trailer vs. roof

I’ve read from time to time about trailer for carrying kayaks. I can’t help to find the idea appealling. No lifting, no scratching the finish of the car. No chance of dropping the boat. No dirty muddy water dripping onto the roof and onto myself getting in and out of the car…

Still…that doesn’t seem to be the predominant mode of boat transport. So I’m wondering WHY?

More specifically, what the drawbacks of trailers?

I can see money being one. Most trailer tend to run over a grand, though there’re a couple (listed on THIS site) that are only $5-6k. That’s close enough to the end cost of a roof systems.

(Especially when you consider the cost of those crazy new concept of “automatic boat loaders” for short and/or female paddlers that runs upward of $500, wouldn’t it make more money sense to go with a trailer instead?)

The other reason is the length it added to the car. But I’m wondering how much that is a perception issue and how much is the issue “real”. Those of you who use trailers, do you wish you have roof instead?

What else? What other real reasons that make roof better than trailer?

roof etc

– Last Updated: Dec-16-05 1:33 PM EST –

I have several set-ups. A 6 canoe trailor, a 4 boat rack set-p for the roof and a rack set-up to carry 3 boats on the roof. Seems like overkill for me to hook up a trailor jus to haul 2 or 3 boats...if I need to transport more than 4 , then I use the trailor. The added length at some of the places I go is a hassell. Not just the getting in , but the space it takes up for parking, limits other peoples options. If you always go to places that are set-up to park things as long as a car with a trailor, it could be a viable option. The road dirt gets on the boats, and if it's raining or you drive dirt roads, any boat on the bottom of the rack needs washing after just a short jaunt. (I have full fenders and mud still slings.) I like to put all my boats on a rack at home so don't leave them on the trailor, some people do and it works fine for them. I know of a couple of people that have trailors built for just 1 or 2 boats so that they don't have to lift or unload at home but they always limit themselves where thy put in for a paddle.

Best Wishes

I don't have a digital picture....I am only digital when my kids come to visit....they are digital. I made my trailor using the rear axel from a K car so it uses 14 inch has a 12 foot tongue (measured from the axel) the tongue in made of 3 inch heavy wall square tube

This subject.
Back about 4 years ago I discovered Pnet for the first time. This subject was one of the very first I responded to. I suggested that (depending on the type of vehicle) that the freedom and security that a rack offered was IMHO the better choice. For the next couple of days the TRAILER ZEALOTS went nuts. So with that being said, I hereby do respect the opinion of the trailer zealots, though mine has not changed :slight_smile: You can beat this to death and you will get positives and negatives from both sides.

My 2 cents:

Trailers expose you to:

  1. Theft (Trailer or Boat)
  2. Accidents with other vehicles
  3. Accidents from yourself (backing up)
  4. Extra expense

    5 Extra Insurance
  5. Shuttle logistic problems
  6. Mechanical (another thing with wheels bearings etc.)

    OK, Trailer Zealots…GO!


Please no rant, just facts
I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say. You list a few disadvantage of trailer but some of them aren’t obvious to me. So, if you would clarify them for me:

  1. Theft (Trailer or Boat)

    I can see trailer adds one more thing to be stolen. But so can boats on roof racks. Since I don’t own a trailer, yet, I don’t get what makes trailer easier to be stolen than boats. Most trailers can be locked to the hitch. And if someone is determine enough to chop the lock, they could just as easily defeat whatever device that attach to your boat on roof, can they?

  2. Accidents with other vehicles
  3. Accidents from yourself (backing up)

    The former is pretty obvious. You just can’t another car with a boat on the roof. However, you can hit THINGS with the boat on the roof. I’ve seen too many bikes on roof being destroyed by low garages and even low hanging branches. I’m not so sure the danger of the two (hitting things on top vs. hitting thing on backup) don’t off-set each other.

  4. Extra expense

    I already mentioned that in my opening…

    5 Extra Insurance

    Now, THIS is the one I don’t know about! What’s the extra insurance NEEDED for the trailer???

