How to Strap a Kayak to a Roof Rack – Step By Step Guide!

Anyone who kayaks will tell you that knowing how to to transport their kayak on their next outing is a necessity.

Most people don’t live in close enough proximity to a body of water to have the luxury of being able to just walk their kayak down to the water. Because of this, most of us just find it easier strap our kayak to the roof of our car and head out.

Luckily for us, most modern cars are more than well equipped for carrying our kayaks, thanks to storage racks you can find on the roof.

Step 1 – Lay Out The Straps

The first thing you will need to do is hook the kayak straps onto the front and back crossbars attached to your roof rack. To do this, you will need to pass one end of each kayak strap around the base of each cross bar.

​Kayak or boat straps have an end that contains a buckle and an end without a buckle. When performing this step, we recommend you pass the end without the buckle around the crossbar base.

While you do this, hold the end with the buckle in your other hand so that it doesn’t rub against the paint of your car, or worse, break a window. When you get the kayak strap looped around, let both ends of the strap rest gently against the car and move on to the second strap.

Once you have securely wrapped the kayak straps around the crossbars, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2 – Place The Kayak On The Roof Rack Crossbars

For this next step you will want to exercise just a bit of caution and careful handling as not to damage your car or kayak.

​It’s important to note that before you place your kayak on the crossbars of your roof rack, you may want to pad them with foam or another type of cushioning where the kayak will be resting.

Doing this will help assure that you don’t damage your kayak if it bounces or slides at all as you are transporting it.

If you have a friend to help you lift the kayak onto the roof of your car or SUV, all the better. If not, that is fine too as most kayaks are fairly lightweight. If yours is bigger, you may need to first position your kayak at an angle behind your vehicle, and then lift up on the back of the kayak and slide it up onto the roof rack.

Your kayak will need to be placed upside down onto the cushioned areas of the crossbars. The reason that you want to do it this way is because you can damage the whole of the kayak by placing it right side up on the racks, as the crossbars can create small imperfections across the bottom of your craft. When this happens, you run a risk of the kayak not being able to track straight, and a myriad of other problems.

It should be centered or as close to centered as you can get it positioned. If you have a lengthier kayak, it will probably hang out a bit above your windshield. This is perfectly normal and that is actually how it should be.

Step 3 – Lay The Straps Across The Kayak

Next, you will lay the straps across the hull of the kayak.

​Take the end of the strap without the buckle and throw it over the top of the kayak to the opposite side of your vehicle. Do this for both straps.

​For the buckle end of the straps you will probably want to just walk them around to the opposite side of your vehicle.

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to throw this end of the kayak strap and ding up your paint job. Make sure your do not have any twists or other kinks in the straps before you proceed to the next step.

Step 4 – Tighten The Straps

This final step is the hardest because you want to be really careful.

​At this point, you should have both ends of each strap hanging from the hull of the kayak. You will want the buckle end of each strap to be somewhere close to the center of the side of the kayak as this will give us more leverage to work with when we start tightening it down.

Once you have adjusted your kayak strap buckles to sit roughly where you need them, take the other end of the strap and pass it underneath the crossbar and up through tge buckle.

Before you tighten it down too much, do the same process for the other strap. The tighten them both the rest of the way. Make sure to either tie off the rest of the strap or tuck it into your door so it is not flapping in the wind as you drive. Also, don’t forget to attach additional straps or rope from the ends of your kayak to each bumper on your vehicle.

And there you go; your kayak is now properly and safely strapped to your roof rack.

A Few Items That Will Make It Easier

Kayak Dollie

If you have a relatively heavy kayak and you’ve ever strapped it to your vehicle before then you know how much of a headache it can be.

But if you have a hand dollie laying around somewhere that you can use, then your job just got a lot easier. You can place the dollie on



It’s a good idea to have plenty of phone or another soft cushion material to place around certain sections of the cross bars on your roof rack so as not to damage your kayak.

One quick and inexpensive way to do this is with pool noodles. You can get pool noodles and just about any large retail store or online.


These are typically hollow, so all you would have to do is cut them down the center and then slide the crossbar through the slot of the pool noodle and tape the ends with some duct tape to secure it.


Extra Straps

​You may be surprised to know that boat straps come up missing or just simply get lost quite frequently, so we recommend you keep a few back up pairs around.

You can order extra straps online or purchase them from just about any sporting goods store.


Kayak Cradle​

​If you are truly dedicated to keeping your kayak in the best possible condition even during transportation, then you should really consider investing in a kayak cradle or saddle. These are aftermarket accessories that you can add to your roof rack or replace your roof rack with them altogether. Kayak cradles and saddles are designed to give your kayak the most stability and padding.

This is to make sure that it not only stays securely attached to the roof of your vehicle, but also doesn’t get damaged.


Our Final Say

Knowing how to properly transport your kayak from one place to the next is indeed a necessity.

Luckily with some basic knowledge and a little bit of effort anyone can securely strap their kayak to their roof rack. If you have a second person helping you of course all of this will be a lot easier, otherwise this guide should be all you need.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or felt we left anything out, please feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

Til next time, happy kayaking!

KayakBest is among the largest and most dedicated kayak review sites. We aim to help enthusiasts discover the best tips and products for an enjoyable paddling experience.

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