Bow/stern tie-downs

We just got a sit-on-top kayak, and we’re wondering if we really need bow & stern tie-downs to haul it around. Can not find any place to secure it on the front or back of the car ('96 Toyota Sienna minivan). The crossbars are set as far apart as they can go, and we’ll secure it with straps of course, but I’m wondering if that’s sufficient? Anticipate some highway driving. Thank you.

Use the hood bumpers

– Last Updated: Jun-21-09 10:39 AM EST –

Or whatever they are called - vertical things under each front corner of your hood. Put loops around them which will stick out when you close the hood, then run the bow lines to them.
This is safer than the usual anyway, since it is less likely that anything which becomes untied will immediately end up wrapped around a wheel.

One caution with stern lines - unlike the above arrangement for bow lines, you can't see when they start to come loose as well as with bow lines. We got behind a fellow paddler who was going the same way on a highway, seeing his stern line flapping around way too close to the rear wheel/axle. He pulled off for a gas stop before we could catch him and we didn't have a cell phone number to call him (even if he could have answered legally). He made it to the launch without a broken boat, but it was darned close. And he had one of those commercial systems, Yakima or something, so you'd think it would be secure.


– Last Updated: Jun-20-09 10:17 PM EST –

Ah' seen enough broken racks an' fixed more than a few boats dat parted company wit a car (not mine cuz ah' always use dem) ta recoomend dat ye really should use bow an' stern tiedowns.

Here be wat ah' use fer tiedown points...


Serious Question

– Last Updated: Jun-20-09 11:04 PM EST –

Where is the boat going to go if both straps or the rack fails simultaneously? It's one of those things L hear or read about but never met an unfortunate.

Does the boat drop down beside the passenger or driver's side door and scrap along the pavement?

I was using the ratchet kind with a metal hook on the bumper end, never again with the metal hook. The hook came loose somehow and traveled to the side of the truck and hooked the front left wheel...good thing I saw this in slow motion and stopped or i would have heard a loud snap, crackle, and pop of fiberglass.

I rarely use them, know i should, gonna do better so i am not the one telling the sad story.

Seen it…

– Last Updated: Jun-21-09 12:24 AM EST –

Saw a 17 foot aluminum canoe, tied down with 2 pieces of rope on top of a pickup truck break loose. Actually the front rope broke & as the canoe started to go airborne, the back rope probably broke from the stress. No bow/stern lines were attached

It did NOT drop to the pavement.

It did gain altitude. It cleared the car which was approaching in the oncoming lane of traffic. It continued to gain altitude. A trailer truck a few car lengths behind that car locked up his brakes to keep it from going through his windshield, as it passed in front of him, moving towards the left side of the road. The canoe traveled in excess of 50 feet in the air.

The canoe was actually spinning like a bullet coming out of a rifled gun barrel, making forward progress & gaining altitude, until gravity kicked in.

It did not come off of my truck. Came off the truck in front of me. We were traveling at 50 to 60 mph.


P.S. If you are a multi million dollar NFL player; you can drive your Bentley drunk, run over a working/family man, write a big check & get away with killing someone.

If you are not a pro ball player; you might want to make sure your boats are secure & don't kill someone. You might actually have to "do some time".

tie downs
Around town at low speeds I don’t use them, but I live a mile from the local lake, so I’m not driving far nor fast.

On the highway I always use them. It’s not just the boat you’ll save if a strap or rack breaks, it’s the potential damage to cars behind you that you’ll definately be liable for if the boat leaves the car.

If you have no other places to tie off the bow and stern lines there are webbing loops available that attach to the bolts holding various car body parts together that work well for bow/stern tie downs. Ask your local dealer about these.

Bill H.

I never use front or rear tie downs
except when I have one of my long ultralight racing canoes on. Then I use front ones just to make sure the wind shear doesn’t injure the long front overhang.

If you have a good roof rack such as Yakama or Thule and it is installed properly, and you are using cam-lock buckle straps, there is no need of them.

When I have my SOT on in addition to the two camlock buckle cross straps, I always use a tie through a scupper hole to both the front and rear bar.

On the other hand if you are just using the factory rack, then I would use tie downs every where I could and probably a net over the whole thing.



Use them!
Stick your open hand out the window when traveling down the highway at 65 mph and feel the pressure applied by the wind. Imagine the pressure applied to a canoe or kayak in the same air stream. A Yakima or Thule rack door clip letting loose, a cam buckle spring breaking or other mechanical problem could have you watching your boat in the rear view mirror as it goes through the windshield of the car behind you. If you look at a well designed rack system every piece must work properly and there is really no safety margin.

Then there is the possibility of human error after a long day of paddling and all the commotion of a large group of people loading their boats back on their cars. You get interrupted to help someone lift a boat or start talking about the day’s events and forget to put the front strap on. Shouldn’t happen but people forget where they left their keys all the time and that shouldn’t happen either.

A couple of minutes and a few feet of rope for front and rear tie downs seems like cheap insurance. If you are knot challenged get the little ratchet blocks that anyone can use. Just my 2cents.

My Opinion
I asked a similar question on this forum a few years back and got lots of feedback, both pro and con.

