Transporting your kayak for the first time can be a harrowing experience. Following some simple suggestions will help avoid potential pitfalls and allow you to fully enjoy the kayaking experience.
EQUIPMENT FOR SAFE TRANSPORTATION
Inexperienced kayakers will often choose their transportation method based on budget. While the most economical methods may be suitable for lightweight hulls, most kayaks will require upgraded carrying solutions. The two main requirements are some form of rack, plus a method of securing the kayak to the carrier.
Cambuckle tie-down straps – while ratchet straps are preferred by many for their holding power, there are reasons to avoid these and use the non-ratcheting cambuckle tie-downs instead. Ratchet straps can easily be over-tightened and compress the hull, resulting in dents and hull distortion. Cambuckle straps can be tightened sufficiently to securely hold your kayak, but are unlikely to exert enough tension to damage your kayak.
Bow and stern tie-downs – for anything other than extremely small and lightweight hulls, these additional tie-downs are essential equipment. While the cambuckle straps are strong enough to resist breakage, adding bow and stern ropes will ensure the kayak will not move if you are required to brake forcefully, or if the main straps have become loose. Adding these tie-downs will reduce the stress on your roof rack, which is ideally suited to cope with the down-force load, but more susceptible to damage from lateral motion. Tie-downs can lose tension during longer trips or over rough surfaces, so adding bow and stern straps will ensure your load remains anchored in position.
Soft roof racks – removable products such as the Sea to Summit Traveller soft roof racks are perfect for short trips and lightweight hulls. Fitting permanent roof racks to some vehicles may not be practical, so these removable racks are an economical and effective solution. While the simple fitting method makes them very convenient, they should not be considered a long-term solution for larger hulls.
Permanently fitted roof racks – quality brands such as Whispbar are the best choice for frequent transport of your kayak. These racks offer higher load ratings than the temporary soft racks and can also be used for accessories such as bike holders. It is important to ensure your racks are rated for the load of your kayak and any permanently fitted accessories. To reduce the risk of scratches and dents on your hull, consider pairing your hard racks with crossbar pads. The crossbar pads not only compress a little (reducing the risk of your hull denting under the pressure of the straps) but also provide more friction to reduce slippage.
Kayak cradles – specialised kayak cradles are available to provide gentle support to your hull, with some even assisting the loading process. If considering a cradle, ensure you speak to the friendly staff at Freak Sports, as the effectiveness of these cradles will vary with different hull shapes.
Kayak Loaders – compact kayaks are extremely light and can be easily lifted without assistance. Even light hulls can be difficult to lift overhead, as the balance point is very narrow on a longboat. To avoid injury and damage, using some form of loader is recommended. While there are many high-tech loaders available, simple solutions such as side loader bars are extremely effective and inexpensive.
Whether you choose a simple product such as the K-Rack loader, or a more advanced model such as the Yakima Showdown side loader, these essential tools are designed to protect you, your kayak and your vehicle from damage. Hull length, weight, the size of your vehicle and your own physical attributes will determine the best loader to suit your requirements.
Kayak trolleys – road transport is the longest part of your journey, but moving your kayak from the vehicle to the water can be the most difficult. Specialised kayak trolleys make this task nearly effortless, as they negate the need to manually carry your hull to the water. When considering a kayak trolley, ensure you buy a model which is suitable for the weight of your kayak and accessories, plus the terrain you will need to cross. Narrow wheels are ideal on firm surfaces, but wide wheels or pneumatic tyres are better for soft sand. Beware of potential damage caused by using scupper-mounted trolleys in kayaks which are very heavy, or those which do not have additional strengthening in the scupper areas. Models such as the Railblaza C-Tug are incredibly popular, due to their large weight capacity and ability to fit most hulls.
Trailers – owners of heavy kayaks may opt for a more advanced means of transportation. Trailering a kayak reduces many of the physical obstacles encountered when car-topping a large hull. The main benefit of using a trailer is the loading height, as typically there is little or no lifting required. The kayak can be wheeled up to the trailer and pushed on with ease. Trailers can be as simple as a modified box trailer, or advanced custom-made versions to perfectly support your investment. If you own a heavy hull or are mobility impaired, a custom kayak trailer is a wise choice.
BASIC TECHNIQUES FOR SAFE TRANSPORTATION
The best equipment can be ruined by poor technique or preparation. Here are some tips to simplify the process of transporting your kayak:
- After strapping your kayak to the roof, give it a push in all directions to ensure it is secure. Often, this will result in some re-tensioning of your straps. Straps MUST be secured under the internal section of the crossbars, as strapping them on the extremities of the bars can result in the straps releasing if the kayak moves sideways.
- Do not keep your kayak strapped to your car for long periods, or leave it attached to a trolley. Long exposure to heat and pressure can distort or dent your hull. If you do dent your hull, don’t panic! Often, leaving the hull in the sun can heat restore the original shape. If this does not work, hot water poured gently over the surface can soften the hull and allow it to be gently pushed back to its normal shape.
- Find the strongest section of your kayak and rest your kayak on these points during transit. This is most often the gunnels of the kayak, so unless you are using specialised cradles, you are usually recommended to transport the kayak upside-down.
- Remove any detachable accessories and batteries from the kayak before loading.
- Be aware of the height increase of your vehicle when carrying a kayak on the roof.
- Reduce your speed, particularly when using temporary racks.
- After you have travelled a short distance, stop to re-check the tension of your straps. Most straps will loosen a little after the initial fitting, or after they have become wet.