  5. Shuttle logistic problems

    I don’t get this one either…

  6. Mechanical (another thing with wheels bearings etc.)

    Agree. Things that move (wheels) need more mainetance than thing that don’t (roof rack). So roof rack seems infinitely more durable than a comlex system like trailer. On the other hand, back and shoulders moves and can also get demaged like wheel bearings…

I use both…
It is quite obvious the advantage and disadvantage to each. I prefer the trailor unless I’m going solo into a rough putin. Which being the case I’ll usually be dropped off by wife or daughter, boat on top of xterra. The trailor is used if at all possible. It allows me/us to keep all of our paddling gear together and organized. The trailor I use is a customized 12 utility trailor. I added racks which allow two canoes and four kayaks. I added two tool boxes (the type you see on the back of pickups)that allows me to keep paddles,pfd’s and all other gear organized and in it’s place. I paddle only rivers that are drop off and pick up so parking or theft are not considerations to me…

If a trailer is what you want (and …
this is what it sounds like) than go get one. It probably won’t be the last purchase you make in this hobby/activity. I am on the 6th boat and 3rd rack set-up in 5 years. One thing I have learned in this whole paddling journey is that I have wasted too much time getting opinions, researching and basically sweating the details of too many of my purchases. BTW… a rant is my right :slight_smile:

  1. Theft (Trailer or Boat) You may not think so today, but there will be a time when you will have to seperate the trailer from your car. ie. Limited parking space at put-in (oh yeah, you will be leaving your trailer alone while out on the water. Ozark Mountian locals love to steal trailer tires. They use them for their 4-wheeler trailers)

  2. Accidents with other vehicles. You are now 20 feet longer. The odds makers in vegas would love to bet on this one. You are MUCH more likely to be struck by another vehicle.

  3. Accidents from yourself (backing up). Probably the #1 problem that people have with trailers are from themselves jacknifing their trailers and damaging the car/boat/trailer etc.

  4. Extra expense. You already get that one.

    5 Extra Insurance. I am not 100% on this but I think you need to have a trailer ryder added if you are going to tow something.

  5. Shuttle logistic problems. I don’t know where you paddle, but I have been to several put-ins where it would absolutly not be feasable to have an attached trailer. Limited space. I have been on shuttles where the trailer has been a problem. this may not apply to you?

  6. Mechanical (another thing with wheels bearings etc.) Mechanical is mechanical. You can blow your back out loading anything. Your shoulder can go from a carry from the water to the trailer.

    Good luck,


I use a trailer because of physical problems. I use my rack system on my Jeep WRANGLER to get to spots that I can’t haul my trailer. My trailer is also a 5 X 10 foot tilting trailer I paid NEW $412.00 WITH spare tire in Arkansas. It is by far the best purchase next to my yaks that I have ever made. I use it all the time to haul furniture, junk to the dump, move friends and family. So the small price of registering it is no biggy to me. It has paid for itself many, many times over, if I were to rent a trailer to do all that hauling.

I just place my homemade rack system (four nuts and bolts, two steel cross bars, and two Thule Stackers) on the trailer, and go. I can load up to six yaks on my trailer. I can put four on my Jeep Wrangler rack. So my trailer has more than one use. I would not ever buy any of those extrememly over priced trailers specifically made to haul yaks and noes on, because its a big waste of money in my opinion, when my $412.00 trailer gets more the the job done. Why pay more for something if you don’t have to, unless you want to show off to the world that you have lots of money which isn’t a safe thing to do in the first place these days.

My two cents


I use both too
If I’m using my Subaru with it’s low roof height, I usually use the car if I’m just taking one boat. The car is easy but, like I said, it only holds one boat. The big vehicle, a Ford Expedition, can haul more boats, but it doesn’t help because I can’t reach the top! So, for more than 1 boat I take the trailer. Ours is a modified 16’ power boat trailer, bought used. My husband designed and build a 4x8x2.5’ box, centered over the wheels, to hold camping gear. We added a custom-sewn tarp on top for weather tightness.

As for some of the specific items mentioned, the biggest disadvantage of a trailer is that a lot of people don’t know how to maneuver it. Just take a lot of practice in a parking lot before you pull it somewhere where folks know you :slight_smile: I’ve been hauling trailers for 20+ years, and it is a very good skill to have!

As for more accidents, I’d say that a trailer provides more visibility to your car and probably decreases accidents. That assumes you use your trailer lights and reflectors appropriately. I’ve got back lights and side lights on mine, just to be sure.

I don’t insure the trailer separately because my policy covers it when it’s connected to the car. Check your own insurance as YMMV.

A trailer is a bit of a pain in the neck in a small spot. The ones I’ve used (my 3 boat and the camp 6 boat) are all easy to unhook and move around separately from the car if I need to park them in a regular parking spot.


Seems like it is the # of boats
one or two boats, go for the roof rack, more than that go for a trailer, that being said, I am still roof racking 4 boats, but I am starting to seriously look at trailers. Trailers can be a pain, but the ease of loading and unloading seems to balance the negatives.

