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3/25/2016 10:50 am  #1

Driving with a canoe on long trips

After a few trips now we're finally looking into getting a canoe of our own... super excited about it!  However, I wanted suggestions/thoughts on best practices for long drives (I live outside Boston) with a canoe.  All advice welcome, but a couple of specific questions:

1) What do you do with your canoe if you are staying somewhere (like a motel) overnight?  It generally takes us just over a day to get to the park, so we're on the road around dawn and arriving typically at a motel at dusk.  Typically we'll haul the gear into the hotel room overnight for any last minute rearranging/packing in the morning... but what do you guys do with a canoe?

2) Any suggestions for protecting the canoe / keeping a canoe safe on a long haul drive?  For instance, is a roof rack worth the investment?  We typically have pretty "small" cars -- does that matter?

Any other tips?




3/25/2016 11:11 am  #2

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

I'm sure you can find a roof rack for your car, and I would recommend that.  That will allow the canoe to ride securely for sure. 

For the other kind of security, when I've been compelled to leave the canoe on the car at a motel or something, I've carried a bicycle lock with me.  You can wrap it around a thwart and the roof rack, done deal.  An ambitious person could overcome that and make off with the boat, but the more likely thief is the kids who think they spotted an easy mark, and that would be enough to upset their plans.


3/29/2016 12:56 pm  #3

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

Great, thank you!  Not being from the area it's hard to tell how much of a target things like canoes are.  Last trip we took we ended up staying at a Courtyard Marriott in Ottawa (underground parking and all) and I had this fun vision of portaging a canoe through a hotel lobby

     Thread Starter

3/29/2016 1:57 pm  #4

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

I use a roof rack and cable lock as well when staying overnight at a motel. One thing to consider as well is to try and space the roof rack bars as much as you can to increase stability, especially at higher speeds. Guaranteed that on your 1st trip you'll probably spend more time nervously looking up at the canoe than at the road ahead of you. Ha. Enjoy!


3/29/2016 2:49 pm  #5

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

It's rare but every year or two I hear about a canoe being stolen so it wouldn't hurt to lock them on somehow. 


3/29/2016 6:20 pm  #6

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

Look in to a roof rack system.  The most secure way to haul a boat especially for long trips. How many nights will you be in the bush? Although I love having my own boat and it provides additional options for start times and access points ,if you are only out a couple nights renting and boat locally may make sense considering gasoline costs. Longer trips with a roof mounted boats may increase your fuel consumption to more than the cost of a 2 day rental and less of a worry for overnight stops.If out for longer then bringing your own boat makes more sense but something to consider. Also hauling a canoe the first time on a long trip can be stressful.  What ever you decide take it out a few time around home  and up to highway speeds. Strap it down properly otherwise the buzz will drive you batty. This may take a couple attempts to get it right.


3/29/2016 9:15 pm  #7

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

I use a Yakima roof rack system on a truck cap. I avoid underground parking.. yes it requires a little planning ahead
Check tie downs after the first mile, first ten miles, first 50 miles and hence at every gas stop.  Tie downs will loosen when wet and tighten when dry. Do NOT forget bow and stern safety lines.

Motels... whatever you are comfortable with. So far this year we have only had 31 days out and of that some 20 were at places with canoes on the roof or the truck. You may feel more comfortable at mom and pop motels with direct entry and your vehicle right outside your room.

I agree those pricey roof rack systems are worth it.  We paid several hundred dollars when we bought ours and have had to change pads and clamps for the door some four times with new vehicles. Still over 25 years $400 is a cheap investment per year.

Do we do much long distance driving with boats? Probably..We have done 5000k so far this year with another 12000k coming up next month..  That is pretty average. We go to Newfoundland or Ontario in the summer, Florida in the winter and Utah or Arizona in the spring.. With boat always.

We have never had a buzz noise. You might depending on the interaction between your vehicles shape and the air flow over it.  If that happens put a twist in the offending strap.

Just be steady and slow as big rigs pass you by.

In 50 years of hauling canoes I have only used a bike lock once at Newark Airport when I had to leave the canoe on the car for two weeks. That said Lasso Locks are pretty sturdy and worth looking into.


