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I used the Hullavator to replace my 30 year old Thule kayak saddles on my old Land Cruiser. Never had an issue loading my single sea kayak with the old set up but my recent purchase of a tandem Loon made me consider different options. Glad I did.
The Hullavator works exactly as advertised. It is easy to load and lifts the kayak onto the rack with little effort. I leave it on my vehicle through the paddling season and have had zero problems with it. It is very robust and if I ever wear out the gas struts they are easily replaced with ones from my local auto parts store.
The system comes with a video on how to load it, straps for securing the kayak to the arms and extra fore and aft tie-downs. The roof rack bars have locks, but the arms don't so I bought a couple of long cable locks for when I leave the car to kayak.
Every time I use it I find myself saying out loud, "I LOVE this thing!"
Mounting the Hullavator bases to the AeroBlades takes a bit of measuring and cutting of the rubber strips on the bars, but it is a one-time thing. Note that with the Hullavator you will mount metal base pieces onto your bars that are not easily removed. Certainly you will not remove them with each use--they are meant to be there semi-permanently. They have some protruding metal tabs on them which I think pretty much rules out using a car wash with your bars mounted, even if you "remove" the Hullavator cradles. Touchless car washes are the ticket.
Also, removing and mounting the cradles is not for the weak as you have to catch a rod in the heavy cradle piece onto a small tab protruding from the base that is mounted permanently on your bars, all the while holding the heavy cradle vertically, trying not to have it come down on you. You then have remove one hand from supporting the awkward cradle to pull the cradle away from the base just slightly to insert a retention pin into some holes, working against the return struts in the cradle mechanism and being careful to pull down the whole time. Lift it even a nudge and the heavy cradle assembly can unhook from the small tab and come crashing down on you and the side of your vehicle. It's not hard, but you do need some strength and you have to be careful. If you want to leave the cradles in place you don't have to worry about this after the first time mounting them, but they are VERY tall and on my SUV they prevent me from going into any garage when mounted. Plus, as expensive as these are, I prefer storing the cradles with their gas struts, linking and locking mechanisms indoors when not in use.
So I rate them an 8. They work and are unique, but they are expensive and in some ways finicky. There is nothing that in my mind is a good alternative if you need or want these, including the competitor product that has you hanging stuff off the side of your SUV for loading to "walk" your kayak up alternating front to back. That might work, but not as elegantly as the Hullavator.
After EVERY use I rinse the Hullavators with fresh water and wipe them off with a chamois or old towel--not til bone dry by any means, but just to get the excess water off. Every few uses--and definitely at the start and end of the paddling season here in NJ--I spray WD-40 on all the metal parts and wipe off the excess. (I have NO rusting on any hardware and attribute that to the WD-40 treatments.) I also store my Hullavators in my garage between uses, which also helps maintain them. (I have them permanently mounted to my load bars, which I just snap [and lock] on and off the Tracker feet when I go out paddling.
To anyone who has, or is thinking about buying Hullavators, the prices are much more expensive now than what I paid in 2006, so they're a real "investment" in gear. I strongly advise maintaining them, and they'll last and work well for a long time.
For those who are horizontally challenged, getting older and less spry or just plain want an easier and faster method to get moving to the water -- this unit will fit the bill.
Hubby said to buy 2. Didn't argue with him and he likes them too.
Purchased from EMS at 20% off original price.
I spent the next 3 YEARS trying to get Thule to respond to my complaint and honor their guarantee. I had given up all hope until I ran into a Thule representative at a paddle sports show last year in NH. Very dismayed at the lack of customer service response, he actually came out to my car with me, checked out the racks and agreed that Thule had redesigned the system due to the problem I was experiencing. Then he told me he was not actually a sales rep, but the engineer who did the redesign! Within 3 days and 2 emails from Thule I received a complete new rack system with a prepaid voucher for the return of the old one.
I am so happy with the new system. I no longer take my life in my hands while unloading my kayak. Somehow I became immune to the whistle while driving, but at times it does make passengers crazy. I do have the problem with the load arms twisting and not latching easily if I forget to place them in a neutral position after the kayak is loaded.
