How to Properly Carry a Kayak: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Properly Carry a Kayak: A Step-by-Step Guide

Some may find it difficult to carry a kayak as it's quite heavy and awkward to handle. Proper technique can help you transport your kayak easily to and from water, protect its condition, and avoid hurting yourself.

There are various kayak types that require different carrying techniques. However, don’t get nervous, as we can help you out with several useful methods to get the job done.

Our article will also include instructions on how to tie down a kayak if you want to transport it on a car roof for a long distance. Prepare your laces and let’s get started right now!

How to Carry a Kayak?

Here are some simple ways to carry a kayak with ease!

Carry an Inflatable Kayak

An inflatable kayak usually boasts a sit-on-top design. It is lighter and easier to carry over your shoulder. The technique is similar to that of the hardshell sit-inside kayaks.

  • Step 1: Fill up your kayak with the required PSI. The bow needs to point in the desired moving direction.
  • Step 2: Stay in the center of the kayak and face it. If you want to place it on your right shoulder, ensure the bow is on your left. And vice versa.
  • Step 3: Crouch down and reach across the inflatable kayak to the tube on the other side. Grab the tube beneath where it touches the ground, then gently tip the kayak over onto its side.
  • Step 4: Keep your hands under the tube and stand up with the kayak with you. Always maintain a straight back!
  • Step 5: Find a balance point to rest the inflatable tube on your shoulder by moving the kayak forward and back.
  • Step 6: Reverse these steps if you want to lower the kayak.

Carry a Hardshell Sit-on-Top Kayak

Since sit-on-top kayaks do not have a cockpit rim, they are heavy to carry. Some can be carried without assistance, but longer distances require a kayak cart or carry strap. Most sit-on-tops are heavy, but lighter ones can be brought under the arm.

  • Step 1: Lay your kayak down on the ground and point the bow in the direction you want to go. Stand at the balance point, with a little away from the middle.  If right-handed, face the bow and stay to the left of the kayak. Vice versa if you're left-handed.
  • Step 2: Place your feet shoulder-width apart and face the other way across the kayak. Maintaining a straight back while squatting, raise the kayak onto its side so that its top faces away from you.
  • Step 3:  As you turn to face the kayak's bow, maintain one hand on it for stability.
  • Step 4: If you want to carry a kayak properly, maintain your back straight and stand up straight with your legs while sliding your hand down the kayak until you find the grab handle. This method can be difficult since you carry all the weight on your arm. If you're not sure you can do this or you have back pain, consider using a kayak cart or carrying straps.
  • Step 5: Squat down until the kayak touches the ground in order to lower it.
How to Carry a Kayak?


Carry a Hardshell Sit-Inside Kayak

The most efficient method for carrying smaller kayaks is to lift and take them on your shoulder.

  • Step 1: Place the kayak on the ground so the bow faces the desired direction.
  • Step 2: Stand close to the cockpit and face the kayak to prepare for lifting. Position the bow to your right if you want to carry a kayak on your left shoulder and to your left if you're going to carry it on your right shoulder.
  • Step 3: Squat down, grab the cockpit rim, and roll the kayak onto its edge. Remember that the cockpit needs to face away from you, and you should maintain a straight back.
  • Step 4: Extend your legs straight to allow the kayak to slide up your legs. Then, gently bend your knees so the kayak will sit on your thighs. It's the basic technique to carry a kayak.

If you find it difficult to rest your kayak on your thighs, place it on a box, bench, or log.

  • Step 5: To roll a kayak, extend both hands across the cockpit and grab the rim on the far side. Maintain a straight back, and do not twist your upper body as you roll the kayak in your direction and onto your shoulder. If your kayak is too heavy, try a different approach.
  • Step 6: To make a kayak land precisely on your shoulder, balance it by placing your hand inside the cockpit on the upper rim. For additional comfort, you can wear a personal flotation device.
  • Step 7: To return the kayak to the ground, repeat the process in reverse order.

How to Transport Your Kayak?

It can be challenging to carry a kayak to your desired destination. Let’s scroll down for some useful methods to get the job done!

How to Transport Your Kayak?


If you have a plastic kayak, you can drag it to the water. All you need to do is hold the handle at the bow and drag the kayak.

However, it's not recommended to drag composite or fiberglass kayaks since they can make holes and cause extensive damage. Dragging should be done only on sand or glass to protect the keel. You'd better use a keel guard or skid plate to pull your kayak safely.

