Your kayak should be secured safely to the top of your car to prevent shifting on the highway and in wind or even worse, losing the kayak in traffic.
Here’s a few of my favorite tips for securing a kayak to a car using cross bar style racks.
Checking for Rack Safety
Start each trip with a rack bar ‘shake test’ making sure the rack itself is safely secure to your car. For each rack end bar, shake it up and down and side to side. I’ve seen these can pop off the car roof – something you want to find out about at home, not on the road.
There are a few ways to add padding to your rack bars. I use insulation foam tubes, then use Velcro strips to secure the foam down. If I need to remove the tubes for cleaning or removing the rack they can come right off.
There’s also padded rack products that either Velcro or tie-on racks. Pool noodles and foam blocks are other options.
Placement on Rack
Once my kayak is on-top of your car, I like my boats to be centered on the top of the car and just above the side of the car so my straps will be secured down vertically – vs at an angle which helps prevent boat sliding.
Make sure you boat doesn’t fully cover the end of the rack bars so you have room to secure the straps down. If they do cover the end of the rack bars, wrap the straps to the rack pillars
Cam / Buckle Straps
Secure the kayak to the rack with 9’ to 15’ long cam / buckle straps. These straps are the safest for properly securing the boat down. Ropes can work, but the extra width of the strap really makes a difference in securing the boat with a more secure buckle. I also use Mile 22 (2”) wide straps which are amazing for preventing shifting. Check that straps have a slight rough texture to the material, as some are smooth thus will slip in the buckle under pressure.
Note on strap length – Get long straps to have some some length of strap left over to secure to your rack bar for extra safety.
Rachet straps can tighten too much thus putting too much pressure on your kayak’s hull.
Setting Up the Straps
String each strap over the rack bar on the opposite side of the boat. Then throw both ends over the boat to the side you’ll be securing down. Make sure your cam straps have rubber bumpers over the buckles to prevent from damaging your windows or car exterior.
Securing the Straps
Pull the non-buckled strap end down so the buckled end rises to near the top of the boat. Wrap the non-buckle side under the rack bar and back up to meet the buckle. Thread through the buckle then pull the threaded strap down to secure the load. Do so on the other rack bar as well.
If you struggle to tighten the straps, it’s ok to put your weight into it vs just pulling with your arms. Be careful with bending or ‘oil canning’ the hull of plastic boats. If you have a fiberglass boat and you hear a crack, then loosen just a bit. Tighten both straps evenly.
Tip: If you twist the exposed sections of your straps you’ll prevent an annoying whistle when you drive. The whistle can be so loud, no radio can block it out! This includes twisting straps over open cockpits.
Extra Strap Ends
I don’t fully trust that the buckles will hold, especially if they’re old or there’s rust in the buckle. I always take the extra strap ends and wrap them over the rack bar a few times if possible then tie them down. If the buckle fails, you have a backup.
Checking to See if the Boat is Secure
To make sure the boat isn’t going to shift or slide, walk to both ends and aggressively shift the bow and stern back and forth. It they slide easily you need to re-secure your straps.
Using Bow and Stern Tie-downs
If your boat is mostly secure from the rack straps but slides a bit, then add bow and stern ties to your bumpers or the hook underneath to make sure your load is 100% secure. Bow and stern straps are also great for high-wind locations and highway driving. Cam straps or ropes using a trucker’s hitch knot work well. Some brands like Thule and Yakima have hooks to attach to the bumper, but they can dislodge on rough roads.
Tip on bow/stern tie-downs, after attaching to each bumper, check the hull tie-downs to the rack as they can loosen when the ends are secured.
If your kayak sticks out a few feet over the back of your car, add a red caution flag to help other drivers see your boat. The flag can be a rag, a yellow, orange or red cam strap (non-buckle end) or old shirt. Secure to the boat’s carrying handle or deck lines. Photo: Mile 22 Caution Flag.
Kayak Still Shifting?
If your boat still shifts after you’ve done a secure tie-down, consider getting saddle, cradle or ‘J’ style kayak rack attachments which will fully secure the boat from shifting. I have a 21’ surf ski that is so long that in windy driving situations, it can shift on standard cross bars. The saddle or cradle style attachments will keep it secure.
Strap and Rack Security
If you want to secure your kayak to your rack, there’s two routes to go.
Locking straps are an effective and easy way to lock your kayak to your car. Thule, Yakima and KanuLocks have straps with interior threaded wire and a key lock that prevent most thefts.
You can also take the straps with you to lock your kayak to a dock or tree while on shore.
Cable locks are another method for security. Depending on the style, they either attach to both ends of the kayak and to the rack. Or they thread through a handle or molded loop on the kayak, then to the rack.
Racks such as Thule and Yakima also have locks to prevent the rack from being removed from the car.