3/30/2016 5:41 am  #8

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

A good roof rack system (Thule or Yakima are most popular) will be custom-fitted to your vehicle and the installation instructions will give you specific measurements for spacing between the bars, etc. Follow those instructions closely for max safety and a secure ride for your canoe.
For attaching the canoe most-securely to the rack for long hauls, make sure you secure it all four corners in addition to the ropes over each rack. The more vertical the connection, the more secure. So if it's a choice between roping from the rear handthwart at a 45 degree angle to the connection point under the rear fender or roping from the rear thwart ahead of the stern seat at a 80% angle to the point, go for option 2. It will be a closer point of contact with less rope between, making for a more secure fit. This is especially important with small vehicles.
When I say rope, I mean rope not straps. A good quality tight braid, non-stretching nylon rope that’s strong and easy to tie. I can’t advise as to specific thickness or tensile strength; I’ve never gone by those indicators since I don’t use it for climbing. And even more important than the rope itself is the knot. Learn the trucker’s hitch and you’re set. All you need to do is make sure the canoe is properly centered on your rack, secured using the TH at all 6 points with quality nylon rope and you will rarely if ever have to stop and tighten it anywhere, even on drives over several days. Nor will you have excessive buzzing in your ears—if you do it means your boat isn’t positioned properly and is causing excess wind-drag. Stop and adjust it.
Check to ensure:
1) The canoe is centered over the racks, with the yoke or center thwart stationed directly between them. This is important—NOT centered over the vehicle. In most vehicles today this means more of the boat will be sticking out past the rear of the vehicle than over the hood.
2) The canoe is properly centered horizontally on each rack so that it points in a perfectly straight line from the front to the back of the vehicle. You might think this is intuitive. So did I until last year I drove most of the way west along highway 60 behind a guy carrying an Osprey at a very obvious angle!! I made sure to keep my distance and the guy was lucky to make it to AO Oxtongue without incident.
Since I learned this system some 25 years ago, I’ve driven care-free with various and sometimes multiple canoes on various vehicles including sub-compacts all over the place—large and small highways, bi-ways, backroads and dirt tracks. I’ve never had issues.


3/30/2016 9:35 am  #9

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

I   have never used rope.. The straps worked fine even in cross winds on the prairies.  I do check the cam locks( dont use ratchet straps. they can crack the hull if over tightened). I like straps as they are quite long lasting

For high speed travel in windy areas I don't center the boat. I position a little aft of center in between the bars. This means less distance from bow to front bar than stern to back bar.  For long  light boats this makes a ton of difference when semis pass you in Montana at 150 kph. Or anywhere else.

I dont secure at all four corners. I have zero problems with lateral canoe movement with load stoppers. Brackets that fit over the roof rack bars. Snug up to the gunwale and the boat cannot go anywhere. It also cant slide fore and aft in most cases as the gunwales are curved. There are some whitewater boats that are straight gunwaled and my MR Monarch is too however.

Bow lines and stern lines that do not go straight down drive me nuts. Attach them to loops installed under your hood and rear bumper or hitch.  Sure you can do four points. Because we routinely take two boats on our multi thousand k trips this is not an option,we simply use two.. You can use two per boat as indicated above but the resulting spider web is annoying over days.  It may take time getting the right placement for the bow line.. we have had trouble with loops installed under the hood near the hinge interfering with the wipers. Some of our boats are short..13 feet.

Whatever you do the aim is to avoid lateral and back and forth movement and minimize wind stress on the bow.


3/30/2016 11:31 am  #10

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

One thing that has really improved the canoe stability is car hood straps. They allow for a wider attachment points compared to undercarriage attachment. Just great. I have straps attached to the chasis, but there are removable ones too.


Last edited by Marko_Mrko (3/30/2016 11:31 am)


3/30/2016 11:48 am  #11

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

+1 for the Sherpack quick loop tie downs.. Been using them for 4 or 5 seasons and they are absolutely awesome. You can use two more tucked into the trunk for the stern straps (if there I nowhere decent to anchor under the car)


3/30/2016 2:08 pm  #12

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

I use straps too and have for about 40 years now with no issues ever. I don't like those tie downs though- I've seen hoods buckled by them if you over tighten the straps or if the sheet metal is too thin. A better way is to permanently attach webbing loops to the car. you simply take wide webbing about a foot long, fold it in half and melt a small hole through the ends about 1-2" up, remove the bolt that attaches the front radiator support to the fender, get a bolt slightly longer, put on a fender washer, then the doubled strap, then screw it back in on each side. You can flip the straps up through the gap when needed or fold it down when not using it.
I've used this method for up to 3 canoes at once, up to 400km each time at highway speeds.


3/31/2016 5:36 am  #13

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips


5/31/2017 8:32 pm  #14

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

I haul for a living. Been hauling yak's and canoe's since 86 myself and with my parents since the 70's. As with anything on the interweb you'll find several that have used anything and had no problems with it and several that think that same thing is the worst idea ever. So I'll toss my quantified $0.02 in. 

