How often do you use bow/stern lines?

I’ll always use a bow tie down, but will admit to not always using a stern line, at least on shorter trips. I’ll use both on long hauls for sure. The visual assurance from seeing a bow line always makes me feel a little better when going down the road.


What are you using for grippy gunwale protectors?


Hi Jeff. I use pieces of flexible clear plumbing tubing, usually sold by the foot at hardware stores. I buy a few feet and cut 6-8 inch sections with a hacksaw and then slit with a utility knife. I usually buy 1 1/4 inch diameter but 1 inch might be a better fit on some boats. They stretch out a little over time. Tom

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I do not use bow and stern lines on my pickup truck. Very large canoe I tie opposing diagonal lines to the ends of the thwarts and down to the truck mounted 4 hole boat cleats. Each line oposes front to rear and left to right, those four basic attachments. Then I throw a ‘belly band’, square, across the upturned hull from front cleat to front cleat, and snug it down hard. On extremely long trips I will ocassionally throw a second belly band toward the rear, from cleat to cleat. This summer alone the canoe traveled some 9,000 miles on the top of the truck. Always a red flag dangling from the stern, 4 plus feet beyond the rear bumper.

Always, always and always. Did I mention always. For the small effort required the extra safety makes for comfortable driving.


Always for me. While I’ve “never had a problem in tens of thousands of miles and decades of hauling”, I still feel it’s the right thing to do to protect the drivers around me.


We always use them no matter the rack or the distance. It’s just like wearing a seat belt. Would you drive 1 mile without it? Accidents can happen any time. I’ve watched boats being pulled sideways by the air flowing over them going down the highway and I just prayed it did not let go while I was still behind them. It’s just that extra bit of insurance.

Equating bow and stern lines to a seat belt is silly and dramatic.

The primary hold down is straps. Bow and stern lines are a backup and will only be needed if the primary straps are not secured properly or something fails

Like Celia says, I always use bow lines and run them criss-crossed. I don’t bother with stern lines but I also use three straps to secure the kayaks to the cross-bars. That’s with our 17+ foot sea kayaks. We drove cross-country from Virginia to Washington in 2017, often at 75+ mph and they never budged. I also have a Wave Sport Diesel 80 whitewater boat, and I don’t use bow lines on it because it’s too short to make a difference. But again, three straps across it.

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The real reason we tie down with bow and stern lines is simply leverage. Sea kayaks are long, mine is 18 feet, some are longer. Put that on a rack maybe 3 feet between bars and you have a long lever acting on the rack when you hit that pothole or bump. We had a canoe pull the rack off a car long time ago when we were on a bumpy road 40 years ago. We snug the lines until they are just tight, they don’t “hold the boat on the car”, they keep the boat pitching with the car. It also reduces the chance of damage to the boat by the rack by reducing the racks leverage on the boat.

Discussions about bow and stern lines are not silly, and these discussions never seem to land on the question of redundancy. I don’t quite understand that.

I had this conversation with a friend recently who equates every discussion like this with whether ropes or straps. It has NOTHING to do with the tie down that is used. Just about how many there are.

Two straps or ropes in a place where one is needed means that if you have a nasty surprise with one of them, the boat is not immediately at risk of being a loose cannon at 65 mph. Bow lines give you more time to pull over time in case there is a surprise failure at one of the strapping points. In the case of canoes it also prevent the canoe from trying to become a kite, something which can happen surprisingly fast with an ultralight. I also run double strapping thru the thwarts for canoes BTW.

I don’t use stern lines because by the time I hit the highway for a long trip I have four straps on each boat, not including the one over each cockpit cover, as well as the bow lines. And I don’t have a great place to anchor it anyway.

But this stuff is not about whether someone has great straps, ropes or anything else involved. IMO it is purely about redundancy for the surprises you cannot anticipate.

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