So you've got a kayak, canoe, surfboard, or stand up paddleboard you can't wait to use. Before you can do that, however, you've got to find a practical way to get your toy to a lake or ocean - safely, and without damage. While these watersport items embody grace and fluidity in the waves, the truth is they're extremely cumbersome to transport on land. If you find yourself scratching your head trying to figure out the best solution, we've created this article to cover the many rooftop carriers for these items that we offer.
Because of their size, it's understandable to think transporting something as long as a canoe or kayak requires a trailer. But that's not the case. We've got lots of carriers that have been specially designed to make these items easy to load and secure to the roof of vehicles large and small. So you can skip the expense of buying, registering, and insuring a trailer. Rooftop carriers also let you avoid hassles that come with owning a trailer such as finding space to store it, dealing with electrical wiring, fitting special trailer brakes, and maintaining wear items such as tires and wheel bearings. Or, maybe your vehicle doesn't even have a trailer hitch, and that's just the way you want to keep it.
In the Product Options drop down, many of the carriers we sell will prompt you to enter your vehicle's year, make, and model, and will also ask "roof type" (checking for existence of rails or crossbars). Once you've done that, we encourage you to scroll down through the list of related accessories that will appear underneath the main item. For example, you may see a variety of related mounting hardware pieces that will be essential in attaching your carrier - whether your vehicle has a "naked" roof (no attachment points at all) or is already fitted with a rack and crossbars. To get a better idea of the types of roof rails, cross bars, and related mounting equipment that exist, we invite you to read our related article on roof rack base systems, which will help you understand whether you need to obtain additional rails.
For best value in canoe carriers, we'll start with the Yakima Gunwale Canoe Brackets. These are essentially four small brackets that secure in place on existing roof rack crossbars. Because the canoe is mounted upside-down, the top edging of the boat (gunwale) rests square up against those brackets, and is kept in place by straps to secure front and rear ends of the canoe. For slightly larger and heavier canoes, the Thule Portage Canoe Carrier and the Yakima KeelOver Canoe Carrier bracket sets work similarly.
We've also got Rhino-Rack's Kayak & Canoe Carrier which features a different method of support. This set consists of a set of four angled, rubber-coated foot pads that cradle the bottom of a kayak or canoe - leaving the top of the canoe facing upward in the same fashion kayaks are typically carried. The angle of the foot pads is adjustable, and they can be mounted in two different positions to handle either canoe or kayak.
Because of their shorter length and low center of gravity, kayaks are typically carried facing up. While that setup provides the best possible clearance for driving under low-overhang areas, it's not space-efficient in terms of roof surface area. If you want the option of carrying multiple kayaks or other gear on your roof rack as well, your best bet is carriers which cradle the kayaks at an angle, or carriers which position them completely on their side. Fortunately, clever design and layout ensure that ease of loading and strength are not compromised, and that your kayak and roof surfaces remain unscathed.
Kayak Carriers Designed For Ease Of Loading
Loading a kayak by yourself can be cumbersome, and we've got several carriers that make the process easier for a single person. Thule offers the Roll Model Kayak Rack and the SlipStream Kayak Rack, both of which feature an integrated bar with roller wheels that extends out from the rear. Once extended, it's easy to roll the kayak up and over this bar (75 pound limit) until it sits at its final resting point. Both feature rear foot pads covered in felt to reduce friction (Thule offers these "HydroGlide" felt-covered foot pads separately for those who wish to swap them onto other carrier sets). Thule's Glide & Set Kayak Carrier comes with similar foot pads, but leaves off the roller bar to keep costs lower. For heavier kayaks, we've also got the Yakima HullyRollers Kayak Rack that offers the distinct advantage of built-in roller wheels on all four foot pads that can be locked in place once the kayak is strapped down.
We've also got kayak carriers that do the work of loading for you. Thule's Hullavator Lift-Assist Kayak Carrier features a folding arm assembly that extends downward so you can load your kayak from the side at waist level. Aluminum construction ensures that it is lightweight enough to manage easily without being cumbersome. Once the kayak is attached, the assembly swings up onto the roof, and locks into position with your kayak facing up.
