Busted Racks, J Cardles & Heavy Wind

When I’m not transporting my kayaks on my truck I use a set of J cradles on top of my car to transport them. The kayaks are a 13 foot sit in and the other is a cobra explorer SOT.

Two weeks ago I was driving home from an endurance paddle along the Colorado River near Blythe, CA. Just as I was getting into Indio there was a strong gust of wind that blew in from the side and turned the cobra into a sail. One of the cross bars on the stock cargo rack on my Chevy Equinox severely bent where one of the J cradles was connected. We almost lost the cobra. I ended up having to stash it in a desert wash off the freeway and running home to get my truck to pick it up.

Fast forward exactly a week later. A friend of mine and I were heading out to northern CA for a big kayak race. We loaded our kayaks, both 13 foot sit ins, on the stock cargo rack of her Kia Sorrento using a set of J cradles. 20 miles into the trip a STRONG gust of wind blew in from the side and completely busted one of the cross bars on her cargo rack. We had to stash both kayaks behind some bushes and race back to get my truck to retrieve the boats. We ended up blowing a ton of money on gas in my truck driving to northern CA and we just barely made it on time to check in for the race.

Has anyone had similar experiences using J cradles to transport their kayaks? Is it usually better to transport kayaks with the hull down with a set of good quality saddles so that they aren’t acting as sails in a cross wind?

I’m thinking the stock cargo racks on both vehicles were just pieces of crap? Are Thule or Yakima racks much better quality?

I had a strong side gust disconnect 2 J-cradles from my aero-style crossbars. The boat was a Feathercraft, the J-cradles were Thule, I think. In my case the aero bars were far too strong to bend - it was the thumbscrew connectors of the J-cradles that all failed. The boat got blown flat, but the straps and bow line kept everything on top of the car. The gust was a burst from an approaching thunderstorm, I would guess about 60 mph. I will never use J-cradles due to this incident - I’ve never had any issues with my V-bar carriers, with boats carried flat and upright. Strong crossbars are worth the money.

Thank you so much…
…for allowing me to learn from your experience. I liked the idea of the low profile of a saddle but thought the J carrier would be better to allow me to carry multiple boats.

I want to read the responses here but have decided on saddles.

BTW, I am sorry though for your misfortune but thank you for sharing the experience.

If you
tie down solidly, including bow and stern lines, it is hard to imagine that the boats would blow off. Did you have bow and stern tie offs?

I"ve seen many people use J cradles…
but I think that they are smart enough to pull over in a strong wind.

I’m thinking that I’ll just have to pay the money for an oversized thule or yakima rack so I can still transport 2 kayaks on top of the car.

Your cross bars are weak

– Last Updated: May-31-13 9:31 PM EST –

On my own car, I wouldn't dream of mounting J-hooks to the factory cross bars, and those cross bars are tougher than the ones I've seen on many other cars. I'm really not surprised to hear your stories of cross-bar failure. Think about it. Most factory bars will deflect a noticeable amount if you press down on the center with 30 pounds or so. Just think how strong the bending force is when applied via a two-foot-tall lever that's attached to a mere six-inch spread on that same bar? On the other hand, I have personally STOOD on the center of one of my Yakima cross bars and, as far as I could tell, it didn't bend (the roof deflected a bit under each support point though).

Here's an experiment/demonstration for you. Grab one the top of one of those J-hooks with your hand, pull it sideways, and observe how much deflection there is within the factory cross bar, that is, see how much the J-hook "leans" on account of cross-bar flexing. Then do the same to a J-hook on one of your friend's cars who has Yakima or Thule cross bars. Unless it's an unusually beefy J-hook, my guess is that what yields will be "the other way around", that is, the J-hook itself will bend but not the cross bar.

Mounting your boats flat is probably a good idea if you can do it that way and have room for all of them, but factory cross bars already have limited space compared to the bars of a "real" roof rack, so I wonder about that. However, NOT using such cheap hardware (factory cross bars) in the first place is the most-sensible option in my view.

Edit: Oh, I just saw your additional post, and it appears I don't really need to convince you about better cross bars.

The boats were tied down securely…
in the cradles with the bow and stern safety lines attached. That’s why they didn’t blow off the cars. The broken crossbars forced the boats and cradles into slightly off angles and slightly rotated on the roof, but still secured in the J cradles.

Flat boats

– Last Updated: May-31-13 9:42 PM EST –

Using V-bar carriers allows two wide kayaks to be carried flat on even fairly short cross-bars. I know I post these pictures a lot, but more people should know about this option:


The boats are 24" and 25.5" wide, carried flat on a Mini with with Kayakpro EZ-Vee carriers on OEM aero crossbars. The geometry of the carriers allows the boats to extend beyond the ends of the crossbars.

I’m definitely picking up a pair of V cradles. I don’t exactly want to shell several hundred dollars for a thule or yakima rack system if I don’t have to.

Hopefully there isn’t a process of elimination where I eventually end up shelling out the money for a high end rack system.

The V-cradles definitely aren’t cheap. Good Boy kayaks makes a home-made style carrier that’s about half the price of Kayakpro. But for what you get, I think they’re a better value than cradles or J-bars. Good cross bars are a must, obviously, as you already know.

Well if your paddling passion
lasts more than a few years, an “expensive rack system” is a cheap investment.

My Yakima system dates from 1991. I don’t swap out cars very often, so I have had to buy some three sets of door clips over 22 years.

And never lost a boat.

