Driving long distance with "J" cradles

My family and I are traveling to Florida from PA for vacation in a few weeks and I am going to take my kayak.

I have a Prowler SOT and am thinking of using my “J” cradles instead of my saddles to save room on the roof for other gear. Of course, the vertical profile of the boat will be greater, and catch more wind.

Has anyone driven long distance at highway speeds using cradles? Is there any thing I should be careful of? Would you use saddles or cradles for long distance?

Thanks for the insight.

You must mean sidewinds. That is
as much a function of the vehicle you are driving and how its shape and design affect sidewind reaction. If your vehicle is good in sidewinds, I don’t think going from saddles to J-cradles will necessarily affect it much.

The thing to watch, if you’re in a taller vehicle like an SUV, is the total top load, and the load inside. You need to drive in a way that reduces the risk of having to make a sudden maneuver to miss road debris or some idiot driver.

Some of my older, lighter cars, like our '76 VW Dasher Wagon, were wonderful when carrying a couple of boats, and some were mildly disappointing, like our '97 Outback.

I’ve done it, but with a trailer
I drove 5100 miles round trip between CO and FL a few months ago.

Your question is really about wind profile, not distance. With the trailer, no problem. On a rooftop, maybe. If it were me (short person with a 4WD truck), I would not use J-cradles. Not only is wind profile a factor, so is loading difficulty.

My vehicle…
We’re driving a Ford Freestyle. Taller than the average sedan, but shorter than my Explorer which I normally use to haul my boat. The car is moderately heavy and doesn’t get pushed around in the wind too badly. I’m 6’2" and strong, so lifting heavy boats is not an issue for me. In some ways, I find it easier to lift 60 lbs Prowler in and out of the Js than to try and balance it as I roll it off the Hullyrollers and Mako saddles.

Sidewinds are my primary concern, and I didn’t know if 65-70 mph would make that “getting pushed around” feeling more prevalent. I just bought the Js and haven’t driven with them yet, so I don’t know how they perform.

I appreciate the thoughts.

Depends on suspension, driving style too
The wind speed itself matters, as does driving speed, but there are other variables that’ll matter.

The vehicle’s suspension should be stiff. If not, the tall and heavy flag that is your side-loaded boat will probably make it more likely to wallow. Take sharp curves more slowly than normal, especially if there are gusts.

I have seen a Suburban on its side (nothing on the roof) on a typical late-winter chinook-y day. That was the same day I saw the tractor-trailer on its side. There were warnings against driving high-profile vehicles that day.

My husband almost rolled his (soft-riding) Tahoe one time when we had two sea kayaks on its roof, loaded on saddles. He was driving too fast for the curves, when a gust of wind caught it. Just a few moments earlier, I’d warned him that he was going too fast for the conditions but as usual he ignored me. It took a big scare for the advice to sink in.


– Last Updated: May-28-10 6:07 PM EST –

...you'll probably be fine. Secure your Prowler firmly, use front & rear tie-downs as a secondary security measure (Jack, Jack, Jack, I kin hear ye already, mate...) and, in my opinion, more importantly, you should think about headroom & security issues even more.

You might want to secure the boat to the roof rack with a lockable cable through a scupper if you're worried about overnight security at a hotel/motel/campground as a theft-reducing measure.

Most importantly, check the height of your load -you may be required to park in a parking garage, and taller vehicles with kayaks transported on Js may find their height exceeds the overhead clearance in some of these structures. Better safe than sorry, so you, when you arrive in our fair state (at least for the immediate future, can't tell anything for longer than a month from now...!) still have an intact boat to


-Frank in Miami

My truck topper is
outfitted with saddles on one side and J-cradles on the other. I use the Js for short trips. I have made trips with two boats, one on each side, without mishap. Besides being aware of vehicle height, keep in mind the blast from passing semis. Just take it easy and check your rigging every time you stop for food or fuel. The extra leverage from the sideways load will add stress to the whole package and moderate driving will be your friend.

No problem if your rack is good
If your rack is strong and well secured, you have nothing to worry about. By putting the kayak on edge you may begin to “approach” the potential for getting buffetted by cross winds as those of us who carry canoes. I doubt that turning the boat on edge will affect overall wind resistance more than just a little (the cross-sectional profile of the boat is the same either way), and if you are doing it “to save space” as you say, I’m guessing you’ll have other stuff on the roof catching the wind too, so your boat is just part of the overall air resistance.

