Racks and Transporting Boats
Half the Fun is Getting There
By Jerry White
The more I look around, the more kayaks I see out on the water. I have often wondered when the market would become saturated with paddle craft, the manufacturers would run out of ideas, and the whole sport would start to level out. But I see no slow-down in sight. This sport is still growing and there is always something "new and improved" around the corner.
The water is littered with paddle craft, but so are the roadways. Unless you're fortunate enough to live on the water (or not so fortunate during hurricane season), you'll need a way to get your boat to the shore. If life truly is a journey, then the journey to and from the water should be a happy one. The easier, the better. There are a number of products on the market to turn just about any vehicle into a paddle-craft hauler.
There are a few things to consider first though. Will you be paddling and travelling solo, or in a group? Do you have any physical limitations that should be factored in? Trust me, this is no time to play macho-man. What's it worth financially to make loading and unloading easier?
Let's review a few options:
CAR TOPPERS - Soft Blocks:
This is the most basic means to transport your boat. No holes to drill, no damage to your daily driver. If you're an occasional paddler, this is a good choice, since you will be using your car for more functional things, and less for fun things. Not a bad thing - we all probably started this way. Luckily, when you grow with the sport you'll probably be able to sell this to someone else that's just beginning their journey.
See some ideas here: Car Top Blocks
CAR TOPPERS - Roof Racks: If you find yourself spending more and more valuable time assembling the device used to carry your boat, then maybe you need a more permanent solution. If you have an SUV then you're half of the way there already. Those factory racks are begging for you to attach an aftermarket bar to them. The choices before you are paralyzing in depth. Factor in your vehicle, your needs, and your budget to narrow the search. But even then, it will be tough. And, if you have a sedan, fear not. You can purchase crossbars for about every make/model of car, and you simply build from there. Just do a search on "kayak roof rack" and plunder.
My recon led me to this gem. It combines the typical roof rack system with a whiz-bang loader.
In one of my past articles ("Loaded, Lashed, and Locked"), I covered the many benefits of using a bed extender for a pickup truck. All you need is a Class III receiver and you're set. The lifting is very minimal, since you're only lifting half of the boat's weight at any one time. And, most importantly, you're not lifting it over your head. I take it a step further and use a kayak dolly. For unloading, I will put most of my gear on the boat, then attach the dolly. Slide it over the back of the T-bar and rest the stern on the ground. Since I sometimes use a Hobie Revolution, this is a good time to put the Mirage drive in. Once done, I them lift the bow up and over to the side. At this point, I simply pull the loaded (and READY) kayak to the water. I unhook the dolly, lift the back of the boat off of it, and I'm ready to go fish.
Here's where you can get one of these bed extenders: Harbor Freight Bed Extender
When I got mine it was around $50, I got it on sale for $30. I see that Harbor Freight has taken advantage of the supply/demand thing, and they're $80 now. But, after using one for quite a while now, it's still a bargain. My neck/and back are nodding in agreement.
TRUCK RACK SYSTEMS:
This is another huge area to explore. Again, budget and imagination are the limiting factors. You can combine a roof rack with something that will fit into that receiver, and you have this … pretty slick.
If you're ready for a more rigid application, you move on to rack systems like the one below. They range from basic and functional to chrome and adjustable.
TRUCK RACKS - DIY:
Necessity is the mother of invention. So sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. When I got my first *real* kayak, I picked it up about 110 miles from home (hey, that's where the deal was). So I put a 14' yellow kayak in the back of my tiny Ranger pickup, tied it down like it was taking a ride on the space shuttle, put a red flag on the back, and back home I went. Keep in mind 2 things: 1 - there was more kayak out of the bed than in the bed, and 2 - it was Friday afternoon when I was making my way through Tampa. I'm stopped on I-4 and some jackwagon in a van hit my boat. No harm done, but lesson learned. I had to get that boat out of stupidity's way (yellow boat, red flag, gimme a break). So, I built a rack for my truck. I used 1" angle and bolts from Home Depot. I painted it black, you know, so it wouldn't look tacky. Crude as it was, it performed like a champ and hauled a LOT of boats. I wish I had that truck back (or something similar) - we'll discuss later. But, if you're so inclined and have the DIY gene, don't be afraid. Just don't use PVC.
If this section appeals to you then you may have a problem … it's called "addiction", but in this case, it's not so bad. I've collected a number of kayaks over the years, and can't seem to part with any of them. Besides, it always seems like someone else wants to go with us when we head out. That's a good thing too. So, when that need arises, I borrow a trailer from a buddy of mine. For 2 boats, the bed extender for my truck works great. But for 5-6 boats, I have to phone a friend. My buddy Bill always hooks me up, that's great. But I may need to get my own. Walk with me a moment.
I got rid of that green Ford Ranger (shown above) because it was simply worn out. My oldest daughter used it in college and treated it like royalty - 3001 miles and it would be way overdue for an oil change, every rattle and clank was addressed. I was not so kind. So, I sold it, bought a new Toyota Tundra V8. I now had features a plenty, room for 5, and a big but often empty gas tank. In retrospect, what I should have done was to buy something with great mileage, with a trailer hitch. And, with the $$$ I would have saved, I could have nabbed a nice trailer. That would not only solve my transportation issues, but would have solved storage issues as well - just leave the boats on the trailer and hitch it up when I'm ready to go. Yep, I talked myself in to it … bye bye Tundra. As with all of the hauling solutions I've mentioned, you have many options in this category as well.
We will start small. If you have 2 light weight boats, don't plan on taking real long trips, and don't have a lot of storage area for your trailer, this may be your answer.
Need something a little more robust? Larger wheels and a larger frame (to me) equates to being able to be trustworthy on longer trips.
Welcome to my world. Need something to carry 4-6 boats in style? This is similar to what my buddy Bill has. I get close to the launch, disconnect the trailer from the gas guzzler, and walk it down to the beach. Once unloaded, I pull it back up and lock it back on the hitch ball. It's dangerously simple and easy on the back.
Most kayak shops either carry these in stock or can order them. Most will be unassembled, so that opens the door for mail order. I put together a Cinderella castle for my granddaughter and I'm confident that this assembly would be easier. NOTE: In most states you will need to get a tag for a trailer.
Regardless of what method you use to carry your boat, the common denominator will involve straps. Let's review a few things I mentioned in Loaded, Lashed, and Locked:
See you out on the water...
"Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after"
~ Henry David Thoreau
More Articles• Boat Shuttling Explained
• Loaded, Lashed and Locked
• How to Transport Kayaks
View Roof Racks and Trailers in Buyers' Guide