First, my vehicles. 90% of my hauling of boats have been on a rack of some type. Everything from 2by lumber on edge (2x4, 2x6, and 2x10), 1" round ranger racks that clamped on the gutters of my 69 Fairlane, 1.25" square tubing custom made for my 5th wheel, camper and even up over the top of a speedboat. All of those varieties come down to the same thing. A small cross section bar spaced 3 to 8' apart with the boat(s) riding on top. I've added various padding between boat and bar over the years but I've never used one of the spendy custom mounts by Yakima, Thule or the like. I think they're a good idea, but honestly on a canoe I'm not convinced of the value for the dollar. A yak I'm currently undecided. I'm going to try my hand at making a wider pad to spread the load a little more. Your yak value will depend on your fab skills vs wallet thickness. 
This brings up my next quantifyer. 
Boats. I have 2 18' Rotomold sea kayak's and a 10' Pelican that I've had about 6 years. Until I bought them I had fiberglass canoes. a 17' Frontiersman as a kid, a 16' hand made until my 20's when I added another 16' Frontiersman (I think it was a copy actually). 

I say all that because setup matters. If your gear is dramatically different your results might be too.
When I first got the yak's I was driving a PT Cruiser without racks. No gutters for the ugly ranger racks and desperate to get my new boats wet I bought a set of the Walmart foam pads and straps that go through the doors. I wouldn't recommend these for a super long distance... But I'd probably use them if I didn't have racks and needed to take a boat across Canada again. 
Kayaks and Canoe requirements are different. A yak is like a sub, right side up or upside down it's hull is kinda the same and will need something to spread the load. A canoe sits on the gunnels unless you're crazy, as such you're only really protecting the edge. Base this need on the condition and quality of your gunnel. My hand made custom had nice foam pads, my other 2 went up straight on the racks. 

Straps and tiedowns. Until my mid 20's I only used rope. I've used the camlock straps for other things but I'd NEVER use them to hold something I cared about to the outside of a vehicle. Lots of people swear by them but I've had far too many come loose, and of other note nothing like them is legal for commercial transport. I now use ratchet straps exclusively for holding them down. You must use your brain and not over tighten, but due to design they can't come loose unless they come off. Transport Canada requires a minimum of 2 straps or devices to hold down an object. I use 1 strap at each bar/ rack point. My boats all bulge in the center so there's zero chance of for aft movement unless the strap comes off so I don't use bow or stern lines as long as my racks cover at least the center 3rd of the boat. It's not the worst idea to tie your bow line back to the front rack to help under hard braking, but I almost never bother and have never had an issue myself. I've seen problems but as I didn't see the setup before the incident I can't speak as to cause. None of my trailers actually even have the ability to use a bow or stern line. I do use them with the Miata, but I'm only supporting 3.5 feet of an 18 foot yak. 
Make sure you get your rope/tie/strap whatever as close to your hull on the bar as you can. The only issue I've personally ever had was my 17 foot canoe shifting sideway at the bow on the freeway. My straps hook that day wouldn't go around the tube so I used the ends of the tubes. 
The best method I've ever seen for a tie down point on a car that didn't have any is a simple loop with a stick (pvc pipe is best) in it. Place the pipe in a trunk/hood/door/hatch and close it with the end sticking out. If it's a tight gap it'll never pull out at the tensions you should be using.

TL:DR If you have a newer car go with any custom fit rack option for your car, Thule and Yakima being top dogs in the game. Expect to give them naming rights to a couple children. I prefer ratchet straps and a brain but use the option you're most comfortable with. Go from bar to bar directly over the hull as close to the hull as possible. Bow and stern lines are and should be only for comfort. If you're depending on them revisit your middle tiedowns. All commercial transport stuff is strapped side to side, almost never front and back. The only thing I've ever tied front and back is vehicles.  

I hope something in that rambling mess was useful. 

Sea Kayaker stuck in the middle of the country too far from the ocean.

Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons. For thou art crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

6/01/2017 7:56 am  #15

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

Tonnes of great feedback. Just a couple things to add from how we do things.
- We use straps with a camlock. To avoid slippage, tie 2-3 overhand knots of the "free" end immediately around the camlock will prevent any slippage.
- To avoid buzzing, add several twists to the strap that goes over hull. This causes the airflow to go over the strap (ie more aerodynamic).
- For overnight security, we've always used robust cable bike locks that are then tied around the yoke/thwart and the crossbar of our roof-rack. More recently, we invested into lockable camlock straps with embedded steel cables. We got these since we started travelling more to the US for added security on other gear that's on our rack.


6/01/2017 12:12 pm  #16

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

Pat, although I ended up reading the entire post, I appreciated the TL;DR great info & advice


6/02/2017 7:01 am  #17

Re: Driving with a canoe on long trips

I use pieces of pipe foam insulation on the gunwales where it is in contact with the crossbars. I find this helps prevent the canoe from sliding and protects the gunwale as well. They are cheap, about a loonie a length at Canadian Tire. They do wear out from the compression of strapping, but spares take up very little space in vehicle.


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