V saddles work best on V shaped boats.
Most people don’t have anywhere near that distance between saddles that you have. V racks only work well if they’re in the V section of the boat.

The Malone Sea Wings that I had for my Eddyline Nighthawk 16 didn’t work too well on my QCC 400X with only 38" between saddles.

Your custom rig seems to work quite well for you.

I’ve always wondered about the strength
of J-cradles when confronted with strong side winds. Until your story, I’d never heard of any problems.

I’m glad that you completed your journey’s without further mishaps.

Correct: Racks are cheap
If I think about how many road trips I’ve made ONLY to go boating, and think about what I’ve spent on gas for those trips over the years, the cost of a Yakima or Thule rack isn’t very much in comparison. And I’ve been hooked on this hobby for less than ten years. Your cross bars will last many times that long.

OK. Point beat into my thick head.
I’ll take a serious look at a high end rack system.

It will be my next investment in this money pit called kayaking. I’ve been kayaking for only 18 months and, just like a previous comment, its crazy the road trips I’m taking just to go boating.

There a lot of places in this world that someday I would love to go visit. My damn boat is frequently making me visit places I’ve never heard of.

Any long skinny kayak will fit

– Last Updated: May-31-13 10:45 PM EST –

V-racks were designed for long racing kayaks as well as skinny K1s, few of which have bow and stern toggles to aid in securing them. You don't need a "Vee" shaped hull section. Most racing kayaks are round-bilged. The racks will fit any narrow hull, but the widest kayak that I carry on my Goodboy Kayaks V-rack is a 21.5" NDK Greenlander Pro (I carry it slightly tilted on its side). Wider kayaks simply fit too high in the "Vee" to be secure.

My Anas Acuta rides perfectly, as does my K1, surfski (V-12) and 18X.

The eight foot bar spread gives security. My kayaks ride rock-solid at freeway speeds, with less movement than my stock Yakima rack (less bar spread). The aluminum supports flex to dampen road stress.

I originally used mine for only my racing kayaks, but now leave them on for all my kayaks (except very short surf or WW kayaks).

Greg Stamer


– Last Updated: May-31-13 11:10 PM EST –

The distance between the Vees isn't custom, that's how the carriers are built. There are 2 Vees at either end of the central bar, which is 7, 8 or 9 feet long depending on the model (I have 8 and 9). The central bar is mounted to crossbars that are about 33" apart, same as everyone else has.

The only custom part of my setup is the adapter to the aero cross bars. The carriers come with adapters for your choice of Thule or Yakima. I made my own for aero bars.

Re: the V-shape, I'm sure you recognize that the blue boat in the linked photos is a Q400S - it fits quite well. The Vees can be moved along the central bar to sit at a bulkhead as well. The carriers have worked with a wide range of hulls, especially with foam pipe insulation on the Vees. Some boats fit better tipped at a slight angle.

I agree about the Malone Sea Wings - I got rid of a set which didn't fit any of my boats, the V is too shallow to be useful.

Per Greg's comments above, and the advice given by Gray at Kayakpro, fatter kayaks like mine just need the supports farther apart to put them at a narrow enough point on the hull (my boats are 22, 23, 24, 25.5 wide). The Q400 is on a 9' bar due to its full ends. All my other boats (and quite a few loaners and demos) have fit on the 8' bar. The Kayakpro seems to work better on fatter boats - I had a Goodboy rig, but it held the boats too high for my taste and I sold it.

This set of photos was taken to show someone how the system goes together and the adapters. It also shows an important point made by Greg. The long bar acts as a shock absorber, allowing the boat to bounce up and down as a unit, considerably reducing shock to the hull while transporting, the boat in these photos is 14'1" by 25.5":


Factory Cross Bars
Factory racks and cross bars are meant to corral items placed on the roof, not support loads. Aftermarket Yakima and Thule racks are systems meant to support and carry bikes, boats, lumber, skis, etc. Best cars are those with no factory side rails or cross bars. Then you can mount a good secure Yakima or Thule system to the roof. The money spent on a good rack system is less than the car companies get for the poor OEM racks. Most are cosmetic, like the big OD, but thin tubular rack bars on the Nissan Xterra. People complain about the rack cost, but spent much more on carbon-fiber Kayaks and paddles. A good rack system is good security for your toys.

As Kim mentioned, a good Yakima system doesn’t need to be replaced, only updated for different car roofs. The accessories from 30 years ago still fits new bars, and new accessories still fit 30 year old bars.

I haul a 23foot canoe thousands of miles a year upside down on a Saturn VUE. No problem in cross winds and a Minnesota IV has a lot more surface to catch the wind than a short Kayak. The boats sit on Yakima load stops on bars mounted on towers attached to tracks mounted to the roof.

Its not your J-cradles that is the problem. People haul lots of kayaks in all kinds of weather on J-cradles. Its what you mounted the cradles to that’s the weak link.


Third party crossbars and stackers
We use stackers, which set up a boat similarly to the angle of J-bars, and thrid party cross bars. And we use neoprene cockpit covers for long trips, wind can’t pocket inside the Sinks.

Have been in decent winds but nothing budged. I bet if you calculated the combined effect of the load and the pressure from the wind, you would find that you were well over the capacity of the factory cross bars.

I have a good rack system and recently used j cradles on an eight hour drive so I could get three kayaks on my truck. I have to admit it was a little unsettling when a good wind came up or a semi passed by. The boats catch a LOT more wind with a j cradle which made me question bow much I would want to use them on long trips in the future. It really stresses the lateral strength of your rack.