My decision was to always use the bow and stern tie-downs. Here was my rationale:

o It only takes a couple more minutes to add the extra lines.

o Although I have an excellent Yakima rack system in which I have full confidence, s*** happens. Several posters to my original question had personal experiences where a top-of-the line rack failed. Didn’t happen often, but it DID happen!

o Using a bow and stern line CERTAINLY adds an added level of protection. It may not be necessary with a properly installed top-of-the line rack system, but it DOES add an EXTRA layer of protection for those rare situations where something unexpected occurs.

o Given our litigious society, the potential financial liability (not to mention the emotional impact) one would face if their yak or canoe killed or injured someone is so great that the extra couple minutes of prep time seems insignificant.

That’s my 2 cents.

When I was in highschool and college
I had a canoe that I want to take places. I installed pipe insulation on the gunwales and put in on the roof of any car or van with two bow lines and two stern lines. I didn’t use any lines over the center. It would shift around from side to side about 6 inches every time a big 18 wheeler past me but it never came off.

It wasn’t until years later that I saw some one used a strap throught the center inside their doors. After I added that all the boats road rock steady.

Later I got cars with roof racks and still added boaw and stern lines on many occasions. The best thing I like about bow and stern lines is that you can see then while you are driving so you know the boat has not moved on the roof.

I’ve never used them either …
The majority of the time I am paddling local, short trips (10-15 minutes) rarely get going more than 40 mph, and have a relatively small kayak (12.5 ft.). I have a Yakima Bow Down rack (I highly recommend this) on top of their standard towers and secure it with the ratchet strap tie-downs at two locations fore and aft of the cockpit - it is rock-solid when tied down correctly in this manner. For longer trips, higher speeds, and a larger kayak, I would agree with the other posters and would add the additional lines.

Tie downs:
There was a good post on this recently, and I passed on a few of my thoughts. Since then I had an unexpected failure, (Murphy?) Using good, new condition tie down straps, a tension spring on the buckle failed. It still held firm, but I don’t know how long it had been hanging on. I use a front tie down similar to the one shown by Fat Elmo. Nothing on the rear. When I was new to the sport, I always used a second tie down over the front cross bar, sort of a belt and suspenders approach. I have gone back to this practice. Carrying deck side down gives me a constant view of my kayaks from the drivers seat. This combination gives me a bit more peace of mind and seems like cheap insurance. I carry on a Dodge Grand Caravan with factory longitudinal racks and Yakima crossbars, set nearly five feet apart.

good tie down procedure
I use two ropes in the front, two ropes over the hull, and one ratchet strap in the rear. I pre-cut ropes for the front, and put carabiners on the ends to clip onto the loops I tied under the hood. Pull the front of the boat down, clip on the carabiners, walk to the back and use the ratchet strap to tighten it up, then throw two ropes over the hull. The rack is the old style rain gutter kind, and padded with 4 inches of high density foam. Using 'biners allows me to load two boats and secure them in about 5 minutes.

ratchet straps
Careful with the ratchet straps. It’s easy to apply far too much pressure to a kayak with those. The spring-loaded cam straps are plenty tight, and they can’t distort or crush a kayak.

keep your loose ends near the boat.
Another important tip for bow/stern lines is to attach them with any extra rope near the boat, rather than near the bumper. If that extra rope comes loose, and gets under a tire, it will rip your boat in half. If the loose end is secured near the bow or stern then it shouldn’t be long enough to reach the ground if it comes uncoiled.

Very good tip
My wife (not me of course) put a ratchet strap on out trailer and the loose end came loose and went under the tire, in the 35-40 mph range. It made a loud pop as the strap broke after twisting the ratchet. I don’t think it would tear the boat in half, but it most likely cause damage to it or the car/rack.

use them
Many years ago, while we were all headed to the Poconos to celebrate graduation, my high school friend died instantly after a big metal canoe came off a vehicle driving locally (just a few miles)

at ~40 mph. She was in the passenger seat of the following vehicle. She was decapitated. The people

who owned the canoe were devastated.

Takes a few minutes to use tiedowns.

P.S. A Yakima or Thule rack are indeed well made,

quality systems. Own a Yakima system myself, love it.

But human error in strapping boats to the rack will always be a factor. Unforeseen wind gusts buffet boats, long ones especially. They can become a big sail on your vehicle.

If you depend on just the gunwhale straps you cannot tell if they are loosening or coming off until it’s too late. Using bow and stern tiedowns you have an early warning system that something is going wrong plus another two points of attachment.

What is a few extra minutes compared to damaged boats or being the cause of a serious or fatal accident?

Absolutely necessary

Not always true…
I have good quality Thule racks, and tiedowns. They are done right, my partner is a sailor, and he is extremely safety aware. We were at 55 mph, and even with bow and stern tie downs, the wind caught one of them, and tried to wrench it sideways. The wind didn’t succeed, and we stopped and did an additional cross-tie, just to be on the safe side. If we hadn’t had the bow-stern tie downs, the outcome could have become a disaster.

“Be safe out there”


I was afraid of that too and modified my Thule tie-downs to use carabiners instead of hooks: