car topping tandem kayak?

Long time canoer here. Many day trips and multi-nighters with our trusty Wenonah Sundowner 18.

Looking into a tandem sea kayak now. For various reasons, a tandem would suit us better than two singles. Only interested in tandems big enough to haul some gear. This means mostly in the range of 20' and, more pertinent, 90-100 lbs.

Question: is it really feasible to car-top a kayak that big and heavy? My Sundowner is probably around 70 lbs and is manageable. We've rented a few tandems, but never tried to load one. They're noticeably heavier to move around.

Toyota RAV 4 is the vehicle, BTW.


I’ve seen the situation you describe.

Actually given your forum name I was afraid to click on the post. Still traumatized.

My husband and I once paddled with a couple who used a 100-lb tandem that day. As you might guess, only one person in that couple could support an end to lift it onto the roof. And only one person in “my” couple also. The car roof was lower than your RAV4’s.

Unless your partner is very strong and fairly tall, you’d have to always go paddling with another couple, preferably one who is also using a tandem. You’ll need to practice assisted rescues together…

fiberglass tandems

– Last Updated: Nov-06-14 3:57 PM EST –

There are quite a few nice composite tandems out there. I've handled plenty of 30" wide plastic tandems when I worked as a guide, and I'll never touch one again, if I can avoid it. They're heavy and generally miserable to paddle.

Look into some of the higher performance tandems, ranging from 22-26" wide, and 90 pounds (still heavy, though not as heavy as the plastic boats, and just better to paddle.) Valley Aleut II, SKUK Triton, Seaward Passat G3.

You could also look into a trailer for either, or a hullavator.

If you want a nice tandem…
take a look at the Current Designs “Double Vision”

Secondly what ever you get, if your rear rack is close to the back of your car, put a Yakama “Hully roller” cradle on it, with regular saddles on the front.

I used to load our 23 foot long, 100 pound tandem with one. I would get on the bow with my wife on the stern. I would place the bow on the rollers while she held the stern off the ground. then I would go back to the stern and just push the boat on the rollers.

Jack L

More loading tips
Here I am on my boat-loading methods soapbox again. If you can do as Jack suggested, or anything similar to what he suggested so that the boat can be slid onto the rack from one end, there is NO reason to lift the boat more than waist high, so neither person needs to be all that strong. It seems that people always assume that a pair of individuals must lift or carry a boat while positioned at opposite ends, but that’s not the case. Both people can lift the boat from center, holding the coaming from opposite sides. If there are two cockpits instead of one, it still works. In that case, one person grabs the edge of the forward cockpit and the other person grabs the edge of the rear cockpit, but from the opposite side (the boat will still balance perfectly). Walk the boat toward the car and just tilt it so one end goes up and the other end goes down, all while your hands are comfortably at waist level. You’ll get one end of the boat up on the rear bar of the rack without doing any “lifting”, only “carrying”. Now just slide it up by pushing and lifting from the rear. By the time the boat is onto the rack far enough that the rear end must go up to full height, it will be lifted by the teeter-totter effect and you still won’t need to do any actual lifting.

This works with canoes too (most people are absolutely flummoxed with the idea of two people carrying a canoe from opposite sides of center instead of from opposite ends, but it works perfectly).

How about a 44 lb tandem?
I suppose by now there may be people who roll their eyes when I suggest folding kayaks, but I don’t think a lot of people consider them and as a long time fan of folding kayaks (having owned 5 of them) I feel it doesn’t hurt to offer that option.

The Pakboat XT-17 tandem is an excellent and seaworthy boat and it only wieghs 44 lbs. You could easily load it or carry it to the water solo. And it has the added advantage of packing down into a duffel bag that you can take on an airline or store in a closet. At around $2000 it is the same price as the CD Double Vision. In fact Pakboat has a demo on sale right now for $1600 including BOTH the solo and tandem decks.

