Transporting canoe with compact car

Hello, I am shopping for my first canoe and would prefer at least a 16ft one. My question is does anyone have any experience transporting this length canoe with real compact cars. I drive a 2002 Saturn S1. I will either purchase a Thule or Yakima rack but am concerned my canoe will be to long to safely be transported with my car. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


no problem …
back in the day, i used to run my 18’ Grumman barge around on top of my 74’ VW … they don’t get much more compact than that. i used Thule bars buttoned to the rain gutters.

Look into these options
If you can put a receiver hitch on your Saturn, look at the Yakima Dry Dock or the Thule Goalpost. They both hook up to the hitch & provide an extra bar off the back of the vehicle. You can mount whatever accesories you need to the bar. We’re using this type of setup for a 22’ kayak on a Honda Element (Yakima roof rack - 2 bars - with a set of saddles up front, then a set of rollers, then the Dry Dock on the hitch with a set of rollers on that bar too). This gets some of the weight off the roof rack & provides support farther back on the vehicle & puts the supports farther apart on the canoe.

Good luck.

Strap it down
Make sure to use good straps and tie the front to the bumper. If your canoe hangs more then 4’ off the back I suggest you hang a red flag from the stern. Not only will this keep others from hitting your canoe but is a great help when backing up with the canoe on the car.

Consider a class 1 hitch and utility
trailer, instead of a high-tech, super expensive roof rack. I labored over this dilemna about the car for a couple of weeks, realized that the driving vision would be greatly impaired from the canoe and the risks were high if using a roof rack. I went to a class 1 hitch and light utility trailer, and it pulls and loads like a dream. Good luck, mickjetblue

No problem
I hauled two canoes up and back to Canada on my wifes Saturn sw1. You will difinitely need cross front and rear tiedowns because the canoe will not have a wide enough spread between the bars to go with out any. I have done it and both the car and canoes came back alright. ( although there was one scout I wanted to kill…)

I have a 2002 SL2…
…and was looking at equipping it with racks. I have several solo canoes, from 14’ to just shy of 16’. One thing the Yakima site says is that canoes must not exceed 14’ in length for that application. In my opinon, as long as you securely tie the bow & stern to both corners of the front and rear, you should be ok w/ a 16’ boat. It might move a little bit at high speeds, in crosswinds, or when approaching a semi, but shouldn’t be a big problem. I do highly recommend using gunwhale brackets to help keep the side to side motion to a minimum.

In the end, I never put racks on the car. I still carry everything on my truck with 9’ between the crossbars. Some good advice was also given in this thread about using a hitch mounted support. The farther apart you can get the bars the better.


I use a Toyota Corolla
Mainly use it for solo trips with one 13’-15’ solo canoe, but we did use it to haul two 15’ solo canoes to the BWCA and back for a total distance of 2500 miles. Have Yakima racks and used one set of gunnel brackets, two on each boat, both were cross tied bow and sterm.


short cars, long boats
The crossbar to crossbar distance as stated above is important. The longer this distance the better the boat is secured against crosswinds and lifting. With a short roofed car the rack spread is limited and you really need gunwale brackets and end ropes.

The one good thing about the short car is that both end ropes pull inward towards the car. The front ropes will prevent the boat from sliding forward, and the rear ropes keep it from sliding rearward. With the racks so close to the center of the canoe, there is very little taper to the hull. Your racks are at the widest and straightest part of the canoe. The gunwale brackets can prevent side to side movement, but can not do much against the forward-rearward movements.

Adding a hitch mounted bar can help by putting the cross bars further apart and the gunwale brackets will bear against a much more tapered part of the canoe. The trade-off is that the canoe is now centered over your trunk and not the center of your roof. You will have much more canoe behind your rear bumper. This you need to stay aware of in parking lots and when backing up. If you park facing in, your canoe is hanging 5 feet or so into the aisle. And you risk any high vehicle crunching into your canoe as they drive down the aisle. Backing into a parking space is safer, you just need to be sure there is clearance behind you over the curb or into the space behind you. And hanging a flag from the canoe is a great idea, it is actually self defense.

A friend of mine hauled a 21 foot long rowing shell on top of a Plymouth Champ at less than 12 feet, with a bar spread of about 3 feet. Hauled it hundreds of miles.

Last tip is to put good eyebolts under your bumper for your end ropes. Todays cars have lots of sharp sheet-metal and plastic trim and very few good accessible anchor points on the chassis.

Good luck,


Compact cars…
I have a Chevy Cobalt 4dr and use Yakima racks. I use bolt on web straps under the hood and trunk lid to tie down the ends. I carry a 15’ canoe with no problems. I can email pictures if you send your email.

Pat #2

High Winds
Don’t know if you experience sudden high winds where you live. If you do a canoe strapped to a small rig can blow you right out of your traffic lane. I’ve been pushed sideways driving a full size pick-up with kayaks on top while driving through the desert west. In the east where there’s more trees and building blocking wind that may not be much of a problem.

compact cars and canoes

– Last Updated: Aug-26-05 1:51 PM EST –

I carry a 16' Mad River Explorer on a 93 Escort 4dr using foam blocks, two hull straps, two bow ties hooked to "Top Ties" (no point hooking to a plastic front bumper), and a single stern tie hooked to a class I hitch. No movement at 70-75 mph, and total cost was about $70.

I looked into the Thule and Yakima setups, but I really have a hard time putting a $250 rack on my $200 car...

Edited to add: Your car is probably longer than you think it is.

Foam blocks won’t work if the roof line
is too curved. If the roof line is too curved, the gunwales will rest on the car top in the middle of the roof. I gave some foam pipe insulation to a couple guys that I saw loading an 18’ Souris River on to a car with a curved roof and the center thwart and gunwales were touching the roof. I think there may be some thicker (taller) foam blocks available for this situation.

Some folks use foam blocks all their lives with no problem. I prefer racks beacause I seem much less likely to mess up the car finish than if I use only blocks.

I got my first Thule rack for my (former) Rabbit GTI for $10 at a church garage sale. I was very lucky. Since that time, I’ve preferred racks to foam blocks. Foam blocks are definately easier to store when not in use.

foam blocks
I ordered mine from, they’ve got 4.25" and 5" tall blocks. I would think either height would work fine on a S-series Saturn…

If a MINI can do it…

– Last Updated: Aug-26-05 4:04 PM EST –

I drive a MINI Cooper and I have Yakima racks on my roof. My car and I have hauled a flatwater canoe (Old Town Discovery 158) and several different whitewater canoes without difficulty. One at a time, of course.

The crossbars are separated by a mere 18", which had me nervous at first, but the canoe turned out to be more stable than the sea kayak. The canoe was longer than the car on both sides (MINI is a mere 11'11" in length), so I tied the canoe to the rack normally but tied the bow & stern lines with two ropes instead of just one. One of those ropes was the painter that normally lives on the canoe. We started the second rope at one of the thwarts and looped it around the boat before tying it in. We did the same in the back. It was really stable, even around the semis on the highway.

Here's a photo just before we set out on our trip:

It worked great. I set the ropes differently on the way home, but stuck with the looping around the boat idea because it seemed to work well.