shorties loading two kayaks onto suv

We have a Nissan Xterra and are having problems loading two kayaks. We are both short (five four and under) and one of us is not very strong. One boat has been easily loaded in the past with hully rollers but that is not feasible now b/c two boats won’t fit width wise. One boat needs to be on its side, and we can’t get it on to the roof without hully rollers.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

sell the Xterra and buy a vehicle
with a lower roofline

Get a shorter car!
Get a shorter car! You’ll save gas too.

Failing that, you can get an extender that extends the cross bar over the side of the vehicle.

It would be somewhat easier to get the kayak bow (for example) on the extended cross bar than to get it up and over onto the normal cross bar.

For two kayaks, you might need two extenders.

You might also need to carry a stool.

Another, much more expensive, approach is to use the “Hullavator” thing (check Thule’s web site).

Not a huge problem
Sorry the other replies have not been very helpful.

I have 54" yakima bars mounted on my factory rack, I use mako saddles, you can use a small storage bin for a stool if you need extra height. Side loading sucks for getting the boat in place and tieing it down.I would use the wider bars instead, easier to travel because you don’t have to worry about clearance. Load both boats horizontally. Put a foam ground pad at the back of the roof just under the factory rack, pad the stern of the boat, lift the bow uponto the pad and then once in place slide it into the saddle or onto the padded bar (I use surf board pads on one side) once you get used to it and use some forethought it’s pretty easy. Can be done by 5’0 tall ladies. You do not need to buy expensive systems to lift the boats. Email me if you need a clearer description.


– Last Updated: Apr-25-06 11:31 AM EST –

Extenders aren't expensive.

The Hullavator is very expensive ($450).

And, while I was kidding about a shorter car, it's still something to concider when people are looking for new cars.

Darned if I can find these things now - even with a set sitting in the basement at home. Anyone help?

I am thinking that a set of wheels on a short bar that hooks to the top of the rear hatch and/or rack, where you could balance the boat on it side and roll it up with two people, would work. The balancing would be a litle tricky, but since the wheels wouldn’t be so much taller than you it may take less strength than making it up to an extender bar. Now if I could only help with info on where to get them…

I agree with Seadart
I also have a heck of a time using a side loading cradle (I have a set of Malones) with almost any boat on my own, even though I have a pretty short car. I only use the Malones as my “extra” cradles when I have someone there to help me. I think with two people you could have one person stand on a stool just behind the rear cradle, and have the other person “feed” the boat to them from the stern. The front person could then work the boat upwards into the cradle without having to really lift it.

Rear loading using standard hull cradles is much easier, IMO, as you can lay a bath rug or towel over the back of the vehicle, rest the bow of the boat on it, then push it up from the back. Maybe wider bars is the ultimate solution.

Silly but simple
Invest in a good step ladder. One that is small, portable and plastic. Have the weaker person push the boat from the back while the stronger lifts and guides it on the rack.


Good point
I’m 4’11" and one requirement for a vehicle is that I be able to reach the roof to clean it or load things on it. I now have a small truck so I can get in the bed to do whatever I need. I made this rule after owning (then quickly selling) a Jeep Cherokee many years ago. Just not worth it.

wider bars
"Maybe wider bars is the ultimate solution"

The extenders give you wider bars (really wide) temporarily.

The extenders slide inside the standard cross bars when not in use.

Wider cross bars might not be wide enough.

Thule Hullavators
Not cheap, but oh, nice to use at the end of a long paddling day.