Using Kayak Carts

If you wonder how to transport a kayak without a roof rack, kayak carts can be an option. They are two-wheeled attachments that slide onto the center or one end of a kayak. It lets you wheel your kayak along by grasping a handle at one end. The carts make carrying the goods from far distances to the water much easier. But the gear is not suitable for rough or rocky put-ins.

You can fold, assemble, and disassemble the kayak cart easily, and they can fit nicely into your kayak or hatches. They cost around $60 to $150.

Using a Roof Rack

Loading a kayak onto a car can be difficult, but you can do it with a sturdy rack system. If your vehicle has factory racks, you just need to buy some accessories suitable for your kayak.

If your car does not feature a rack system, a basic crossbar and tower are also required to hold the accessories. Purchasing towers may be advantageous depending on your desired roof rack system because basic towers are more robust and able to support a greater weight than factory racks.

The most popular roof rack systems to carry a kayak include:

  • J-Style Racks: J-Style Racks or J-cradles create a J shape for side loading and supporting your kayak at an angle of 45 degrees.
  • Saddles: Saddles are padded platforms that slide along your vehicle's crossbars. They are horizontally positioned and rest beneath the hull of your kayak during transit.
  • Stackers: These upright racks are fantastic for families with more than one kayak. They allow you to carry more than one kayak at once since they hold your kayaks upright.
  • Temporary pads: They are foam blocks designed for short, low-speed trips. Buckles that fit through the car doors make adding and removing the pads from vehicles simple. Rather than purchasing aftermarket roof racks, some people have made their own rack systems out of pool noodles and ropes, which work similarly to temporary pads.

Here are other necessary items used along with the rack system to transport kayaks.

  • Crossbars: Most cars have bars installed by the factory that extends from the front to the rear of the roof. If your vehicle doesn't have them, they're not too difficult to install.
  • Camp straps: Also known as ratchet straps, cam straps secure your kayak. Two straps, each about twelve feet long, are required. If you want to deter theft, you can even get them with locks.
  • Bow and stern straps: Although they are optional, bow and stern lines will reassure you that your kayak won't blow off the roof. They tie the kayak's nose to the front and the kayak's tail to the back of your vehicle.

Using J Cradles and Stacker

Using J cradles and stackers will eliminate the need for towers. You can hold your kayak on its side with J-shaped cradles, freeing up roof space for additional storage. You need to lift the kayak above your head to position it in place to use the cradles. You can do it by bending your knees, grasping the cockpit's front and rear, and sliding the kayak onto your thighs. Next, raise one knee to stabilize the kayak, then lift it above your head and set it on the cradles. Tie it down after it's in the cradle.

Alternatively, additional kayaks may be put onto a single roof rack by using kayak stackers to lay kayaks on their sides against one another. Although they may also be used for touring and recreational kayaks, stackers are mostly helpful for whitewater kayaks.

Use an Inflatable Kayak

If you don't know how to transport a kayak with ease, go for an inflatable one. The kayak itself is convenient and easy to transport without needing a roof rack system. Thanks to its design, you can put it in your car's backseat or in a truck. Once deflated, it can fit into a small duffel bag or backpack for convenient carrying and quick access to the water's edge.

Use a Pick-Up Truck

If you don't have an elongated roof vehicle, kayak transport can be done by a pick-up truck. Tailgate pads are readily installed on the tailgate of these trucks. After positioning it, you can put the kayak down in the truck bed and fasten it firmly. This technique is comparable to temporary pads and is appropriate for short distances.

Fit A Kayak Trailer Into Your Car

A kayak trailer is a convenient solution for families with multiple kayaks, as it can be easily transported and accessed from the vehicle's tow bar. This alternative to roof rack systems allows for easy loading and unloading of kayaks, making them a more convenient option.

How to Load & Unload a Kayak?

Imagine you can carry a kayak to the beach. However, how to load and unload it? If you haven’t got the answer, we’ll show you how.

Loading a Kayak With Others

Loading a kayak onto a car with all installed accessories (crossbars, rack/padding, and straps/lines) is easiest with two people.

How to Load & Unload a Kayak?
  • Step 1: Each person stays at one end of the kayak, grabs handles, and places it parallel to your car, with the bow facing the front of the vehicle.
  • Step 2: Raise the kayak by grasping the hull at each end (not the grab grips). Make sure you lift it using your legs rather than your back.
  • Step 3: Ensure the kayak is above your head, then gently and exactly place it on the rack.

