solo car loading/off loading with tandem

I have a 18" Special Edition camper canoe that was given to me as a bday present from my ex. With my children grown and out, I still would like to take my canoe out; even though it is by myself.

Does anyone have any techniques for lifting, loading and off loading a tandem canoe of this size solo? I’m tall but not terribly strong in the arms. I want to go canoe camping and its a shame to have it sitting there all alone when it should be strapped to my truck!

Please if anyone could help with suggestions, websites, or even a device I could rig/purchase to do so safely - I would be extremely appreciative!

Thanks, Jenny

Can you lift 50% of the weight?
If so you might be able to make use of a “loading bar”. Yakima, Thule, and Spring Creek all make such devices which extend from one of the rack crossbars when needed. (I am assuming tha tyou have some type of rack system???)

You lift one end of the canoe onto the extrender, walk to the other end and then lift it to the rack. Slide the boat over into position and strap it down.

More info about your boat, truck and rack would be heplful.


one end up
Use the one-end-at-a-time method. You may need to reposition your racks to make this work in the best way. Start with the canoe on the ground behind your car. Lift one end of the canoe, place it on the rear rack and get it stable. Then walk around to the end that’s on the ground, lift it, and push the whole thing forward so that it rests on both racks. Then tie down and proceed as usual.

Don’t be afraid of scratching your canoe a little bit to get it mobile. It’s far uglier sitting at home unused than picking up a few battle scars in use.

Don’t worry about being slow and making other people wait while you go thru the process. You’re by yourself, you have the right to take a little longer. If they’re impatient enough, then they ought to come help you load/unload.

Also, don’t forget that, however expensive your canoe and car may be, your body is even more so. If something happens while you’re loading and the canoe starts to fall off, don’t strain yorself to try and save it. A back injury or broken bone is far worse than any damage to car or canoe.

solo on/off load
I like this method, it sounds easy enough. I think I can lift the canoe from the shed to the truck (out front) and if not… I have a grass yard, I can drag it. I even thought of rigging something from my sons’ old skateboards! make wheels for the thing!

The rack - a Thule general rack with canoe guards on a RAV 4.

It doesn’t sound like the most attractive method, but hey - if it works…I’ll try it come the thaw.


Wheels, yes!
When I load the 20 footer, I use wheels on one end. The hardest part is getting the wheels (in my case, a boat dolly, aka, portage cart) on the end of the boat when the boat is upside down. This is because the upside-down canoe is pointy on the ends and wants to tip one way or the other, and you’ve got to set it down squarely on the cart. But, if you can get one end mobile, then you can pick up the other end and pull the canoe to the car. Then you lift the end in your hands and get it onto the bar.

My, a RAV 4! That’s a little car for such a large canoe, but certainly, it can be done. With one end on the rear bar, I release the straps on the cart, pick up the other end, and then slide the boat up onto the racks.

This is basically the same as the other posters suggest, except with the canoe roller attached, you can drag your canoe to the car and start it on from the rear, rather than from the side. Also, when you are holding an end of an upside down canoe, and the other end is resting on the pointy end, the boat always wants to twist right-side up. Having the far end resting on something that helps keep it flat makes things easier.

Good luck with it. Maybe consider trading somebody for a little smaller or a lot lighter canoe. I’m sure you love your boat, but if you can’t move it, the relationship is doomed.


Since you are now soloing
maybe it would help to trade to a smaller canoe. 18’ is a lot of canoe for one person, on or off the water. If you can manage to find another boater looking for a larger canoe and do a trade or find a shop that gives credit for trade-ins and sells used boats - you might not even have to come up with much, if any, cash.

That method is what works for me
I am five four and my racks over seven feet tall… I can pick up one end…but no way can I lift an entire boat over my head…

When you lift the front and put it on the bar make sure the back end does not slide downhill…you can get hurt that way.

18 feet is a lot of sail to solo…especially when this is new to you… Find a big canine companion.

Canoe trailer…

If you tow it, you don’t have to lift it…

A suggestion
Here’s what I used to do to lift my 110# Coleman Scanoe to the roof rack of a Ford Ranger by myself.

First, the rack had side bars on it to keep the canoe from sliding off. Very handy. Have those, or this advice will not work.

I would drag the canoe to the back of the truck (or often drive the truck to the canoe). Then I’d lay the canoe right side up with the front of the canoe at the tail of the truck, and the rear of the canoe laid straight out behind.

Lift the front of the canoe to the rear roof rack. On my truck, that was at the rear of the bed.

Flip the canoe over so that now the gunwales are laying on the rear roof rack and the bow of the canoe is sticking way up in the air.

Get under the canoe in about the center and place your back against a thwart. Bend and lift with your legs. Hands placed on the boat to help stabilize side to side.

Walk forward, sliding the gunwales of the canoe along the rear rack. Your legs are doing the moving, your back is doing the lifting, your arms are just stabilizing.

When you get far enough forward that the bow of the boat drops, it will be resting nicely upside down on the front and rear racks.

Now just stand at the back and slide it as far forward as you want. Tie it down securely.

To offload, go the opposite way. Grab the rear of the canoe and start walking backwards until the end wants to tip to the ground.

Slowly lower the rear of the canoe to the ground.

