Transporting Canoes By Car

Rack Types

  • Foam blocks
    Foam block systems are inexpensive, temporary car top pads that snap onto the gunwales of your canoe. The canoe can then be laid upside down on your car roof, and held in place by two or three nylon load straps which either hook into the car's rain gutters or circle through the car's open windows. Foam blocks and load straps typically come packaged together.

    Foam block systems are popular with recreational paddlers because they're inexpensive, easy to use and easy to remove. But they don't provide as much load security as permanently-mounted rack systems. Foam block systems are not recommended for longer trips or journeys that involve rough driving terrain.

  • Roof-mounted rack systems
    A much safer way to carry a canoe on a car or truck is with a roof-mounted car rack system. These systems are more secure, more stable, and they can be used to carry just about any type of outdoor gear. Today's most popular roof-mounted systems can be fitted to almost any regular-sized car, truck or van.

      Towers and bars
      Most roof-mounted rack systems begin with towers; short sturdy, vertical supports that hold the rack onto the car and keep equipment off of the car's roof. These towers are usually held in place by clamps, though some are permanently attached to the roof itself. Bars are the horizontal poles that run between the towers to form the platform on which equipment is loaded.

      There are a number of different rack attachments that can be screwed, clamped, or otherwise fastened onto rack bars. These attachments allow you to carry different types of equipment safely and securely on a single rack. Canoes are sometimes strapped directly to rack bars (gunwales down) and held in place with load straps. But special bracket attachments provide a safer and more secure hold, bracing the canoe gunwales firmly in position on the bars.
Loading and Unloading

The basic procedure
To load a canoe onto your car, use a standard two-person overhead lift. Once you've lifted the canoe over your heads, carry it over until it's directly above your rack, then set it down gently (inside the rack brackets, if they're being used). Center the boat fore and aft.

To unload the canoe, simply reverse this process, making sure the boat is completely untied from the car before you begin. Pause briefly with your partner when the boat is on your shoulders to make sure you agree on which direction you'll be rotating the boat down.

Tie-down strategies
  • Straps
    Nylon load straps distribute tie-down pressure over a wider hull area than ropes. They also tend to chafe less against the canoe's surface. When combined with good quality, self-locking cam buckles, they're easy to use and quick to cinch down, providing excellent overall grip without the hassle of lots of knots. When using straps and buckles, remember to:

    • Place some sort of padding directly underneath the buckle (where it makes contact with the canoe hull). This will help minimize hull damage during transport.
    • Tie off the extra strap directly above the buckle once it's been cinched tight. This will provide added security in case the buckle releases while the car is moving.
  • Ropes
    When load straps with cam-buckles are not available, use non-stretching, water resistant rope to secure your boat. These ropes should be "seasoned" (brand new ropes tend to stretch), non-slick (slippery ropes tend to come untied), and non-elastic (even when pulled tight, elastic lines and bungy cords can expand under pressure and let go of a boat).
Basic securing procedures
No matter what type of tie-downs you use, follow these basic procedures whenever you secure your canoe to a roof rack:
  • Use at least two lines or straps to hold the body of your canoe in place. These lines should run perpendicular to your car.

  • Tie "keeper" lines from the ends of the canoe to your car's bumpers. Thread these lines through a sturdy part of the end of the canoe, then angle them out in an inverted "V" to both ends of the closest bumper. Pulled them taut and secure them with reliable knots.
NOTE: Avoid over-tightening any of the straps or lines holding your canoe in place. Too much tension can deform plastic hulls and crack fiberglass ones.

Driving with Your Canoe On Board

It's not difficult to drive safely with a canoe overhead. But it can be dangerous if you don't act cautiously.

Pre-driving checks
Make sure your boat is securely fastened to your rack before you leave home. Also check it occasionally throughout your drive, since knots can loosen, ropes can stretch and some boats can soften up when exposed to the heat of the sun.

To check your canoe, grab hold of either end of the boat and shake it from side to side. If the canoe is truly secure, the entire car should shift instead of just the boat. Inspect both bumper lines each time you check your boat.

On the road
Always drive cautiously when carrying your canoe. Keep your speed down, since canoes can affect the handling of some cars in high winds or at high speeds.

Make sure you center your boat fore to aft, since an improperly positioned canoe can impair your view of the road. When driving in busy traffic areas, remember that the ends of your canoe probably extend beyond the ends of your vehicle.

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