Initial experience with Hullivator

-- Last Updated: Jun-18-16 2:53 PM EST --

From a 5' 3.5" person using it atop a 2014 Toyota Rav4 for a 55 pound sea kayak. My prior combination has been an Amagansett Roller Loader going to flat bars and a stacker. Just went thru the resettings needed to get it better after living with it for a paddle and driving around. 58 inch cross bars and I would not recommend going any less.

Things to adjust/anticipate -

1. Mount the front and back rails closer together than a guy would. You have to be able to pull both releases at the same time, and on this tall a vehicle that has to be pulled in. I have the rear bar in 4 inches from the most rearward possible position. I am just clearing my cockpit with the straps at that setting, but my cockpit is also smaller than for the guys so the changes match up.

2. Passenger side mount, makes pulling up for gas less nerve wracking.

3. I got it all apart and reset the rails and latch for the unit myself, but I had a guy remount the Hullivator itself. Keeping the rather heavy mechanism balanced while trying to line up four holes for the cotter pin was not going to happen unless I was willing to spend all day at it. Help was faster.

3. We started out with an 8 inch overhang from the foot, the maximum recommended. It is not any further out than the side view mirror on that side, but the width and the height of the outside support made for a cozy relationship with tree limbs on city streets. Just moved it in to 6 and 3/4 inches which sounds like not much, but it feels much easier and I still have an inch before I whack the car with the arm. Would not take it in any closer though.

At this setting you could, with very careful aim, drive it thru one of those automatic car washes with the Hullivator units up. But I went thru one with just the rails reset so I could stand outside and watch it. I wouldn't.

4. Advantages/disadvantages - Overall it is significantly less fussy to get the boat up and down - ONCE the boat is strapped into the arms. Getting it into/out of the arms requires a second person, a dead lift of the boat weight or a short hop version of lifting the boat forward from a cart from the rear arm to the front one. There is also some strength involved in pulling the boat out and down from the car (assuming you remembered to undo the bow line).

So there is some strength needed. Personally I find that the correct settings make it work, but I recommend that anyone my size try out someone else's installation before spending the bucks.

5. As to getting the boat flat on the roof once it is hanging on its side at full height, I have to stand under the hull and push the boat over from its hull. I do not have the strength to get it over and flat by lifting from the release handles. It works but you do have to trust the mechanism to handle the slam. It will.

6. With 58 inch rails and the 6.75 inch overhang, there is plenty of room left to add a set of saddles for a second boat. Probably a vertical stacker as well if I wanted to have room for two boats. Not sure the canoe is a great fit, but I could probably make it work crooked for the short distances that ever goes.

7. When you strap it in with the arms down, you can only strap it to the cradle itself. This not enough to me. I added a second strap for each point, looped around the boat, a loop around the Hullivator inside of the boat and another around the car rails. Felt much better, though it may require a step stool.

That is most of it. The thing is a major addition, more so than Thule suggests. I am glad of having it, but I am coming into it with a long while of relying on the roller loader. The Hullivator decidedly fixes a lot of those issues. But I also think people my size should spend some time actually pulling a boat up and down on one before spending the bucks.

Oops - went and forgot a huge thing. Once the boat is strapped into the cradles, it can't fall off the roof of the car. Have had that happen using the roller loader...

Thorough write-up. Alternative.
That’s a very thorough and valuable write-up for anyone considering a Hullivator.

If I may go off on an alternative tangent:

For anyone who is short and weak, I’d consider not marrying a 55 pound craft that requires lifting gimmicks or contraptions. For anyone who becomes weak with age or infirmity, as we all do, I’d consider divorcing my 55 pound craft.

I’d marry a 12-15 pound pack canoe, and adjust the waters and weather I paddle accordingly.

Your assumptions

– Last Updated: Jun-18-16 2:27 PM EST –

I appreciate your point of view, that is why I have an ultralight canoe. No way I could wrestle with a Royalex because they are bot heavy and awkward. But your post reflects assumptions that I find very annoying from guys.

First, average height for an entire generation of women in the US - baby boomers - was 5'4" at full height. That is not "short" - that is a totally average height for a large number of women who want to kayak and have the bucks to buy nice boats.

