How to Transport A Kayak (or two) Without A Roof Rack

How to Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack
How to Transport A Kayak Without A Roof Rack

Did you know? There are over 16 million kayakers in the US alone? It is easy to see why kayaking is such a popular outdoor activity. It’s wholesome fun for body and mind and a great way to be one with nature. Perhaps you are one of those 16 million who bought a shiny new (or a slightly dull old one; it doesn’t matter!) kayak and can’t wait to load it onto your car and take it out into the water.

The only problem is that you don’t have a roof rack. Maybe you’ve broken the bank buying that sweet fishing kayak and don’t want to invest in a roof rack or you live close to the water and don’t think it’s worth buying a roof rack for such a short distance. Whatever may be the reason for not having or wanting a roof rack, there are two things you can do now.

One, put your kayak back in the garage and watch YouTube videos of strangers kayaking instead.

Two, wing it!

In this article, I will show you two ways to wing it safely so you can transport your kayak without defacing your car, your kayak, or others on the road.

Method # 1: Using Pool Noodles

Yes, you read that right! The humble pool noodle (originally called pool woggles; another fun fact for you there!) is our weapon of choice here. The idea here is to create a substantial buffer between the kayak and the car roof. For that, the pool noodle is a great choice. They are flexible and soft, yet strong enough to hold a person (in water). Their nonabrasive nature also means they will not leave scratch marks on your car or kayak.

Things you will need

Measure the breadth of your car roof and march into your local home depot to purchase these:

Pool noodles

I recommend getting the thicker pool noodles, which are 3 inches to 3.5 inches thick. Also, get the ones with a hole in the middle. Additionally, get the red-colored ones (I’m kidding! Get whichever color pleases you!). A minimum of two is required, but no harm in a few extra ones. As a general rule, use one pool noodle for every three feet of your car roof.

Aluminum hollow tubes

This is an optional item, but a great way to reinforce the pool noodles. Ensure that you buy the right size that fits snugly inside your pool noodle and doesn’t overextend the breadth of your car roof by more than a few inches.

Ratchet straps

Depending on the number of pool noodles you are using, you will need a corresponding number of ratchet straps. Each pool noodle needs one ratchet strap to secure it and the kayak needs two of them. So, if you are using two pool noodles for your car, get 4-5 ratchet straps. They should be double the breadth of your car roof.

Bungee cord

This is again an optional item. The length of the bungee cord should be about a quarter more than the length of the car.

How to Transport a Kayak with Pool Noodles

Step 1: Secure the pool noodles to your car roof

1) Place the pool noodles across the breadth of your car roof. It shouldn’t poke out on either side by much. If it does, trim it down to size.

2) Once you are satisfied with the size, take the pool noodle off the top of the car. Thread the ratchet strap through the hole in the pool noodle such that you have an equal amount on both sides

3) If you are using the aluminum tubes, slide them through the pool noodles.

4) Now place the pool noodles back atop the width of the car, open the car door, and secure the straps firmly inside the car.

Step 2: Place the kayak on the pool noodles

1) Once you have secured all the pool noodles in place, flip the kayak over such that the cockpit faces down, and place it on the secured pool noodles. While the pool noodles lie along the breadth of the car, the kayak itself lies along the length of the car.

2) Check to ensure that the kayak is in the center and not protruding out one way more than the other.

Step 3: Secure the kayak to the roof

1) Secure the front of the kayak first (if you’re feeling rebellious, secure the back first! The order doesn’t really matter!). Run a ratchet strap over the front of the kayak and secure it under the car roof. Oh, and don’t forget to open the car door before you do this unless you want to clamber in through the window!

2) Repeat this process to secure the back of the kayak.

Step 4: Secure the bow and stern

This is an optional step if you want an extra layer of security. If you have front and rear carry handles on your kayak, run a bungee cord through them and secure it in front under the hood and behind under the trunk of the car. This way you’ve made sure that the kayak is always pointing in the right direction. The cord in front also gives you a visual clue of how the kayak is behaving throughout the journey.

Method #2: Using Foam Blocks

The principle here is the same; to create a sturdy base that acts as a roof rack for your kayak. A foam block is stronger than a pool noodle and this method is actually easier than the first one as it requires fewer steps. However, given the fact that you can secure both the pool noodles and the kayak to the car, I find the pool noodle method to be the more secure of the two.