See you on the water,


My method
I am fairly short (5’4") and load my kayak(s) on a GMC Yukon (big truck) by myself. I use Mako saddles and I use the loading from the back with a rubber backed bath rug method. I usually prop the bow of the boat on the bath rug then grab the rear, lift up and slide the boat onto the saddles. The thing that gets interesting is that once I slide the kayak onto the saddles, my truck is so tall that I can’t reach my boat anymore. My solution is a strategically placed stool or I actually step up on my bumper to slide the kayak the rest of the way onto the saddles (my preferred method). As far as the width goes, we have four kayaks–two sea kayaks and two short, fat rec boats. At one time I only had the one fat rec boat and my sea kayak on the roof. Then I ended up buying a Pungo 100 which is short and very fat (I got a good deal on the boat and couldn’t pass it up). The problem was I couldn’t fit both rec boats on the roof. They were too wide (a CD Kestrel HV at 27" wide and the Pungo at 30" wide). I previously had 48" bars (I think). I bought 58" bars and both short, fat kayaks now fit on the roof side-by-side in saddles. The one good thing about the big truck is that the 58" bars really don’t stick out over the doors that much because the truck is so wide. Good luck and when there’s a will, there’s a way.

Malone autoloaders
I don’t know how “close” you are to using the J-carriers, but if it’s not too much, I’ve heard that the Malone auto-loaders (their version of the J-carrier) has a slightly lower lip so you don’t need to lift as much.

Have you thought of bringing two small step stools?

They actually make one that fits over the wheel… Can’t seem to find a picture of one.

I bolted some wood on one of those plastic pepsi bottle trays and use that as my free bench so I can cartop my kayak on my Subaru Outback. Works fine for me and I’m 5’4" but the Xterra is probably much taller…


Thule Step-Up™
Thule makes a “Step-Up™” Wheel Step. No. 232.

It works very well with easy setup, 300# weight capacity, folds compactly (takes up much less space than a step stool/ladder), and has a nice, black, heavy material storage bag. Price is around $50 when not on sale. So far, it’s been worth what we paid for it.

extra wide bars
For your xtera I like Thules clamps for your large diameter roof rack bars. Thule sells cross bars over 6 feet long (wide). Figure out what size you want, and you can cut down the bars to your disired size. A SawzAll will make short work of it, but a hand hacksaw can also cut the bars.

I also use the Procedure of set the kayak bow up on the rug on the back of the SUV and shove the stern up. We have a big heavy OT Loon 160T, 80+ lbs. And we put it up on my Suburban. The wife is not strong or tall enough to lift it, but she helps by bracing the stern when the bow is on the SUV. See my album:

This photo is the sequence of use putting the kayak up on the rack in the garage. The procedure is the same for loading it onto the SUV. Just hit next to go through the sequence:


Hey Joyce,
I was picturing you as I wrote my previous post! : )

Should be doable
My situation is slightly different from yours; I have a 5’9" husband to help my 5’2" self when loading kayaks onto his Tahoe.

But some things we do should help you, too:

  • As others have mentioned, get longer crossbars. You can use the extra width at the edges as temporary resting places for a kayak while you get ready to put the kayak in its real place (cradles). Our bars are 78" long.

  • We put the tailgate down and shut the tail window. That way, I can stand on the tailgate to lift the stern end from bar to cradle, or vice versa. I think the Xterra only comes with a one-piece liftgate rather than a true tailgate-and-window, but I’m not sure. If this is the case, putting a wheel step on the rear wheel might suffice. (I bought one of these for my truck. It is a metal step that hangs over the rear wheel. Mine has height adjustments and can support up to 400 lbs.)

  • You might consider installing running boards. I hate these things but they might be useful for you.

    Some people use stepladders and other stand-alone height aids. I am leery of anything that can topple, but again, these might be useful for you.

    Good luck, and don’t be too quick to “sell it and buy a car.” There is so much that a truck or SUV can do compared with cars that I won’t ever do without a truck for the rest of my life.

Xterra Rear Bumper

– Last Updated: Apr-26-06 12:30 AM EST –

The Back Bumper makes an exellent step for lifting boats up. It's actually two steps, the hitch and then the bumper.

Thank you to all for your excellent suggestions! I appreciate the time you took to post your replies. We will be trying some of these ideas out this weekend.

I’m here to entertain
You have to admit that it is pretty entertaining to watch what I have to go through to get my kayaks on the roof of my truck! It keeps me in shape, though. I meant to call you and see if you wanted to go out one of these days. I have only been out on the water once this spring. If you want to go for a paddle, give me a call.