Rhino-Rack's Nautic Kayak Lifter comes with two extra bars that serve as ramps between the ground and the roof rack. Once the ramps are set up, cables are connected to the kayak, then the kayak is hauled up the ramp and onto the roof rack as the user turns a manual crank handle. The Nautic Kayak Lifter is designed to handle up to 175 pounds, and the ramp bars are stored horizontally on the roof rack when not in use. And for small boats up to 12 feet in length and 175 pounds, Rhino-Rack also offers the Side Boat Loader, which works in a similar fashion but uses a portable electric drill to drive the rotating bar which reels in the cable and pulls the boat up the ramps.
Carriers That Mount Kayaks At An Angle
Angled carrying of kayaks provides a compromise between overhead clearance and roof space, and we've got a number of carriers which position them in that way. Most use "J"-shaped cradle pieces to do so. For best value, there's the Rola J-Style Kayak Carrier as well as the Rhino-Rack Fixed J-Style Kayak Carrier, Yakima Hull Raiser Kayak Rack, and Thule Hull-A-Port Kayak Carrier - all of which feature fixed cradle pieces that do not fold flat.
Moving up to J-style carriers with cradle pieces that can be folded flat when not in use, we've got the Rhino-Rack Folding J-Style Kayak Carrier, Yakima Whispbar Kayak J-Cradle Carrier, and the Yakima BowDown Kayak Rack.
Carriers That Mount Kayaks Straight Up On Their Side
This style of kayak carrier takes up the minimum amount of roof space possible, so that multiple kayaks can be positioned on a vehicle's roof. In this style, we've got Yakima's Kayak Stacker Kayak Carrier with brackets that do not fold flat, and the BigStack Kayak Carrier with brackets that do fold flat. Both are designed to allow up to 4 slim-shaped kayaks to fit across the roof of a larger vehicle.
Carriers That Position Kayaks Facing Up
Positioning the kayak flat in a top-up position is simply the best way to travel aerodynamically with the lowest profile. These carriers will typically come with four angled foot pads covered with rubber for maximum grip and shock absorption. For those seeking best value, take a look at the Yakima EvenKeel Kayak Rack, Yakima Land Shark Kayak Rack, and the Rola Multi-Pivot Water Craft Carrier. There are also the extremely low-priced Yakima Kayak Carrier Foam Blocks, which consist of a set of two wide foam cradles that support the kayak underneath from side to side.
Moving up, the Rhino-Rack Nautic Rear Loading Kayak Carrier is designed for easy rear loading, with rear angled foot pads that are felt-covered and spring-loaded to take the friction out of pushing the kayak across the roof. Yakima's Mako Saddles Kayak Rack features four foot pads that are curved in shape and scalloped in the centers. This allows a kayak to slide over them easier during loading or unloading.
Stand Up Paddleboard / Surfboard Roof Carriers
A stand up paddleboard (known as an "SUP") is shaped and proportioned similarly to a surfboard, with the distinction of being a bit larger. Mounted on a roof rack carrier, they are usually positioned with the top surface facing down. To accommodate the unique dimensions of SUPs and surfboards, we offer a number of specially designed carriers - some of which can also be used to transport kayaks after minor adjustments are made.
For example, we've got the Rhino Rack Nautic Side Loading SUP Carrier that offers 180 degrees of rotation when it comes to positioning the angle of the board, allowing you to choose more roof space or lower height clearance. Thule's Top Deck Kayak Rack is geared for larger paddleboards with greater curvature on the bottom. And for maximum utility, both the Thule SUP Taxi Paddleboard Carrier and SUP Shuttle PaddleBoard Carrier are designed to secure two paddleboards (no more than 34" wide each) stacked on top of one another.
If you've read this far, we can safely conclude that you are 'slightly' obsessed with water sports. And now that you know how easy it can be to carry your equipment on the vehicle's roof, you are out of excuses. Any one of these carriers is cost effective, easy to install and use, and easily stored away during the off-season. The right rooftop-mounted water sport carrier will minimize the time you spend loading and unloading, so that you can maximize your time where you want to be, which is on the water!