What You Will Need to Transport a Kayak with Foam Blocks

Foam blocks

If you can get your hands on some latex rubber foam blocks, use those. They are the sturdiest ones around. If you can’t find these or just think they are too expensive, any good quality Lux foam will do. The ones with a depression in the middle are great to nestle the bow and stern of your kayak. You will need two foam blocks with a minimum size of 20” (l) x 4”  (w) x 4” (h).

Ratchet strap

A total of six straps will do the trick. Two of the straps need a hook at one end with the others being the normal overhauling kind. If you cannot find straps with hooks, a bungee cord with hooks will do too.


Step 1: Get the blocks and kayak on the car roof

1) Place one foam block on the front end of the car roof and the other on the rear end.

2) Set the kayak face-down over the foam block, ensuring that it isn’t poking out one way more than the other.

Step 2: Secure the kayak breadthwise

1)With both doors open, pass the ratchet straps over the front side of the kayak and secure inside the car, under the roof.

2) Repeat the same process securing the rear side of the kayak

Step 3) Secure the kayak lengthwise

1) Use the straps with the hooked end for this step. Connect both the straps in the middle.

2) Pass the strap through the kayak’s front and rear carry handles.

3) Use the hooks to secure the kayak under the front and back end of the car.

Transporting Two Kayaks Without a Roof Rack

Transporting one kayak without a roof rack is easy, but what about two? With a few tweaks to the pool noodle method, you can do that too.

You will need all the same equipment as before; pool noodles, aluminum tubes, and ratchet straps. Besides these, some good-quality rope will also come in handy.

Here is a stepwise guide:

Step 1: Secure the pool noodles to the car roof

As explained before, you need to push the aluminum tube and the ratchet straps through the hole in the pool noodle and secure it firmly inside the car. Use at least three pool noodles this time.

Step 2: Secure the Kayak

Here comes the tricky bit! For larger cars, lay them side by side, cockpit side down, on the pool noodles. Secure the front end and back end of the kayak with the ratchet straps as you would when securing only one kayak.

For smaller cars with less surface area, you need to place both kayaks on their sides on the pool noodles. One kayak’s hull should face the other kayak’s cockpit.

As before, run the bungee cord or ratchet straps with hooks through the front and rear handles of the kayak and anchor them under the hood and trunk of the car.

Additionally, pass a rope from the front handle of one kayak to the front handle of the other and make a tight, secure knot in the middle. Repeat this with the rear handles. Tying the handles together will prevent them from moving apart from each other.

Do’s and Don’ts of Transporting Kayaks Without a Roof Rack

Transporting a Kayak Without a Roof Rack


Do check your car manual. First things first, make sure your car is built to take the load.

Do measure the length and breadth of your car roof before buying the required material. This will save you precious time taken for a second trip to the store (and get that kayak in the water faster!).

Do insert the strap in on the opposite side of the lever. That is the only way they stay secured and not slip off when you get moving.

Do twist the straps before securing them. This prevents them from vibrating and making unearthly howling sounds when you are cruising down the highway.

Do ask a friend or partner for help while placing the kayaks on the roof of your car, especially if you’re trying to secure two of them. One of them could fall or worse, you could end up getting a bad back just before you go kayaking.

Do give the kayak a good tug before setting off. Once everything is secured, give the kayak a good shake to see if it moves. If it is moving a little when you jig it, chances are that it will move a lot more when you are on the road.

Do stop midway through your journey to check if any of the ropes have loosened or that the kayak has slid forward, backward, or to the side.


Don’t buy items from the dollar store. Invest in quality equipment instead. Not only will this save you money in the long run, but it will also be safer. If you are using equipment you already have on hand, inspect it carefully before going ahead. Don’t use torn or worn out straps. You do not want a strap breaking mid-way through your journey

Don’t over tighten the ratchet straps. Over tightening them can cause the kayak hull to bow.

Don’t hook onto any plastic parts under the car that can break off. When using the bungee or ratchet hooks to secure the hull and stern of the kayak, look for something metal under the car to anchor it to.


So as you can see, transporting a kayak or two without a roof rack is well within the realm of possibility. All you need are a few unassuming items and you are ready for your next kayaking adventure! The best thing is that you can keep your car and kayak dent free. All this without breaking the bank too.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the safest way to transport a kayak is by using a roof rack or kayak trailer. However, if you are dead set on not getting either of these (or just can’t), then these are great options. Just remember to be safe and smart and above all, follow the instructions to a T as a lot of things can go wrong if you don’t.

Do you know any other method to transport a kayak safely without a roof rack? Comment and let me know. I would love to try it!


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