Why get a kayak roof rack?

I have a roof rack on which I put piping insulation over the bars and place my kayaks hull-side up. I then secure them with straps to the bars and ropes to the bow and stern. Why do people spend money on attachments to place their boats on their racks hull-side down? I see the benefit of J and vertical racks if you need space but with 86" crossbars, I don’t need it. What is the benefit? What am I missing? Why should I spend the money?


1 Like

Some kayaks have pointy decks
and don’t ride very well on plain ole padded load bars.

Flatter decked boats do fine that way.

Should YOU spend the money?

– Last Updated: Sep-24-12 10:11 AM EST –

Apparently the answer is "no", since you are happy with your method.

The first answer posted is one good reason for using special racks. Another is that plastic kayaks easily get dented at the points of contact with the rack (I've been noticing all this summer that nearly all the rec boats I see strapped to cross bars with pool-noodle padding have deep dents in the hull). A lot of people wouldn't like this, even if it were only the top deck with dents. With racks having a lot more surface area, denting will only happen to the boats of those careless folks who cinch things down way too tightly. Many boats can be hard to tie down firmly enough that they don't slip and wander around on the roof rack, especially longer boats or if the spread between bars isn't much (too little spread is a very common situation on today's cars). Form-fitting racks are the easiest way to deal with that problem. Finally, some kayaks are light and somewhat fragile, and tying them tightly enough to keep them in place on such a tiny amount of surface area (you won't find a "flattish" contact point anywhere on most "good" boats) would be inviting damage, which is a bad thing since lightweight boats are not "disposable" like so many plastic ones are.

By the way, pipe insulation doesn't provide any real padding, just scratch prevention and some extra "stickiness". The cross bars I use when carrying more than one boat are made of 2x4s, and lack carpeting at one end to allow placement of clamp-on, home-built mounting brackets for J-hooks. When carrying two canoes, one gunwale of one boat rides on that bare wood, so I place a bit of pipe insulation around the gunwale at each contact point. I don't make the tie-downs all that tight, but even so, when the foam pieces are removed afterward they only have the thickness of heavy paper (thus, used on normal cross bars, the padding does virtually nothing to increase contact area. You wouldn't notice this on insulation permanently attached to the cross bars, but you wouldn't miss it when looking at a removable piece right after use).

Here ya go
This illustrates the situation pretty well for a car with small crossbar spacing and a boat with a peaked foredeck. Try picturing this boat on the crossbars deck down, the spacing is less than the cockpit length…


Weight limits of factory cross bars

– Last Updated: Sep-24-12 6:48 AM EST –

Are often/usually much lighter than the weight limits of third party towers and cross bars.

You say two kayaks - if you are talking about plastic 16ft or so sea kayaks you could be talking up to 60 pounds each and it would be worth reviewing the load limits on your factory bars. If you are talking a couple of short rec boats it is another matter.

There is also the mater of spacing between the cross bars, often can be made safer by going third party if you are talking about longer boats.

As Guideboatguy has already pointed out, pipe insulation gets squashed. Insulation is not made designed to resist sustained compressive loads.

If you use “thin” insulation it will squash to almost nothing. If you use “thick” insulation it will squash and your straps will get loose.

That doesn’t mean you need to spend big bucks for fancy Thule or Yakima saddles.

A better budget option are the minicel foam blocks made for the purpose, such as http://salamanderpaddlegear.com/shop/foam-blocks

Why get a kayak roof rack? For me it’s
been a God send.

I have a Thule Hullavator. Sure with the bars and feet it was pricey (for some), but it’s made a world of difference for this short 5’2" gal (think kayakaholic)to get her sea kayak on top of the Ford Explorer. SUPER EASY, for me and NO HASSLE. Love it!!!FYI, watch some of the kayak/sport websites, as I bought mine at a 20% discount.

I carry all kayaks cockpit down, hull up
However, I do use Thule racks. But the same system should be usable on factory racks.

I use the kind of thick foam blocks that clip onto bars, not thin pipe insulation. I carve the foam blocks to fit the curve or peak of the upside down front and back decks.

This system allows the kayak to nestle into soft concave cradles, allows me to cinch the straps tight against the resilient foam blocks, and doesn’t require a cockpit cover to keep out rain.

I also think a cockpit down carry is more streamlined against the wind and less likely to generate a wind up-force on the bow strap.

curious about cockpit down…
do you slide the kayak up on it’s hull then flip or do you put on already cockpit down perhaps always having help to do so? I know I can’t just slide mine up inverted because all the deck lines and probably the cockpit rim would catch.

three reasons
Safer with less input.

More protective of the boat

Most importantly, looks cooler.

Ryan L.

No sliding. Lift from side.

– Last Updated: Sep-24-12 8:28 PM EST –

Even in my old age I can lift my kayaks over my head with two arms locked. I load the kayaks from the side of the vehicle, even my full size van.

The blocks are always positioned all the way to the side of the bars if I am carrying one or two hulls, unless I am using a really low vehicle like my Saab for one hull. This is so I can get the boats on the blocks from the side.

I stand next to the vehicle between the bars and either lift the whole kayak over my head onto both blocks at the same time, or I just lift the bow up onto the bow block first. I put the bow in the bow block with only a little sliding. Too much slide may rotate the bow foam block and knock it over, but that's okay as long as the bow is up there. I fix it later.

