How To Load A Kayak By Yourself

After buying a kayak, the reality hits about kayak loading and unloading. It quickly becomes one of the main worries, as many kayakers ask: “Can I carry a kayak on my own? Could I put that on my car?” You can lift, carry, and load your own boat with the possible technique.

Even though it might require some practice, it is possible with some instruction. The more you practice, the easier it gets because you’ll be building strength and endurance, even though the kayak feels heavy to carry at first.

Some kayakers believe the boats are too heavy, and some kayakers have physical limitations preventing them from carrying a kayak. Fortunately, a ton of equipment is available to make moving your boat around easier. (Read Can One Person Use A Two Person Kayak)

kayak on car

As an illustration, there are specialized kayak roof racks with rollers that make loading boats onto a vehicle manageable for even one person, as well as kayak carts that make getting to the water much easier with a heavy kayak.

In our guide, you can learn more about this so that hauling struggles will be a thing of the past. But, by the end, the biggest takeaway will be, how to put kayak on roof rack by yourself.

How to Lift and Carry Kayaks

Kayaks, mainly recreational and touring kayaks, are available in a wide range of sizes and weights, from 40 to 80 pounds.

Compared to touring or sea kayaks, which are heavier and larger, recreational kayaks are smaller and lighter.

Shorter, lighter boats are best carried by hoisting them onto one shoulder.

The right way to load the entire kayak onto your shoulder for carrying is shown in the proper technique of how to carry a kayak by yourself:

  1. Start by placing the kayak against your shins on its edge, with the cockpit facing out.
  2. Kneel and put both hands on the edge of the cockpit closest to your chest.
  3. Keep your knees bent as you raise the kayak onto your thighs.
  4. Take your right hand and grab the opposite side of the cockpit rim once the kayak sits on your thighs.
  5. Lift the right side of the cockpit rim up and onto your right shoulder as you stand up.
  6. Put your shoulder underneath and let the rim rest there.
  7. Place the kayak comfortably, so it feels balanced on your shoulder and that you can walk without the boat colliding with the ground at either end.

Here’s a few tips for carrying kayaks:

  • Always bend at the knees, not the waist, when lifting the kayak to protect your back.
  • The lifejacket’s shoulder strap will protect your shoulders if you use it while carrying your kayak.
  • Make sure the bow of your kayak is facing forward when you pick it up. This will make it easier to carry.
  • Some boats are too heavy or awkward for one person to carry on their shoulder since they are significantly longer and longer.
  • Because there is no cockpit rim to rest your shoulder on, carrying a sit-on-top kayak is more difficult.
  • A two-person carry is an alternative where you and a companion grab a grab-loop at the bow and stern of the boat. As you lift and carry your kayak, communicate and bend your knees.
  • An inflatable kayak can make things far more straightforward since you can carry most of these on your own.

to load kayak

How To Carry Your Kayak


By clinging to the toggle or grab-loop handhold at the boat’s bow, you can drag your kayak if your boat is made of plastic.

Dragging a composite kayak or fiberglass boat isn’t recommended as it could cause costly damage to the delicate hulls. (Learn How To Hang A Kayak On A Wall)

Use a Kayak Cart

A kayak cart is ideal for longer distances between your vehicle and the water.

They are an excellent solution for even ground, yet not usually suitable for very rough ground.

  • Kayak carts are two-wheeled attachments you slide your boat onto. All you do then is take a grab handle on the free end and steer as you wheel your boat behind you.
  • Working on the principle of a wheelbarrow, carrying a kayak this way means you bear little of the weight. It also makes carrying a kayak with all your gear more accessible for any size of kayaker.
  • Most kayak carts can be folded and tucked into your boat while you paddle. This makes it ideal when sea kayaking where your start and finish points could differ.

Using a Roof Rack

Unless you have an inflatable kayak, you can’t get away from loading a kayak onto a vehicle or trailer.

Loading a vehicle is challenging, as you’ll see, so you need a decent rack that helps. You’ll discover many types of racks to choose from, and if you want to be exotic, you can find some rack systems that lift your kayak onto the roof.

Factory roof rails can be enough, and all you need is to add padding and then learn how to tie down your kayak. The loose end at the front is the most tricky as the wind could cause your kayak to spin as you drive.

Use J Cradles

A more permanent solution to adding pool noodles to your factory rails is a J-Rack. These attach to your factory roof racks, so you can do away with using towers. The J-Rack will hold your boat on its side.

This frees up roof space for additional storage or another kayak. J cradles, however, need you to raise your boat above head height to put the kayak in position.

You can also use kayak stackers rather than J-rack to stack boats against one another. Using these, you can get multiple kayaks on your roof rack. Stackers are often used for whitewater kayaks and can suffice for recreational and touring kayaks.

If you’ll be paddling solo regularly, consider getting a lighter boat (inflatable kayak) in the first place, or invest in a more expensive roof rack system to lift your boat for you.

