Putting It All Together
Good afternoon, Tamia.
Thought I'd add my two bits pertaining to roof‑racking our boats.
I agree with all your tips and tricks to keep boats safely attached, and I'd like to share a couple more I've found to work. I also would offer up that newer vehicles were just not designed to offer as much "utility" as marketed. The first vehicle I ever carried watercraft on was a 1983 Jeep Wagoneer, complete with rain gutters. I currently drive a full‑sized half‑ton pickup with an extended cab and a camper shell which is cab height.
I have two pairs of "fake rain‑gutter brackets" as near the front and rear of the shell as possible, to which are mounted identical Yakima crossbars and gunwale brackets. I use NRS straps to secure the craft to the crossbars on the gunwale brackets, plus sturdy rope to tie down bow and stern to the bumpers.
Because my boat lengths vary from 16' 6" to 18' 6" my setup looks most like your middle diagram — in a panic stop, forward movement of the boats is of concern. If it is not possible to have bow and stern tie‑downs that pull against one another due to boat length and length overall of your vehicle, you may use what my aerospace engineer friend deems "redundant systems."
With canoes: In addition to the straps that snug them to the crossbars, and bow and stern lines tied to your vehicle, you may use "lawyer lines." (I call them "lawyer lines," since if you do your due diligence for secure tie‑downs and safe travels, hopefully you won't need to enlist the services of an attorney due to flying boats.) Tie or strap thwarts towards the amidships of your boat, from the front of the boat rearward to the front crossbar, and from the back of the boat forwards to the back crossbar.
With kayaks (especially longer touring boats): Straps to crossbars are secured, along with bow and stern lines. Then, in much the same manner as the canoe's "lawyer lines," secure the front of the boat back towards the front crossbar and the back of the boat forward to the rear crossbar, using looped "bridles" with long free ends tied to the rack crossbars, the loops to be of a diameter that will not allow the boat to slip through. Make sure that the boat cannot slip through.
These bridles should be of small enough diameter so that if the boat moves it will jam and not shift very much at all. I have had great success using "Lasso Security Cables" (they sell different sizes; see what works best for your boat's length and cross‑section) as a fine way to both physically secure boats on the road as well as lock them to the rack and keep someone from stealing them while you're parked.
Another tip for plastic kayaks traveling on hot days (I've used this method on trips from Kansas to Lake Superior): Properly pad your crossbars (or use "saddles" if that's your preference). Put on your boat's cockpit cover (on the boat, not as fashion apparel!), and place the kayak upside down on the rack. [Many saddles are designed to cradle hulls, not decks, and kayak decks are occasionally less rigid than hulls. Take this into account. – Editor] Tie and secure boat as above. Why, you may ask? Plastic plus hot weather plus overzealous bow and stern line tension equals oil‑canning and hull deformities.
Apologies for the verbosity. I've babbled on here. I'm landlocked at present. I'll be reorganizing gear and maps and doing boat maintenance until my rotator cuff heals and I can paddle again.
Have a great day!
No apologies needed, Lee. Thanks very much for your tips. Yours is the third vote for "lawyer lines," and your note about "redundant systems" is right on the mark. It reinforces the point we made in "Getting There."
Now I've got a question about mounting brackets on a camper shell: Did you simply bolt the "fake rain‑gutter brackets" to the fiberglass or aluminum skin? Or did you back them up first? I've often seen brackets on trucks and campers and wondered how secure they were.
And Lee answers:
I'm happy to say that for the past 15 years or so I've used a Yakima roof‑rack system. Originally, when I had my Jeep, I used their 1A Hi‑Rise Towers, 78‑inch crossbars, and gunwale brackets. (Note that the "new" variety of gunwale bracket is vastly different from their older, taller design.) The rig clamped to the vast rain gutters on that vehicle. You just adjusted the gunwale brackets, lifted the canoes up, strapped them to the rack, tied the painters in an inverted "V" to the (genuine) bumpers and off you'd go!
After I switched vehicles to a pickup with a heavy‑duty fiberglass camper shell that's the same height as the truck's cab — I feel that fiberglass shells are much sturdier than most aluminum varieties — I needed to alter the setup. I bought four each of Yakima's Side Loader brackets to mount on my camper shell. These were now my "rain gutters," although they were of course in fixed positions. They require drilling holes in the camper shell before attaching the supplied sturdy backing plates, using the accompanying gaskets, bolts, washers, and nuts. (I went a bit further and added locknuts and a generous dollop of silicone sealant — no movement and no leaks here!) I bought proper, shorter‑length bolts and removed the Hi‑Rise spacers to further lower the vertical distance of the crossbars above the camper shell. (It didn't hurt that it was closer to the ground — I'm 5' 6"). After installing and centering the crossbars and attaching my gunwale brackets, I was ready to go … or was I?
