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How to Tie Down a Canoe To a Roof Rack

A trip to the lake or river is always better when you can bring your canoe along! Fortunately, loading a canoe on your roof rack is pretty easy once you've done it once or twice.Below, we'll go over the basics of how to tie down a canoe to a roof rack, so you can safely reach your destination.
Canoe on Vehicle Roof
Supplies List
*Note: Consult your vehicle's owner manual to confirm the weight carrying capacity of your roof prior to loading.
Watch Now: Securing a Canoe to a Roof Rack

Step 1: Choose Your Carrier

To carry your canoe on a roof rack, you'll need a carrier designed for this use. Most include the necessary tie-downs as well. There are multiple styles of carriers available. Foam blocks and crossbar pads are economical options that protect your canoe, roof rack, and vehicle. Sturdier, higher quality Gunwale brackets and saddle-style carriers are also available.
Canoe strapped to vehicle roof

Step 2: Load Your Canoe

Securing your canoe to your roof rack will look a bit different depending on what style carrier you have.Be careful when loading the canoe onto your roof—you don't want to dent your vehicle! Consider asking a helper for assistance during this step.
Foam Blocks & Crossbar PadsMount the foam pads (some will mount to your canoe first, and others will mount to your crossbars). Load the canoe onto your crossbars. Make sure the foam pads are secure.
Mount Foam Pads on Canoe
Mount the foam pads onto your canoe
Mount Canoe on Roof Rack
Mount the canoe onto your crossbars
Crossbar pads wrap around your crossbars and allow you to safely transport gear on your roof rack without a standard carrier. To install, wrap the pads around your crossbars and secure in place. Some pads will have Velcro closures, while others will have elastic cords.Mount the pads on the crossbars. If you choose, you can mount the pads toward one side of the crossbars. For instance, if you'll be loading the canoe from the passenger side of the vehicle, you can place the pads closer to the passenger side of the vehicle.Next, load your canoe onto the pads. You may want to ask a helper for this step—canoes can be quite heavy, and it's possible to dent your vehicle roof when maneuvering the canoe onto it.
Mount Pads on Crossbars
Mount the pads on the crossbars
Canoe on Crossbar Pads
Mount your watercraft onto your crossbar pads
Saddle-Style CarriersSaddle carriers mount to your crossbars and provide a cushioned cradle for your canoe. They are more adjustable than foam blocks, so they can better conform to your canoe's hull for additional security. These carriers will either clamp onto your crossbars or mount in your T-slot channel at the top of your crossbars.Follow the manufacturer's instructions to install the carrier, then load the canoe onto the carrier. Some saddles use rollers or non-grip surfaces (like felt) that allow you to slide your watercraft on and off from the rear for easier loading.
Canoe Carrier on Roof Rack Crossbars
Standard clamp mounts around your crossbar
Top Channel Mount in Crossbars
T-bolt hardware allows for top-channel mount
Canoe on Roof Rack Carrier
Mount your carrier as instructed, then mount your canoe
Gunwale BracketsGunwale are easy to install and don't require much equipment on top of your crossbars. Gunwale brackets clamp onto your crossbars and provide four padded surfaces on which to rest your canoe. Attach your brackets per the manufacturer's instructions, place the canoe on the bases, then adjust the spacing as needed for a proper fit. Then, tighten the gunwales in place.
Gunwale Brackets for Canoes
Gunwale Brackets for Canoe
Gunwale brackets provide 4 resting points for your canoe
Canoe on Vehicle Roof Rack
Step 3. Secure Canoe With Tie-Down StrapsOnce the canoe is loaded, it's time to strap it in place. You'll need two tie-down straps (often included with the carrier) to secure the canoe to the two crossbars.
Note: Choose a strap based on its safe working load limit (WLL). The weight of the secured cargo must not exceed the combined WLL of the straps being used. For example, if you are using straps with a WLL of 500 lbs each to tie down a 1,000-lb load, you need at least 2 straps to safely secure that load.To determine the maximum load, or break strength, of the strap, multiply the WLL by 3. The WLL is always one-third (1/3) of the maximum load. It is recommended that you always use straps in pairs.
Thread the tie-down straps beneath one side of your crossbar. Toss the strap over the canoe, and thread it beneath the crossbar's opposite side. Secure using the cam buckles. Do the same on the other crossbar. Secure any excess strap—you don't want it flapping around while you're driving!
Thread strap beneath each side of crossbar
Thread beneath each side of crossbar
Secure with cam buckles
Secure with cam buckles
Secure tie-down strap
Secure excess strap
Secure watercraft on roof rack
Secure excess strap

Step 4: Strap Down the Bow and Stern

In addition to securing the canoe side to side, we also need to secure it back to front to make sure it doesn't slide off the end of the vehicle. For this, we can use bow and stern straps, which are included with many carrier kits.Thread the strap through the S-hook, tie a secure knot, then run the strap through the attachment point on the front of your canoe. Attach the S-hook to a secure point on your vehicle. Do the same for the rear of the vehicle. Bow and stern straps typically attach to the frame, bumper, hitch, or tow loop.
Bow and stern straps through canoe
Run bow/stern strap through the front canoe attachment point
Bow and stern strap connected to front of vehicle
Attach bow/stern strap to secure point on front of vehicle
Bow and stern strap connected to rear of vehicle
Attach bow/stern strap to secure point on rear of vehicle
S-Hook Secured to Hitch
Example A: S-hook secured to hitch
S-hook secured to vehicle frame
Example B: S-hook secured to frame
Canoe on vehicle
Front of vehicle is secured
Canoe tied down on vehicle roof rack
Back of vehicle is secured
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Written by: Amber S.Updated on: 6/28/19



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