With these, you don’t need to lift higher than waist level, and you can let the rack do the heavy loading for you. (Learn What Shoes To Wear Kayaking)

to carry kayak

How To Put a Kayak Onto The Roof Of A Vehicle

You need a few things before placing a kayak on top of your vehicle:

Crossbars: The roof of your car may have crossbar supports. Depending on your vehicle, crossbars often attach to front-to-back. Crossbars are also available for truck beds.

Rack Or Padding: The most secure kayak rack solutions cradle the boat in a J- or V-shaped rack and attach to the crossbars.

Cam straps: A cam strap is a quick and reliable way to secure your kayak. Two straps at least 12 feet are required to ensure your kayak is safe and secure.

Bow and Stern Lines: A non-stretch, water-resistant rope can be used for the bow and stern lines.

It’s also possible to find ratcheting lines to make work simple rather than tying knots that could come loose. However, this could change depending on boat length and vehicle. You will, however, need one or two ropes for the bow and stern.

How to Load a Kayak on a J Rack by Yourself

If you wish to transport more than one kayak, especially if you have a smaller car, a J-shaped cradle roof rack is an excellent option for your rack.

The boat is secured on its side using the J-cradle. As a result, you will have extra room to store additional items on your roof.

Starting by standing with the kayak on the ground with its edge up against your shins, you can load the kayak onto a J-shaped cradle.

  1. The cockpit should face outward.
  2. As you hold onto the front of the cockpit with one hand, bend your knees slightly to avoid injury.
  3. Hold the back of the cockpit with your other hand.
  4. Bring the kayak onto your thighs by sliding it there. You must keep your knees bent.
  5. To support the kayak, raise one of your knees. Then, lift the kayak above your head and place it on top of the cradles. The process is much the same as if you were to lift your kayak onto your shoulder for carrying to the water.
  6. Then, secure it with a tie and secure the bow and stern to stop it from turning while driving.

How To Load a Kayak With Help

You can put your kayak on top of your vehicle once the crossbars, rack, and straps are ready.

Using two persons makes it the simplest to load a kayak into a car:

  1. Place the kayak next to and parallel to your car, with the bow towards the front of the car and one person at each end holding the kayak by the grab handle.
  2. Lift the kayak overhead by grabbing it by the hull at each end (not the grab handles).
  3. To lift safely, use your legs and not your back.
  4. Place the boat overhead so that it is directly over the rack, and then gently place it there.
  5. The sort of rack you have will decide the proper placement for the boat.

Loading Multiple Kayaks

You may transport many kayaks on your car if you have adequate room.

  • Depending on the width of your boats and crossbars, add a second rack to transport a second kayak.
  • Use stacker bars: Stacker bars may be the key to getting two, three, or even more boats on top. These enable you to stand boats on their side to save room. Stacker bars can be used with leisure and touring boats, although they are typically used with lighter, shorter whitewater kayaks. (Read Will A Kayak Fit Inside My Car)

tie down a kayak

How To Tie Down a Kayak

Cam straps are the most convenient way to tie your kayak to your car. No specific knots are required; you pass the straps through the buckles and cinch them.

  1. Ensure that your kayak is centered fore and aft between the crossbars and parallel to your vehicle.
  2. Place the buckle of a cam strap a few inches above and to the side of one crossbar on the side of the kayak. Toss the strap’s other end over your kayak.
  3. Go to the opposite side of your vehicle, grab the strap’s end, loop it around the crossbar, and then toss it back over your boat.
  4. Ensure the strap is on the inside of the crossbar’s attachment point to the vehicle. This will stop the strap from coming loose from the crossbar’s end.
  5. Return to the first side and loop the strap’s end under the crossbar, up into the cam buckle, and then cinch it down.
  6. Repeat on the other crossbar with the other strap.
  7. Shake the kayak from side to side while holding either end to ensure it is stable.
  8. You can tie a kayak’s bow and stern line to the front and back bumpers of the vehicle to be extra cautious.
  9. You can purchase specialized, Y-shaped bow and stern tie-downs or utilize cam straps and ordinary ropes.
  10. If you use a bow or stern line, be sure not to pull them too tightly since too much tension can make the boat’s shape warp along its length.

Tips to tie down a kayak:

  • Fancy knots and straps may look attractive, but essential is typically the fastest and most secure.
  • Keep a ladder in the rear of your car if you’re short or have a tall vehicle.
  • A simple twist in the cam straps helps minimize unpleasant strap vibration.
  • You can buy locking cam straps, which you only unlock with a key. They provide peace of mind when leaving your boat in your car to run into a store or restaurant.
  • If you’re leaving your kayak for a while, use a locking cord.
  • After 15 minutes, stop and tug on the kayak to ensure it’s secure. Driving might loosen straps. (Learn How To Hang A Kayak On A Wall)

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