Cartopping with no over-straps

I’d like to invert a common and mildly controversial question here: What do you think about cartopping with bow and stern lines but NO straps or ropes over the top of the boat at all?

Here’s the situation.

My usual canoe vehicle is a full size van (the Magic Bus).which of course is quite high. I need to use a small step ladder to tie straps over hulls. The van sports 78" load bars on which I occasionally carry three boats. It’s the middle boat on the high rack that’s the problem.

Even with my taller step ladder it’s difficult to reach the middle boat to cinch down the straps. When three boats are on the rack, I have to remove one of the side boats just to unstrap and unload the middle boat, which of course remains hard to reach to uncinch the straps. A big double boat hassle, which gets even bigger as I get older, shorter and weaker.

I’m thinking of ditching the over-straps completely for the middle hull and just relying on strong bow and stern V-lines down to secure attachments on the metal bumpers. I don’t think the middle boat will yaw much with the V-lines and I don’t think it can shift much laterally with securely fastened boats on each side of it. Plus, the boats on each side would shield the middle boat from lateral side gusts of wind.

The benefit of this arrangement would be that I could load and unload the middle boat without ever having to move the side boats, I wouldn’t have to go through any contortions to over-strap the middle hull, and in fact I wouldn’t have to use the step ladder at all. What a relief!

I’m confident this would work okay for driving locally at low speeds, but I’m a little reluctant to experiment with expensive composite boats on long drives at highway speeds.

I know this compromises safety a bit, but how much really? Many canoeing things are relative, entail risk and involve compromises.I often get perspectives here I never would have thought of myself. What say ye?

What about the safety of other people on the road if that boat should happen to come off the van? Wouldn’t a trailer solve all of your problems with loading,unloading,and safety?

I say try it…
I’m not planning to be in CT for a while :wink:

I hope
You know a good lawyer?

I would get a taller stepladder. The center boat will slide around and hit the other boats.

Head’s up, please,
if you’re coming to Florida. I don’t want to be behind you on the road.

Too much load on ends ?
… And damage boats ?

How far apart are are the racks and what type of carriers you using ? Would help to know this to picture boats up there.

I would say move the racks as close to bumpers as possible then go for it with the end lines only. Takes bending loads off hulls and cuts down on need to pull as tight to control yaw too.

How about this?
One or two really loong straps around the whole assembly of three boats, that you could toss and thread thru using an arrangement similar to snaking an electric line? It obviously would not be tight on all three boats, but it would provide protection against the middle boat lifting up like an air foil, and help it stay between the other two boats. Maybe do this at the point of each of the crossbars so that you can run it under one of them at each location, so it would stay in its spot front to back.

I agree that just bow and stern sounds a little thin. One of those straps goes and you have a free flying object. It is in some ways shakier than if a regular cross strap goes.

long straps over all 3
"One or two really loong straps around the whole assembly of three boats, that you could toss and thread thru…"

that’s what I would suggest - use straps seperately around the outer two boats, just like you’d do with only two boats on the rack - than for the center boat, a set of long straps or rope around all 3 hulls would guarantee that the center boat can’t get lifted off - maybe stuff something between the the boats and cinch them togeter as a “package” - shouldn’t be much of a hassle to do it that way, in addition to bow and stern lines

+1 on possible damage to hull
Too much tension on the bow & stern lines can warp hulls.

Different Rack?
Kari-Tek out of UK has an interesting solution

I am not saying you should buy it, but might come as inspiration for something similar

Better off with ropes
I’d think, than straps, on canoes and it would be easier to set up a workable system.

Canoes typically have attach points at the hand holds, seats, and even the center yoke, any or all of which could take a small line with 2 carabiners draped over it. These carabiners could be clipped to loops made in the main line that goes around the boats. A bungee cord could be used to tighten up any slack between the carabiner/rope interface. In this manner, you can make a short tie down for the center boat that is quick and easy to attach and remove.

As for reaching the roof, I’d agree with those who suggest a ladder (and or lift system for the boats). It sounds like a challenge getting those up and down and if you can make it easier at home, than that’d be the way to go.

It may be easier and cheaper to buy a used, but still serviceable, boat trailer and skip the boat on top scenario completely. It is common out here to see this done for those who are transporting multiple paddle boats and used trailers can be had for about the cost than one of the highly designed car racks.


OK, but choose your ropes or straps
carefully. No Nylon, too stretchy and relaxes when wet, or even in high morning humidity. I’d get quality polyester rope, which does not elongate much under load, doesn’t relax much when wet, and resists UV quite well. To avoid boat damage, judge the degree of tightening carefully.

bad idea
Yet another reason to never drive behind someone with boats on their roof.

