hauling kayaks: hull up or down?

Just curious about the rationale for hauling kayaks on conventional racks in the upright position.

I started with the carved foam blocks (upright) and progressed to Thule bars with kayak upright on the bars (with pool noodle padding) or J-racks/stackers (semi-upright). But recently I switched to hauling deck down/hull up. I find I like the added security of having the coaming centered between the racks and braced against the rear one, also the load becomes lower profile (I have mostly Greenland style boats with upswept bow and stern and semi-vee hulls) and strikes me as more aerodynamic (perhaps a fantasy on my part.) I also don’t have to worry about rain collecting in the boats or oilcanning the hulls on the racks.

But I realize I almost never see other folks hauling kayaks this way though it is the standard for canoes (for obvious reasons). Are there practical reasons I am missing for carrying kayaks in the upright position? And if not, why are they so rarely hauled inverted?

Sort of like carrying boats bow-forward

– Last Updated: Aug-26-14 10:47 AM EST –

My girlfriend and I have always put her kayak on J-hooks with the boat semi-upright. Recently I noticed that when it's on the rack, there's a slight indentation on the keel line from one of the J-hooks, even though the straps are never more than "barely tight" (the other J-hook is aligned on a bulkhead). Therefore, I've thought that putting the boat "semi-upside-down" on the J-hooks might be better, and it would solve the rainwater issue too. One P-netter I know insists on using J-hooks in this "non-traditional" way, and I think she has sensible reasoning behind that idea.

I think this is sort of like putting boats on the roof bow-forward because, well, the front should be aimed that way. If the bow is bigger than the stern, as is often the case, the boat would get yanked around by crosswinds and traffic turbulence less if mounted backward. Only one of my canoes is asymmetrical with a taller bow than stern, and though I mount it a couple of feet back-of-center on the rack to reduce the crosswind/turbulence issue, I've never turned it backwards. Even though it makes some sense to do so, doing so wouldn't put a thwart at the best location for the rear auxiliary tie-downs, and the normal way of carrying a canoe, if it's pushed on the from the back of the car, causes the bow to end up being forward. At least there's not MUCH difference between bow and stern on that boat, so I don't fret (I suppose I thought about it more in the 2 minutes it took to write this than I ever have before).

did an admittedly informal “survey” just now by running a search for “kayaks on roof racks images”. I would say only 1 in 20 images, if that, had an inverted boat. Surprisingly almost all of those were either sit on tops or rec boats. Every high bowed Greenland style sea kayak in the images was being hauled upright. Maybe its just an intuitive thing (a natural human aversion to a “capsized” kayak) – I admit I had never thought of hauling that way until this year, more than a decade after transporting dozens of kayaks thousands of miles.

Another thing is that it is far easier to use a cable lock to secure the kayak to the car and rack through wrapping it around the seat frame when the boat is inverted.

pros and cons
Putting them cockpit down means any damage (deformations from too tight, etc.) would be on top, where it would not affect the way the boat handles in the water.

But, at least in my case, putting it cockpit down makes it so that rear hatch of my car can’t open as far. Cockpit up combined with the rocker of the boat makes the ends up higher - cockpit down and the rocker, and the ends are lower.

My experience is similar.
I do carry kayaks deck down when possible to eliminate dents in the hull from the saddles or foam pads and eliminate the need for a cockpit cover.

Deck down transport with kayaks with upswept bows & sterns does interfere much more with opening the hood or trunk lid of a sedan than deck up transport.

Kayaks w/o rudders often go on stern to the front of the car.

Kayaks with rudders go on bow to the front of the car.

Deck down transport can be done with saddles or other padding on the load bars, depending on how pointy the deck is when over the load bar.

Some advantages of upside-down transport
I used to transport my kayak upside down on foam-covered bars. I had mounted a long DIY roller to the rear bar. That worked pretty well but there was some damage to the coaming. I now find that saddles, with the kayak rightside up, are more stable laterally and they offer more protection to the finish. The foam on the bars was always wearing through, and it was hard to slide the kayak forward on the foam. The coaming ended up getting crushed against the bars. I’m sure there are ways around those problems.

For aerodynamics I think a strong cockpit cover works fine. I say “strong” because you don’t want to get caught in a long hard rain with a sagging neoprene cover.

I agree that rightside up makes it easier to open the hood and the hatch.

If you’re loading alone from the rear, the deck presents some obstacles to sliding the kayak forward: bungees, the hatch cover, and the coaming can get stuck on the bars. The bottom of the hull is a smoother surface to slide across the load bars.

