Rooftop rack question

-- Last Updated: Oct-18-16 10:03 PM EST --

Hello all, I am relatively new to kayaking. My wife and I frequent the Florida Keys, and recently we began renting a vacation home that includes a couple of kayaks. So, I purchased a couple of sets of cheap, but well built "J" racks to attach to the factory racks and crossbars of our Lexus RX350, and during our last trip to the Keys, we loaded the yaks up on the roof and hauled them to a destination about 5 miles away. Anyway, I question the strength and stability (and safety) of hauling the yaks on rooftop racks. We really wanted to haul them to other, farther destinations, but I wasn't trustful of the strength of the factory Lexus racks. I also question traveling at highway speeds, with kayaks on the roof. Long story short, I am ordering a couple of kayaks for Christmas, because we have really grown to enjoy yakking, but I'd like some input regarding rooftop racks, hauling long distance, and other thoughts. The yaks I am ordering are 12 footers. I am also open to the idea of buying a cheap trailer and modifying it to carry yaks, such as the inexpensive trailers sold by Northern Tool and Equipment, however, I'd rather utilize rooftop racks preferably. Any input from experienced kayak rooftop haulers would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!

Factory Roof Racks experience
I have factory roof/r on my Volvo C30. best roof rack I have ever seen. I went from Midwest to Seattle and back this summer with 18 ft SOF on the roof at speeds that peeled some of the poly off the nylon but the kayak and rack stayed on. I was under 80 on the roads were that was the limit. I have straps bolted under the hood to tie the bow down but the stern one tie down

I had a factory roof/r on Saturn VUE that was okay.

Always felt safe at speed limits.

Strap the kayak to the rack with two straps. Tie the bow and stern to the vehicle. The car tied to the kayak keeps the rack on the roof. Sort of like the symbiosis of the SOF kayak. The frame gives the skin it’s shape and the skin holds the frame together.

Aftermarket Racks

– Last Updated: Oct-18-16 10:24 PM EST –

The cross bars of most factory racks are pretty flimsy. I can't say they would break (lots of people use them and I've never heard of one failing) but on most cars, they flex a lot and don't really appear trustworthy. Usually, however, the side rails of the factory rack are "not too bad" when used as an attachment point for an aftermarket rack, and this is the approach that's used by most people who's cars already have a factory roof rack.

An aftermarket rack will have base supports that clamp to the side rails, and these bases will support cross bars that are far more sturdy than those already on your car. Thule and Yakima are the usual brands. Each brand will have a number of different types of bar supports, and you'll have to pick a model that fits properly when clamped to the side rails of your car's existing rack.

You can get base supports that clamp to the window openings (in this case, people call the bases "towers"), but you'll get a far better spread between the front and rear cross bars if you use your existing side rails as the foundation for an aftermarket rack.

Factory Roof rack
I used the factory roof rack on my Toyota 4-runner with my 60 pound SOT kayak for a year and a half with no issues. Then I started doing more trips with more people and I needed to be able to carry two kayaks on my SUV. There just wasn’t enough room for two kayaks and I did not want to use a J style rack. My SUV is already tall, and putting a J style rack seemed like turning it into more of a wind catching sail that it already was. I prefer to carry my kayaks flat, side by side. I got a Yakima system with 72 inch cross bars. Two kayaks fit perfect and ride very nice, even in windy conditions. On a recent, very windy 5 hour drive home, I had no problems. My friend with J racks had a very scary drive, feeling like she was being blown off the highway with a kayak on her roof.

I got the aero design crossbars, so that I can leave them on my car year round with no excess wind noise and less wind resistance.

Go to Thule or Yakima site

– Last Updated: Oct-18-16 10:56 PM EST –

Both have wizards that will walk you thru which units to buy to be able to mount their crossbars on your side rails.

Their cross bars tend to be stronger than what comes with the car.

