Getting that top canoe onto the trailer

-- Last Updated: May-18-16 1:01 PM EST --

Hey Everyone! I work for an environmental education company who provides outdoor education to school aged children. We use canoes to help us to study water quality and explore places we wouldn't normally be able to. However most of our staff is under 5ft 5in tall and can't reach the top canoe on the trailer. We have tried a few different ways to get the canoe on and off. Each time with 2 staff members and 15 middle schoolers feels very unsafe. I feel like I'm waiting for a child to get hurt. Has anyone come up with a good solution (besides taking growth hormones) for safely and efficiently getting the top canoe down from a trailer that holds 8 canoes (2 rows of 4 canoes)? Any advice would be great.

There have been several questions about the trailer that the canoes are on. It looks kind of like this...

There is another rung for 2 more canoes on top of the 8 we have. Someone can stand in a compartment for paddles to help guide the canoe but in order to get it up to that point is going to need some height. Even if you were to slide it up from the bow. I'm only able to reach to about the middle of the canoe. I don't know if sliding it up would be safe. I'm considering having our maintenance manager build us a collapsable scaffolding that can be supported by the bottom rungs of the trailer. and then it could just live in the trailers paddle compartment the whole time.
What do you think?

Can you slide it up there?

– Last Updated: May-16-16 11:04 PM EST –

I've always been a proponent of getting boats onto high vehicle roofs by methods that don't require you to lift the boat with your hands above your head. It seems this would be possible on a trailer too, as long as the trailer has two features. First, the upper rear rack bars on the trailer will need to be wider than the widest part of the boat. Second, it will be very helpful if there is some kind of tag sticking up on the bar ends to prevent the boat from sliding off sideways when being loaded (many canoe trailers already have these, in the form of eye-bolts or welded-on loops to which the tie-downs are attached).

If your trailer has those features, here's what to do. Tip the boat upside-down and pick it up. Two people should lift it *from each side* (forget the notion that boats can only be carried with a person at each end. There are a few situations when it works far better for two people to carry the canoe from it's middle, and this is one of them). Walk the boat end-wise toward the trailer from behind, and as you get close, both people will simply tilt the boat so that one end rises high enough to get over the top rear bar of the trailer (the other end will be near the ground, but the people lifting the boat will have their hands somewhere between about their waist and chest. No overhead lifting allowed, remember?). Now push the boat up onto that bar (it may help for both people to "hand-walk" their way along the gunwales to the rear of the boat before doing this, or simply set the rear end of the canoe on the ground before walking back to lift from that location). The farther onto the rack you push the boat, the lighter the load becomes for those holding the low end, so actually this part is an easy job for just one person. By the time the boat is most of the way onto the rack, the back end will raise itself as the other end drops, so by the time you need to raise your hands above your head, the job of lifting has ended. The final bit of getting the boat into exactly the right position is done by sliding. Do not lift.

To remove the boat, just slide it out the back of the trailer in reverse of the process described above.

Note that when loading by this method, the top rack will need to be loaded first, and when unloading, the top rack will need to be unloaded last.

If the top rack is not wide enough to allow the widest part of the boat to slide by, you might be able to lengthen the rear bar by sliding a smaller bar into the end. If not, it might be worth your while to modify the trailers with a wider top rear rack, or so that a temporary extension can be attached. If there's a welding shop near you, they will be able to accomplish either of these modifications in a jiffy.

Note that one person can do this quite easily too with any canoe that is set up to be carried on the shoulders. In this case, one person approaches the trailer from behind, tilting the front end of the canoe high enough to get it over the top rear bar of the trailer, and then the rear end is set on the ground. The person then picks up the boat's rear end and pushes the boat up onto the rack. Once again, there's absolutely no use of the hands for overhead lifting.

It always seems easy
At least it seems easy to tell other people to do!

Getting the boat down seems easy. Mount a painter (rope) to the far end of the top canoe. Use the rope to pull the boat back and off the trailer. You probably want a couple helpers to catch the end of the canoe once gravity takes over, then, standing one on each side of the canoe, work the boat down between the two of them.

Getting the boat up could work just the opposite. Again, the ends of the canoe should be set up with ropes. Two paddlers hold the canoe in the center between them, rest one end on the bar of the trailer, and then start sliding it up onto the rack. When it is too high to slide further up, you will have to work it the remaining way with the painters. Hopefully, the canoe will be laying on the two bars by this time and you just have to center it. You may need to preposition an extended painter across the rack (to the front) to be able to grab it and help pull the boat forward.

Beyond that suggestion, all I can think of is ladders and step stools.

Good luck~~Chip

big trailers
Normally the top most boat is the last boat to come off the trailer and the first one to go on it. Since there is little point in having a trailer for 8 boats for one person, there’s usually extra adult help available. Just climb up the supports to reach the top boat. Same as others have said, with a canoe it’s easier and safer to loan and unload from the end sliding it over the back support. The person on the trailer just keeps the opposite end controlled until it can be balanced on the rear support.

