How to Put a Kayak on a Car Without a Roof Rack

Written by tom king
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How to Put a Kayak on a Car Without a Roof Rack
A simple padded frame keeps your kayak from damaging your car roof. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Lacking a roof rack to tie your kayak to, you'll have to create a framework that accomplishes two purposes - protecting the roof of the car from abrasion by the hull of the boat and positioning the boat to ride securely during transport. This simple padded frame design needs only three basic parts. When not in use, break the whole thing down for storage in your boot or even stuff it inside the kayak itself. Tie-down straps secure the assembly to the roof.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 3 styrofoam swim noodles with hollow cores
  • 8 feet of 1 inch PVC pipe
  • File
  • 4 PVC elbows
  • Hacksaw
  • Sharp knife
  • PVC cleaner
  • PVC glue
  • Zip ties

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  1. 1

    Cut the 1-inch PVC pipe into six 12-inch lengths. Bevel both ends of each section of pipe with a file. Cut two 8-inch long pieces of styrofoam noodle with a knife.

  2. 2

    Press a pipe section through the centres of one of the 8-inch styrofoam noodles leaving 2-inches extending from either end. You may need to rub some lubricant on the pipes to help force the pipe all the way through. Repeat with the second 8-inch noodle.

  3. 3

    Clean the ends of the two pieces of PVC pipe you've padded and the insides of four 1-inch PVC elbows. Glue two elbows to the ends of the pipes with the open ends of the elbows pointed the same direction.

  4. 4

    Clean the ends of the remaining four 12-inch pipes and the insides of elbows on the padded end sections. Glue the pipes into the elbows.

  5. 5

    Measure the length of your kayak's cockpit and add the distance between the front edge of the cockpit and the tip of the bow. Cut two lengths of styrofoam noodles the distance just computed.

  6. 6

    Lay the end frames with the bare unpadded pipes extending toward each other. Push the 12-inch pipes into the ends of the long styrofoam noodles to make a roughly rectangular padded square. Fasten the noodles to the leg pipes with zip ties. This will leave the centre sections of the long sides of the rectangle, flexible where the pipes don't extend into the noodles. This allows the noodles to flex to fit the shape of the kayak hull when it rests on top.

  7. 7

    Lay the padded rectangle on top of your vehicle's roof in the centre with the short ends facing to the front and back. Lay the kayak on top of the rectangle, upside down or right side up depending on which way leaves the boat supported higher above the car. You may have to shorten the sides to lift the boat more, so it doesn't touch the car roof.

  8. 8

    Attach the ends of the ratcheting tie-downs to the manufacturing towing eyes under the front and back bumpers. Run the centre of the straps through the painter eyes on the bow and stern of the kayak. Ratchet the straps tight to hold the kayak firmly against the padded frame. Cut four pieces of styrofoam noodles into 8- to 12-inch lengths and cut the noodles in half to the hollow core. Wrap them around the tie-down straps where they lie against the hood and boot to prevent them from abrading the paint.

Tips and warnings

  • Tighten the straps a little at a time alternating between the front and back till the boat is tied down securely. Stop after you've driven for 15 to 20 minutes and retighten the straps as necessary. They often loosen as the movement of the vehicle shifts the boat around. To make the frame so it can be disassembled, don't glue the lengthwise pipes attached to the long noodles to the end frame elbows. Instead drill 3/8-inch holes horizontally through the pipe and elbow. Purchase 3/8 inch keeper pins at your hardware store and use them to hold the frame together. Remove them when you want to take the frame apart.

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