Second, I am not weak. I have decided my shoulders are past the point of it being a good idea to do some of the heavier presses and have pulled my weight work to more reps with much less weight. But at holidays I am still the female lifting boxes that only other guys will take on. I try to avoid being dumb about it, but when I have to move something I am moving a lot of weight by myself. Three hot water heaters went to the recycler and were unloaded from the back of the station wagon. I got them out of the basement and loaded them all myself.

The above is not about strength as much as height issues. No one, including any guy, is at their best handling weight above the head.

As you can see from my profile I am still interested in paddling waters that do not work for a 20 pound canoe. To manage that safely I also need to be able to self-rescues and other moves that require some degree of strength. When I have to a change I will. But not yet.

Wasn’t referring to you, Celia
I didn’t mean to imply that you are “short and weak” or “weak with age or infirmity”. We’ve never met. I was just suggesting that anyone in general who fits those descriptions would have an easier time loading and unloading an ultra-light boat than struggling with a heavy boat and rack contraptions.

Almost anyone can lift a 12 pound pack canoe overhead onto a vehicle and easily carry it to and from the water. That’s the main reason they are so popular.

If for whatever reason someone wants an expensive rack contraption like a Hullivator to lift fully decked touring kayaks or heavy rec kayaks, I think your OP provides valuable information.

Interesting observations!
Interesting observations Celia!

My Hullavators are in their 4th year of use now and I’m very glad I have them.

The width between the mounts is certainly a consideration. I’m 6’ 0" and I obviously have no problems with a fairly wide space between the mounts, but my 4’ 11 1/2" wife simply cannot span the two handles.

I have two Hullavators on my Santa Fe. I have no trepidation whatsoever about pulling up at gas stations, although I’ll admit that I’ve never taken the car through an automatic wash. I wash the car the old fashioned way!

Our boats are more like 40lbs and I have no problem either putting a boat on my shoulder, or grabbing the front and back of the cockpit rim and lifting it onto the cradles. I do have the cradles adjusted fairly close together so I always have the straps close at hand - usually in my pockets - so I don’t have to leave a boat unattended before strapping it in.

A push on both of the handles, or the side of the boat’s hull easily puts the boat flat on the car’s roof. It is important that as you lift you stand close to the car so you are pushing straight up.

I have always just strapped to the cradles and have never had an issue. I do keep a hex key in the glove compartment and check all the bolts every few weeks. I also added stainless steel spring washers under each of the bolts. Of course I never go anywhere without the bow and stern lines in place.

Removing the cradles just takes a bit of practice. Once you’ve done it maybe 4 or 5 times it becomes really easy including lining up the holes for the cotter pins. I can take 4 cradles off, or put them back on using a step stool in not much more than 5 minutes. I learned how to best do it from a YouTube video and there is a trick to it. Rather than trying to describe it, I’ll see if I can find the video and add a link to this post.

Just one thing

– Last Updated: Jun-18-16 9:02 PM EST –

I got the cradles off fine. I will take that link though. Getting them back on again would be much easier if I were your height. I had to juggle it standing on a ladder and it was not going to happen quickly.

Where did you reinforce the bolts, the ones under each of the arms or the ones holding the bottom bracket that attaches to the cross bar? It is an interesting idea, though I may not be able to overcome my impulse to add straps.

It does appear that you also get the boat to its final position by pushing it to fall onto the bar rather than a fully controlled move... that is encouraging.

Kayak stands
For loading here at home, I set my kayak on Suspenz stands which I set up a couple feet from the car. I do that because my driveway is Afton stone and I don’t want my hull on it. I don’t take the stands with me as I can lift my boat (43#) up to the Hullavator cradles.

I found that by moving the top cradles as far up as they will go, the bottom cradles easily support the weight of the kayak and keep it in place while I get it centered. I have yet to get the cradles adjusted so the boat is securely held on the first try. I’ll load it, bring down the top cradles as far as they will go and tighten the knobs, secure the cam straps, and once I push in the handles, let the Hullavator carry the boat to the top and snap into place.

Then I go to the stern and see if I can wiggle it. I always can, so down it comes. That’s when the boat is where it wants to be, as those top cradles can always be lowered a bit. So I make that adjustment (after loosening the cam straps), and only then do I tuck the straps into those nifty pockets on the cradles and let the Hullavator take it back up. Bow and stern lines attached then. Not sure why it happens, but thankfully it takes just a couple of minutes to fix.