Also don’t rush, take your time, accidents happen to people that hurry.

Or, if it makes you too nervous doing this, put car top supports on the towing vehicle and carry the top canoes on the car top, a bit safer this way.

Bill H.

Reading your post and
seeing how tall you are, and watching guides and others load boats on trailers for many many years, I don’t believe there is a safe way for you to do it.

I have a friend who had a winch installed on the front (bottom) with a pully that was on the top front.

The cable came straight back and over a set of rollers in the back and then down to the ground where he would attach it to the front of the boat.

As he winched it, someone else would hold the stern off the ground so it wouldn’t drag, and that solved their problem.

Jack L

If you are handy or know someone that is this system could possibly work for you. All the parts are fairly inexpensive

If the person in front can’t reach…
I agree, there is unlikely any safe way to do it. Someone has to be able to get their hands on the hull at the top rack setting for things to work well and it doesn’t sound like you have the bodies to do that.

I just went to a car with a taller roof and found that I will have to deploy a roller device if it is me and another same size female trying to lift the boat on or off the roof. (At home by myself I can use the roller and totally slide.)

Here is maybe a wacky idea. If you loaded the highest rack on each side first, could you slide the canoe thru from the rearmost support of the next rack down, angle it up and catch the forward support of the highest rack level? Then all you would need is one tall person to lift the rear of the canoe out from the lower support while rotating it on the top front support, then get it up there.

You could put a loose strap around the front of the canoe and thru the vertical support before you did this. That way if it does start sliding, it would be stopped before it hit the ground and a kid. I have done this when loading more roly poly hulled kayaks at home. Takes more time but safer is safer.

Obviously this requires some decent height between each level on the rack, but if you are getting kid camping type big old canoes up there I suspect you have it.

Have to disagree on “no safe way”

– Last Updated: May-17-16 12:36 PM EST –

I've described many times in the past how I loaded an aluminum Jon boat onto the roof of a full-size van when I was a scrawny little teenager. Once one end of the boat is on the rack, nothing can go wrong while sliding it up there as long as it can't slide off sideways in the process (as I mentioned in my post above). And as already described, there's no need for anyone to be able to reach as high as the rack while lifting if both people lift the boat from its center instead of from the ends. I've found that in general, it is very difficult for some people to envision lifting a boat by any means other than having one person at each end, but in this case, lifting by the ends is the hardest possible method.

Chip had an idea for assisting the loading process with rope, and I'd modify that by suggesting that the rope be attached to a thwart near the center of the boat, not to the front end. That downward pull of the rope while the boat is angled upward and not very far onto the rack is likely to be counterproductive since it would force the boat much more tightly against the bar than necessary. A rope attached to a center thwart would initially run over the rear cross bar and help lift the boat and directly assist the people loading, and once the thwart was up to rack level, the pull would be horizontal, again directly assisting the loaders instead of creating useless stress that serves only to increase rope tension rather than move the boat.

Trailer poses a different problem

– Last Updated: May-17-16 1:02 PM EST –

You describe what I do to load a kayak by myself onto a too tall vehicle, except I use the roller loader to keep the boat off the projection on the back of the car (Rav4). It is not a great lot of fun but it works. Once the boat is up over the sold roof, yes it can be dropped down.

But unlike a solid car top, the OPer is talking about a situation where there would be nothing but air under the forward part of the canoe's hull until it is far enough forward to drop on the forwardmost support. For most of the time inbetween you would need someone under it who could get their hands on the hull.

The situation would be similar to what I encountered recently with a newer, taller car. I was just a couple of inches short of the height needed to stand on the ground and support the front of the kayak without it landing on the projection out the back of the vehicle. We got a guy in, and I will have to either mount the roller loader in the future or look for a really secure ladder for aided loading. Until I get a Hullivator.

Yes the OPer could be that taller person up front, except now he has young kids for whom he is legally responsible trying to push up what is probably a very heavy old tandem canoe. Last I new camping groups had big, beat boats.

I think he is correct, it is challenging. The rope idea is interesting and in the OPer's case it'd be my first thing to try. If for no other reason than it keeps a heavy boat from escaping and landing on a kid. But if he is trying to get to the top rack, which likely has nothing sticking out above it, and at a height where only he can actually get his hands under the boat.... I am not sure how that would work. Great idea for the third rack level, where there is something above.

is fewer canoes possible?
and just avoid the top shelf issue. And still provide adequate boat space for all and gear?

no go

– Last Updated: May-17-16 2:11 PM EST –

Your institution has a liability problem:
probabilities for injury are high and in the immediate future.

You need a GOON and a second trailer.