Used a trailer when I had a 16’…
…aluminum canoe that was too heavy to lift alone. I now have much lighter solo canoe that I can carry either in the back of a pickup or on foam blocks on a sedan. I bought a very small street-legal trailer for about $200 (then), which I assembled myself, probably meant for 8’ fishing prams. Worked fine, except I didn’t have a good storage place-wound up storing it on end, which damaged the lights. Also requires a minimal state license. And a trailer hitch, of course.

trailer vs roof rack
I also use both. One yak goes on the roof and I am off. If I use my shoter kayak - it’s the trailer.

BUT - I have an enclosed trailer that is loaded with all of my windsurfing equipment and my other kayak (plus paddle, etc.). It is quicker to hitch up and go with this, than to load up on to the roof rack. Plus, the enclosed trailer is my second garage.

No extra insurance. Wheel bearings are fine for several years (as long as you don;t immerse in water) plus the wheels are 14 inch larger tires. With electric brakes as well - so it is much safer to drive.

A well-built trailer is dependable and will last. Trying to get by with undersized wheels will burn out bearings and tire quickly and be a pain.

Good and bad points with both
* Cost: Ours cost about $1000 plus $40 to extend the tongue. More expensive than a roof rack, but as you pointed out, similar to the cost of roof rack with “helper” sideloaders. The main thing to remember about the cost is that the trailer can be used with ANY vehicle that has a ball mount and has the guts to pull a trailer (with kayak trailers, this is not much of a requirement). You don’t have to fret about rain gutters or not, too short a roofline on your friend’s car, the roof’s or crossbars’ load limits, etc. A trailer is a cinch to switch from one vehicle to another, making it LESS expensive in a two-vehicle (or more) household in which different roof racks would be required.

  • Theft: Lock your spare tire to the tongue mount (small padlock works fine). Lock your coupler to the ball (ditto). Lock your hitch bar to the receiver itself; you can buy cylindrical locks that do the latter two using the same key. If you’re really worried, get a hitch bar with integral (welded-on) ball instead of the more typical hitch bar with ball bolted on. OR, if your tow rig has a shock sensor, set it to be sensitive enough that someone trying to steal your trailer will set off the alarm. People can steal kayaks from roofs, too. This is not a make-or-break factor.

  • Length of tow rig and trailer: Parking can be an issue in some places. But trailers for kayaks can easily be unhitched and manually pulled to park in those places. I can move our 300-lb snowmobile trailer loaded with kayaks in such manner. Normally, I leave the trailer hitched up, because if you own a trailer, you will have practiced things like backing up, anyway. It ain’t rocket science. As for Driving, with a heavy trailer/load and very light/small tow rig, it is possible to have the tail wagging the dog while driving. However, this will not be an issue with kayak trailers. I pulled our trailer using a Jeep Wrangler, and it worked well. Longer wheelbases are better, though.

  • Insurance and registration: For a trailer, both are CHEAP.

    The only advantages of roof racks over trailers that I care about are the following:
  • Without a trailer, more car-camping sites are suitable.
  • Transporting a tow rig with trailer on a ferry costs much more than just transporting a car/truck (which itself costs far, far more than just transporting paddler and kayak).

    For my husband and me, the first item is only rarely a concern, and the second item will be of concern on one trip we have planned (we will use his roof rack in that case). Overall balance comes out that the trailer’s slight disadvantages are outweighed by the plusses of easy loading/unloading, visibility of kayaks while driving, no loss of gas mileage, and much lower chance of personal injury. For those who want to haul lots of kayaks, a snowmobile trailer like ours can carry about 1000 lbs, whereas a roof rack is limited to 150 lbs.

    Maintenance consists of keeping the tires inflated properly and occasionally pumping a grease gun into the axle–if you can’t handle that, then you probably can’t handle kayaking!

i already had a trailer
for a small sailboat (sunfish). now i keep a couple of kayaks on the trailer ready for transport to a nearby boat ramp, for me its more convenient. my boats are not that heavy (30-40 lbs) and i use the roof racks occasionally but i’m storing them on the trailer anyway so putting them on the top of the car is unnecessary. trailering is easy if you get used to it. the boat ramps around here have parking for car/trailer combos so parking is not a problem.

Besides the extra insurance,
the extra registration and the extra maintenance, the biggest problem that I would have with a trailer is the parking and the many dead end single track places that we have thrown our canoes and kayaks in the water.

With a trailer you would have to pass up a lot of good one vehicle length parking spots.