The one thing I didn’t like was the rubber pads put marks on my white hull. Nothing that couldn’t be removed with a Magic Eraser, but it bugged me. Purchased 3/4" neoprene, cut it into the appropriate squares, and used Gorilla tape to attach. I was going to use glue, but decided against it. The tape works very well and no more marks.

Like Kfbrady, I use the Thule straps on the cradles, plus bow and stern lines. The straps are right next to the bow and stern coaming, so it’s not going to move in either direction. As I’ve traveled with my boat more, I’ve learned to trust the Thule system more than I did initially as everything is secure on each of the stop-and-checks I’ve made.

I have no idea which bolts to check, as I had my install done professionally. Maybe I’ll ask next weekend when I’m around more knowledgeable people.

I think with a bit of practice, Celia, you’ll be getting those cradles on in less than a minute. I am grateful that once you get the cradle up on the bar, it supports all the weight of the cradle.

I have to use a step stool as well and put the cradles on and take them off each trip as I prefer to keep my car in my garage. With the cradles on, it won’t clear my carport roof.

More Stuff
I went through You Tube but couldn’t find that link, so I’ll do my best to describe that arm assembly removal and replacement “trick” (such as it is).

First off, my Hullavators are from 2013 and are the 897XT models. I see they have since changed and (hopefully) improved the product since, so if my description doesn’t quite match the newer models then that’s probably the reason.

Also, each bar mount assembly (that the arms attach to) is held on to the load bars by two under bar brackets, carriage bolts and barrel nuts. My 897XT did not come with split/lock washers for these so I added some stainless steel ones (Home Depot sells a small pack of them), just as an added precaution that these bolts won’t come loose. I think (but I’m not 100% sure) that the current Hullavators now come with lock washers.

Okay, on to arm removal. The method I saw on You Tube works like this. When you are ready to remove the arms, first remove the safety pin (the smaller one that has a bail and is attached with a lanyard). Now squeeze the lever that unlocks the mechanism and lift the end of the arm with the handle straight up just a few inches so that the outside part of the arm (the silver part) is clear of the inner black folding mechanism. Now, put the safety pin back in through the silver part. What this does is to keep the tab with the holes through it (the part that pivot pin goes through) easily accessible and the slight spring tension holds everything in place. Now, it’s very easy to rotate the arm to its vertical position, pull the pivot pin lift the arm off bar mount.

I store the arm assemblies like this, and it makes putting them back on very easy again as the tab with the holes for the pivot pin is easy to see and get lined up. Once you lift the arm and balance it vertically on the end of the bar mount, just a little bit of juggling lines up the four holes. Finally lift the silver part of the arm a little, remove the safety pin, let the arm fall into its usual place and replace the safety pin and its bail correctly.

I can do this without a step stool or ladder, but having one makes things a little easier, especially if you car’s roof is fairly high. I carry the each arm assembly out to the car in the vertical position ready to be mounted with the smaller pad over my shoulder.

I’ve been doing it this way for over three years and it works very well for me at least.

After you’ve done this maybe half a dozen times it’s easy peasey!

Good idea
Rookie, that’s a good idea to put neoprene patches on the rubber pads. I also don’t like the black marks on my hulls.

To be honest, I don’t sweat the placement of the boats in the cradles too much. I typically have them just barely touching the rubber pads, and I think the two cradle assemblies on each arm provide plenty of support. I am taking the boats on a long drive up to Canada this summer, so I think I’ll pay a little more attention - as you do - to getting the boats supported equally by all four contact points for my drive.

I also just adjust the distance between the cradles only once or twice a season. I don’t loosen and then tighten them for every trip I take. Once you have them right, you should be good to go for future outings.

I keep my kayaks in my garage each supported by two wide straps on a wooden cradle that I made out of 2x4s. The whole thing is on casters so I could just roll the thing out to the car if I wanted to but I don’t have much trouble lifting a kayak out by myself to the waiting Hullavator arms. Most of the time my wife is kayaking with me and that makes it even easier for the two of us to carry each kayak out.

Had to rely on Thule loading

– Last Updated: Jun-19-16 9:29 AM EST –

instructions that came with the Hullavator as I had never seen it done in real time. Mine state to move the top cradle up to the non-handle end before loading the boat.