Loading a Kayak Alone

Some people are strong enough to lift the kayak themselves. However, if you can't carry a kayak alone, there are some tips for you:

  • Use a lift system: Kayak racks with integrated lift systems that slide from the top to the side of the vehicle make the kayak loading easier. Once the rack system is loaded, it can be raised onto the top of the car. Even though they are pricey, these racks work well to lower the height for the loading process.
  • Incorporate rolling wheels: Compared to the previous system, rolling wheels are a cost-effective solution. They allow you to easily position the kayak's bow and stern end and roll it forward into the front cradle.
  • Use a blanket or towel: This low-cost, low-tech technique can be effective. Put a towel or blanket on the back of your car and place your kayak's bow on it to attach it to a rack. Push the kayak forward onto the rack after lifting the stern.

Loading Multiple Kayaks

Here are some tricks to bring multiple kayaks into your car.

  • Install a second rack: Adding another rack helps you transport one more kayak. Check the kayaks' width and crossbar to ensure the method works.
  • Get the stacker bars: Stacker bars are a helpful accessory for stacking many kayaks. You can arrange them to lie on their side, thus reducing space consumption. They can be utilized with lighter, shorter whitewater kayaks as well as touring and recreational kayaks.

Tying Down Your Kayak

Here is a simple guideline on how to tie a kayak to roof racks. Before starting, ensure you have enough kayak tie down straps.

  • Step 1: Hold the cam strap buckle close to the front beams of your roof rack system and toss the other end to the other side to secure your kayak to it.
  • Step 2: Pass the section back over the kayak to where you started by looping it under the crossbar.
  • Step 3: Twisting the cam strap is an important step in the kayak tie-down process. It will prevent the strap from flapping in the wind.
  • Step 4: Tighten the buckle after inserting the tail end. Repeat with the other strap at the back end.
  • Step 5: Tuck the remaining straps into the car doors to secure it.

Below are some extra tips to make your kayak tie-downs easier:

  • Use the bow and stern straps: This equipment provides additional security to guarantee that your kayak doesn't go off while transporting.
  • Use a ladder: A step ladder nearby can greatly simplify the task.
  • Twist the straps: Twisting can prevent the strap from flying when you drive.
  • Buy locking straps: Locking straps function similarly to regular straps. The only difference is the buckle mechanism. While some require a numerical code to be unlocked, others include a key.
  • Double-check: After securing the straps, you need to check them again before starting to move. It's also recommended that you check again after 15 minutes of driving.

Keep Your Kayak From Scratching!

Depending on your kayak type and whether you do it alone or with somebody's help, there are different ways to carry a kayak. The main technique is to lift it with your legs (not your back) and use proper grips or handles.

Keep Your Kayak From Scratching!

Transporting kayaks by car can be a struggle. However, the equipment will be secured perfectly with our detailed instructions above on how to tie a kayak to a roof rack.

For easy outings, you should choose an inflatable kayak. A little challenge to bring the water equipment can’t stop a true water lover from exploring the aquatic world. And iROCKER is your best companion during your journey.

If you need any gear to support your adventure, don’t hesitate to contact us for the best price! Explore the water with our kayaks and aquatic equipment. Visit iROCKER for various options at great prices.


There are accessories to help users carry a kayak with ease. However, there are questions kayakers may wonder before starting. Let's take a look at some of them!

1. Should I Drag My Kayak?

No. Although you may occasionally need to drag your kayak, it is not advised because it could cause irreversible damage. On the other hand, some kayaks feature changeable skid plates that make dragging simple and don't result in major damage.

2. Can You Carry a Kayak on a Small Car?

Yes, you can do it by choosing a roof rack suitable for your car and kayak type. Check out some options, such as saddles, J-cradles, and custom padding.

3. Can I Put a Kayak on My Car Without a Rack?

Yes, it's possible to put a kayak on your vehicle without roof racks or cross bars by using the ratchet straps to secure the kayak to the car roof. You can also place blankets or yoga mats on the roof to prevent scratches.

4. Can You Ratchet Strap a Kayak to a Car?

Yes. Fasten the line to a safe point on the front of the kayak, such as the grab handle, then fasten the other end to a safe spot on your car. Use a hood loop strap if you don't have a tow hook.  Avoid attaching tie-down straps to your car's plastic components.