Canoe as a car box

Hi all! Hopefully this introductory post doesn’t come off as too crazy. At worst I hope it provides a few chuckles. Here goes:

My family will be driving to the Hayward Lakes for a two week vacation over the summer - myself, my wife and two toddlers. Our Civic is stupidly small for this venture, but it’s what we’ve got.

I think you know where I’m going at this point: I’ve been looking at that giant empty space in my canoe and wondering if there’s a reasonably secure way to fill it up with my crap and drive on the highway for 5 hours. Maybe some cargo nets would work? I’m only thinking of storing light stuff up there - pillows, linens, the youngest child, etc.

Do any of you have experience doing something like this and have some advice? Any help is very much appreciated. :cheers:

stuff sacks or dry bags
A couple of really big dry bags is you best option, though they can be pricey. 2nd choice would be really big stuff sacks which are much more economical but if it rains… Anyway, I think you are much better off putting a couple of large bags with all the stuff in them up there than putting a bunch of things under a net. The wind will work them more than you think.

Be sure your liability insurance is
sufficient and you attach a safety line to each item.

I have lost a large float bag out of a canoe. Most embarrassing when a State Trooper picked it up. Fortunately it did not hit anyone. Anything can become a missile if it flies loose.

You might be better off renting a small trailer or bigger car.

The wind will really work at and destroy any fabric that is not taut… Those PVC dry bags are rather pricey but your best bet…

good point about tautness
I suggested stuff sacks as a less desirable but workable option. If you use stuff sacks, besides the weather concern you should also make sure they are indeed stuffed - no flapping fabric.

Just don’t get caught…
With a dead Grandma on top! Also don’t attach your dog lease to the bumper! ;O}

It can be done

– Last Updated: Feb-21-14 4:16 PM EST –

I know some folks who traveled halfway across the country that way, four people in a small car with two canoes on top. Nearly everything was packed inside the canoes. I don't know the method they used.

Assuming that this is a tandem canoe (no center seat), and without too much thought at the moment, I'd probably cut a sheet of plywood to fit just below the gunwales and thwarts, to make a "floor" to carry your stuff when the canoe is upside-down. I'd provide small holes in the plywood so it could be lashed to the thwarts and not shift around (a nice form-fitting shape would probably do the same, but this MIGHT not be possible unless it was a two- or three-piece structure, just so you could install the thing. A floor with a looser fit might be easier to install in one piece). I'd cut a number of larger holes in the plywood that would allow you to reach through the plywood to shuffle bags of gear around when the canoe is on the roof and up-side down.

Alternatively, you could run two 2x4s along a substantial length of the canoe and install several sections of plywood with access gaps between them, again for reaching up there to shuffle gear bags into position (the gaps would be too small to let anything fall out, but large enough for hand access). The dual-2x4 framework would be easy to lash to a couple of the thwarts so the whole "floor" stays where you want it. It would also be easier to install in pieces and then assemble (with bolts), in case there's otherwise difficulty slipping the full structure into place.

Lastly, you'd need to keep stuff from falling out the ends. It might be easy to install additional "floor" pieces at each end, between the existing ends of your main storage floor and the seats. Even easier would be to make sure that the gear bags at each end are large, and secured via a rope to a nearby thwart (in this way, both of these bags would function as "stoppers" to keep anything working its way out the ends). You could also make the floor extend all the way to one end, and then the last bag to be packed would have a rope securing it in place to "shut the door" and keep everything in.

As others have said, be careful about fabric and "wind rattling", but in my boats, loose, mostly-deflated float bags have remained very still and undisturbed by wind when driving at highway speed. There may not be as much wind in the boat as you'd expect, especially with the "false floor" idea that I'm proposing. I've seen big duffel bags lashed to roofs in the open, and they hold up well (not waterproof though). You could use duffle bags because they are cheap, and make sure all the contents are individually bagged in plastic (like canoe trippers do with Duluth-style packs).

Oh, all this assumes you have a good roof rack. I don't care for this idea so much if you are using foam blocks, etc.

Your thinking is all wrong
Get yourself a cargo box like this one:

It will hold plenty of stuff, safe and dry while driving.

And when you arrive it becomes not one but TWO perfectly functional water craft.

Okay, I’m still thinking
Here’s another idea - a very simple one.

Get two or three very large duffel bags. Secure the canoe on the roof and simply shove the big duffel bags up into that space, either resting on the roof or overlapping the thwarts as needed. Tie the bags to your rack so they can’t wander. Waterproof the contents of these bags as described in my other reply.

Paddles can be lashed to the thwarts as-is.

Have you considered
renting a camper? It might cost a bit more than you had originally planned, but it could make what sounds like the beginning of an ordeal into a real vacation.

Thanks everyone for the great responses.

I really like the duffel bag solution, though I might have to remove the yoke to get enough clearance. Two big diameter bags secured to the rack and/or thwarts should get me just what I need as long as I keep it pretty light.

If I wanted to put any weight at all up there, I’d probably secure a piece of good plywood to the racks. Then I could pile the bags, rack the canoe and lash the bags to the thwarts.

Sure. I used to do it all the time . . .
. . . when I would take my family to Maine in the summers with tandem canoes on top of our van conversion.

I used a very large dry bag (“Bill’s bag”) and canvas Duluth Packs I have, but you should be able to use any sort of sturdy pack, large duffel or suitcase. Just make sure they are strong enough not to tear apart in wind and that you tie everything into the canoe securely.

A less successful effort was when I rented a trailer for the same trip and covered it with a poly tarp. The tarp shredded the wind.