Anyway, I often carry a friend’s kayak that way (on a '95 Blazer), sometimes hundreds of miles, and I can’t percieve any addition to the air resistance that’s already there due to my canoe.

I have carried my Tarpon 160
a few thousand miles in my J racks with no issues. Agree with a minimum of front tie downs.Slipstream from semis is the worst buffeting my boat takes.Heavy cross winds could be a concern.

I do…
…I’m driving an Audi A4 Avant with Audi cross bars (Thule) and Yakima Bowdown “J” cradles. I haul an Eddyline Fathom (15.5 feet).

Last summer I nearly pulled off the road for a spell due to a very strong cross wind (how fast?.. who knows). OTOH the boat seemed pretty secure. What I did notice was that I had to snug down the bow line after a couple of hour of this. The front hook on the bow line was near to slipping out of the bumper “I” bolt. A 'beaner would have prevented this.

Anyhow you should be fine but you must use both a stern and bow lines and, as you would with any rack system, adjust as needed.

Deck down on saddles
or foam blocks with bow and stern tie downs for long distance. The two times I have been on a long road trip in a friend’s vehicle with J cradles, t-storms almost took us off the road. One was a VW Bug and maybe I get that, but the other was a good sized BMW with OEM rack attachments and same story.

A trailer would be more better but a PITA parking in some places

Don’t worry about it
I have not personally used J-cradles but I know plenty of kayakers who have driven long distances with them without incident.

I have driven thousands of miles with 5 full size open canoes pyramided on top of a full size van. No problem …

… if …

… your rack is rock secure to the vehicle and you tie the boat(s) intelligently.

used to do it from all the time
From the West Coast to the Midwest annually. Never had any problem. If you get a SINK instead of a SOT, you can use the boat for extra storage space. Just tie down both ends.

Thanks for all the input. We making final plans now, and are ready to get away for a couple of weeks.

Thanks again.

The weight and
aerodynamics of the vehicle may have a lot to do with how cross winds affect. Coming out of a forest lined stretch of highway into open farm land is where the kayaks on J cradles almost took me off the road. I am use to driving a full sized truck with deck down if I am going long distance and had never experienced anything like the VW Bug suddenly pushed due to cross winds.

The kayaks were secured properly and made a perfect sail.

I wouldn’t do it.
Forget about the thing acting like a sail and forget about roll over risk. I’ve seen J-cradles snap in this application. We’re talking about putting a wide heavy kayak in a cradle where depending on bar spread, the boat will probably be twice as wide as the J-cradle is tall. That’s one heck of a lever being applied to the roof rack. Like I said, I’ve seen racks fail in this situation. I don’t recommend it.

Do you have stackers?
We use stackers - leave room for other objects and they make it easy to secure the boats to the cross-rails as well as the stackers for longer trips. There is still a mount for the stackers, but things are much lower profile.

J Racks for years

– Last Updated: May-31-10 10:42 AM EST –

When I first bought a kayak many many years ago,
it stayed locked ontop my Subaru, 24/7, 365 for 2 years.
Michigan - all 4 seasons - for 2 years.
I went to the movies with it, I went grocery shopping with it,
I went to work with it--many miles, many places.
It also allowed me to paddle a ton, ready anytime.
Eventually I got a place on the water as the addiction grew.

Thule solid J racks last and work a very, very long time.
Check once in a while if anything loosened up,
continue to next destination.
Same goes for the straps, check if secure.

I still paddle that Dagger Crossover today,
with the same J racks, re-primed and re-painted.
My guess is that they are on the 12th year, doing fine.

Dagger Crossover
specs - 12' long by 24" wide - LOTS of surface area.

TX to NY
A few years back I drove from Texas to upstate New York and back with my Tarpon 120 in J cradles. No trouble at all.

wouldn’t do it
Would advise against the J Cradles, I had an ocean kayak prowler 15 fly off my Yakima Bowdowns (like j cradles) at 70 MPH due to crosswind. It had both front and rear lines but these were of no avail as the gust of wind ripped the rivets that they were secured to right out. I had travelled thousands of miles with the boat in that configuration before and never had a problem until that one burst of wind. If you are going to do it be very careful and secure your bow and stern lines to the boat through the boat itself (through the self bailing holes) rather than the carrying handles or perimeter lines as I can attest that sometimes these are simply not strong enough. Be careful