How to Tie a Canoe to an SUV

Canoeing on a lake is a fun and relaxing experience, but getting a canoe to a lake is a whole different story. Here are some easy stress-free ways to get that canoe hooked up to your car and get your vacation going!

  1. Make sure the car is prepared for/can handle a canoe.
  2. Make sure the canoe is centered between the front and rear rack with the yolk in the middle.
  3. Strap the canoe down with buckles, ropes, or straps.
  4. Tighten straps or ropes to secure it.
  5. Give it a big shove to check stability.

Although these steps are pretty straight forward, there are many important little things that you should know as you follow these steps. Make sure that you know all the information you need, so you can safely begin your relaxing vacation.

Step One: Prepare Your Car

Now if you have roof rack is on your vehicle and you are looking to purchase canoe roof racks or carrier racks you can find great products online easily. Here are my top three favorite brands for canoe carrying.

Yakima brand canoe and kayak carriers can range from about 120-250 dollars. Although these can be a little more expensive they work really well and are worth the price

Thule also carries rack equipment for canoes which range from 90-220 dollars. Thule is a highly recommended brand for a lot of avid canoers because they are easy to use and strong.

Also, Malone has rack equipment ranging from 90-180 dollars. Although Malone is not my go-to equipment supplier, they are really easy to apply to your car and they are cheaper than the others. They are still strong products and work well, they just aren’t my cup of tea.

If your car is not equipped with roof racks you can easily buy foam blocks that you can position on the strongest parts of your roof, right behind your windshield and near the back of your roof.

Side Note: If you can push on your roof from inside your car and the roof depresses with your hand, that is NOT a strong place to place foam blocks.

Foam blocks can cost about 15-60 dollars depending on what you feel most comfortable with and what is best for your car.

Side Note: Although foam blocks are a better economical option, they do not protect your car like racks can, and it is harder to load a canoe by yourself when using foam blocks.

Whatever racks or blocks that you choose to buy will come with instructions on how to attach them to your car.

Step Two: Center Your Canoe

If you are loading your canoe on your car with two or more people it will be a cinch to get it on the roof of your car.

With two people make sure one person is on each end of the canoe, lift the canoe above your heads and place it on top of your car, after you know it’s centered.

However, if you are alone there are specific ways that you can put your canoe on your car by yourself.

First, flip the canoe over so that you are standing inside of it and keep the back end on the ground. Rest the top end of the canoe on the roof of your car and then step out from underneath it.

The next step is to lift the back end up, so that it is parallel to the front end and slide it onto the roof of your car. This will take a little readjusting, so don’t get stressed if you don’t get it the first time!

As you place your canoe on top of your car, you will want to make sure that your canoe is centered between the front and rear racks.

In other words, the yolk of the canoe, which is the bar found in the middle of the canoe, which will usually have yoke pads underneath, is in the center. This makes the canoe a little bit easier to carry.

Just remember that the middle of your canoe should be in the middle of the racks on your car.

Step Three: Strap Your Canoe Down

You can use 3 different ways to strap down your canoe.

The canoe should be tied, strapped, or buckled down on either side of the middle. This will make it so that weight is evenly distributed on your SUV.

If you are using straps with buckles, you have to remember to tie the strap ends down after you buckle just in case the buckle fails. I recommend these restraints because the straps even out the load of the canoe on your car and they are easier to use.

Buckles are just an extra precaution that might take a little more time but will keep your canoe from slipping off your car on the freeway!

Regular straps with no buckles are just tied down after you cinch or secure them.

If you choose to use rope, you should use polyester rope – like double-braid marine rope – because it will not stretch out when it’s wet.

Whatever you do, DO NOT use the nylon (polyamide) yellow rope. Although this rope is good for water, it will melt and or disintegrate in heat.

Using this rope for an anchor would be fine but to use it as a strap, it is pretty much useless, unless your canoeing in the winter.

When tying your canoe down with a rope, you will want to make an effective knot. In my experience, the Trucker’s Hitch is the best knot to use and it’s a cinch to do, pun intended!

You can watch videos on how to tie a Trucker’s Hitch or follow these steps:

  • Start at the bow (front) of your canoe and make a loop with a twist halfway down the rope.
  • Make a loop with the slack line in your other hand and poke it through your first loop.
  • Pull the first loop tight to secure the knot. Do not pull the slack line as it will pull the knot out.
  • Then take the free end of the slackline and pass it through the anchor points or your car, which can be found on your rack or inside your car, then pass it through the loop.
  • Pull on the free end of the loop to tighten the knot again
  • When the knot is tight, hold it in place and tie half hitches around the original to secure it.

Whether you are using straps or rope make sure you tie your knots tightly, but not tight enough that you crack a fiberglass canoe or dent a plastic canoe.

Step Four: Tie Down Your Canoe

You will then want to tie down your canoe. With straps and rope, you can roll down your window and tie them around the anchor points of your car. However, if you are using foam blocks you will need to pass your straps or rope through your car door, not your windows!

If you don’t have any good anchor points on your car you will need to buy strap loops for under your hood. Strap loops range from 10 – 20 dollars.

Now, if you are using foam blocks, it is a good idea to tie the stern (back) or your canoe down as well.

Side Note: If the end of your boat extends over 5 ft (1.5 m) over the back of your car you need to tie a red flag at the end to make it legal.

Step Five: Secure Your Canoe

Now that your canoe is safely strapped and tied to your vehicle you’ll want to give that canoe a big hard shove. Your car should move but your canoe should not.

If the canoe moves try tightening the straps a little more until you can shove the canoe and it doesn’t move.

In the end, it’s all about safety.

Whatever equipment you choose to attach your canoe to your car will work just fine as long as it is applied properly. Even though you might want to get on the road as soon as possible, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Take your time to ensure the safety of your canoe, your car, and your family and you be able to appreciate your vacation all the more.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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