Get underneath, lift the stern with your back and walk backwards leaving the bow resting/sliding on the car rack until it’s close to the end.

Set the canoe down, get out from under.

Go to the side to which you want to lift the canoe.

Flip the canoe over. If you’re strong enough, use the flip motion to roll it off the rack and set the canoe down. If you’re not just flip it over.

If you didn’t roll & flip, grab the front seat and lift the bow of the canoe off the rack, pivoting on the stern that is resting on the ground. Move off the side and lower the stern.

Essentially, this uses your legs and back muscles to do all the heavy lifting except for the initial pick up and the final setting down. You never have the full weight of the canoe in your arms.

I got practiced enough at doing this that it got so that I preferred not to have help when loading the canoe to the rack.

I hope this helps.

  • Big D

The method posted by Memphis …
… is much easier and what I would recommend too. Once one end is on the rack, get yourself out from under the boat and lift it from the extreme BACK end, and just slide it forward. At this point, the back end of even very heavy boats can even be lifted with just one hand, as long as the forward point of cross-bar contact is a few feet behind the bow.

and at some point if you find you cant
reach the boat but its not yet far enough forward… a small stepladder is handy.

Probably wont have this problem with a RAV 4.

another idea
If you had an overhead storage set-up at home for the canoe, your work would be cut in half. At home you just lower and raise it on pulleys, so only at the water end do you have to do any real work to load and unload it.

Normally the pulley and rope system is used in a garage, although any high support will work. Do you have any suitable place like that? Conceivably, you could even use tree branches, at least for temporary summer storage. It would make loading and unloading at home so much easier.

Of course, if you use tree branches, you might generate some interest among your neighbors as to why you have canoes in your trees. You’ll need to come up with a good story for that, but I have no doubt we could help concoct a story over in the Paddlers Place Discussion Forum. (“well, you see, I used to have a lot of bird feeders in the back yard, and they worked so well at attracting birds that this year I put up a canoe feeder, and lo and behold…”)

I have posted my method many times
but you evidently are a newbie here.

First the canoe must have a portage yoke. If you don’t have one get one and make sure you mount it at the balance point of your canoe.

  1. with the canoe on the ground, upside down, and the bow against a immovable object, shuch as a tree, rock, etc, go to the stern and pick the stern up.
  2. When you get it to chest height shift your hands to the gunnels, (one hand on each side)
  3. start walking forward, keeping the bow on the ground, and shifting, (sliding) your hands forward as you raise the rear of the canoe.
  4. Keep raising it, until you have the rear way up in the air and you can duck under the portage yoke.
  5. then gently let the portage yoke down on your shoulders and step back so the front of the canoe can swing up and you have the canoe balanced nicely on your shoulders.
  6. Walk the canoe to the rear of your vehicle and rest the bow on the rear set of bars, and then let the stern down on the ground.
  7. duck out from under the canoe, go around to the stern, pick it up and slide the canoe forward and on to the bars.

    To take it off just do the same only in reverse and portage it as close to the water as possible before finding a tree, rock or other immovable object to foot it against as you let it down.

    if this over the hill, 165 pound paddler can do it with his 80 pound Old Town Disco, you should be able to do it too.

    Good luck and



Here’s another idea
If you don’t have a cap on your truck and your racks are on the cab- rest one end upsidedown on the top of the tailgate,then go to the end on the ground and lift and push the canoe onto the roof racks.I used this method on a real heavy kayak I used to have.


Oops, I didn’t realize that you were of
the weaker sex.

Try it you might be able to do it, but I think you would have problems raising it in the air and then probably portaging it too.



Maine Roll-ON

– Last Updated: Dec-17-08 11:18 AM EST –

I love taking my 17 and 18 wood and canvas canoes solo. Just kneel, ala canadian style, and leave all the non-believers behind. Maine Roll-On is the way to go. Roll your canoe on and leave people stunned in amazement at the take out. I have used one for 10 years on a Ford Explorer. I can load a 20 footer or even 2 canoes singlehandedly.

I had heard they were out of production, but the website seems to suggest otherwise as of May this year.

I have no interest in the company. It is just a tool that works for once.

I forgot about ME Roll-Ons

– Last Updated: Dec-17-08 11:25 AM EST –

Great product! I have witnessed them in use and they work very well. But you still have to lift one end of the boat, roll it upside down, and shuffle it forward. At least on a Rav4 you will not have to lift too far.


PS: If you are within easy driving of Marysville PA I would strongly suggest driving up to Blue Mountain Outfitters (BMO). They are a dealer for ME Roll Ons, can handle installation, and are breat folks to deal with.

Canoe lift.
I avoid much of that muscling with the canoe lift. I lift the canoe, throw it on my shoulders and drop the bow deck on the roller and roll it on up.

I might swallow my pride and ask for help with the 20 footer :slight_smile:

Hitch mounted canoe carrier
is what i use. i have used it for awhile now and it makes it a breeze to load and unload my 16’ on to my grand prix by myself. it might feel a little loose before you tighten everything down but i have not had my canoe move at all once everything is secured. and i had to use the foam blocks at first and even then everything was good. i was driving through 30mph head winds on the highway and it didnt budge at all!