If not a school for midget and dwarfs then one or 2 canoes is possible, 4 is stretching your luck waay out of bounds for normal reality.

Know the LEVER ? attack a 2x4 lever to a hinge on the forward crossmember.

using a short stepladder sized to fill all functions,
place free end tuba on ladder, canoe bow on tuba, lift tuba up ladder while helpers push and pull with rope hull across tuba to trailer proper.

snug bow down loosely with rope, move stepladder to canoe stern, carry stern up ladder to trailer crossmember

This is good for 2 canoes but 4 is meat for a Utube drunks video after 'drunks load the motorcycle.' plays

Car-top 2 canoes on 2nd vehicle

Space between the bars?
We don’t know how far it is between the rear bar and the front bar. If it is over half the length of the canoe, there may be an issue with the boat falling on air, if whoever has the stern, lets it go.

Many open boaters regularly load their boats one end at a time. Rest one end on the bar, go to the other end, pick it up, and slide it on. Once the boat has been pushed up past the center thwart, gravity wants to pull the top end down. If it’s a 16’ canoe, there will be 8’ of boat in front of the bar that will want to come down. If the bar spacing is more than 8’, then the person holding the lower end needs to hold onto it while it is advanced far enough to reach the other bar.

It somewhat depends on the trailer size, but there is no particular danger to this maneuver. IF the boat were to fall, it is going to land in the trailer. So, keep the kids out of the trailer while doing this.


Still may not solve height issue
This is the top slot on a multi-boat trailer.

Unless it is lower than many I have seen, that top slot could easily be high enough that no one other than a fairly tall guy can fully control that last part of the slide over the rear rail. Like the situation that I was in, the boat is going to be a couple of inches or more further up in the air than most of the kids helping him can reach. Middle school - many have not hit their growth spurt yet.

I know that the top rack on the trailers I see shuttling rental boats along the Battenkill is not remotely within my reach, I go by them when I drive up there in the spring. Not by sliding even, a tactic which I know very well because it is what I do myself all the time.

Bar Spread
As Chip says, we don’t know the distance between the bars. However, if it’s like most of the “stacker” canoe trailers I’ve seen, it’s probably not over seven feet, and with a tandem canoe that’s not enough to cause a serious problem of the type you describe with the rear slide-on method. In fact, a person who can’t reach the top rack COULD do so when standing inside the trailer, and though standing inside the trailer would probably not help with any typical loading method, it would solve the problem you describe, if that problem occurred at all. Therefore it might be a good thing that you mentioned this. It only takes one person to slide the canoe up from the rear once one end is on the back bar, so the other person could step inside the trailer to help out, either in case the canoe was able to drop between the racks, to cushion the drop of the main part of the canoe as it levels off, or just to aid in the horizontal motion of the canoe once its all the way up there.


Do we know it is enclosed?
The trailers I see them using for the Battenkill are not. Just rails and center posts and a lot of straps. A less fancy version of what is used to transport sculls, which I have never seen enclosed and we have national ranked teams around here.

If it is like the ones I have seen used for the Battenkill, the person is standing on the ground. So their feet are even with the bottom of the wheels, and the top rack is that couple of feet plus the fourth-rack height above them.

If indeed this is the case
which I sort of took it to be also - if it’s a simple trailer with two top bars spaced far apart - a pair of bars could be added to connect the front and rear uprights, to give the top canoe something to slide on back-to-front.

Would it help
If , when you were about to load it, you tossed the painter over the top trailer bars to the front of the trailer, then have someone grab it and use it to guide the boat as it’s loaded?

I’d keep everyone who isn’t helping load away from the trailer. Make 'em sit in the van.

Doesn’t matter

– Last Updated: May-17-16 10:20 PM EST –

None of that matters. The trailer still needs to have a pair of frame rails, one on each side, and even if that's *all* there is, that's all you need. Anyone who's able-bodied enough to carry canoes around can stand on a frame rail, especially given the fact that they have all that boat-rack framing to use as handholds.

Actually, I'm sitting here *trying* to figure out some way that your inference that any of the things I've described could somehow apply to a trailer that was enclosed, and I just can't. There isn't anything I described that would even make sense if applied to an enclosed trailer.

Oh, I get it. You reacted to the word "inside" and then just ignored the whole process being described. "Inside" is just a matter of being within the area of the trailer, instead of off to the side as with other means of loading. I took it for granted that everyone knows what a canoe trailer looks like and that they'd realize that for a person to be in that location, they'd have to stand on the trailer itself, which of course is the whole reason I referred to that as putting the person on higher footing and thereby able to reach as high as the top rack.

Standing on frame
Not sure that standing on the frame would have solved the equivalent issue I encountered with my kayak for myself and another 5’3" female a couple of weeks ago. The height gained is not in a good place for safe weight bearing. Might be that we just have a different experience of the world in terms of height.