kayak transport options

I am thinking about buying a new car. Possibly a Mazda3 but I am not sure. Right now I have a 6 year old Nissan frontier but I want something with better mileage. Right now I basically just toss the kayak (an Ocean Caper) into the bed of the truck and tie it down. If I got a car, I would have to buy some kind of roof rack system. But I don’t really like the looks of a roof rack when the kayak is not in it. Are all these roof rack systems permanently installed? Or could I remove it when it wasn’t in use or if I wanted to sell the car or stopped using a kayak? Or is there a non-permanent solution I could try? Plus roof racks are SO expensive. I figured at least $600 for the whole thing, if the car does not come with a roof rack.

Most roof racks…
Most roof racks from big-name companies (I’m thinking Thule and Yakima) aren’t really “permanent” in the sense that you have to modify the car itself (either with drilling or otherwise). The racks can usually be disassembled in less time than it takes to put them together. Unfortunately, it would be far more than just a hassle to take off and put on a rack every single time you wanted to use it, some racks can be complicated and take as long as 30+ minutes just to set up and put on.

And you’re right, a good rack system might run anywhere between 450 and 600 dollars, higher if you wanted extra attachments for convenience. I know a number of people who are happy using foam blocks on their roof, and running straps under their doors, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

If the factory rack comes with roof
rails, you can attach either Thule or Yakima towers to them if the rails are strong enough. Or, if the rails will support the wieght, just take some 1 1/4" pvc pipe, but to appropriate lengnth, tie, duct tape, or use hose clamps, even ubolts, to secure the pvc to the rails. Easy take down when through. Factory systems look better than Thule or Yakima systems, maybe (in the eye of the beholder, I’m always admiring a good rack system), but many aren’t all that strong.

What is even better than attaching…
the towers to a factory rack is if the factory rack is a sliding one.

You remove the factory cross bars and replace them with Yakama landing pads and their towers and bars.

After the system is installed the whole rack can be removed and then put back from the roof top in a matter of seconds if you so desire.

If a person is into multi sports, I highly recommend spending the big bucks for a rack system such as Yakama.

Yesteday I had two rec kayaks on J cradles on the rack and was going to do a river shuttle using my mountain bike. In a matter of a minute or less, I had the bike carrier mounted right beside the J cradle.

I can carry a two kayaks, a canoe, and two bikes all at once on top of a Ford Escape.

In the winter the ski racks go on in a minute or two.



Roof racks are good
Best way to find your car in a crowded parking lot. Heck, tie something bright colored on it and you can find it anywahere.

Seriously, as above once you have gotten a Yakima system together and the rollers or whatever set it is just a few minutes to take the bar on and off. But at some point I doubt you’ll care about the aesthetics of the car rack. The ability to carry the boat will be much more important. I hope so for your own sake anyway, because the insides of cars used to carry kayaks are not exactly the most pristine things once paddling season is in full force.

I just keep them up and use the tough-free car washes.

How about the fairing?
I’m tired enough of using those foam pads on the roof of my pickup that I’m ordering the Yakima rack system. Is the fairing worth the extra $50?

I use the fairing because it made a big difference with the Explorer I used to have, and never tried it without on the VW Jetta I upgraded to. :slight_smile: I hear it makes more of a difference on some cars than others.

I have a Yakima rack for my Jetta and it usually doesn’t stay on the car when I’m not using it. Only takes a minute to install it and it’s very secure. Can’t remember how much I’ve got into it, but $600 sounds a little high although it’s been a few years…

I think I would go with the roof rack
another concern I have is being able to lift it in place by myself. But I think I could do it with a little practice.

Another thing I realized is that many new cars now have the radio antenna on the roof in the back. Does this interfere with loading kayaks onto a rack? My kayak is pretty wide (30" at itts widest). So that may be something else to think about in choosing a vehicle.

My Yakima rack w/o padding makes quite a bit of noise. If I leave the “yakPads” on it, it doesn’t.

I belive the fairing is to eliminate the noise, but I haven’t tried it.

We pretty much just use the SUV when going out to kayak or camp.

By the way, I find the Yakima system with factory roof rails to be very easy to take on and off. Maybe five minutes.


do it every day
I drive back and forth to the airport (20 miles) every day and when I get home I put the yakima racks on the car, load up the OI and the SOF and am at the lake within a half an hour.

Takes no time. I have J hooks an saddles on the rack and it is not that heavy to lift and place into position and snap down.


Trailer option…
I modified a small utility trailer (Snowbear brand) to carry 4 kayaks and gear. Made custom cradles for 2 down low and utilize Thule cradles on 2x8s for the others up high. Plus mounted the Thule box between the upper two. The two lower boats (Dagger Cortez) just slide in and out “effortlessly”. The upper two I still must lift: but only 4’ up instead of 5.5’ to 6’. I’m old enough that throwing a 60 pound tupper boat up over my head on to a Thule car-top just isn’t that delightful. The loaded trailer weighs about 800 pounds, and can revert to hauling other equipment, trash, junk in about 15 minutes.

Thule Rack
My Thule racks with saddles for two kayaks are removeable/replaceable on my '99 Pathfinder in less than five minutes.

Saddles or J-cradles?
I am thinking that I would need J-cradles simply because the vehicles I am considering all have their radio antennae on the back of the roof, in the center. My kayak is an Ocean Caper, probably 30" wide at its widest and I am not certain it would fit on the roof if I used the saddles (not with the antenna in the way).

How easy (or difficult) is it to use the J-cradles? I would be loading/unloading by myself for the most part. The kayak is not very large but still an awkward thing to lift over my head.

J cradles are harder to load with than
saddles. I have both a switch back and forth depending on how many boats I want to carry.

