Loading a 56lbs yak on an SUV solo

There’s got to be an easier way to get my kayak on and off my Rav 4 by myself other than wrestling it up there. Any suggestions other than get a second person to help?

What are you using for racks?

Bill H.

Four options
1) Thule Hullavator

2) Rack with rollers

3) Lower vehicle

4) Lighter kayak

Maybe a gym membership or !
there are a few rack systems out I that help you cheat at the game. Search! Search! Search!

Loading onto what racks?
Do you have a rack system? Would help to know that … assuming you have one.

A small, aluminum folding step ladder is what I use. You’re stepping up while supporting the full boat weight, which can be bit of a challenge if windy, or ground is sandy or uneven. $25 or less.

The two major rack companies sell an assist bar … slides out from one of the cross bars. You put one end of the boat up on the assist bar, then lift the other end of the boat onto the rack. Move the end of the boat on the assist bar over onto the other rack, slide the assist bar back in, and you’re done. You may still need a step ladder, but your not supporting the whole boat’s weight. I’m planning on getting this. About $65.

Best is of course the lift systems mentioned in another response. But expensive - $500 range. When I can part with the money, I’ll have the Thule one on my car … but I need a dry suit first, so that’ll be the next big hobby purchase (unless Nikon announces a D800 sooner …).

Is it a sit-on-top?
That makes it a bit more difficult. I often load my wifes 62lb sit-in unassisted, on a Dodge Grand Caravan, about the same height. First, I have padded Yakima bars on the factory rack, to keep the load as low as possible. I glued a rubber strip across the top of the hatch at the point of contact so that the bow of the kayak can be lifted up and set on this strip. Walk back to the stern, lift it up and slide the boat forward until it contacts the front and rear cross bars where you want it. Leaving the hatch covers off provides good hand holds. Lay the kayak on the ground straight behind the car. Grab it by the forward hatch opening, or the front of the cockpit, and drag it forward as you lift. The only time I have any trouble doing this, is if I am standing in a low spot, relative to where the van is parked. After they are up there, I usually grab the stern and flip them over. They seem to ride better and it keeps the rain out. I’m an old guy, 5’ 10", and can see no reason to have a lower vehicle. The kayaks are up high, out of the way enough to walk under.

step rails
I put a set of step rails on my Tacoma long before I bought my first kayak. They have proved to be the best compliment for the roof rack. No small step ladder needed.


is the easiest way I have figured out for loading a heavy boat solo, hopefully others will add better ideas.

I don’t know what you are using for a rack system but this is what I do on my Outback. You could set this up on a RAV with aftermarket bars and some brand of J-carrier. I use Thule bars that are longer than specified, they overhang the roof by quite a bit so that I can mount the J carriers outboard of the factory rail. That is critical to the following procedure. I don’t think you could do this if the carriers are inside of the factory rails, the boat would hit the roof line.

When I load the boat I lay it on the ground parallel to the car maybe 1 to 2 feet from the car, roughly in line with where it will end up in the carriers. I’ll lift up the bow and place it on the front J carrier while the stern is sitting on the ground that way I’m only lifting about half the boat’s weight. Now carefully lift the stern and place the boat in the rear carrier, slide fore or aft as needed to center the boat.

Good luck.

Kari-Tek Easy Loader
Kinda like a kitchen drawer slide frame that attaches to factory or aftermarket racks, pulls out horizontally and then pivots downward. Accepts a number of cradle arrangements and I’ve found that the Thule Hull-a-Port Pros fit and work excellent. Your Rav4 can carry up to 3 kayaks this way.

Drop me a line if you’d like a picture.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY


If my 4’8" tall 118 pound daughter
can do it so can you.

She lays her 18 foot long kayak on the ground at an angle behind the car with the bow angled off to the side a bit so it is beside the rear fender.

She has a small rubber mat, that she bungees around the stern.

She than has a small step stool that she puts behind the rear bumper.

Then she picks up the bow, steps up on the step stool and places it on the rear saddle.

Then she gets off the stool, picks up the stern of the yak and slides it on until she is near enough to the stool to step up on it and finish the job.

Naturally when I am around she doesn’t have to do it, but she paddles several times a week by her self, and loads several different yaks and canoes the same way.

Jack L

that can be TOO effective
its the way I load all my boats solo onto my Tundra with a cap and high towers.

However…once I loaded a yak onto the saddles.We had them carpeted for sliding. I lifted the stern and slid too hard and the yak went right on over the front windshield.


I hate anything involving side loading and twisting your back…btw.

Thule Outrigger
I load the heavy old Explorer on the Outback one end at the time with an Outrigger II 847 mounted in the front bar. The drill: slide out the Outrigger, put up the bow, then lift the stern, then move the bow over onto the pad and slide the outrigger back into the load bar.

BTW, I also use a set of Thule Stackers and 18" pads from Chesapeake Light Craft. It’s an effective and pretty cheap setup for three or four sea kayaks (depending on the length of the bars I’m using).


bathroom mat
on the rear and slide upan on

Just bought this over the weekend
Works great with my jeep.

These look pretty slick…

And less expensive than the Hullavator.


I agree on J-racks
Though my personal use kayaks are pretty light (32 to 45 lbs), my rotomold beater/loaner is close to 60 lbs and as an average framed 5’ 5" woman that’s about my limit to carry the boat short distances solo. But I am able to load it solo. I’m using a standard Thule frame with J-rack on a Volvo 850 (which is probably only a couple of inches lower than your RAV). I can get it on the J-rack by laying the boat beside the car, lifting up one end and angling it into one of the J-racks. Then I walk to the other end of the boat and lift that up and boost it up into the second one. J-racks are a lot cheaper than the fancy assist systems the rack companies sell.

As others have suggested, carrying a stepstool helps, too. I prefer the steel kitchen type stepstools rather than small ladders – the kitchen stools tend to fold flatter and have a wider standing area on top.

Tip if you get the J-racks: loop your lashing straps through the top loop of the rack and stretch them out over the rear and hood of the car, out of the way, BEFORE you load the boat. If your straps are long enough, you can just grab them and pull them up over the kayak and fasten them without having to clamber over the roof of the car.

Are you lifting or sliding?
As you can see, many of the solutions involve actually sliding it up into a rack system of some sort. No third party rack, short boat, boat without deck rigging or a SOT all tend to make that solution harder.

So what boat are you trying to load, and do you have a rack system?

much agree with the lift bow up to rear and push it on up…less real lifting and more pushing. My Mazda has a low roof line (much lower than SUV type vehicles) and it allows me to load my heavy as heck (79lbs) Perception 15’ Search SOT using the lift bow up and push it on method. Many like the Hully Rollers or the Malone products in the above link look good too.

That looks great!
I think I’ll pick up a set of these. I already had the Malone j-racks and they’re good but I recently got a van and it is a lot more difficult to load, due to the height than my station wagon was. These look perfect for that problem and I won’t have to throw a step stool in the back to load and unload.

Your body size?
You have no profile or information regarding how big, what gender you are. As for my loading of a similar weight boat I use some body mechanics. I’m male, nearly 6’ tall, 155#, and 55 years old. I put my OT Loon on my Ranger w/tall cap like this: Crouch beside port side-center, tip boat starboard a bit, grip starboard cockpit rim with left hand placing right hand on port deck edge, in one smooth move roll boat up on right leg continuing to roll boat, while standing up, until the seat is inverted on top of my head. Then, step closer to the truck, lift boat off head while rolling it onto the rack. This takes good balance and more leverage than brute strength. My legs do most of the lifting. I hope to be able to do this for at least another decade. (I sometimes get a bit of lift head start by lifting the boat from the cart.)