Without this system, I would not be able to kayak as I am too short...and old... (even with a Subaru Outback)to pick up a 48 lb boat over my head to load it. I have driven, kayak overhead, all over the northeast for countless miles. I have never had a problem (even at 75 mph) with my kayaks shifting or wobbling with them fully secured, front and back included.
The Hullavator has enabled me to get into a sport to which I would otherwise not readily have had access.
I had read the reviews and main issue was the latch issues on earlier releases and key latch. Both seem to have been cured in the current versions and mine has been trouble free. I did want to make an effort to test and report on these two areas for potential future owners.
It works as advertised and it is nice to be able to raise and lower the kayak easily..often with no more strength required than a one hand tug. I did get some advice from others that I think is sound:
First...to make sure the latch mechanism catches in the down position you should make sure that after placing the kayak on the two padded arms that you haven't twisted one or the other arms. After lashing the back side down I slightly lift the kayak front from the arm so it can naturally take its neutral position. Now lash it in place.
After swinging the kayak to the side in preparation for removal make sure each is latched in place. You can check this by pressing the upper hinged part towards the car. Now try raising each arm a bit to see if it is latched or not. On mine that hasn't been a problem but I can see how it could be if care isn't taken. It is also important to place the two basic roof racks square to the roof and equally distant apart to avoid twisting and resultant difficulty in latching. When installing the roof rack itself make sure you don't spread them so far apart that you can't reach both handles and release them at the same time. I suspect that any issues with the latch are more due to user operation than product issues. To make sure I always put the roof rack in the same place I used a permanent marker to make a small dot at the correct location for each rack riser on the car roof at the rain gutter attachment place.
I did check the key locks and they have been trouble free. I have locks on both the Hullivator and the Thule roof rack.
Features not mentioned in other reviews....
When the Hullivator is in the loaded position you can remove the entire unit from the roof rack by removing one steel lock pin...no tools required. This takes a few seconds and means you don't have to leave your Hullivator permanently mounted on your car. WORD of warning though... before removing lock the handle so you and others can't accidentally hit the release handle and collapse the unit. If you do it will swing closed which could be dangerous but even if not...getting it open again requires great care so you don't pinch your fingers, etc.
Finally...the strut used in the Hullivator is a standard strut that is used to hold the hatch open on hatch back cars. They use compressed fluid as a spring/damper. The piston shaft must be kept clean and free of rust. If you use it a lot in salt water environments you may want to clean that strut off occasionally and/or not leave it on the car all the time. If you get rust on the shaft it can cause a failure of the unit...pressure and oil is released by the bad seal.
Final comments...after 6 months of nearly daily use it has been a great device that saves my back. Since it is outside the vehicle it is exposed to weather, dirt etc. so should be kept clean, especially the strut sliding piston shaft.
Yes yes yes to all the complaints, BUT, say no more bad back. Say no more banged up car. Say no more banged up boat. Say that was the easiest I ever loaded my kayak. Say it's a Hullivator to all those people watching on enviously.
After meticulously assembling the rack and Hullavator, testing it without a kayak (seemed to work ok), then loaded up my kayak, but the gas struts did not engage - the second pivot point would not bend. Tried repeatedly, on the phone w/ Thule, dealer over the course of the last three days, have sent photos in etc. etc. but no success. Have made certain the system is locked down, handles are fully squeezed, and on and on – but am getting a different story, suggestions each time I speak with someone and am increasingly concerned I have made a very expensive mistake.
Will update this review if I'm able to resolve anything, but suspect at a minimum I'm out shipping charges and a LOT of time. Disappointed.
I agree with most of the other reviewers that on occasion one of the the supports/cradle arms will release and spring up on its own; but only rarely and never has it caused a problem for me. I recently spoke to a Thule rep at a kayak expo here in NJ, and was reminded that if EVER there is a problem of any kind with the product, there is a lifetime warranty on parts and/or the entire unit and that I could send/bring it back to where it was purchased for a replacement.
