys, I'll also tie down the thwarts to the tie down in the middle of the bed. I figure if something goes wrong with that set-up, then I've probably got some other bigger issue to be worrying about.

Thanks for your advice everyone, and feel free to keep offering more input/advice if you have it.

Inside vs outside measurement :slight_smile:
So that’s it! Measure the outside dimensions of the cargo box to make it seem half a foot longer. If you were in the marketing division for one of the Big Three auto makers, I bet that idea would be worth a fortune, and it’s probably an idea that’s coming, just like narrower rolls of toilet paper and smaller containers of yogurt - for the same price as before, of course.

Oh, and the lumber suppliers have been at this game a long time. I found it interesting to discover that the 2x4’s in the old part of my garage are noticeably bigger than the ones in the addition that I put on in 1992. Even those old ones are smaller than 2x4, but at least in their case they are so close to being 2x4 that it’s easy to see that they WERE 2x4 as rough-cut lumber before going through the planer. Nowadays, 2x4s are so much more undersized that surely even the rough-cut versions are undersized too. Does that mean that if you had two identical logs, one leftover from 60 years ago and the other one from today, that the modern one would be described as having more board-feet of volume? That would mean modern wood volume is sort of like a lawyer’s timesheet.

Looks fine…tie gunwales to bars!

– Last Updated: Nov-06-13 9:51 AM EST –

Ahh SORRY, meant to say...Tie the thwarts to the points close to the gunwale(s) = works just like lateral bow (& stern) ties..imho.
If you're concerned about the front bar, then yes...get two solid ties from the bumper/somwhere in front and/or move the canoe back a bit, as you've done... Looks fine to me. That connection from frontbar-footings to the cab is so important....however always stash away some foam blocks for the emergency situation. Blocks will work if you take it slow on the commute...and have the rope to tiedown...however the stock blocks sold aren't that wide...better to glue some foam on to add to their width = more stable, less apt to roll if any lateral shift should happen..