How important are bow tie downs for sea kayaks with modern rack systems

After 30 years without, I’ve started using bow tie downs but i am not enjoying it. For one thing, when unloading, I keep hooking the hooks (that normally hook around my under-hood straps) on my antenna or side mirror (that was a first…just happened today)!! Anyway, I am wondering how important bow tie downs are for sea kayaks being transported on modern rack systems. At one point I heard that racks would sometimes come off the vehicle and the tie down would prevent that from becoming a catastrophe. I can’t imagine my rack coming off though. Has anyone had this happen or know of someone it happened to? Also, I wonder if bow tie downs are more important for canoes that are transported upside down and potentially catch air that, at highways speeds, might be exerting a great deal of upward pressure. I don’t canoe so I don’t really know if that hypothesis even makes sense. Just asking.

I have never used them, probably should have…
I always had factory racks and no problems…
If more than a days drive I think I would consider.
Just keep it under 100mph…

Well wouldn’t have the boat on the car with out them.
I have a short Acura coupe and my boat is 17 Feet. Longer than the car.
I do a great deal of highway driving to go padding sometimes over a hour.
Bow and stern tie downs help a great deal with the effect of wind on the boat. Watch your boat as you get passed on the highway by a semi truck it will wiggle. Over time straps can and will loosen. So check every few hours.

Bow and stern tie downs are that insurance that you hope you never need but glad you have. I seen boats come out of modern racks both J cradles and saddles.

The only time I use them is if I have our 18’-6" ultralight canoe, or my 18 foot carbon QCC-700 on the racks, and that is only to protect them from the wind shear of passing 18 wheelers or high cross winds.
With all my other canoes and shorter kayaks I never use them.

My racks are bolted to the frame of whatever vehicle I am driving.

If you are confident in your system don’t use them. If you don’t have confidence use them !

Jack L

We don’t us 'em. But we have cradles on the bars. Which fights the "left / right movement.

After 30 years, why the change?

I always use bow and stern tie downs unless I am just driving to the nearby (few blocks) local lake at 25 mph. From my perspective the tie downs are rather like seat belts for the kayak. You don’t need them 95.783% of the time, but when you do need them, it’s too late to attach them. Coming out of the Columbia Gorge into eastern Washington’s flat lands on several occasions, I’ve been happy to have them secured.

It depends on your rack spread and to a lesser degree how supportive your cradles are. For example I have 8 foot long GoodBoy V-bars that are very secure. My 20’ surf ski doesn’t even have an bow/stern attachment point. However I back up the provided straps with a Thule cam strap at the center if I’m going on the interstate.

This is a similar setup to what crew boats use for their long hulls and I don’t recall seeing bow/stern lines on them.
That said, I go very slow or even call-off the trip if there are violent winds.

When I use a rack with a smaller spread, I use bow/stern lines as common-sense / wind conditions dictate.
You can get a fairly good read on how secure your boats are by vigorously moving the bow or stern by hand.

As has been previously said, check your straps occasionally to ensure they are still secure.

My car is 13 feet long. My kayak is 17 feet long. I’m too cowardly to drive at 55 mph or more without bow and stern tie-downs. When traveling, I can see the front rope tighten from the pressure against the bow as I’m driving,

Tie-downs are Thule’s quick-draws. Hooks were replaced with carabiners. Securing them takes less than five minutes.

Now, if I’m moving boats from my house to the lake using the DNR boat access site, I don’t use tie-downs as it’s a short trip at 5 mph. Still cautious, though, as it’s a steep hill down to the water (which is why I drive instead of carrying the boat to the waterfront).

We use belly cam straps and load stops and the canoes have curved gunwales which prevents fore and aft movement. We don’t use tie downs at home…
BUT on the interstates yes… Yes… Especially going across the Great Plains where sudden violent crosswinds are the norm
We had a tower break in Julesburg CO. The bow line alerted us to what the problem was… One side of one rack had collapsed and we could have lost the canoe easily. We lost nothing though we had to tie the canoe to a stockade fence where the cattle on the way to meet their Maker had one last unusual sight while we went to Boulder to get a new tower.

Seems like you’re allowed to trust your own opinion with 30 years of experience!

I’m a heretic too and rarely use them but I can’t recommend skipping them for other folks. But my 4-Runner has a nice 40" spread. I would not take a trip in our CRV without them since it has a wimpy 27" spread. I don’t think lift is typically a problem with canoes…but I do wonder about newer vehicles with “fast” (sloping) rooflines like our CRV which forces the boat to ride with bow higher than stern. For me the shape of the boat matters too. Boats that are wider in the middle get trapped within the four load stops and should have a hard time escaping but my Swift Osprey is quite straight sided in the middle so I can envision it escaping so I take more precaution. With canoes you also have the option of double-strapping…putting on an extra pair of straps that pull in the opposition direction to further trap the boat and give you an extra safety margin for trips or super windy days.

I think there are some options for bow lines that might be easier than what you may be using. Take a look at TY-UPS. They are super fast and easy to use. If you like the idea, get the largest size. There may be other good options.

I’ve always had securely attached racks that never needed bow and stern tie downs, so I’ve never bothered with them. Besides that, they’re a pain. That said, I certainly wouldn’t criticize anyone who feels the need for them. Do what you think is best, especially given your level of experience.

It is generally a good idea to make sure that no 1 item holding the boat to the car could fail and cause the whole thing to come off. For example, if you are using 1 long strap which wraps at both front and back, that is 1 item that could fail causing possibly disastrous consequences. If you do have a single possible point of failure, adding bow line on would provide a second. Better yet, having 3 so that if one fails, 2 will still be working to make sure your boat stay put. Bow lines fill this 3rd well for most things.

Things do sometimes fail. The current issue of OceanPaddler has a story under news about how P&H was driving back from a test paddle of their new Volan and Valkyrie models when they rack fell off of the roof of their car. They blamed a failure of the roof rack clamps, and they did not have bow or stern line on.

This all said - what I do: If I am driving on freeways or any distance, I use bowlines (local trips on lower speed roads I don’t always). I don’t use stern lines.

The upshot is we have had hood loops on our cars and truck for more than 20 years! That makes tie downs so much more efficient.

Back when cars had steel bumpers and we carried three aluminum canoes on the roof we had eye bolts screwed into the bumpers.

How important are bow tie downs? How important are seat belts or air bags? Not very important until the need arises!
I once saw a sea kayak coming off a vehicle as it was passing me on the highway. The driver finally decided to pull onto the shoulder once the boat was at a 45 degree angle; no bow line.

I’m with Rookie here. I always use bow and stern tie downs. I use the Thule Quickdraws with 'biners instead of the “Hooks of Death”. My car has a convenient tow loop under the front bumper and I hook the stern line to the screw-in tow loop in the rear bumper. Belt and suspenders, I suppose.


four points of contact, one for each force of travel, left, right, stopping (panic stopping) or accelerating

Always bow lines unless it is a very short hop on local roads and am feeling very lazy. Seeing the bow line start to wiggle or strain is the best way to spot anything coming loose up there. Even if I haven’t had a crisis I would still rather get the warning if something started. No stern lines, I can’t see them or if they are bouncing around a wheel well from the driver’s seat. Some here will disagree on that one. But we had a fender bender with two boats up. The boats never budged…

Bow and stern lines. It’s only two knots.

Use them don’t use them IF something happens YOU yourself will be on the hook. You insurance will say. You didn’t use the recommended method to secure the boat. There for your money and house and anything else you own will be gone in the law suite to follow. Take your chances. 99 percent nothing will happen. Are you a gambling kinda of person?