Our lives, (my wife and I) revolve so much around paddling that our vehicle purchases are based on the ability to be able to carry our boats, as much as carrying ourselves.



Consensus emerging…
It seems like all who has trailer also have roof rack!

So, the equation appears to have changed a bit. The cost of the trailer is ON TOP OF the cost of racks, not instead of.

On the other hand, some of you have mentioned a few other advantage of trailer I haven’t thought of: storing gears on the trailer saving the hassle of loading and unloading gear at begining and end of trip, and expanded boat carrying capability. Considering how much a boat cost (and how much a chiroprater’s visit cost), even the ADDITIONAL cost of trailer still seem worth considering.

So, I can see the advantage of trailer are:

– No lifting of heavy boats (the BIGGY)

– Gear organization and storage in one (promote more paddling)

– Multi-boat carrying

And the REAL disadvantages are:

– COST, on top of roof racks.

– Difficulty in driving into tight spots.

The last one can be an important issue for people doing river trips. But I don’t do much of that. The sea is what turns me on. (Actually, I do river too, but usually fast rivers in whitewater kayak. I guess the roof rack is good for that anyway. They are a lot lighter than a sea kayak. In any case, a 6 foot whitewater kayak will fit even INSIDE!)

I’d like to thank Pickabike in particular for the detail analysis of the pros and cons of trailer vs. roof rack, because it’s base on first-hand experience. Beats some of the ranting without supporting evidence. I wouldn’t have thought of un-hitching the trailer when need to park in a tight area. (I’ve seen it done, it took literally only 30 seconds. Just didn’t make the connection on its use for helping manuvering)

ABC…Lighten Up a Little
"Ranting"? Chill out. You must be new here. Learn to play with others.

“Unsupported Evidence” One of my best friends, also a Pnet (loon138) memeber of many years, had to leave his TRAILER in a field next a busy highway with a locked-up, burned-up wheel bearing for several hours while he went in search of a new wheel assembly.

My opinions are mostly founded in experience. I too had a trailer when I was younger. I went through an intersection and a car in a hurry took my Jon Boat out.

This board is made up of a fantastic cross section of every type of paddler from every part of the country. You need to remember that when you ask a question, you need to RESPECT all of the answers. They are other opinions you have sought. You are beating up on the opinion you did not want to hear. Think about that please.

If you can’t stand the heat?
then get the hell out of the kitchen!

You’re the one who wrote: “Trailer zealots, GO!” Now, you want “respect”??? Have you ever wondered why you didn’t get respect BOTH time around?

I don’t own a trailer, so I don’t even qualify as a “trailer zealot” myself. But as you can see from others who had extensive trailering experience, many of your so-called disadvantage have simple and inexpensive solutions.

As for trailer being hit and lossing your boat? Balance that chance with dropping the boat while loading on the roof! Not me, but I witnessed it on a take-out. Not only boat demage, also a twisted ankle and 6-week back pain as well. And none of that were covered by insurance either. ;o)

Take your own advice. Lighten up! ;o)

Whoa!!! Did you miss a dose…

– Last Updated: Dec-12-05 12:11 AM EST –

of your meds today? I personally don't care one way or the other about the TRAILER issue. I was only stating that you would be best served if you thanked everyone for their opinions. And not take exception to ANY. I have been around here a long time and i was just trying to give you a heads up about how we play here.

I feel bad for you.

(I am backing off of this now so Brent does not have to send it to B&B. Also not worth the brain cells)

Roof rack came 1st but was unsatisfactor
In our case, we did the roof rack thing first because my husband already owned one for his vehicle. When we bought kayaks, we very quickly got fed up with putting them on the roof; we have had the trailer for 5 years now and use it two to three times a week (except in winter).

We have NEVER used the roof rack since getting the trailer and only plan to use it for a big trip to AK next year.

It’s nice to have the roof rack as backup, but I don’t consider it necessary other than for the one trip mentioned above. I too have a short kayak (10’ long) and I simply carry that in the truck bed. I also have rack tracks on my topper–just have not needed to make use of them. My husband’s roof rack fits on rainguttered rooves and will not work with the T-slot tracks on my topper anyway.

The big question you need to ask yourself is whether you have parking space for a trailer AT HOME. Even then, there is at least one kayak trailer that folds up for storage. Pretty handy.

I think I’ll get rid of my sea kayaks
…and only paddle very short WW playboats, because the longer boat is more likely to be hit by someone else!

And I’m going to ride a motorcycle instead of driving a car/truck because it’s smaller and therefore less of a target for someone else!