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Having a full-fledged roof-rack system -- complete with rollers that let you simply lift one end of your kayak onto the rack, then slide the whole thing into place -- is by far the easiest way to load a kayak on top of a car. But if you're trying to get your newly purchased kayak home from the store or just don't have hundreds of dollars to spend on a fancy roller rack, you can improvise a roof rack out of towels, pool noodles or foam blocks.
Items you will need
Soft foam blocks, pool noodles or thick towels
4 spring-loaded or ratchet tie-down straps, 2 with hooks or carabiners at each end
Lay a couple of pool noodles or soft foam blocks across the roof of your car. You can also use towels if you roll each one into a tight "log." Whatever you're using, it must be thick enough to keep any part of the kayak's hull from contacting the top of the car.
Adjust the makeshift supports so they sit over the car's support struts, just in front and back of the doors; this is usually more or less where the bars of a roof rack would sit. If you have any additional supports, space them between and parallel to the first two supports.
Lift the kayak onto the noodles, blocks or towels; most people will need a friend's help, with one person at each end of the kayak, to do this without scratching the car's paint or sliding the makeshift supports out of place. If necessary, lift one end of the kayak and adjust the pool noodles, towels or foam blocks so that no part of the kayak's hull contacts the roof of the car.
Loop the middle portion of a spring-loaded or ratchet tie-down strap around the body of your kayak, just in front of the cockpit, so the ends of the strap criss-cross between the kayak and the roof of the car. Open the doors of your car and pass the ends of the tie-down strap through so they meet inside the car, completing a figure eight with the loop around the kayak as the top portion of the "eight." Tighten the strap until it's snug, then do the same with a second strap passed around the body of the kayak just behind the seat.
Tie the bow and stern of the kayak down, using spring-loaded or ratchet tie-down straps. Pass each strap through a tie-down point on the kayak, then use a hook or carabiner to attach each end of each strap to a tie-down point under the body of your car.
- All kayaks can be loaded right-side up, or hull facing down, but you may need to cover the cockpit to keep it from filling with water in case of rain. Only load a kayak upside down, with the cockpit opening facing down, if you can position the strongest parts of the gunwales or cockpit coaming over supports on the car's roof.
- Although you can improvise a soft rack for your kayak, don't get carried away with improvising tie-down straps. Stick to spring-loaded or ratchet tie-downs, which are easiest to get and keep secure.
- Tighten the straps to the point they're snug and secure, but not so much that they compress, strain or deform the hull of your boat.
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