One factor is noise, which can vary based on car model and round (Yakima) or square (Thule) cross bars. My own experience has been that round bars on the old Taurus and Mercury station wagons were quite quiet, the same setup on a pre-2010 Subaru Outback was so bad we had to get a fairing, and square bars on a Toyota Rav4 are quite tolerable though Hullivators make it noisier. You may want to ask here to see if people have experience with what setup tends to be quieter on your vehicle.

Check your car owners’ manual
Check your cars’ owner manual to see if there is a weight rating. If I had to guess, it likely would be 150 pounds, which should be fine for 2 kayaks. But if it is less, it may not be.

The recommendation of bow and stern lines is good. These give extra support should something in the rack let go, and also take some of the pressure, so may even keep a weak factory rack from failing.

I don’t like factory roof racks !
I carry three boats lots of times, (a 17 foot canoe and two long sea kayaks) and want piece of mind when hauling them.

With that said; I made sure the last five vehicles that I bought had the capability of attaching the racks directly to the roof frame.

There are various ways of doing it and the best way is: the car has little knock-outs on the roof. After taking the knockout out, there is a hole in the frame with female threads. Yakama and Thule both sell pads that bolt to the holes that their towers and cross bars attach to.

I use the Yakima ones, with 78" long round bars and they are rock solid.

With them I can change from saddles to J cradles and also gunnel brackets for our canoes.

I have made dozens of 1000 mile trips at interstate speeds with never a mishap.

I just arrived in the Keys last week. Which one do you stay at?

The winds have been nasty, but we did manage a moon light “haunted mangrove paddle” a few nights ago.

Jack L


Wal sells cord in a black holder in 1/8th n 3/16ths for wrapping around hull at cross members backing up the hardware.

mounting bow rearward of airflow over the windshield helps stability n reduces drag. An interstate positon could be more rearward than a local position.

major moving hull forces are from sidewinds. If the vehicle is affected then the roof load is affected. A reststop is in order as most severe sidewinds are transient.

Using foam blocks n the cord with bow n rear tie downs atop a van with a 17’ yak, minor tornadic winds would squeak squeak foam movement above me but not displace the hull.

With a yak hull there’s not that much pressure involved as long as the hull is tied down. The upside down open canoe hull is a drogue parachute needing serious control.

Lexi have slippery bodywork. The rack should be well thought out n fabricated.

Factory Rack Failure

– Last Updated: Oct-19-16 10:30 AM EST –

I guess I never told my friend Eric, Guideboatguy, about my "Factory rack failure?"

I had a 1997 Toyota RAV4 and had been carrying a canoe for a year or two on it without incident. I was within a week of a 1000 mile trip up north and had a relatively light weight Souris River Quetico 16 on the rack. Hit a bump here on a gravel road and the rack broke, the canoe went to the right front roof, dropping the bow line to the road, where the right front tire ran OVER that bow line and dragged the canoe HARD, a second time to the roof.

Thankfully, the canoe was not damaged, other than a few stress "Lines" and dented gunwales. The RAV4 had some big, nasty dents in the roof. No rack or canoe stores around our area so I grabbed an LL Bean catalog, called, and they fixed me up. Had my Thule Tracker II on and ready for my trip to Minnesota in a few days! That Tracker II saw use on the RAV4, a Ford Escape, and 7 years on our Honda Element. Unfortunately, my "Better half" tore the rack off on a tree and we replaced it with a Yakima, since that was the brand on sale. Interestingly enough, though, the "Damaged" rack is still in use on a friends truck. He still puts canoes and/or that heavy Walden kayak of his on it, almost 20 years later

A Yakima or Thule Rack is a bit "Pricey," but they are well worth it. "Yes," people will tell you that they've gotten by with a factory rack, a little foam, an old mattress, etc. Heck, as kids we sat in the front seat in cars equipped without seat belts or air bags and in the back of pick up trucks unrestrained without coming to any harm; just because we survived, does NOT mean it was a good idea! Think of a good rack as a wise investment!