Just a couple of more thoughts for potential buyers: these units weigh about 40 lbs.--PLUS the weight of the load bars--so be aware of the load limits of your vehicle's roof. By my putting two Hullavators and two kayaks on my 2005 Ford Escape's roof, I'm probably "pushing it" as far as the total weight on the roof goes. (In fact, I sometimes carry a third boat between the two Hullavators by using Hullaports on the factory crossbars!) I believe most car manufacturers recommend the weight to be carried on factory racks be limited to 125-150 lbs., so the load I carry could cause a problem.
I have had no problem with the Thule system at all, and would recommend the products to anyone. I usually paddle with my son, and we can mount the racks and then load and secure our two boats in 12-15 minutes. (I don't keep the load bars on my rack all the time; I just leave the foot pack(s) mounted in the factory tracks and capped with the TKCAPs. We snap in the load bars on which I have permanently mounted the Hullavator supports; then attach the four cradle "arms"; then load and strap down the boats. We usually also use the bow and stern ratchet tie downs, unless we're just paddling locally.)
Overall, I'm still very pleased with the product and would definitely recommend it. Actually, I think the biggest drawback to the product is its price. It is a very expensive system (as is most everything else that has anything to do with kayaking!)
The load bars on the hullavator won't lock in the down position. I spent several hours after installing it thinking I was doing something wrong. I let go, it goes flying back up. I can in no way get it to lock. So, I need someone to hold the rack while I remove my kayak. Seems dangerous, and I can't use it by myself.
I called the outfitter and the manufacturer. They had no suggestions. For a piece of gear costing over 400.00 you think this company could provide a product that works.
There are serious design flaws in the hullavator. As everyone else has stated, the locking mechanism needs a lot of work.
We also have the whistling issue described in a previous post. I can't wait to test the tape solution. I could not figure out what was making the noise. I didn't realize that there was a new model.
I would definitely buy this again even though I could suggest some improvements.
The hullavators are a fantastic product, but it is true that they sometimes don't latch in the down position. Another annoyance is that they often whistle while driving at highway speeds with a boat in place. I figured out that the whistle came from wind across the slot for the sliding saddle's adjuster. With a boat in place, there is a venturi effect. When the rack is empty, there is no whistle. Anyway, I fixed the situation by adding grey duct tape between the saddles. It matches the grey hullavators exactly.
Just add duct tape. No more whistle.
I gave the hullavators a 9 because they truly are a great product. There's still room for improvement though.
Initially I had a problem with the new XT model in that the arms would not stay locked in the down position when unloading a boat. One (or sometimes both) would dangerously snap up without warning once the weight of the boat was removed. I disassembled this unit and exchanged it for another via Bean's great customer service, and the replacement works perfectly.
As to the older model Hullavator, that one has always worked perfectly, so I'm very pleased with that one. The only thing about that one was that when I opened the box, Thule had erred in packing the parts and sent 3 upper supports with pads and only 1 lower support with pad. So, I had to call Thule directly. They sent the correct part, and I returned the incorrect one.
So all in all, I'm very satisfied with the two Hullavators I have now--and how well they work--but I knocked down the rating a couple of points because of the hassles I had to go through because of Thule's quality control.
Finally, in response to another reviewer saying how cumbersome it is to leave the Hullavator system on her car, I must say that I remove mine when I'm not using it; and also can remove my entire roof rack very easily in two units when I know I'll not be using it for an extended period of time. (Plus, I keep my Escape in a garage, and the Hullavator support arms are too tall for the garage door when in place.)
The Hullavator's do what they are supposed to do, you just have to learn to let them help raise and lower the kayak. It takes a little getting used to, so don't panic or be hasty. One area I would like to see improved is a faster tie-down of the kayak to the Hullavator cradle bars. They are also heavy, so you will want to unhook and remove the Hullavator's before removing the rack system. It's actually quite easy. Another advantage of the Hullavator system is that it is easy to drop a boat down to access the cockpit, install covers, or clean the boat.