I've tried the shortcut of leaving them in place. When I did that I had to keep one hip against the kayak so it didn't fall out while strapping it in and wound up having to move the top cradle anyway to get the hull centered.

I've never seen any kayak loaded to a roof rack and have no idea how snug it should be. Even with bow and stern lines attached, allowing wiggle room up there just doesn't seem secure in my neophyte eyes.

I know nothing about the subject of safe loading, so I do what Thule suggests. Maybe one of these days I'll get it right on the first try.

Not wrong at all!
What you are doing is not wrong at all. It’s a more careful setup than I do, although I’ve certainly never had a problem.

I have the cradles just far enough apart so that the kayak “settles” into the four pads. I prefer the pads carrying most the weight than those harder rubber bumpers.

I usually (when I remember to!) put the two Thule straps into the boat’s cockpit when I carry the boat out to my car so they’re right at hand.

Wiggling part etc

– Last Updated: Jun-19-16 10:45 AM EST –

I have an equivalent approach to the Suspenz stands to get the boat into a load-into-cradles position. I have a canoe/kayak cart that gets the boat up nearly to the height of the arms.

The extra strap I put on around the boats was also because I got a wiggle I did not like. I suspect that anyone who has a smaller person's boat is going to get more of that because the lower deck is less likely to fully hit the strap. For my next round of big trip I will probably stay with the extra strap idea though. Long drive over two days and that leaves me with an effective and easily reached strap to tighten up.

It is pretty easy to take apart and reassemble. I was glad of the decision to reset things because that gave me a good reason to take it apart to confirm how it worked. Just do it on pavement, There are two barrel nuts per Hullivator that cannot be found in any hardware store and are easily missed when you remove the bottom bracket. I found an acceptable substitute after putting one of the barrel nuts into the weeds, but it was not easy and I was grateful the guy I bought it from had a spare. He will get one back from me when I order the replacement(s).

And yeah, the strap has to be on you once the boat is in the cradles because it can desire to rotate out...

One Other Thing!
For the stern and bow lines I did ditch those “S” metal hooks that Thule provides. I just didn’t like the idea of one of them coming loose and beating up my car.

I use the ratchet hooks at the black straps on the upper ends of the lines but I just use a loop to loop connection at the lower ends, the bow to the Thule loops secured to a sturdy bolt under the hood of my car, and the other to loops of sailboat line that I tied to two points on the floor of the rear of the car under the hatch.

Arm reattachment…
I was trying to hold the unit so it was above the bracket with the latch on the other end (there is only one with the current model), hence no way not to use a ladder unless I add several inches overnight. Then line up the holes. And per Rookie’s not above, that top arm has to be high and out of your way.

What I tried is a match for what I saw on Thule’s site. I just looked at it and see one diff between the current model and yours that may matter. The end of the brackets on the two models is slightly different, it might be easier to start from below on your model. But I will have a chance to find out before winter comes. The bars stay on most of the year, but I will revert to just saddles and the rioller-loader when I am more interested in being able to use auto car washes for snow and salt again. I will try remounting the Hullivators before I put them away.

Bar Mount Assembly
I only remove that bottom bracket (bar mount assembly) in December when I’m finished kayaking for the season. It goes back on in March. But you’re right - it’s easy to lose those barrel nuts. I believe you can get replacements here for 70 cents each. Maybe I’ll order a few to have on hand…

I’m thinking of adding an extra strap when I transport our boats up to Nova Scotia in August. I’m considering buying a couple of the Thule locking straps and see how they work.

Those S hooks and strap
We got them with the Thule saddles and rollers years ago and ditched them after two weeks. One came loose on us near home, happily the bow line at low speed on a city street. We went with loops under the hood bumper up front and some varied-by-car arrangements for anything on the stern. But knots, nothing that relies on just tension.

Subsequent to that I have seen more cars than I can count driving down the road with that rear blue line bouncing along loose behind and beside the rear wheel.


Pin and Lip
The key to doing this is to lift it in place vertically so that the internal pin rests on the lip of the bar mount. Once it is resting there you still need to have a hand on it as it could easily fall off, but it’s pretty steady there.

The “trick” I mentioned above - using the safety pin that is attached to the arm to hold the parts of the arm assembly apart by a few inches - lets you have a much clearer view of this pin and lip and you are able to put it in place first time, every time.