Securing a kayak onto your car roof is somewhere between an art and a science. At a minimum level, cushions, pads and inflatable pillows, coupled with an adept knack for tying knots, will usually keep your kayak within the same general area of your roof throughout its transport. That’s the art part.
Advances in rack/carrier systems for today’s assortment of sleek-roof-lined automobiles is truly an example of the science influences, especially in design, versatility and even application. You call out the car model, right down to style embellishments and rack/carrier manufacturers will answer with what are virtually custom-fitted towers and attachments for carrying a wide assortment of outdoor toys atop your vehicle - and many are ready to install right out of the box.
Essentially, a car-top kayak rack has four components:
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The support foundation of any car top rack or carrier is the roof itself, the base of the rack being either a foot pad attachment to a track, clamped to a cargo rail or merely padded and set directly on the roof. The manufacturer of most racks will be able to pair up a reliable, secure and effective fit for most any combination of vehicle and rack system. It’s important to confirm that those cargo rails are functional and well secured to the roof and will be able to sustain the weight/stress from the rack.
The curve of the roof line, side-to-side and front-to-back will determine how high your bar will have to be above the car top. Consider stainless steel components, and adjustment options to fine tune each unit. Some towers/mounts provide lock inserts to further secure the rack system.
Square or round steel bars (some vinyl coated) have long been the standard when heavy loads are anticipated. Aluminum-reinforced tear-drop or airplane wing cross-sectional bars are more aerodynamic and stylish. Make sure your rack will accommodate the weight you intend to carry (typically 2-3 kayaks max’).
Most saddles are padded and are either curved or shallow-V shaped to allow the boat to nestle into the rack where it can be secured with a strap. Some racks are arranged as vertical or angled arms that provide a degree of upright support to strap against. Adjustable panels, wings or curved forms allow for different boat lengths to be nestled into the rack more securely. Cinch straps are then used to snug the boat down firmly onto the rack or cradle.
Foam blocks and inflatable cushions can also be used for hauling a boat atop a vehicle. Typically kayak foam blocks are shallow “V” cradles; grooved blocks that fit over the gunwales are available for canoes. Sturdy, high-quality straps are critical for such cradles as well as padded clips and other hardware that might scratch your car or boat.
It’s important to keep all the contact areas of these pads/cushions clean of sand and dirt - anything that might get trapped under the pad and abrade the roof surface or between the pad and the boat.
Be sure to check out kayak racks in the paddling.com gear guide and read kayak rack reviews!