Cartopping heavy canoe

I have a 104# canoe and I hope someone has some advice for getting it up onto an SUV without assistance. Please don’t tell me to buy a lighter canoe, but it is okay to tell p-net to let me win the contest. :smiley:

I’m tall and pretty strong, but not exactly young. I don’t think I can hoist it up entirely by myself, but I can lift one end up at a time. The canoe has vinyl gunwales, so I don’t want to slide it across the metal luggage rack without some protection. Any tips?


You might try attaching a 2X across the
rack, especially at the back, to slide the canoe on. Also, you could do the same with pipe, either the black or galvanized. Or maybe even appropriately sized pvc pipe. I’ve the same problem with a fiberglass mohawk made in the '80’s. Usually, I lift it from underneath like I’m going to portage, get one end up high enough to clear the bar at the back, and shove the sucker on up. To keep from damaging the vinyl, you may want to pad the rack rails with pool noodle or pipe insulationg.

Usually I recommend modifications…
… to your rack that make sliding the boat up and onto the rack easier, but you are just using your stock luggage rack, so I won’t go there. However, chances are, your luggage rack has longitudinal bars on each side, right? If so, I’d suggest approaching the car from the side and setting the boat on one of those bars, sliding it up onto the car, and then turning the boat 90 degrees into the normal carrying position. I recommend this because those longitudinal bars will be a lot closer to the edges of your car than the rear crossbar, so you should be able to slide your boat on them without it contacting (and scratching) the body of your car.

As to padding the bars, strips of carpet laid along the bars and cinched-down every few inches with tightly wrapped electrical tape will hold up much longer pipe insulation for those contact points which the gunwales will be sliding on. Pool noodles may be okay though.

Picking the boat up is another matter. If you can pick up one end, chances are you can also walk underneath once one end is up, and get the thing balanced on your shoulders using an existing thwart or a portage yoke installed at the balance point. Carrying the boat in that manner, just walk up to the side of the car and set the front end on the side bar of the rack and the rear end on the ground. Then pick up the back end and slide the boat up there. Pivoting the boat to face the proper direction will be a bit tricky on something as small as a luggage rack (don’t let the boat “walk” off the side in the process), but I’ve done it that way a couple of times, and it works okay.

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Maine Roll-On

Rack Modifications
I can and planned to build whatever aids were necessary to accomplish this, so rack modifications fall into that category. From what you’ve said, I think you implied that loading from the rear is preferred if I add a roller or some kind of offset to the rack. That’s doable.

Is there a technique like maybe pulling the canoe up parallel or perpendicular to the vehicle at some specific distance or is this just a wing it until I get the hang of it system?

I’ve considered things like putting one end on a sawhorse to help me get underneath it, or maybe building or buying a system that uses the trailer hitch receiver. I’ve even considered building a frame and winch setup that I can put together and dismantle on site. Something tells me to use the KISS principle.


I can suggust what NOT to do
My canoe was only 80 pounds. I put it up with foam blocks and racheted it down directly on the roof. Cracked the windshield.

tie down to the bumpers
Technically I use ratcheting straps and hook on to the frame below the bumper. I make a triangle with the straps at each end of the canoe. Go from car to the canoe and down to the car again. I loop around the handle of the canoe at least twice and then twist the straps like a twist tie on a bread bag. The canoe does not move. The wider the trangle the better.

If I am nrevous about a big, heavy, canoe another strap around the mid is good for peace-of-mind. Tie to the 100 lb luggage rack or through the doors.

Tie Downs
The Suburban is rigged with tow hooks and for tie downs. I plan to use a precut rope in front and ratchet straps in the rear to place the canoe in the same sweet spot every time. The rope might do double duty as my painter. A belly band is also my intent.

My biggest concern is not busting anything on me, the car or the canoe in getting it up and down.


Canoe Loader
I’d recommend a Fulton canoe loader. It mounts to your trailer hitch and has a pivoting crossbar on top of an upright post. You turn your canoe upside down on the ground, pick up one end and set it on the crossbar. Tie it down then pick up the other end and pivot it around and set it on your crossbars. I’ve had one for a year and it works very well for loading and unloading a fairly heavy canoe (Old Town Guide 147). I would be wary of those factory crossbars, though. 104 lbs is pretty heavy.

Intriguing. Maybe a little pricey, but thought inspiring.


Thanks 2u2
The only problem I can see with it is that I have to get one end of the canoe up to 7’ above ground before this device helps me. It really doesn’t require much less strength overhead than just lifting the canoe up to a rack or roller and it would block my tailgate.

It would be nice if the upright part could pivot in the middle down to just over waist height where the canoe could be strapped on and then leverage or winching could be applied to pull the end of the canoe up.

Still shouldn’t be a problem
What follows applys if you want to stick with the factory racks, which you can’t easily modify to make loading easier. This system really does work, and I’ve seen a single person do it with a 100+ pound jon boat.

The best way to lift one end the canoe high is to have in balanced on your shoulders in the first place. And if you aren’t going to do that, are you using a cart? (in that case, see the last paragraph below)

One-hundred pounds may not be too bad a load to carry on your back for a short distance if you are in the shape you say. Once carrying the canoe this way, just let the back of the boat settle toward the ground and the front will end up being much higher than any car roof - so there’s no extra lifting required, just tilting. Set the high end down on that longitudinal cross bar as I suggested in my first reply and the rest is very easy. The hardest part of the whole operation is getting the canoe on your back, which gets easier with practice. Even then, you start by lifting one end while getting yourself positioned underneath it, not by lifting the whole boat.