After our next outing, I'll report back if we have any more problems.
Had problems with latching in down position, but this has been greatly improved by suggestion from Thule product manager. Grasp top of carrier frame in left hand, bottom of frame with right hand, and rotate by pulling out on bottom and pushing in on top -- you should hear the latch snap into place.
Locking has not been a problem, as we loop a locking cable around the mounting foot of the bar and use bar locks.
I also hope they will extend any fixes to us beta testers. I would not have purchased a new product in its first year, except that the operation would have kept me off the water otherwise.
In spite of these problems, the ease of loading our boats on top of our Chrysler minivan is just fantastic. The speed and ease of boat handling far outweighs any equipment problems.
So I called Thule to inquire about improvements and retrofitting and got a terrific customer service rep who gave me the following information:
1. They are releasing a new and improved model later this fall. Her recommendation was that I wait, because there won't be retrofits.
2. REI has 20% off Thule sales each August and April.
Probably not good news for the folks that already bought one, but it was great news for me - I can survive until April. Customer service is alive and well and living in Connecticut!
So all in all it's a great idea, as with new product it has some kinks that I hope Thule will improve on and sort out with defects for existing owners.
The good: Putting the kayak on top has improved…wind and wet boat when trying to load solo was scary.
Not necessarily bad but a challenge: Getting both arms to release at same time to get the lift. I use my head to get the initial push.
Bad: Locking the arms down to put the kayak on and take it off. Tricky as you can get the arms to lock but it does not always work. Also once you have the kayak on top working the bars so that they lock. Also the screws that hold the braces in place are a pain to use. One of mine broke already and I have only used it about 4 times.
Summary: I hope that Thule comes up with some fixes and then passes that on free to existing owners.
Unless you have 3 - 4 people to load and unload your kayak, the Hullavator is too dangerous at this time. Thule states they are aware of the problem and promise a "fix" by October. I think it is irresponsible of them and their dealers to sell any units right now without disclosure of the known problems. Sadly, I am returning my Hullavator.
Pro - Simple to install. Only need to lift kayak about waist to chest high, easy to secure.
2) I have found that the hull of my 16 ft Perception Carolina distorts/bends/sags when transported on the Hullavator on a sunny day. And the sagging even occurred without the bow a stern straps attached. This never happened with my J-bars. I have had to lay the kayak in the sun to get the hull shape back.
3) I have a very high vehicle, and the Hullavator makes it much easier to get the 16 ft boat up, but the way it supports the boat flat does not seem to agree with my boat and I will be returning the Hullavator. The Hullavator is a great idea, just needs some more time for improvement.
As far as a loading unit, the Hullavator worked well. I made the job of loading our double on our Subaru easy.
The trouble was how it carried the load. The way the Hullavator works is your load bars must extend at least 4" outboard of their mounts. The cradles actually extend a little beyond that. Instead of balancing the boat on the centerline of your vehicle, it carries it out over the side of the car several inches.
It doesn't make for the most aerodynamic setup. It felt like the kayak, which weighs 95 pounds, was pulling the car sideway. Having that much weight up high is bad enough, but it behaves much better centered on the direction of travel. It also raised the load about 4-5 inches above the load bars and actually had quite a bit of play or wiggle.
I have decided to go back to foam covering the load bars like I use with my singles. With the foam set up I will be able to carry the boat on the centerline of my car and reduce the height and "wiggle".
Your experience may be different, but it just didn't work out for my boat/car combo.
The unit swings down to the side of the car and you load your boat into modified J cradles. The unit then helps you lift the boat, still vertical, with gas assist struts. Once the unit is at roof level, you ease the boat down to level and attach the bow and stern lines. I added straps around the load bars as well.
The unit makes loading our 95-pound double a breeze very easy to lift and control. I probably won’t bother using it for our singles.
Although it is expensive at $379, my girlfriend and I are not very tall and not getting any younger. That’s cheap compared to bodywork on the car or an injury from lifting the double over our heads and losing control.
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