It continues to amaze me that drivers would want to compromise the safety of others on the road. All for the sake of a little bit of trouble/hassle loading and unloading.

I can carry up to 4 boats on the roof of my minivan. It takes planning and forethought based on which boats need to come off first. Yes, it is a hassle. But to even consider not tying on the middle boat except w/ bow/stern seems a bit careless and cavalier about the safety of others. You appear to be only concerned with the value of the boats and not the people in cars behind you.

When you put boats on your roof, imagine your wife/husband/children/grandchildren riding behind you. If you are comfortable with that, then you probably tied correctly.

I am just TIRED of seeing cars on the road with badly tied down boats - some lifting off cradles, some SIDEWAYS on the roof due to the wind pressure.


A picture and clarification

– Last Updated: Jun-29-12 11:58 AM EST –

I have been carrying my 15 canoes and kayaks on my vans for 30+ years and hundreds of thousands of miles without incident. I've carried as many as five open canoes on my roof rack back and forth from Florida to New York, and take safety seriously.

I travel all around North America and choose my craft for the day or multi-day trip when I get to the waterbody. My van is like my golf bag.

I have Thule racks. The bar spread is at least six feet. I usually carry two open canoes and either my outrigger or seakayak. The outrigger and kayaks always go upside down on foam blocks over the bars.

Here's a picture.

I have two step ladders, one with four steps, but it's still difficult to reach the middle hull from the side of the van where the ladder is positioned.

The one rope over all three hulls won't work unless the deepest (highest) boat is in the middle. But that will be the outrigger when I'm using that, and it has to be on the side for other mechanical reasons.

The bow and stern lines would be high strength, low stretch poly rescue rope and would be tied securely to metal bumpers and the hull structure. Ad hominem claims that this hypothetical proposal is unduly dangerous are unhelpful unless you support your argument with some sort of data or reasoning.

I appreciate the argument that the necessary tension on the bow and stern lines might put too much force on a composite hull. That reasoning makes sense. It's also a prime reason why bow and stern lines are not used on long outrigger canoes or rowing shells.


– Last Updated: Jun-29-12 12:08 PM EST –

I towed 12+ kayak trailer for outfitter thousands of miles. The usual arrangement - 2x straps holding 2-3-4 kayaks per shelf. Straps always tight, always double checked before the trip.
Never had a problem until I saw two kayaks fly off the trailer at 65mph on the highway. Straps did not fail. Two internal kayaks in a bundle of 4 snuggled too much and loosened the straps giving enough slack to let them slide out.
I was lucky - no cars were hit, kayaks bounced off the road.

Do you want to feel lucky?

im with you
In no way is your purposed arrangement more dangerous than any other arrangement. If all straps fail, of course you could have had one more, but that’s true no matter the amount of straps.

The only worry I would have would be the potential movement and then vibration of two hulls touching each other. I have experience with trying to remove white gel coat from my kayak that came off my canoe when the canoe shifted on my rack into a rubbing position with my kayak on a long trip.

Ryan L.

How ‘bout this?
I can’t tell from the photo…can you reach the rear crossmember from the back of the van - standing on the bumper or the floor with the doors open, maybe?

if so - you could do it with one long rope. You’d have to start with a loop of rope running under the bars with the closed end laying on the windshield or hood. How you get it there may be a matter of trial and error. Anyway - place the middle boat on the racks, take the closed end of the loop in hand(s) and toss it up over the stem of the boat. Now go around to the back and pull the slack and loose ends to the rear, run them up behind the rear bar and over the boat. Tie together with a trucker’s hitch. Voila’.

No, can’t reach racks from front or back
The racks are spaced so as to centralize boats on the roof and to put the bars under the strongest part of my outrigger canoe (the most delicate hull). This results in a 6 foot spread, but doesn’t allow me to reach the bars effectively from the back or certainly not the front.

Another issue is the hull sliding to and fro when braking or accelerating. The V-lines won’t stop this. I could use front and rear snotter lines to the bars to prevent this, and they would also serve as a sort of a loose backup system. But then I’m getting almost as complicated as what I was hoping to avoid.

I’m OK w. it as long as you can arrange to always have a car with your family members riding behind your Great Experiment.

“safety a little bit compromised” - yeah and how do YOU know it’s only a “little bit”. Understand that a canoe launching off the roof is a huge heavy projectile that can injure or kill (decapitate) a person in the following car. Have you seen the pic of the kayak going through the front window of the school bus? Do you want to provide an encore w. a bigger, heavier boat?

Glad you and toller put up these kinds of questions. Exposure to common sense may yet win out.