If you are using a cart to move the boat around, get the boat alongside and roughly parallel to the side of your car, with the tail end out a ways from the car’s midsection. Now pick up the front end, and shuffle yourself toward the center only far enough so that the lifted end is higher than your grip by enough to clear the roof. Again, you DON’T need your lifting point to be as high as the roof if you shuffle your grip toward the middle from that lifted end. A shoulder-high grip will lift the end of the boat 8 or more feet in the air with no problem once you shuffle in a little bit. Now just pivot the boat over the car and set the raised portion on the rack’s side bar. The tail end of the canoe stays in the same spot on the ground the whole time. It never slides, it only pivots, so you’ll need to learn the proper distance from the car to set that end to make this work. Put some padding under that end of the boat if needed.

See Yakima
Yakima makes adapters that clamp on the siderails of your Suburban rack and mount a Yakima crossbar. Putting one of these across the back end of your rack would give you a round crossbar to set one end of the canoe on and slide it forward onto a second bar.

From the weight you have given and the vinyl gunwales this sounds like an Old Town Discovery Sport or XL Tripper and they are a load alright.

For a whole summer season i put a 20Ft. Grumman War Canoe atop my Astro Van and that is about the same height as your Suburban and the canoe weight is the same. The drill for me was to get it overhead, walk up to the rear of the Astro and set the bow on the rear rack, then duck out from underneath and raise the stern and slide the canoe forward till the front latched into the front gunwale brackets. The hard part was getting the Grumman overhead by myself. I did it from the stern with the bow pushed against any sort of stop i could find wherever i was loading, even the rear of the van. Once i got the stern overhead, which requires lifting half the canoe’s weight, i would walk my hands down the gunwales till i got to the center seat and rest that on my shoulders (padded with my PFD). Using the center seat as a painful yoke i would get the canoe to the van as soon as possible.

I am about 5’9" and 190# and 57 yrs.


Try attatching 2 x 4s to your rack, put some indoor/outdoor carpeting around them and slide the canoe from the rear. Lifting the canoe portage style from the rear twart (relatively light) and working up toward the middle. From there you should be able to set the front of the canoe on the rear crossbar on the roof and slide it forward. Or, extend the 2 x 4s out a foot on one side and come in parallel to the car with the canoe on your shoulders, sit one side on the boards , move out from underneath holding the free side up and slide it on. I did the later for years on a cheap roof rack with an 85 pound canoe on cars including mid size and even an old Escort. Did it from the rear with a wood rack I built for my pick up for a few years. Have a 62 pound canoe now.

Thanks to all
I’m coming to understand that everyone thinks it will be easier for me to get under it and lift it portage style than I think it will be. Maybe everyone is right. One of the problems with height (6’5") is what it does to you when you try to get into small spaces. I’m picturing being at the take out after an all-day paddle and being too limited in my ability to get it loaded without knee or back problems.

How does this sound?

I drop the tailgate. Pull the bow up onto it. Invert the canoe. Crawl under it. Lift it up and forward onto the rack, roller or whatever. That will only drag the stern about 2 feet and I can use a pad or something to make that easier on the vinyl.

Loading without assitance, sort of…
Cedar, I have a OT Loon 160T Kayak that I load up on my Suburban. The 160T is about 80 lbs, which is less weight than your canoe, but too much for my wife to help lift. But she does help. :wink:

I have a small craddle/dolly that she stands in to hold the kayak in place while I lift it.

Position the boat parallel, next to, but past the rear of the Sub. I put the tail of the boat in the v-notch, and the wife stands on the rear of the craddle. Lift up the front of the boat and set on the top rear of the Sub, protected by a small thick carpet. Then get the rear of the boat and push up and onto the cross rails. You’re home free. This technic will limit the time you’re lifting the boat. Also, you’re never really lifting the whole boat’s weight, since you’re only lifting one end at a time. The other end is resting on something else.

I got film photos of this procedure, but should scan and post them sometime. If you got questions, let me know, I’ll try to clarify and post pictures.


Can’t see the photo
Apparently you need to make it public or something. I have a yahoo account but it didn’t authorize me.

But that’s okay and thanks. I have thought about building a dolly or cart for moving it around and I think I can make one that will tilt high enough to get one end of the canoe up on top. I don’t know if my wife will volunteer as dead weight, though. ;-D


all right try this link…

That should get you the dolly/craddle. Basically, its made from a 2’x2’ piece of ply with 2x8s in a vee and along the sides. Add a couple of Home Depot wheels and straps for the dolly function, flipped over on the other side. It sits on the ground and all I use it for is to nest the rear of the kayak in the vee as I lift up the bow. The stern just sits in the vee and the craddle keeps the kayak from sliding away. Tell the wife, “Just stand here for a minute dear while I lift this big heavy boat.”

Also, Thules’ “Glide and Set” boat holders should fit on your factory cross rails.


Think about getting a small boat
trailer. You can often pick up the type used for jon boats pretty cheap used, sometimes even with the boat, and they aren’t too difficult to modify with a homebuilt rack. As an added attraction, if you get another canoe or have a friend with one, you can carry both, maybe even more.