Strength of kayak carry handles and deck fittings?

Does anyone have any insight on the typical strength of carry handles at the bow and stern of a kayak? I have a Wilderness Tsunami 145 and a Delta 15S and am working a way to more easily portage. It would involve using the handles (two people) to lift and carry the boats, loaded with camping gear, over distances of up to a few miles.

I’ve been told in the past that those handles shouldn’t really be used with loaded boats, and rather only for transporting empty boats short distances (e.g. to/from the car to the put-in or take-out). But I wonder how robust they really are…? Taking a close look the handles, it appears that the weakness is most likely in the knots in the nylon rope inside the handle. If that’s the case, I could figure out a way to hook into the actual strap eyes bolted onto the deck, rather than attaching to the handle rope. Are the bolts holding these fittings strong enough to support a loaded kayak without ripping out of the deck?

Here are pictures of the carry handles. I popped the cover off the one on the Tsunami to see what the inside knots look like. I am thinking the actual strap eye and bolt going through deck have to be much more robust than the rubbery handle.

Any thoughts?

I was taught to never actually carry the boat with the handles but use the cockpit or hands under the hull. For even a short carry on a loaded boat we would do a four man carry, one on each end and two at the cockpit.
In real life this isn’t always practical. I can’t imagine carrying a loaded boat that far.
Maybe think wheels.


The knot/rope will hold but you will pull the pad eyes out.


We’ve got wheels but where we are going is not always wheelable, so we will need to carry the boats on some trails.

If you were taught not to carry the boat with the handles, then what are they for?

You can use them for pulling it up on the beach.
Holding on to it in the water.
Rescuing a swimmer.
Tying it to dock or anchor.
Tying it to you car.
If you ever had to wear a boot because you broke a foot you wouldn’t carry it by the handles.


I googled a bit more and found an article from Sherri Mertz of SherriKayaks all about carry handles.

In it she writes:

End toggles are those lowly and often overlooked features of your kayak that you use to lift and carry your kayak with the help of another person.

Further on in the article she writes:

Besides the most obvious use of lifting and carrying your kayak, end toggles also have important functions in rescue, recovery, and towing situations.

She also discusses what makes a good carry handle design:

And certainly, you need end toggles that are positioned for a comfortable tandem carry and won’t break as you are moving your loaded kayak.

So it seems like they can, and should, in fact be used to lift a carry a boat. (I’ve actually taken one of Sherri’s paddling courses and she knows what she’s talking about.) I am just worried about over-loading, but if they are designed correctly, it seems like they should be able to withstand the weight.

Load it up with your gear and please report back how you make out.


I would contact the manufacturer, if you have not, and see what they say. I am always a bit worried about the strength of the toggles you show in your images, but always comfortable with the type where the rope goes through the end of the hull, instead of a deck fitting. But I have no data to support that feeling. The manufacturer should have some idea as they know how it is anchored and should have some idea of the ability to withstand tearing out and the strength of the fittings.

They can also be used to drag your kayak across the parking lot.

I just posted what i was taught by the ACA.

Your results may vary…

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If those are machine screws backed by washers to spread out the load they may be fine. If those are basically wood screws driven straight into the plastic then I would not trust them for carrying a boat with a load in it. If you google “carrying straps” you’ll find lots of options like the one below.

Sounds like a long way to carry kayaks. Have you considered a cart with 16" wheels?

I see nothing in the blog about carrying a LOADED kayak. I have never done that in Maine. I would kill myself on rockweed.

Good idea. Will post back with their response.

We have NRS wheeled carts that we’ve used on other trips. They are relatively lightweight and disassemble to stow in the hatches. They can handle some trails but where we’re going might not be as easily wheelable (at least from my research; haven’t done this trip before). We’ve portaged these boats on top of our heads and shoulders over backcountry trails for several miles at a time (Isle Royale, which doesn’t allow carts) and I can say from experience it’s not a lot of fun. We’re heading to Adirondacks later this summer, which does allow wheeled carts and we plan to bring them, but there are going to be portions that aren’t really cart-friendly. So I’m trying to come up with a better method.

Good point. I hadn’t thought of the disassembly factor. Hope you can work something out.

Go load it up and give it a try in the parking lot. Put in the “miles” down the road and see if it is feasible. You will find out a lot of things. I suspect the straps are not through bolted. When the sheetmetal screws pull out you’ll be able to drill 'em out and add a backing plate.

Adirondacks. Use a light weight canoe. Forget kayaks . Its canoe territory

My thinking matches @TomL’s - weak point to worry about would be if the deck fitting’s screws are just driven into plastic then they can just strip the plastic and pull out. You want bolts backed up with a washer and nut. If it is an issue you can (if your arm is long enough) buy two fittings, nuts bolts and washers at your local hardware and install them further from the ends. Go with stainless steel.
If the rope or handle breaks you can field fix it. Tie a loop with para cord or 1/4 inch braided nylon and insert a 6-inch stick of comfortable diameter.

Thanks for the tip, but we don’t own a canoe and already own kayaks. I am planning our route intentionally, one of my references being the Adirondack Paddler’s Guide: Finding Your Way by Canoe and Kayak.

This won’t be our first foray into backcountry wilderness by kayak. It can be done.

Yes of course, I will certainly will be doing this as I work on my system. No way I would venture into back country without several trials and tests on similar terrain.

I took a look inside the hatches and the straps on the Delta are bolted through the deck with large fender washers. On the Wilderness I can’t tell – there is a large lump of molded plastic where the bolt comes through. I do know that we’ve carried that boat by the handles fully loaded with a week’s worth of gear on previous trips, at least a few hundred yards to put-ins and it hasn’t shown any sign of weakness (other than the bungee that retracts the handle wearing out, which I’ve already replaced). Just not sure if we extend that distance if it might not be able to handle it.