Most canoes I see on cars are upside down and most longer kayaks are rightside up or on their side. Many recreational kayaks are upside down, though.

I can see how upside down directly on the bars (with some kind of padding) would be simplest if you have two people to load them. On the other hand, if you have two kayaks and care about the finish, perhaps saddles do a better job of keeping the two kayaks apart.

One more thing. I think that a rightside up kayak in cradles has more surface contact between the hull and the cradles than an upside down kayak that only touches the bars in four tiny places.

I think that rotomolded kayaks can in fact oilcan when upside down in the heat with too-tight bow and stern straps.

slide 'em hull down
I always slide them up hull down (as said, the coaming and rigging would hang up on the bars) and then flip the boat over. Yes, it is a little annoying to try to open the Subaru rear hatch with them upside down, but it won’t open all the way with them right side up either. Since my kayaks are Greenland style, there is actually more rack contact deck down than hull down.

In my idle hours I’ve tried to “design” a rack system that would be kind of like an extension ladder. You would have a rack that slid off the roof like a drawer that would then pivot and reach the ground (with short legs to put it at knee level), enabling you to shove a kayak onto it at grade level, strap it on, then lift the back and slide the whole thing forward and up onto the roof.

Or a helium based system where you would fill a sort of miniature blimp and float the kayak suspended over the car (just kidding, there is a critical world wide shortage of helium anyway.) But wouldn’t that be great?

Like a Thule Hullivator, but from the

Malone also has a system for it’s J cradles that allows loading the boat at waist level and then raising it up to the J cradles.

I’m a lifetime downer
I’ve always carried my kayaks and outrigger canoe deck down. I use removable foam cradles over the bars, which I sometimes carve for the more peaked decks.

Makes more sense to me from many important perspectives:

  • better aerodynamics;

  • less wind lift, risk of flying off;

  • no worries about rain in the cockpit or sun damage to the decks (I’ve left boats on my van for as long as a year);

  • less chance of rope/strap damage to decks;

  • easy to lift kayak overhead by grabbing cockpit when loading or unloading;

  • easier to thread locking cable into cockpit;

  • no dollars for fancy dan cradles;

  • no leaving empty fancy dan cradles on the rack to whistle and screech; and

  • no taking fancy dan cradles on and off.

Excellent idea
Your extension ladder is a great idea. The extension could have built-in padding and other things to hold the kayak in place. It would solve a lot of loading problems. I think you should pursue this idea commercially. I would buy it.

deck down
Everyone I know hauls boats deck down if they are just on padded bars. Decks are flatter, and the hatches offer structurally stiff places to place on the bars. Strapping a sea kayak upright on flat bars is likely going to deform the hull because the hulls are not flat.

Load bar spacing & flat deck…
To get to flat deck usually requires bar spacing of 48" or more. Most kayaks have their pointiest portion of the deck right in front of the cockpit.

I put pipe insulation on the front bar and put the recess in front of the cockpit coaming on the front bar and the rear of the cockpit - or the deck just behind the cockpit - rides on a 22" wide foam cradle. 22" wide foam cradles are difficult to find. Thule canoe brackets are on either side of the foam cradle to keep it from sliding side to side.

Don’t need flat decks with foam cradles
Foam cradles have V shapes, which you can further carve. In fact, you can carve custom made foam cradles out of minicell yourself.

Here are several varieties of foam cradles available from Huki:


Better prices are available for the standard foam cradles with a little shopping effort. For deck down carry, I’ve been using the same three pairs of foam cradles for almost 20 years for three different shaped sea kayaks and a 22’ outrigger.

a few obstacles
On some cars, carrying upside-down makes the hatch more difficult to open. Especially if you have en elf-shoe boat.

Also, if you have a lower-profile rack and a higher foredeck, the coaming rests on the roof of the car.

I don’t have those problems anymore so I prefer carrying deck down.

LOL we had to transport
up side down. Our friend 400 miles away has our cockpit cover… We found that out two hours from leaving.

So we found we like hull up. We don’t have to worry about rainwater accumulating in the right side up boat. And we have been on the road about ten wet and miserable days for 14 days of kayaking… more of that to come.

and more of the rain too.

Picture of canoe, kayak and va’a . . .
. . . the latter two being on foam block cradles.


That picture was taken in January and those three boats stayed continuously on top of the van for 10 months in Florida. I don’t recommend that, but it wouldn’t have worked out well for any of the boats hull down.