Me, too.
Family trips to Lily Bay at Moosehead for many years.

Two large LL Bean duffels lined with heavy-duty trash bags and stuffed with sleeping pads, pillows, blankets, and all the lighter stuff that girls like to outfit their tents with. Tied tight crosswise to a Taurus wagon factory rack so the middle thwart of our Penobscot 17 just fit between them. Had it down to an art. Probably didn’t help gas mileage, but, otherwise, never a problem.

I’ll be the lone voice in the wind.
This is the sort of thing that I have certainly done in my life but it was when I was very young and lacked the judgment to recognize that I was risking serious injury not to myself but to other innocent persons on the highway. My suggestion is that you rent a vehicle for the trip or maybe a U Hall.

It really depends on the rack
There’s no way for such a general statement to be valid in all cases. The nature of the load is far less important than the loader’s skill at securing it.

If the car has a good rack, it’s really no big deal at all to properly and safely secure the whole kit and kaboodle. He’s talking about loading the more-bulky stuff on the roof, but by lashing it within the sheltered interior of the canoe. No one here says carrying two heavy-weight canoes is inherently dangerous when the boats are on a good rack, and what the original poster is essentially doing is adding weight to to the roof in similar fashion as adding a second boat, but without the extra wind resistance. Further, people carry huge cargo bags on their roofs all the time with no safety risks, and doing the same thing and also plopping a streamlined fairing (a canoe) over the top of everything can’t do any harm, again, as long as everything is properly secured. Most insecure loads on car roofs are only insecure because the person who put it there lacked the ability to anchor things in an effective, efficient manner.

Build a few bunks, beunks.

– Last Updated: Feb-21-14 7:38 PM EST –

Build sandwiched together (three-quarter inch plywood or 2-by-4)glued-and-screwed wood bunks that conform to the shape of your canoe's hull. Attached the bunks by any means necessary to make sure they are secure with your roof rack...Place your items to be moved inside the largest mesh bags you can find(available in some dollar stores)and load the mesh bags inside the canoe, only AFTER the canoe has been strapped down to the roof rack bunks...Then cover the top of the canoe with a strong tarp and ratcheted tie downs to prevent any rain from er, fillin' her up. (I'm assuming here, you intend to load the canoe right up to the gunwhales.)

I've cartopped all sorts of boats upright(I'm not just a "paddler")and loaded them with all types of crap...Hell, I've even rigged tent flys over the tops of them, then SLEPT INSIDE THE BOAT WHILE IT WAS STILL ON THE CAR ROOF...Be creative. Be safe. Make sure your system will work...Ignore pnet conformists who tell you to rent or buy expensive stuff you don't necessarily need (like a trailer).

And oh yeah, check the Owner's Manual for the Civic's hauling and weight capacity first.

Remember, when it comes to schlepping--Sometimes it takes genuine Redneck Reverse Engineering. Appearances be damned. Good Luck.


People lease dogs now? Good idea!
Lotsa times, after 3 years, I’m ready to turn the dog back in!

Uuuh, if a cargo box is up there, where
is the canoe going to go?

If I were going to carry light duffel on my car, I would put it in my large waterproof bags and tie it between or on the crossbars in a way such that the canoe can drop onto the racks, over the duffel. Might require temporary removal of the center thwart.

I have never liked the design of cargo boxes. I’d rather use one of my old kayaks or c-1s, gutted. Stronger and more aerodynamic. But to each his own.

Ok - that was too general

– Last Updated: Feb-22-14 8:23 AM EST –

but the point is that placing loads on our vehicles is potentially way more dangerous that might be apparent at first blush. If you stay within the weight limit of a properly installed rack and you tie it very securely than yes, I agree, it is fine. Otherwise, I urge great caution and that we give consideration for the potential for serious harm being caused to innocent persons on the highway. I acknowledge I have done things like this. I once drove 700 miles with three trippers on the top of a VW Bug. It was 1980. I wouldn't do it again. I agree my comment was too general. I suggest that some of the other posts supporting loading a canoe on a rack with gear are also too general. All I am saying is that you need to be really careful with this sort of thing because sometimes despite good intentions we don't perceive the severity of the risks. I am all in favor of avoiding unnecessary gear etc. As long as it is reasonably safe. The OP can listen to whomever he wishes. I hope he has a wonderful and safe family canoe trip and I am confident he will make the right choices given the limits of his equipment.

Thank you

– Last Updated: Feb-22-14 9:24 AM EST –

Your reply ended up being to g2d instead of me but I figured that out ;)

I tend to write "books" here as it is, but in spite of that it's hard to include everything that might be important or think of scenarios that are likely, especially when knowing very little about the original poster. So, it's probably a good thing you wrote what you did, because depending on the actual situation, the danger that's present if your first scenario is correct is something to worry about.

I gave the OP the benefit of the doubt in this regard and you didn't, but since the OP hasn't done this before, to err on the side of caution when replying might be best. Your point is a good one, especially now that it's clarified.

Load doesn’t have to be on the racks
In my situation, the bags were all resting on the roof of my van spread out under the tandem canoe hulls. They were tied to the thwarts or seats of the boats, or maybe to the racks, so they wouldn’t shift fore, aft or sideways.

The tying probably wasn’t even absolutely necessary as a load won’t shift much on a roof when it is shielded from wind under a canoe hull. Plus, there was no way for the bags to escape out from under the tied-down hull.

In sum, there was additional weight load on the roof but not on the racks. It depends on your vehicle’s roof geometry and how much space you have up there.