Road Travel Questions: Deck up or down? Small car or pickup truck? Bow & stern tiedown?

[Update: Put a deposit on a Dagger Stratos 14.5L this afternoon. :+1:]

Haven’t purchased a 14-15’ kayak yet, but want to be ready to bring one home when I do. I have two choices of vehicle, a Honda Civic that gets over 30 mpg or a double cab pickup that gets around 20. Neither vehicle has a roof rack of any sort and I’m planning to at least initially use foam blocks with straps. Since foam blocks with straps run through the doors would work on either vehicle, is there any reason not to use the car instead of the truck? Lifting the boat on to either roof is not an issue for me.

Upside down or rightside up? Is there a structural reason not to haul the boat upside down? Just seems like there would be less wind resistance upside down. I’m guessing a cockpit cover would be needed in either case, correct?

For either vehicle, the boat will be tied down at the bow and the stern in addition to the straps fore and aft of the cockpit. NOT over tightening the bow and stern tie downs is a concern – I have a bit of trouble with any instructions that say “Do not over tighten!” :neutral_face: Is there any reason to prefer straps over thin rope for the bow and stern tie-downs? I have a fair amount of paracord and might even have enough Amsteel rope laying around to do the job.

When I brought my first canoe home, I used the truck with foam blocks and straps and that went okay…until it rained and water leaked in along the straps. I eventually built a custom canoe carry rack for the truck bed and may build one for the kayak given the cost of roof racks, but I have to get it home first.

Any other thoughts or comments?



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Either vehicle should work but I’d probably choose the one that allows max distance between front and rear blocks. If one has better bow/stern tie down points than the other, then that’s a consideration too.
Re orientation - It depends on the geometry of the boat and the height of your foam blocks. If it has a fairly flat deck (including cockpit and coaming) and hatch placement doesn’t interfere, then you can choose. I’ve not found wind resistance to be a factor either way, but it might be for some hull designs.
I don’t use a cockpit cover, mostly because I don’t have one that I trust to stay put. On the rare occasion when I’ve needed to transport a boat upright and rain is forecast, I use stretch wrap (as for pallets) … I wrap it around the hull in one continuous strip, moving from 12"-18" in front of the cockpit to the same distance behind. Then I add two or three strips of packing tape (parallel to the keel line) and the stretch wrap is water-tight and going nowhere. At the end of the trip it needs to be cut off, so it’s a one-way solution.


Another option is to buy an inexpensive hitch extension rack for your truck. Makes for easy loading and is much less susceptible to wind than having a boat up high in a makeshift rack. They remove/install fairly quickly and don’t take up a ton of space in the garage.


If I use straps for the bow and stern tie downs, I twist them along their length so they don’t present a flat surface to the wind … avoids straps flapping. Nowadays, I just use appropriate rope (rather than straps) to avoid the flapping. I carry the kayak hull down and use a cockpit cover for the longer trips - keeps out rain and is probably less prone to wind turbulence.

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Used blocks and straps very successfully, arranged per the pic. Traveling I-95 up and down the East Coast at speed not a problem. Blocks strapped to the kayak, and kayak strapped to car through the windows. A twist in the straps necessary to stop the humming, and kept rags handy in case of rain when the straps would draw water in. Didn’t have a cockpit cover back then, is recommended to get one. Straps should be snug, but I never saw a reason to make them really tight. Bow and stern lines, IMO, are there to dampen motion of the kayak ends, and keep the kayak on the vehicle in case of strap failure. Nothing to be gained by making them very tight.
The Mustang was my commuter, when I wore it out, got an SUV with roof racks. An SUV much easier to change in/out of a drysuit in than the Mustang…


Pay attention to all the freely-moving parts on your boat: rudder, seat back, rigging, hatch covers, etc. Make sure they aren’t catching wind on the move. The last thing you want is your seat back getting beaten up or your rudder flying off and hitting a car behind you. Also consider the shape of the cockpit.

Generally speaking, I like to transport SINKs facing forwards (so that the cockpit doesn’t trap air) but SOTs facing backwards (so that the seat stays folded down).

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Always always bow tie down if on roof. So you can see if something is going wrong in the line in front of your face. Othners have been more expansive.


That’s an interesting concept I’d not considered. It wouldn’t work long term though, because we also tow an RV. I’m looking forward to having the kayak when we’re camping with the RV.

Either right-side up or upside-down, whatever you prefer. A number of people with plastic rotomolded boats prefer to carry their boats upside-down to lessen the chance of oil canning the hull. A little deformation, if it occurs on the deck as opposed to the hull, will not affect performance. Try and carry a boat as close to any bulkheads as possible. That is where the boat is strongest.

I always use a cockpit cover. It keeps out rain and reduces air resistance. If carried right-side up, scooping up a few inches of rain will leave you thinking you forgot to remove a strap when you go to take the boat down. Newer cockpit covers, like Seals, have a clip that attaches to your front bungees to reduce the chance of it coming off on the road.

