Pickup trucks are utilitarian, but the simple fact is canoes and kayaks don’t fit in them. Yes, you can tie a bunch of sketchy knots and dangle the boat out the back, bouncing and bending over every pothole, but it’s not ideal. Truck boxes aren’t long enough to support a 17-foot Prospector. And trucks really aren’t big enough for two Prospectors—believe me, I’ve tried. So, if you’ve got a truck and want to get boats on it, you’ll need a rack.
If you’re like me, the $1,000 price tag for a real rack might be too high, especially if you’re only driving to your local launch. A quick Google search of DIY truck racks will fill your head with all kinds of cockamamie ideas. You could buy a welder, learn to weld and build something beautiful. Personally, I prefer the old-fashioned wooden option. It’s cheap, easy to work with and you probably already have all the tools you’ll need. Plus, if you decide to upgrade to a sleek pro model, you can re-purpose the wood or chuck it in the campfire.
Every truck bed is a little bit different, but the steps you’ll need to follow are roughly the same. Here’s our quick and dirty guide for a DIY kayak or canoe rack for a pickup truck.
Pressure-treated 2x4s in eight-foot lengths are the obvious choice for the job. Grab a box of three-inch screws too. You’ll need to measure your truck bed and design your rack on paper before going to the hardware store; if you plan correctly, you’ll only have to make one trip. But you’ll probably make two.
The end goal is two crossbeams slightly higher than the roof of your truck and as wide, or a little wider, than your truck bed. This is what you strap your boats to. The width of many pickup beds is just under five feet. The average width of a tandem canoe is between 32 and 35 inches. The width of your crossbeams is up to you. But do consider now how useful it will be to be able to fit two canoes on your truck, in which case you’ll need a crossbeam width of at least six feet.
Each upright post sits in a corner of the truck bed. How you attach these to your truck varies on how permanent you want your rack to be and the shape of your truck box. You can use the stake pockets on the bed rails or build a frame sitting inside the box. If you don’t want to affix your rack to your truck bed permanently, I recommend creating extra stability by building out the bottom of the frame to run back to back and side to side, making the entire unit one frame-box unit you can lift out of your truck. Use ratchet straps with S-hooks in the receivers to secure.
The adage “measure twice, cut once” applies here. Make sure you cut the uprights the right length. Take into account the extra height the cross beams will add (if any), and the shear of your canoe gunwales. You want to be up enough the bow deck clears the roof of the truck cab.
The forces acting on a rack are strong. Simply building four uprights with two crossbeams might support a boat, but once you turn a corner or slam on the brakes, all your hard work will twist. Cut and screw 2x4s at diagonal angles from left to right of your uprights, with the goal of making an X. This will prevent your rack from folding. You may want stabilizers running from front to back as well.
Modify as needed
As with all things DIY, you may need to fine-tune your rack once built. Perhaps duct tape some pool noodles around the crossbeams to protect your boat. Black paint does wonders to spruce it up.
Haters gonna say it’s fake. | Photo: Colin Field