With the bow on the upright or knocked over bow block, I lift the stern with both arms onto the stern block. Then I go back to the bow, lift up the kayak an inch, and re-position the bow block under the boat.

You can even put the kayak on the blocks hull down, and then flip it over once it's up there.

I also have Thule Outriggers inside the Thule load bars on my high van, which can be extended outward to assist the side load. I would normally only extend the bow Outrigger and do the bow-first load. Lift the bow onto the Outrigger, lift the stern into the stern block, then lift the bow sideways off the Outrigger into the foam block.

You can fiddle the boat forward and backward, but that may knock the blocks over and you'll have to re-position them by lifting the hull an inch again. With practice, it goes fast. I have to use a 3 or 4 step ladder on my high van, but I have to do that with that vehicle no matter how I'm affixing kayaks or canoes.

You could prevent the blocks from rotating or moving by taping them to the bars, but I don't do that because I don't want to drive around with foam blocks on my vehicle. Nor do I want semi-permanent yak saddles on my vehicle, which is why I much prefer easily removable foam blocks.

I should point out that if you have a very peaked front deck and short bar spacing, you may not be able to carve enough depth into standard commercial foam blocks, but you can always make your own from minicell.

Here's a picture of my van with a 17'-2" Surge seakayak in the middle and a 22'-3" Huki outrigger on the side, both supported on standard foam blocks with minor carving of the bow blocks. To get the kayak in the middle, I have to do it with one of the side boats removed. I just lift it (36 lbs.) onto the bar, and then crab-walk it to the middle where the foam blocks are. All using the step ladder for reach.


Can you home made rack carry bikes?

– Last Updated: Sep-24-12 10:27 PM EST –

If you can get a bike attachment on your insulation piping rack, post a picture.

I normally put my bike inside. But when I'm on vacation, the back is filled with camping gear + paddling gear. Bike goes on the roof free up interior room.

And lets face it, racks are mostly catering to bikes rather than boats. Just count the number of boats vs number of bikes on the highway. For every boat you see, you'll see 3-5 bikes! I bought all my base racks used. Each time it came with a bike carrier whether I want it or not! I had to buy the kayak carrier extra. Never did I get a kayak carrier as a freebee.

Thank you
Thanks to everyone for the replies. They are just what I needed!

It sounds like I should invest in some foam blocks. I just need to see what will fit on a Whispbar.

I own Thule and Yakima stock

How much did you pay for your boat?
In my case I paid $1700, but the boat was worth $4,000+ new. In this case the $150 invested in the rack is insurance for my investment. It is easier to swing my 19’ boat onto my roof and secure it while solo without risk of bumping while putting it up there or deforming while lashed securely.

If you have $400 invested in your boat and don’t expect to get much more at resale, it’s pristine condition is probably not so important.

I think the high end racks make it easier to secure well also. Not so much in my case as my SUV is tall and I am not so gettting the straps over the boat and under the bars take a little more effort than I like.

I think the nicer the boat the more likely you will see a high end kayak holder on the roof, or if the users are not as strong, swinging a boat into a nice kayak rack makes it easier.

I always think of the other guy. What would happen if a boat wouls go airborn on the highway? I have seen some horribly strapped and jury-rigged car topping systems over the years. It is an investment for your boat and for fellow drivers.

that speaks to installation more than
…how much safer thule and yakima racks are than a handmade setup.

Additionally I think the j cradles decrease safety because it’s another fitting with another fit point. Something else with the possibility of failing.

some of this stuff is for convenience, which is fine.

Yes sir,

– Last Updated: Oct-25-12 10:44 AM EST –

I think Yakima and Thule are both high quality products. I use Thule feet and bars, just prefer them for my use. I had a set of Yakima J cradles fail in the North Carolina/Virginia mountains. Hit some serious cross winds around Fancy Gap Virginia and twisted the J cradle mounting bracket right off the front load bar. Luckily I had the bow tied down to two front anchor points and the rear held. The kayak was hanging down on the drivers side window but did no damage to anything else.

These were some serious cross winds. I saw the sign that warned about them in the area. Slowed and saw the trucks, campers and trailers getting blown into other lanes as they went through the gap where the wind was crossing. When it hit us it just tore the front mount off. I had a Yakima cargo box on the wind side and it held fine. Stout setup on the cargo box.

What about safety?
Remember, the topic is basically a question as to whether kayak cradles add any significant advantage to strapping the kayak directly to the bars.

I’m not sure that cradles attached to the bars adds any safety re the kayak being blown off the vehicle. The same straps will still go around the same bars. In fact, the additional cradle attachments and gizmos probably add more points of potential failure – though I think the whole issue is rather marginal.

Hull side down
is the way I transport my Kayak. I have Thule roof rack for my Toyota 4-runner, which is padded, but my Delta 17 has such a rounded forrard deck, that I need foam blocks. I have straps going over the kayak at the bulkheads and bow and stern have straps to front and rear bumpers. Being an older vehicle the bumpers are not plastic. The front one is a custom built to prevent deer going into the radiator in the (not unlikely) event I hit one as it tries to cross the road in front of me.