Putting a canoe on your car is an important step for successfully making it to the put-in. Whether you are renting a canoe from an outfitter or you have your own gear, this is a skill you are going to want to learn.

There are a few different ways that you can car-top your canoe, and it depends on whether or not you have roof racks. Roof racks are ideal as it provides the most secure tie down. It also reduces the risk of damaging your vehicle. If you don’t have roof racks there are still other options out there for you.

How to put a canoe on a car with roof racks

If your vehicle has roof racks, you have one of the best situations for tying down a canoe. Follow the steps below to safely transport a canoe on your car.

  1. Lift the canoe up and onto the rack on the vehicle. This can be done with one person for lower vehicles but it is always easier and safer when you have two people.
  2. If you want to protect the gunwales on the canoe, you can put either foam blocks or cloth between the gunwales and racks of your vehicle.
  3. Balance the canoe on the crossbars so it does not tip forward or back. Usually, this means the yoke is resting equally between crossbars. Position it the canoe so it is parallel. If it is slightly off-line, the wind will put uneven pressure on one side of your boat the entire drive.
  4. Standing on the passenger side of the vehicle, throw the non-buckle end of your cam strap to the other side of the vehicle. This step can be done for both the front and back strap of the canoe (one for each roof rack bar).
  5. On the driver’s side of the vehicle, wrap the strap around your roof rack bars and send the non-buckle side of the cam strap back overtop to the passenger side again. Do this for both the front and back strap.
  6. Take the non-buckle end of the cam strap and wrap it underneath the bar on the passenger side and up and through the buckle of the cam strap to begin the tightening process.
  7. Start with the buckle close to the bottom of the canoe (the highest point when the canoe is upside down) so that you have lots of room to pull the strap tight before the buckle hits the bar. Repeat for both back and front straps.
  8. Once these straps are tight, tie off the loose ends so they are not flapping in the wind.
  9. Finally, you want to secure both the front and back of the canoe with a bow and stern line. Every vehicle is going to have different spots to connect. Many vehicles have built-in attachment points under the front and back of the vehicle. If you don’t, you might want to consider purchasing hood/trunk tie-down loops which can be found at your local paddling shop or on Amazon.
  10. Do one final check to make sure the canoe is well connected to the car and you are all set to go. Try shaking the canoe with two hands—the vehicle should move with it.

How to put a canoe on a car without racks

If your vehicle does not have roof racks, there are other ways to secure the canoe to your vehicle. One of the best options is the use of foam blocks that can be purchased at your local paddling shop.

  1. While the canoe is on the ground, secure the foam blocks to each end of the canoe halfway between the yoke and the thwarts. Ideally they will be sitting close to the balance points of the canoe.
  2. Next, either by yourself or with the help of a friend, lift the canoe up and place it on top of your vehicle. You may need to play around with the location of the foam blocks and the position of the canoe on the top of the vehicle. You do not want it too far forward or backward and ideally, it is perfectly balanced on the center of your roof. This also means looking from the back of the vehicle to ensure the canoe is straight down the middle of your vehicle. If it is slightly off-line, the wind will be putting uneven pressure on one side of your boat the entire drive.
  3. Many people will use either cam straps or ratchet straps to secure the canoe to the roof by opening all car doors and actually doing a full wrap inside the vehicle and overtop of the canoe. This can cause damage to the padding around the outside of your door frame. Another option is to use rope and tie a truckers hitch knot in order to get the extra leverage to pull the canoe tight to the top of your vehicle.
  4. Finally, you want to secure both the front and back of the canoe. Every vehicle is going to have different spots to connect. Many vehicles have built-in attachment points under the front and back of the vehicle. If you don’t, you might want to consider purchasing hood/trunk tie-down loops which can be found at your local paddling shop or on Amazon.
  5. Do one final check to make sure the canoe is well connected to the car and you are all set to go. Try shaking the canoe with two hands—the vehicle should move with it.

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