This is one of the few sit inside kayaks that can be converted from a tandem to a practical solo. I’ve owned the XT-15 solo version of this boat and it’s a well made and easy to assemble kayak that paddles as well as a hardshell. IN fact, I have come to prefer folders even though I also have hardshell boats – folders handle rough water better and have a special feel in the water.

car topping tandem kayak?

– Last Updated: Nov-06-14 10:02 PM EST –

That's a nice description of how it could work. With our canoe, the wife and I lift the two ends up high enough to settle it onto the rack from the side of the car.

The lift and slide of a big kayak to a hully roller or such is maybe not as bad as I'm imagining.

But that's still a lot of weight up on the rack, no?

Exactly what crossbars?
Your lower post is going back to the weight, and frankly 90-100 pounds should not be any issue for a third party set of cross-bars rails like Yakima or Thule.

That IS too heavy a weight for many manufacturers’ original equipment cross bars, which often top out around 75 pounds.

So do you have a full third party rack, or are you putting the boat up on the original equipment cross rails?

Weight on Rack
I see Celia has mentioned this farther down the page too, that if you are using your car’s factory cross bars, you might be overloading them. With a good rack (aftermarket rack or well-built homemade rack), you should be fine. Remember, lots of people carry two boats having a total weight that’s similar or even more. For such a long boat as you are considering, it’s a good precaution to use extra tie-downs, arranged as best you can to reinforce the boat against being twisted from side to side by the wind.

Yakima rack
Been giving my money to Yakima for years. I know the racks are pretty solid.

But the 100 lb Northwest Seascape we rented most recently was just a beast. And I totally agree with the comment above that a fiberglass kayak would be the way to go (although I’m seriously wondering about a folder…?)

I think I’m just not quite catching the vision of how the RAV 4’s rear rack placement, along with the spare wheel hanging off the back, will work with the kayak lift and slide.

I think the best answer to that will be to try it, but I’m also just a little concerned that a feat my wife and I can perform once, when we’re excited new boat purchasers, may get less and less fun over the course of a season.

The “Double vision” that I mentioned
weigh 60 pounds

Jack L

Loading long boats
It is obviously faster with a guy helping me, but I can load a 65 pound 17 ft plus sea kayak onto a stations wagon/hatch type vehicle using the Amagansett Roller Loader to get it up and down. As guideboatguy said, do it with the right tools and no one is ever carrying the full weight. At 60 plus years old, the Roller Loader is well worth the money as is the fancy cart that gets the boats from the back of the car to anywhere else.

but what about the gear?
I like that weight but at 16’8" I don’t see how I could carry much gear along.

Was not aware of that product.


Might consider a sectional kayak
Point 65 makes a sectional SOT that can be used as either a single or a double, depending whether you assemble 2 or 3 sections.

Look it up on line
Jack L

AKA divorce boat.

They also paddle a tandem canoe.
If the canoe didn’t split them up, neither will the kayak.

S/b easy with a Rav4
I used to cartop two Boreal Esperanto tandems (20’, 100lbs) on my GMC Jimmy. We used J-cradles; I would get up on the roof and pull while two other people lifted either end. Not hard with some practice.

I now have a Rav4 and it is the easiest cartopping vehicle I’ve ever owned. While we don’t have tandems any more, it would be even easier because you could load it from the back with only two people. I regularly load single kayaks by myself (onto saddles, not J-cradles).

The secret is the side-opening rear door! You just open the rear door and affix a towel or carpet remnant behind the rear crossbar, which is now only a foot in front of the rear edge of the roof. You slide the bow of the kayak up the carpet till it’s far enough up to settle into the rear saddle, then lift the stern & slide the kayak forward. I cover the rear saddles with cloth so the kayak slides easier (the poor man’s Hully-rollers).

And wouldn’t you know it, Toyota in their infinite wisdom eliminated the side-opening feature and put hatch doors on their newer models. Oh well, it’ll be a long time before I’ll need another car, maybe by then they’ll go back to the side-opening model - or somebody else will!