how to:trailer for hauling kayaks

-- Last Updated: May-30-11 6:29 PM EST --

I was hoping for advice on hauling 3 kayaks. I have a utility trailer (4 x 6) that I thought of converting. I entertained using wood t-frames or welding. Cost is a factor. I am also trying to incorporate in my design the ability to transport 2 bikes. Please advise. Pictures are very helpful.

5-30-11 update:
I built the racks this weekend. I am able to haul 3 kayaks and 2 bikes. I haven't used them yet because I can't figure out how to remove the rear gate. It seems that it is weldon on and can only be removed with a hacksaw. There's got to be a better way! Thanks for everyones help.

The topic of utility=>kayak conversions comes up quite often

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If there is a construction materials dealer in your area (Unistrut or B-line brands) you might want to consider using that:

It’s like giant erector set components with hundreds of different kinds of bolt-together fittings including piping fasteners that slip into the slots. The basic 1 5/8" square strut comes in 20’ sections. It comes coated or plain steel you can prime and paint (also hot dipped galvanized but that is really costly). I got familiar with it making supports on industrial construction sites and now use it on home projects.

There are two advantages using this over welding or wood frame. One is ease of reconfiguring it for different uses. And second is the flexing of the bolted joints which would eliminate the problem of welds or other rigid connections fatiguing with road vibration and trailer torsioning over time. Brackets made of this stuff can support 1000 lb transformers – boats and bikes are no problem.

I checked it out. Looks like an interesting project and easy. I’m leaning toward wood though because of the cost. I’m fairly good with wood-working but am cautious about the design. I’ve heard of trailers flipping over due to poor design - aerodynamics or poor weight distribution?

Resistance to flipping–details
I have no experience with utility trailers. However, for 10 years I used a modified snowmobile trailer (Triton XT single-snowmobile model) to haul sea kayaks. I recently sold that and now use a Trailex SUT-350-M2 kayak trailer.

Neither of these feels flip-prone despite having small 8" wheels. However, the two have very different designs.

The snowmobile trailer has a narrow track (space between the wheels), because that model-year trailer put the flatbed platform over the fat wheels. Outside span of the wheels was only about 4 ft. The new version of the same trailer puts the platform between the wheels, which have been increased in diameter to 12". The snowmobile trailers have excellent ground clearance due to the use of Torflex axle. Weight of mine was about 380 lbs EXCLUDING crossbars, cradles, etc. Trailer’s flatbed platform is fairly low and rides within the truck’s slipstream.

The SUT-350-M2 trailer wheels span about 6 ft on the outside. The tires are narrower, which would reduce stability if not for the wide track AND a low center of gravity. The meat of the trailer is in the long main beam, which sits quite low between the wheels. Not much ground clearance (only an issue on lumpy unpaved roads and abrupt transitions between level ground and extremely steep climb–think “sedan” instead of “jeep”). But it weighs only 160 lbs including the integral crossbars. The kayaks ride higher than they do with the snowmobile trailer, but much of the trailer’s weight is a lot lower. Therefore, overall, the trailer and load “feel” stable despite light trailer weight and higher load placement.

In both cases, carrying two sea kayaks is a snap as they are a light load for trailering. Always put boats as close to the center as is practicable, to reduce chance of flipping.

If I needed to carry 4 sea kayaks I would not use the narrower snowmobile trailer, because the added weight would sit near the ends of the crossbars, therefore OUTSIDE the wheel track, which is a precarious position. The kayak trailer supposedly will haul 4 sea kayaks using stackers; however, I personally am setting the limit at 2 sea kayaks to stay well below the load limit of 350 lbs. But even with boats loaded to near the crossbar ends, the weight would not extend outside of the wheels. That’s a good thing.

I know you were asking about utility trailers, but the load placement, wheel track, tire width, and center-of-gravity factors will affect your flippiness just as they do with any other kind of trailer.

load distribution
very informative. Those are factors i was considering. I thought the way I loaded my gear under the kayaks - in totes- will make a difference. The other issue was not centering the longer (tandem) kayak on the trailer. I will likely have to extend it farther off the back side - only slightly though. The kayaks will sit fairly low - actually on the sides of the trailer or 4" above - sitting on 2x4’s. I’m still looking at designs. I’m meeting with a guy at the kayak shop tomorrow who has built several racks - he’s also an accomplished woodworker - i’m planning on using wood rather than metal. I’m going to try and incorporate 2 bikes in my design - probably fork mount style. The other option is to use a dual hitch but I think that may limit my load capacity - i’ll have to check on that. Thanks for the info!

Flipping Trailers

– Last Updated: May-26-11 9:32 PM EST –

Perhaps what you've heard had something to do with big canoe trailers. Trailers that carry pairs of canoes 4 or 5 levels high can have that problem in strong crosswinds. When I was in graduate school I went on one canoe trip organized by the university's outdoor program, where the three-hour drive to the river let us watch the trailer in front of us get up on one wheel a whole bunch of times due to a persistent, strong crosswind. Fortunately, the kid driving the towing vehicle was a clear-thinking guy, and he'd swerve at the right moment to slam the trailer back down every time it happened, but he was an absolute nervous wreck by the time the trip was over! The funny thing about crosswinds is that they seem to push harder on vehicles moving at high speeds than at slow speeds (you can see this by the amount of off-tracking of semi-trailers on the highway quite often).

Anyway, there's NO need to worry about flipping a boat trailer of the sort that you are talking about. A trailer with canoes stacked 9 feet in the air is a whole different animal.

My utility trailer hauler


There are two different brackets at every joint. I don't run on the interstate with it. Can fit another canoe or two more kayaks on it.

Pictures of me trailer(s)

I like Johns design, if you are a woodworker that is pretty easy. I built mine with wood uprights and I used black iron pipe for the cross bars. I don’t have a photo online I don’t think.

Drop me an email and I will send you photos.

jeff at kudzu craft dot come

Lots of ways
I took a jet-ski trailer and mounted a regular Yakima rack on it with kayak saddles attached. The gas milage in my truck was slightly better than with the kayaks on the roof.

The biggest problem I had was that kayaks alone are too light for the suspension, and the trailer would really bounce and slam over potholes and big bumps. I took a couple of leafs out of the springs which improved it, but it still beat the boats much more that having them on the roof of the car or truck due to the lack of weight.

Adding weight to the trailer fixed the problem, but brought the gas mileage on the truck down. At that point I abandoned the idea, and made the trailer into a utility trailer.

Had I been hauling plastic boats instead of composites, I may have kept using the trailer.

here’s mine

– Last Updated: May-31-11 11:03 PM EST –

Utility trailer, treated 2x lumber for decking, welded steel framework, tongue extended using 2x2" 1/4" wall square tubing and braced diagonally with 2x2" 1/4" thick angle.

cut and paste the whole link in the browser window.

made from scrap
I did something similar with a 4x8 big-tex utility trailer.

Welded together from old bed frames. Holds up to 4 kayak’s or 2 kayaks and a few bicycles.

It’s bolted on, so I can remove and store it off season.

I also had to remove 2 of the leaf springs to soften the ride. Lowering the tire pressure to around 15psi also helps.

want to sell the VW?
Is the bug for sale?

of VW Bugs…had a 63 and a 66, purchased each for under $500. back in the 70’s…really wish I still had them as they were both in excellent condition. The 66 had a stinger exhaust, new paint job, and got 39mpg on highway. Regarding mileage…I was looking at a 1979 National Geographic magazine and the Toyota Celica was advertised to get 39mpg highway…now 30 plus years later and mileage is about the same, but in a smaller car that may also be hybrid.