I have Thule J cradles on Yakama round bars, and they sucked until I fixed the problem.

If you can’t pick the boat up and over and place it on the cradles you have to load it from the back by putting the bow on the rear cradle and then picking up the stern and sliding the boat forward, but the cradles want to rotate on the bar no matter how much you tighten them. I drilled through the bottom of the J cradle and then through the bar and put a single bolt in which solved the rotating problem. Now they work like a charm.



Saddles directly onto factory cross rail
I can’t talk to yakima saddles. But the Thule saddles I have would mount directly on the factory cross rails. Typically the factory cross rails are not that heavy duty, but for one kayak they would be fine.

In fact, before I put the Thule bars on my Suburban, I bought my Loon160T used and carried it directly on the Sub’s cross rails, no saddles, no problem. 65 mph down the freeway for about 10 miles. And the Loon has to be pushing 100 pounds, although listed as just over 80.

I like the Thule Glide and Set saddles, should run you about $120. So mounting them directly to factory cross rails would be your cheapest option, unless the car that comes with cross rails are much more expensive.

Happy hunting, Don

Saris Racks
I used to have a Saris roof rack, courtesy of a friend who was employed by the company. While the parts and extras are harder to find, Saris’ claim to fame is that it attaches or detaches in a less than 5 minutes from any Vehicle. If you really don’t want to leave the rack on your car I’d try to find a Saris dealer.


See my post above on the yakama
racks with their landing pads.

It is amazing how quick the whole system can be removed.



Thule racks
The thule racks go on and off in just a few minutes, and it’s very easy to do. They’re not heavy. It’s a good idea to take your roof racks off when you’re not using them anyway–they decrease gas mileage by 7 to 10% (according to the tracking computer on my prius anyway)–even without a kayak in them. They really knock down the aerodynamic efficiency. The roof rack alone drops my mileage from 49 mpg to 44 mpg, and adding a kayak drops it down to 42.

Saris racks
Saris racks can be removed - with no tools - in seconds - not minutes. Just unlock (integrated locks), twist ends to loosen, and lift off. All from one side.

Reverse to put on, which only takes slightly longer as you’ll want to check proper placement/seating.

System is self centering. The fist time will naturally take a few minutes more as you’ll have to put the clips on and play around with location.

Nothing faster. Plus they’re stronger and better looking bars than Thule or Yakima. Saddles look weird, but great to use. Other brand hardware can be adapted easily with simple carriage bolts.

My system of choice for cars they have a fit solution for. Bars are $205 - $220 a pair depending on size (includes everything but clips at $20 a pair) and watersport saddles are $85 for each boat.


Use their fit guide to check out options for different vehicles.

Lots of questions, lots of maybe-answers
First of all, the '05 and ‘06 Frontiers get better gas mileage than the previous generations of compact trucks (any make). So if you want to keep a truck, consider that an option. They will in no way get mileage comparable to the Mazda car, though. Apples to oranges.

Roof racks vary on how easy they are to remove and how committed you are to one particular vehicle’s setup.

For example, in my household we normally transport our sea kayaks on a modified snowmobile trailer (hands-down our favorite method, and it is a “universal” solution–any 2" ball will connect). But we also have two roof racks in addition, for special needs. On my husband’s Tahoe, he uses a Yakima rack that clamps onto the factory rails. It is older Yakima gear, and a major PITA because every time he installs/removes the towers, the crossbars slither laterally. He cannot just remove the whole shebang as a unit.

On my newer Yakima system, though, I can remove each tower-crossbar unit very quickly and easily. The crossbars retain their lateral position. This is the system JackL described above: Landing Pads, Control Towers, cylinder locks, round crossbars, and roof rack “tracks.” My tracks were an option on my truck’s topper. I can get almost 5’ spread from front to rear crossbars, or I can shorten the spread in infinite increments. GREAT for carrying different types of loads. The only permanent thing is the rack tracks on the topper.

I only carry a WW SOT kayak on my roof rack (no cradles necessary; just foam pipe insulation). Even so, solo-loading the kayak onto my topper rack was a dicey proposition with high risk of damaging the vehicle or topper. Yesterday I bought a wonderful device that cost only $60 and greatly reduces the chances of either personal injury or vehicular damage: the Boatloader extension tube. Today I used it to go paddling. If you decide to buy a taller vehicle and use a roof rack, definitely consider adding such an extension tube. It makes solo loading onto the roof much easier and safer.

Soooooo…here’s my more-than-two-cents:

  1. If you are seriously interested in roof racks, carefully watch friends using theirs. Preferably different types of roof racks, on different vehicles. You need to decide if it’s really for you. If you do, there are plenty of add-ons that will help the process, but they add up to a fairly large total cost.

  2. At the same time, if you want the ultimate in vehicle swappability, consider a trailer. There are lightweight folding units that can be stored in an apartment, double as a portage cart, etc. The dedicated ones cost even more than a roof rack but are more versatile, and you have no worries about being “permanent” to a vehicle. Minimum vehicle mods would consist of a $10 ball mounted to the bumper plus about $50 wiring installation. You can go with a hitch but it’s not necessary for such a light trailer and load.

  3. Take your time studying up on all the roof rack variations. I found it overwhelming at first, and some regions don’t carry some brands (can’t find ANY Saris kayak cradles to look at in my area). If you have a rack specialist nearby, such as Rack Attack, visit them and look at and FEEL the cradles and other hardware. Some cradles appear to be crap, IMO. You need to see them in person, not just on a website. Which reminds me–if you need cradles, check out the ones made by Spring Creek and sold through Castle Craft (www.castlecraft.com). We use these on the Tahoe, and they seem to be far better than the “Big Two” cradles.