I felt that with long boats, the now substantially shorter distance between the front and rear crossbars of the rack, coupled with the increased distance from crossbars to the end tie‑down points, did not afford enough stability for long‑distance travel. Too much wiggle and wobble going on up there. I then hatched my redundant (lawyer‑line) system.
The notes and recommendations you've made on checking the carriage capacity of the roof racks and vehicles' safety ratings are dead on. "If you overload, your gear could hit the road." (I have carried two 18‑foot aluminum canoes on my current rack system, but wouldn't want to do it across the country — that's about 160 pounds of boats and racks!)
My main advice to those who wish to use one crossbar mounted at the rear of a camper shell and one crossbar mounted near the front of the cab of the truck is this: A pickup flexes between the cab and bed. It also experiences some torsional rotation. Be very careful of the wind loading and flexing and how your cab‑mounted racks (and your watercraft) hold up.
Traveling at highway speeds and with heavy crosswinds can leave an opening for the "Old Woman" to snag our beauties from their places. Best to keep them to ourselves, and keep others on the byways safe during their travels.
A Fuel‑Saving Alternative
Your article ["Racking 'Em Up" – Editor] is excellent, as most people do not follow enough safety precautions.
The tie‑down method I use for my canoe(s) is slightly different. A word of warning: It works well only if all the conditions are followed.
1. The vehicle I have is a Dodge Caravan. Any vehicle with a large relatively flat roof and securely mounted roof rack is acceptable. I use Yakima racks that mount on the factory‑installed roof track.
2. Each canoe (I don't carry more than two at a time) is placed upside down and as far back as possible — so far back that the tip of the bow is just barely off the windshield. With this method, the wind cannot get inside the boat and lift or put vertical strain on the rack from the front.
3. The canoes are tied down using two straps per canoe. These straps go under the rack on either side of each canoe, such that you have two continuous loops going over each canoe. The straps are pulled tight at the buckle and tied so they cannot come loose.
This method also reduced wind drag on the vehicle during long trips on the Interstate. About 17 years ago I had a Caravan with a very small four‑cylinder engine. With a boat on top secured in the method you described, I could not maintain 65 miles per hour. The van just did not have enough power! Moving the boat back reduced the drag, and I had no problem maintaining speed on the Interstate.
You probably noticed that I said nothing about front and rear tie‑downs. They are not needed. [Though they might prove very useful in the event of a strap failure. – Editor] The straps, tightly fastened, provide enough friction to keep the boat from moving. I probably put the most force on the boat when braking. To comply with the law, if the boat protrudes more than four feet behind the vehicle, a flag is required on the back end.
And, yes, I am an engineer.
Past President, Coastal Canoeists
I'm very glad you found "Racking 'Em Up" of interest, Don, and I'm in your debt for taking the time to describe your alternative tie‑down method in such detail. With gas prices climbing and interest in energy efficiency growing, anything that reduces wind drag is worth exploring. That said, I'm a belt‑and‑suspenders girl and a great believer in redundant systems, especially where safety is concerned. I'm not yet ready to forgo my bow and stern ties.
Later, Don added this:
One thing I didn't mention. The center of gravity of the canoe must be forward of the rear canoe support on the vehicle. Otherwise it won't stay there while you fasten it. Also, make sure the strap does not go under the rack that comes with the vehicle. It must be secured to the canoe rack only. The ratcheting fastener I'm using is not necessary — a standard NRS buckle is fine.
As I was getting ready for a canoe camper this weekend, I remembered that a picture is worth a thousand words. Because my e‑mail to you about fastening a canoe to a vehicle was less than that, I thought a few pictures might be worthwhile.
Here are Don's photos, showing how he car‑tops his canoe. If you're contemplating experimenting with his system, be sure to follow his instructions closely, not forgetting to fly a flag on your boat's aftmost peak — and if you're like me, you'll go one step further, adding independent bow and stern tie‑downs. Whether you call them "lawyer lines" or redundant systems, they're mighty cheap insurance. Straps and buckles sometimes fail with little or no warning, and as I know from personal experience, a flying canoe is a mighty arresting sight, particularly when it's flying toward you at 50‑odd miles per hour!