NEVER run the straps through the windows. In an emergency you cannot open the doors. Always run them through the doors.

Always use front and rear tiedowns. In the event of an accident or catastrophic rack failure these will generally insure that your rack and boat stay more or less on the car and don’t come off and endanger others. Most major manufacturers of rack systems require both tiedowns for warranty coverage that may cover your boat, rack, vehicle, and other incidental damage. Don’t use open hooks, especially when fastening tiedowns to undercarriage components. With a loose tiedown or on a rough road they can easily bounce loose. If caught by a tire they can severely damage your boat, rack, and car.

While I consider foam blocks mounted directly on a roof an acceptable short term solution, be aware that at highway speeds these blocks will tend to shift slightly. If there is any dirt and grit, they will eventually abrade the paint on your roof. Foam blocks that are designed to mount on factory or add-on crossbars work fine for a permanent solution. Just remove them when not carrying a bout. We have a collection of them we have picked up off the road!


I would use the car. I hauled 14.5’s on a Ford Focus all over the northeast with no problems, for years

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I use the 1.5 inch wide NRS straps over the hull and rope for bow and stern lines since it never whistles and stays tighter than straps when you use a trucker’s hitch. You want good underhood tie-downs points to make the bow lines as short and straight as possible. Straps and lines don’t need to be super tight, just snug. If you’re worried just err on on the loose side and stop and tighten stuff a little more if the boat moves around too much. There are lots of high quality used racks on craigslist and Facebook marketplace for around $200…you might need to buy a “fit kit” with brackets for a Civic if you buy a used Yakima or Thule rack. I think you’d appreciate a solid rack. Just FYI if your car or foam blocks are dirty they may scratch your paint if the foam blocks slide or wiggle at all.

Not sure where I first heard the idea… But if you have J hooks or V brackets rotate the boat 45 degrees. It really helps with cross wind and when passing tractor trailers.

As my main boats are folders they were in bags inside my wagon or Jeep.

Don’t forget to check the maximum weight the vehicle’s roof will support.

While foam blocks don’t add any appreciable weight, if you ever switch to an actual rack, it makes a difference as does adding boats. The owner’s manual should tell you what the weight limit is.

One other thing if you are pulling a trailer, be sure you have the distance you need between the back of the boat and your trailer.

We have always hauled decks down since we had a cockpit cover come off the boat when it was open end up. The cover flew into the windshield of a State Trooper who was kind enough to bring it back to us when he pulled us over. He was not overly amused.

This also avoids the dreaded water in the cockpit which can make unloading more than difficult

Plus the deck fits the contours of our rack system better.

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I’ve seen the hitch extension racks. Looks nice for loading and unloading but I’d be afraid of someone crashing into my kayak. I imagine dealing with the insurance company to pay for a kayak would be a major pain in the butt.

I have some old Yakima cross bars I’ll sell you for cheap. They will attach easily if your car or truck has side rails.

I have used round bars with foam blocks and straps for years and it works great. I also have a pair of temporary tie down loops for the hood to tie the bow.

I always figured that if the boat is sitting on the beach (for example) I leave it on it’s hull not on its deck, so why do any different on top of my car? Right side up won’t make much difference for drag, and side wind will be the worst of it either way and not any different up or downside up.

I think the end tie downs are not normally useful, but at any moment you could need one or the other so I always use them. The one on the front is a worn bit of nylon rope and the one on the back is ~3/8” Amsteel. You can use anything; im just sharing what I use out of habit and convenience because it worked last time.

Always stop and check your straps after you drive a couple blocks (or even just a few yards) because it’s a good habit and can prevent you having to sweep the remains of your boat off the shoulder of the freeway later on if there was an issue with your tie down job.

I noticed my front Yakima bar was slightly loose last time I loaded my boats. I have never had an older style round bar loosen up because it is held in place with compression, but the areo bar is screwed in and started to loosen up!

A good reminder to wiggle your rack each time you load and occasionally check any mounting hardware!

(my personal preference for my Ski is upside down and backwards mounted to a 7 foot long bar with home made flat boat mounting pads, as the shape of the boat in this orientation is similar to a weather vane - at highway speeds the large bow (facing backwards) acts like a weather vane pushing the boat towards center. The pin-tail conversely has almost no side-surface area to catch cross winds, and the boat is very stable in a strong cross wind or passing a semi)

So for some boats, particularly those with a vertical bow and low volume tail, upside down backwards is by far the most stable configuration.

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I’ve carried kayaks on pick up extension racks for years. I only use them for close to home trips.
A young man on his phone hit my boat in the neighborhood. The boat slid across his hood and left a groove. My plastic boat wasn’t damaged but the rack extender was mangled.
I filed a claim and the insurer couldn’t believe what a new extender cost so they got me a better one. Probably the cheapest claim filed for the month.

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For the price of a good rack you can buy a kayak/canoe trailer. Everything is right there in front of you. Back down your car till the trailer is in the water.