- Consider carrying a heavy-duty rubber mat to protect the kayak when lifting onto a side loader etc. The anti-fatigue versions (heavy-duty mat with holes or ribs) are ideal, as they also provide some friction to reduce slippage.
- Be aware of the weight distribution of your kayak. Find the balance point of your kayak, as this should typically be positioned in the middle of your roof racks. Also be aware of legal overhangs on your vehicle, which will vary from state to state.
- Be aware that carrying a large hull on the roof of your car changes its centre of gravity. Drive to the conditions and make allowances for the additional load.
The last step of every loading or unloading procedure is to check around your vehicle, to ensure nothing has been left behind.
You’ve taken care while transporting your kayak, but storage is a key component to ensuring a long lifespan and best performance of your hull.
- Sunlight and heat – Australia can have a very harsh climate. While extreme cold can damage hulls, heat and sunlight are the most common issues you will face when determining the storage site for your kayak. Direct sunlight will degrade all hulls, with effects including fading, deformation and brittleness of plastics. Likewise, storing your kayak in an enclosed area with high temperatures (such as enclosed sheds and garages) can soften plastics and accentuate the possibility of hull distortion. Ventilation is important in enclosed spaces to remove heat, as well as remove any moisture which may be present.
- Rain – while it seems ironic that a device made for the water could be affected by rain, it is a genuine risk. In small volumes and for short periods of time, water accumulation in a kayak will not be detrimental. If left to fill with a large volume of water, your hull can easily be distorted and irreparably damaged. Water resting in your kayak is also a perfect environment for mould.
If you need to store your rig outside, a shade structure or tarp is the minimum protection you should provide. If using a tarpaulin, use a high quality reflective version and leave an air gap above the kayak for ventilation. If there is no airflow around your kayak, mould can rapidly damage even the best quality composites.
Similar to transportation, your storage method will depend on the shape of your hull, its composition and size. There is no “one-size-fits-all’ storage solution, but there is certain to be an option perfect for your kayak.
- Purpose-made kayak racks – if you decide to use a rack to support your kayak, even a small hull demands high quality protection. Most racks support the kayak on its side, placing pressure on the weaker section of the hull. To reduce the risk of damage, well padded rack arms with a wider gap (such as the Sea to Summit Kayak Storage Racks) are ideal. The generous width of quality racks allows simpler positioning while ensuring the strongest part of the hull contacts the padded arms.
- Slings and straps – either suspended from the ceiling or wall, straps are the gentlest method of supporting your kayak. Simple products such as the Aquasling will easily support smaller hulls, while more substantial models with ceiling hoists offer unparalleled convenience. Wall-mount slings are best on light-weight hulls, mostly because it can be difficult to manoeuvre a larger hull into position. Quality hoists are a great option, with excellent weight distribution and effortless lifting of the kayak. If you can park your car below a kayak hoist, you have a loading/unloading solution combined with space-effective storage.
- Floor-mount – if you are seeking a cost-effective solution, the floor can be the ideal mount for some kayaks. This technique is only for hulls with generous contact areas, as it will otherwise cause significant distortion. Like all methods of storage, it is important to remove unnecessary weight from the kayak prior to storage.
- Custom-racks and budget solutions – many owners have invested in customised stands, specifically designed to perfectly support their valuable kayaks. These range from high-quality multi-level timber trolleys to simple frames with PVC pipe “bunks”. If you are able to store the kayak upside down, which is preferable for many models, budget solutions such as folding sawhorses work can be very effective.
Owning a kayak is a very rewarding experience. Unlike other water sports, caring for your equipment is a simple process.
- Water is your friend – quite simply, water is the best cleaning tool available. Forget harsh cleaners, as rinsing your hull and accessories with freshwater is 90% of your maintenance requirement. Mild soap and water are fine, but remember to rinse afterwards.
- Specific care needs to be taken with pedal drives. Ensure you follow manufacturers recommendations for cleaning and servicing, as some basic maintenance will reduce the risk of mechanical failure.
- Some manufacturers advocate the use of specific hull protectants or common variants such as Aerospace 303. These formulations will provide some UV resistance and will certainly restore the gloss on your hull, although cannot undo the damage from exposure to the elements. UV and water are part of kayaking, but once your hull is off the water you should get it clean, dry and out of sunlight as soon as possible. Follow these rules and protectants won’t be necessary for most products.
- Regularly inspect your hull for damage and wear. Check for cracks, ensure fittings are well connected and search for areas of water ingress. This should be completed after every trip, but most importantly should be repeated prior to launching.
If you have invested in a quality boat, it should have premium protection. Some home insurance may cover possessions such as your kayak and its accessories, but it is wise to contact your insurer to confirm. Also, verify your items are covered by your insurer while on the water, as even though personal possessions are covered by certain policies, this often is not extended to items used while engaged in water sports. Consider items beyond the kayak and fitted accessories, as mobile phones and other items can also be lost overboard. If you do experience an unfortunate event, comprehensive insurance will ease the burden of costly replacement. The best cover will include storage, transportation and use on the water.
EXPERIENCE CANNOT BE PURCHASED, BUT ADVICE IS FREE
While these tips will help you get to the water and back safely, there is no substitute for experience. The Freak Sports team have extensive knowledge and a genuine desire to assist their extended kayaking family. If you need advice on any aspect of this amazing sport, ensure you chat with a team who loves kayaking as much as you do!