Using a canoe as a cargo box?

I’m going camping for a couple of weeks with my wife and 3 small kids, and I’d like to bring the canoe. To do that I will need to leave my rooftop cargo box behind. With all that empty space inside the canoe that shouldn’t be a problem, but I haven’t figured out the best way to close up the canoe so my stuff doesn’t fall out.

Has anyone tried this before? I would have thought it would be common, but either it isn’t or my Google-fu has failed me. Any suggestions? I am thinking of maybe cutting a tarp to fit over the gunwales and then running a rope around the hull / lashing it to the thwarts / seats / yoke.

Ideally I’d be able to put the canoe and contents on and take them off separately, so as not to have to lift all that weight at once - so I’ve also been thinking of putting a plywood deck on the roof, tying the luggage to it in the appropriate spots, and then dropping the canoe on top of that so it slots over the luggage (if that makes any sense).

Any and all ideas welcome



I’ve never tried it, but I know a guy…
who uses his canoe as a cargo box often. He uses kayak cradles to hold the canoe right side up, and loads gear in the open canoe, keeping the heavier stuff to the center and leaving the ends either empty or with light gear.

I doubt it’s recommended, but he hasn’t damaged his canoe yet.

Your way is certainly easier on the canoe.

make sure of two things
Don’t exceed the weight capacity of your rack system.

You need to have a water proof cover of some type if you carry the canoe gunwales up. A sudden cloudburst can put quite a weight of water in an open boat, especially a long tandem. If that happens, you will likely need to bail out the water before you can get the boat off the vehicle.

Sounds like a disaster
waiting to happen if you ask me. Safe transport in my opinion requires that canoe be placed upside down on good quality rack and properly tied to both cross bars and front and rear of vehicle. Keep in mind that when things fly off a vehicle they can cause very significant injury to yourself, your family, and the families driving near you on the highway. Just one man’s opinion. Don’t take chances with this. There is too much at stake.

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No reason it can’t be done

– Last Updated: Jul-24-14 12:56 PM EST –

Look how many cars you see with big cargo bags strapped to the roof. This is weight that is NOT supported by the rack. The rack just serves as anchorage for the tie-downs that keep the cargo bag in position. Now imagine a canoe on the rack, and a cargo bag on the roof. The rack is under no more stress in this situation than it would be when carrying the boat and no gear on the roof, and the wind load applied to the gear bag will be much less than it would otherwise be. I see nothing inherently dangerous about that. Your car will be a little more top-heavy, maybe even enough that you can feel the difference, but there's no reason to drive like an Indy-car driver anyway.

You may need to be inventive in how you arrange your gear, but chances are, there's a way to put your gear in cargo bags (resting on the roof, not suspended within the boat), arranged to miss the thwart locations. If you want to suspend the gear within the boat, make sure your rack is sturdy enough.

I agree with the advice about not carrying the boat right-side up, at least if you live in places where it can rain hard. It's not just a matter of needing to bail it out to get it off the rack. That water will slosh around even if all you do is slowly find a parking spot, and it will all run to one end when you stop, start, or park on even the most-gentle slope. There may be 50 or 100 pounds or more worth of water, which could likely break something (either your boat or your rack). Imagine 100 pounds or more of water all at one end of the boat while the boat is supported on saddles that are only a few feet apart near the boat's center. Something's gonna break in that situation.

Canoe Packs
I’ve made several long trips, 1200 miles round trip, with gear in canoe packs on the roof under a canoe. Biggest problem was the strap ends flapping around and hitting the roof. We ended up using duct tape to fasten the strap ends against the straps to keep the noise from driving us crazy. Canoe kept the packs in place and there was no damage to the roof even though the packs were coated in dust from 300 miles of dirt road.


I like
The idea of using dry bag duffles or packs under the canoe much better than the idea of using the canoe as the container, most everyone carries a canoe upside down because it secures better and rides better. part of the equasion is also the distance of the journey.

a couple of bungees might be good enough to get me to the local stream, multiple tie downs and redundancy for next month’s trip to maine

cargo box
I bought a Sawyer Charger from a guy that used his canoe as a cargo box. After a while it literally started to fall apart. Canoes are relatively fragile when they are out of the water and supported in only two places like on a roof rack. I would urge a lot of caution in executing your plan. Light stuff only.


Canoe as Box
1) Get longer load bars and a narrow roof box. 2) Get waterproof duffels and place next to the canoe (on racks)and secure to the racks front and back. 3) Remove carry yoke of the canoe and place canoe over waterproof duffels (again canoe on rack). On my last trip I saw a guy with a canoe (on a rack) face up and a kayak inside the canoe. He also had a bike rack with 3 bikes on a trunk rack. He was not on the highway or going very far and it seemed to work for him. I would never do it though.

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that’s what I’ve always used the trunk
portion of a SUV/truck/car…etc…for. Get yourself a made-to-fit liner for your trunk and USE that portion of the vehicle instead of wasteing it on empty space.

Seems like an odd assumption
Do you really think he normally goes on two-week vacation trips with a roof-top box because it never occurred to him to put anything inside the car? Every time I’ve seen exterior boxes being used by people going on extended vacation trips, it was because there wasn’t enough room everything inside. I can’t imagine why one’s first impulse would be to assume the opposite.


I recently purchased a Yakima cargo basket for the purpose of carrying my canoe higher as well as carrying additional gear. It attaches to the factory crossbars and has it own crossbars at the top giving me an additional +7” allowing the lift gate to open fully with the 16’9” canoe loaded. I haven’t really loaded much gear in the basket yet, only local trips recently but the system works well. The load bars at the top of the basket are moveable and could be arranged to match locations of thwarts and yoke (additional available) making arranging gear easier. If well planed I see no reason not to try it. Good luck and have a fun trip.

Not to mention that it’s a lot more work getting stuff topside than it is into the cargo area of a vehicle.

I do it using the floorboards of my homemade canoe. I take the floorboard out land lash it to the roofrack, lash gear on to the floorboard and put the canoe over the top. I use the floorboard because I have it and it is the right size. My advice is get some boards and lash or U bolt them to the racks arranged so the canoe will sit over them. Lash your gear to the boards cover with canoe. Not totally weatherproof and a hassle for a daily load up but for once up and back on a trip works great.

Huh? Maybe I am not understanding.

As above, why would anyone not fill space in their vehicle before looking at roof options?

I get the idea of overflow. A second kayak comes along on longer trips and often has a little lightweight stuff in it. This year the winner is TP and paper towels but usually other stuff.

But the car is fully loaded first.

OP mentioned three small kids. At this point, he has three teenagers taking up space in whatever vehicle he’s driving now.

Small kids require social distancing – “he touched me”, “stop it”, “get away from me”, “mom, charlie wiped his booger on me…”

And each kid requires lots of clothes and snacks and chunky toys and bedtime stuff and…

Our two kids always filled a Volvo wagon to the brim, plus the box on top, and (my bike) toys on top.

The OP did not have an empty car. I can assure you of that. :slight_smile:

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Maybe you needed to look higher. Big Spencer above seems to be suggesting the op-er is not taking advantage of space inside the car. Which both Guideboatguy and l found to be very odd idea.

Kids or stuff, either way most people do use the space they have inside the vehicle.


Apologies…I misread your posting.

No problem. I am still confused.

Sounds like one of those ideas where it works great until it doesn’t.