Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advice: Getting There - 5 Considerations for Transporting Your Kayak

With the holiday season in full swing, gift purchasing is an ever present challenge. If you have a kayaker in the family (or maybe you're playing Santa for yourself 😁) crossbars, racks, tie downs, and other related transport hardware could be a welcome addition under the tree. The questions are: what kind of hardware, and where do I start? I purchased a new mini SUV recently, and have been asking myself those questions. Here's a quick hit list of my considerations that might make your search a little easier:  

1. What kind of a vehicle do you have? There's a big difference between a sports sedan, an SUV, and a pick-up truck in terms of what solution is appropriate for your kayak transport. If you have a pick-up bed and a short kayak, you might just get away with laying your 'yak in the bed - maybe with it leaning up against your tailgate, or laying it flat with the tailgate down. Either way, make sure to strap it down and tie a visibility flag to the end that's sticking out the back. If you need to use your roof for transport, you'll need to take additional measures. Minimally, you'll have to put some kind of padding down and strap your 'yak directly to the roof. I wouldn't recommend this - certainly not for long kayaks, or for highway travel. Having roof rails (the factory bars that run parallel along the sides of the roof) makes this arrangement more stable from side to side, but front to back is a much more tenuous proposition - especially if you have to brake hard for some reason. You should seriously consider installing crossbars/loadbars (bars that run perpendicular to the sides of the car, and cross your roof from one side to the other). Crossbars can be mounted on factory roof rails, or with the addition of "feet" that attach to the roof or to the gutter (the edge above the windows that redirects rain water). Crossbars also provide the option of swapping out different cradles/holders for different gear. Take note of how flat or curved your roof slope is when you look at your vehicle from the side; this can determine how much clearance you will have under your crossbars, which can affect where you position them. Finally, if you have a tall vehicle, think about how you will reach the kayak mounting locations - and how that might effect your choice of hardware.

If you have OEM crossbars (like this vehicle)
make sure their load capacity is sufficient
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) crossbars mounted on side rails

 2. What kind of kayak do you have? A 15' touring sea kayak is a different boat than a short creek 'yak, or a recreational model, or a surf kayak. The length, width, hull shape, and curvature ("rocker") of your kayak will play a large role in determining what hardware will properly support it. For example: my waveski is 26" wide, and 6' long. It will lay flat on top of my new crossbars easily (with the addition of padding), with room to spare. However, my 15' touring boat will require additional accommodation - I usually carry 2 of them, so side by side will not work. They will have to be mounted on their sides, which will require vertical cradles of some sort - which I considered when selecting my crossbars, to make sure I could mount those. See how your boats and your paddling activities determine your solution? It's always a good idea to carefully consider how many, and what kind of kayaks you will be transporting, and adjusting your hardware selections to match that reality.

3. How will you get your kayaks on top of your vehicle? If you have a tall SUV, or are using the roof of your pick-up to carry your kayaks, height might be a challenge. This could affect what solution you choose. For instance, there are kayak cradles/saddles with rollers that allow you to lean the bow of your boat onto a roller and push/roll the kayak into the correct position. This might help if you're short and/or by yourself. There are crossbars that have a section that slides out from the side of the car and hinges downward, so you can put the kayak on it, then slide it back on to the roof. Each of these are more expensive options than standard gear. If you're using upright cradles, you may not be able to slide/drag your kayak across one to the other - to center it on the roof. This means lifting from the side of the vehicle may be your only option. You need to be tall enough to reach, in this case - you wouldn't want to try "throwing" your 'yak into the cradles. How you will mount your kayaks will help determine what hardware makes sense - keep your height and physical ability in mind as you consider your options.  

4. Where will you tie your kayaks down? This question may seem obvious if you obtain carriers/holders that have integrated tie down straps, but it it might be more complicated than you think. Tying kayaks near their center is a great location for locking them firmly onto your roof. Dealing with the wind is a another matter - it will push the front end around as you vehicle moves forward, and can push the rear end from side to side as crosswinds and turbulence pass over. Tying the ends down makes sense, especially for long kayaks. If your kayak is longer than your car, what will you tie it to? Fortunately, there are handy ready made loops available that get shut under the hood latch and the rear hatch latch (that sounds funny 😊). There might be something you could connect to a trailer hitch in the rear. Think about the ends as well as the middle when it comes to tie down locations. If you're planning on using crossbars and padding alone, try to figure out what will keep your center straps in place, without sliding. Anchor them by winding them for a turn or two around the side rail feet.

5. How much $ do you want to spend? Ah, my favorite topic when discussing gear. Anyone who has priced out some of the popular brands of roof rack gear knows how pricey it can be. You could easily spend $500.00 for a full new set of feet, crossbars, and cradles/saddles. I would strongly suggest using online tools (available on the manufacturer websites) to configure the right combination of mounting gear for your 'yaks and vehicle, then seeing if you can find it on Craigslist or eBay. Lots of people are selling transport/mounting equipment in good condition (sometimes in the OEM box) at more competitive prices. By all means, if you want to spend the full monty, have at it - but, at least buy from a place that will install the system as part of the deal. Perhaps consider a lesser known brand. Did you know the name brands sell mounting/transport equipment under other brand names at Walmart and Target - at least on their websites? It's true, and it will cost you less. You may not get all the bells and whistles, but that choice is up to you. As for me, I went on the automotive section on Amazon, looked up my vehicle, and found a nice pair of crossbars - specific to my make and model, brand new, with a 150lb. load capacity, and aerodynamic to boot...all for around $100.00. Trust me - that's cheap. They look great too. So, take your time and do your homework. You could save hundreds of dollars. 

Choosing the right transport/mounting gear can make life a lot easier when you want to get to the water. Why not make the challenge about your paddle trip, instead of how to get your kayak there? That way, you can put your real effort into the best part of the adventure.

Merry Christmas, Happy belated Hanukkah, and Happy New Year - here's wishes for a great one!

TB on the Water