How to Strap a Kayak to a Roof Rack

3 min read
Last Updated: Jun 8, 2024
BY: Matt Keepnes

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You'll need some roof bars to fit these boxes. We recommend you order these directly from your vehicles manufacturer.

Strapping a kayak to a roof rack is a crucial skill for any kayaking enthusiast. Whether you're headed to the lake, river, or ocean, ensuring your kayak is securely attached to your vehicle is essential for safety and convenience. In this guide, we'll walk you through the steps to strap your kayak securely, along with some helpful tips.

Preparing Your Kayak and Roof Rack

Selecting the Right Roof Rack

Before you begin, make sure you have a suitable roof rack installed on your vehicle. There are various types, including J-cradles, stackers, and saddle racks. Choose one that best fits your vehicle and kayak.

Gathering Necessary Materials

You will need:

  • Two cam straps (12-16 feet long)
  • Bow and stern tie-downs
  • A protective mat or padding (to protect your car’s roof and the kayak)
Preparing Your Kayak and Roof Rack
Preparing Your Kayak and Roof Rack

Positioning the Kayak on the Roof Rack

Lifting the Kayak

Carefully lift your kayak and place it on the roof rack. If you're using a J-cradle or saddle rack, ensure the kayak is centered with the hull facing down.

Aligning the Kayak

The kayak should be parallel to your car, with an even distance from each end of the car roof.

Positioning the Kayak on the Roof Rack
Positioning the Kayak on the Roof Rack

Securing the Kayak with Straps

Placing the Straps

Drape the cam straps over the kayak, positioning them evenly and ensuring they don't twist.

Threading the Straps

Thread the straps through the roof rack and back over the kayak. Make sure the buckle part of the strap is positioned in a way that you can easily access it.

Tightening the Straps

Buckle the straps and pull them tight. The kayak should be secure but not overly tightened as this can damage the kayak and the roof rack.

Securing the Kayak with Straps
Securing the Kayak with Straps

Attaching Bow and Stern Tie-Downs

Securing the Front and Back

Attach bow and stern tie-downs to the front and back of the kayak. Then, attach the other end to a secure point on your vehicle (often the tow hook or under the bumper).

Checking for Movement

Gently wiggle the kayak to ensure it’s secure. There should be minimal movement.

Final Checks and Safety Tips

Double-Checking All Attachments

Before setting off, double-check all straps and tie-downs. Ensure everything is snug and secure.

Regularly Inspecting During Transit

On longer trips, stop periodically to check the tightness of the straps and the stability of the kayak.

Final Checks and Safety Tips
Final Checks and Safety Tips


Strapping a kayak to a roof rack is simple once you know the process. By following these steps, you can ensure your kayak is safely secured, letting you focus on the adventure ahead.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of roof rack is best for a kayak?

The best type of roof rack depends on your vehicle and kayak type. J-cradles are great for saving space, saddle racks offer stability, and stackers are ideal for multiple kayaks. Consider the weight, hull shape, and your car's specifications when choosing.

Can I strap a kayak to a car without a roof rack?

It's not recommended to strap a kayak directly to a car roof without a rack, as it can damage both the car and the kayak. If you don’t have a roof rack, consider using a foam block system designed for kayaks.

How tight should the straps be?

The straps should be tight enough to hold the kayak securely in place but not so tight that they deform the hull. A good rule is that the kayak shouldn't move side to side or front to back, but you shouldn't have to strain excessively to tighten the straps.

Do I need bow and stern tie-downs?

Yes, bow and stern tie-downs are essential for long trips or highway driving as they provide extra stability and security. They prevent the kayak from shifting and reduce stress on the straps and rack.

How do I protect my car and kayak from scratches?

Use protective padding or a non-slip mat between your car’s roof and the kayak. Also, ensure that the straps are clean and free of debris that could scratch the car or kayak.

Is it possible to carry more than one kayak?

Yes, you can carry multiple kayaks if your roof rack is designed for it. Stackers can hold several kayaks positioned on their sides, while J-cradles and saddles typically accommodate one or two kayaks.

How do I know if my kayak is secured properly?

After strapping, gently shake the kayak. It should feel stable and not move independently of the car. Double-check that the straps are evenly tensioned and that the bow and stern tie-downs are secure



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Matt Keepnes

Matt Keepnes, travel enthusiast and creator of I share expert tips on car storage solutions for seamless travels, combining personal experiences with practical advice.

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