Build Your Own Low Cost Pickup Truck Canoe Rack




It's prime canoeing weather and our Maker Space  "The Rabbit Hole" planned a canoe trip, awesome!
Problem is, I had one canoe of our own, and a truck, but no canoe rack (and didn't want to drive all the way to the river with a 15 foot canoe hanging out the back). Commercially made racks for a pickup trucks can fit in a trailer hitch (but this doesn't let you lower the tailgate or tow anything), they can fit in the post holes of a pickup sidewall (but I have Chrome gunnels on my truck) or they can be free standing. Free standing would work for me, but they are expensive, at least $200
Luckily we had a build night scheduled for the night before the epic trip (and we think we have the tools and skill to build something on our own!)

This Instructable documents the process we went through to build our rack so other canoeing hackers can save money too!

Materials Needed (things may differ depending on dimensions of your vehicle):
  • Car-Top Canoe Carrier Kit (already had one of these, similar to Attwood Car-Top Canoe Carrier Kit found on Amazon for $23, but they are called Riverside Car-top Carriers)
  • 1 - 2"x6"x65" Lumber (already had one of these, you could use a 2"x4")
  • 3 - 2"x4"x84" Lumber
  • 1 - 2"x4"x60" Lumber
  • 8 - 3/8" x 4" Carriage bolts, washers, lock washers and nuts
  • 2 - 3/8" x 5" Carriage bolts, washers, lock washers and nuts
  • 6 - 21/2" Deck screws
Tools Needed
  • Saw - Circular, Radial or good old fashioned "Voo-Ba, Voo-Ba" hand saw (It's a Bill Cosby Noah Reference :-) )
  • Drill with 3/8" bit and screwdriver attachment
  • 9/16" wrench
  • Tape measure
Let's get building!!

(This Instructable submitted by the Rabbit-Hole Maker Space as part of the Instructables Sponsorship Program.)

Step 1: Take Some Measurements

But first a little research - I had enough time to check out two other random designs before working on this project
  • I found one rather deluxe design that is an entire 4 post structure in the bed of the truck. Though it is sturty and yet remove-able, We already had car-carrier pads, and thought this design would be more difficult to store, more costly and time consuming to build.
  • I also found this model built out of PVC and pretty much based our design on this one.
Measurements - "About that long":
  • Things will differ depending on the truck you're placing this in. Our truck had a liner and the liner with a pre-made slot for a vertical 2x6, I think you could use a 2x4 as well. 
  • We decided to add a horizontal 2x4 under the 2x6 creating a more stable L-shape bottom brace.
  • Originally we thought we would use 2 2x4s on the top of the rack for a broader resting spot for the canoe. (That's why the vertical 2x4 posts are the orientation they are in the design). But as the evening got later we decided that was not needed.
  • Measurements were useful because instead of working outside in the dark we drilled the holes in the shop where we had a drill press available.
  • The design drawing shown here was done with Autodesk123D an online 3D drawing tool. I'm sharing the design here 
  • Be sure the vertical boards are 'in' enough to avoid hitting the bed topper rail, (and, make sure the carraige bolt is above/below that point)...a couple things we didn't do correctly :-)

Step 2: Assembly and Strap Down for the Epic Trip

This rack worked great! Some tips:
  • When drilling the holes for the carriage bolts, 2 bolts angled across the board is stronger than just one, less subject to cracking the wood as well (see images)
  • Depending on whether you want to carry two canoes you may want to angle the vertical posts in for some extra strength and reduced cost. Alternatively you may want to extend them longer than what we did.
  • Loosely connect the carriage bolts before tightening any of them down, this will make it easier to insert all the bolts
  • When strapping the canoe down, use a V shaped strap layout at the front and back rather than one strap straight up and down, this will reduce the chance of the wind blowing your canoe sideways off your truck. 
  • After you load the canoe, and drive off, stop after about 5 miles and make sure everything is still snug.
  • To make it easier to load/unload I use a hoist system to store the canoe.
  • I plan to add eye-bolts for an extra strap
Thanks for checking out this Instructable, and good luck on all your projects!
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8 Discussions


11 months ago

Hey man, I know this is a bit old, but hopefully you'll see this. Were the deck screw just for securing the rear support? Also, do you have that Autocad file in a shareable format, since Autodesk123d no longer seems to be available?

1 reply

Reply 11 months ago

yes, that support in the rear is where I used deck, sorry I don't have a way to tweak the Autodesk file


4 years ago on Step 1

thanks for the plans! Made mine in about 20 mins so that we could cruise to the river. i will likely re-do it though in order to make sure it strong for a longer haul

3 replies

Reply 4 years ago on Step 1

Awesome, thanks for letting me know. Have a great trip and I hope your Instructables name has nothing to do with your canoeing experience :-)


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

hey MAZZMN :your thoughts on this design for a Tacoma?

no vertical space for 2x6 but horizontal fore and aft of wheel wells.

thinking---2x6 horiz. legs to floor, braces fore and aft? ideas

appreciated-Paul d.(pickering,ont.canada)


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Braces front and back should help, not exactly sure how you mean but I added a picture...seems like it should work


4 years ago on Introduction

I'm assuming the 2x6 wedged in the liner slots and the brace going to the tailgate keep it from rolling backwards when you take off. No issues with sudden stops rolling the assembly forward?

1 reply

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

You are is wedged in pretty tight. We haven't seen any issues as long as everything is strapped down tight, but a brace to the front might not be a bad addition