Forester Rack
I was very happy with the factory rack on my 08 Subie Forester. Then a few years ago, I noticed that I had bent the cross bars a fair bit. Not sure how it happened. My theory is that my Prijon Yukon (the heaviest boat we had at the time) had bounced around a bit on an “improved” road. Switched to Thule Aeros. More noise, but much sturdier.

my oops
I did the same thing. Got some cheap holders off amazon and put them on my factory bars on my trailblazer. They didn’t fit the bar perfectly butiI figured it did the trick for now. While driving (55 mph) I hit a strong cross wind going past a large field. The wind grabbed my boat, bent my bar and the front of my boat went out over the deviding line. Luckily nothing came loose and I was able to pull over and tighten everything down enough to get me home. I am currently looking for a good, non factory bar to upgrade. I haven’t had any issue with the cheap holders off amazon other then not fitting exactly but I’m not sure if that’s them or my bars

Quality rack
from Thule, Yakima, or other. Buying good stuff used is better than buying cheap stuff new.

Learn to adjust all aspects of the hardware you bought and what tools you may need to do it. Inspect all aspects of your system EVERY time you get out of the car, or at least daily while traveling.

We’ve hauled from FL to the northeast more times than I am willing to count. One trip to Utah and back, and many shorter trips here in the SE. I have a lot of faith in my rack, but never enough not to check it.


I don’t use j racks
I only have one kayak for now and I strap it directly to the stock roof racks of my 1999 Forester. I also have loops under my hood and under my back door. I use 2 cam straps to tie down to the rack and then tie down the bow and stern. Always tie down the bow and stern just in case the racks fail. This is for your own safety and the safety of everyone else on the road.

I have seen factory racks crack
and dump boats back in the 90’s when I worked at a boat store.

At that time we quit loading boats for customers who failed to buy a good Thule or Yakima system

Don’t know if factory racks have improved since then as I have insisted my cars come with naked roof

We got a Yakima system in 1990 and are still using it albeit with feet and towers that sometimes have to be replaced with parts that fit cars that we buy new… That is infrequent so isnt a price issue.

Boats have been from Florida to Newfoundland, Utah to Alaska. We put on about 15000 boat transporting miles a year

We did have a failure on a Yakima tower ( from 1990!) and Yakima honored its lifetime guarantee. actually one tower failed and we got four in 2014.

As the rack itself held with the three points there was no damage and the boat stayed on

I too am a fan of flat boats on interstates and on the Great Plains… That issue has never come up though as we always had room and never had to transport more than two up top.

Regarding cheap trailers
I have the medium sized trailer from harbor freight. I love it for hauling multiple boats for local runs. They are not rated for interstate speeds.although several people talk about using them cross country without problems. I wouldn’t. They make a lot of racket for one thing and liability wise you’re using them for something they aren’t rated for. Roof racks are my preferred method if I can fit the boats there.

You better believe…
that I would use front and rear tie downs and then a little super glue if I was just tieing it to the factory racks!

Jack L

Key Largo
We always stay on Key Largo, renting a home near Pennecamp State Park. We like Key Largo because it is sort of central to jump off to either mainland Florida or Mid and Lower Keys locations, for easy day trips. While you are there, I highly recommend paddling to Indian Key State Park, and spending a day snorkeling, if the weather allows. Wonderful snorkeling there, and the hiking and history of the island is fantastic.

Thank you everyone!
Thank you all, for the replies, and the wealth of information. I now feel like I can make a safe decision regarding transporting our new kayaks. I will be investing in a better set of crossbars and mounts.

Same here
We will be here until April.

If you haven’t found out yet, you are only a half hour from the southern entrance to the Everglades National Park.

When the wind is blowing too high to paddle on either side of the Keys there is some great paddling spots up there.

We used to bounce back and forth between the four state parks, and have paddled and explored just about every place on both sides of the Keys.

We are heading out to the outside of El Radibob Key today.

It is the first time in a week that the wind has lightened . It has been blowing at 20 with gusts much higher ever day along with the full moon causing extreme high tides and lots of flooding.

Check out our google web site for some good paddles:

Jack L

I have a Toyota and try a lot of roof racks. Factory rack are not so good.
I prefer racks from others manufactures.

Let’s take a look. May be you could find some suitable rack here: