Easy Way to Cartop a Canoe or Boat




Introduction: Easy Way to Cartop a Canoe or Boat

About: airplane nut since forever, rower since high school, airplane mechanic since '94, Pastor, father of four

In my Instructable "how to row a canoe" I show my big heavy coleman canoe, after using a load extender with my pickup truck for many years, I had to figure out how to put my canoe on top of my new minivan without scratching it up. I didn't want to have to worry about lifting a big heavy boat onto the roof of my van after wearing myself out rowing. so here is what I came up with.

Step 1: The Expensive Parts

The most expensive part you will need is a reciever hitch for you car or truck. I got mine from JCWhitney.com for $100 dollars it is a class V (5) hitch and is rated for 700 lbs tounge weight, since my truck is only rated for 200 lbs I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a strong hitch and since I plan on driving the truck into the ground no one else will over load my truck. trailer hitches are rated by the weight they can pull, a class I hitch is the simple flat bar that you put on a car to support the hitch ball. Class II is a 1 1/4" square tube that is rated higer than a class I, it is the lowest of the reciever type hitches. Class III and up are 2" square reciever type hitches, the hitch has a 2" square hole in it to take the draw bar that the hitch ball is mounted on.
You can get a hitch and mount it yourself, or a Uhaul, Sears automotive department , or similar will sell you one and mount it for you.
The next part you will need is a "truck bed extender" I got mine from Harbor Freight.com (p# 39168-2VGA) for 30$, it now lists for $39.99.
The third part you will need for a minivan or car is a 2" square steel tube that fits into a 2" reciever hitch, I got mine as a left over from construction at work.
The last part you will need is another draw bar pin like the two that come with the bed extender. I got mine cheap at Home Depot, but harbor freight, jcwhitney, or any trailer hitch type place will have them.
This picture is from the Harbor Freight catalog, I used to haul my canoe upside down on the bed extender just like the boards are shown in this picture.

Step 2: Modifying the Bed Extender for Roof Top Use.

I started with the standard bed extender, but I wanted to be able to swivel the cross bar to allow easier loading of the canoe. I found a galvanized pipe at the hardware store fit the socket on the end of the "L" bar perfectly so I drilled it to lock it into the "L" bar socket.

Step 3: Now for Some Height

I then put the 2" square tube over the pipe and drilled them both at once to accept the lock pin. Then I cut the 2" tube to the correct height for my van.

Step 4: Setting in the Cross Bar

then I put the cross bar in the top of the 2" tube. It is set at the same level as the front cross bar on my van luggage rack, I should put a pin in the tubes to lock the top bar down but the lower leg of the "T" is so long that it can't jump up out of the 2" tube, so I havn't.
As you can see in the picture this allows me to load and unload the van without having to remove the 2" tube section, the tailgate comes up to high to open it with the canoe on the roof though.

Step 5: Now Comes the Hard(est) Part

this is the only hard part of using this loading system,
You need to pick up one end of the canoe and put it on the cross bar.
I then tie the end of the canoe down using the rope that is attached to the inner "ears" on the cross bar to keep the canoe "locked" onto the cross bar at the correct length.
I then tied the canoe down with the rope that attaches to the outer "ears" on the ends of the cross bar to keep the canoe from sliding from side to side.

Step 6: The Rest Is Easy!

now lift the other end of the canoe (one handed) and walk it around to the front of the vehicle. I install the cross bar on the van luggage rack only when I am putting something on the roof as the rest of the time it just kills your gas milage, the rest of the time I keep them under the floor in the "trunk". (those of you with grand caravans will know what I mean) If you don't have a roof rack, canoe blocks (foam block with a groove in it that snaps over the canoe rail) would work for the front.
I make sure that the nose of the canoe falls just at the peak of the windshield, this keeps the drag from the canoe down and doesn't slow the van down noticably. I can do this because the bed extender is considered part of the frame of the vehicle, so the overhang only starts aft of the cross bar.
This is the point when you put in the upper lock pin to keep the cross bar and 2" tube secure to the pipe. Then I throw an endlless cargo strap over the front of the canoe and strap it to the roof of the van (open the doors first so you don't have to do the dukes of hazzard climb in the window trick) the buckle goes in the middle between the front seats which makes it easy to keep an eye on the strap tension. Make sure you twist the strap at least 3 times on each side of the canoe so it doesn't hum like a giant hornet on the roof of the car.
I tie the forward rope of the canoe over the top of the van, and over the carry thwarts in the canoe (to save the paint) and down to the trailer hitch, this rope is to stop the canoe from sliding forward. I tie the aft rope from the canoe to the reciever hitch also to keep the canoe from sliding backwards, so far this has worked for me for almost 2 years on very bumpy back roads and at highway speeds with no problems. I like this way of rigging the tie offs as there is no rope chaffing my hood or the plastic front bumper, and I don't have to lie on the ground to feed the rope through the grill holes in the bumper to find something solid to tie off to.
Yakamia and/or Thule both make similar products that swivel for kayaks and canoes (without the wide cross bar) they both rise straight up from the reciever hitch though so clearance for a tailgate will be a problem, and they are both expensive. This set up will also work for ladders and lumber (within reason), something the expensive ones won't do as well.



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    15 Discussions

    For safety, your front painter needs to be tied to the front of the vehicle. If you don't tie down the front and your strap slips or breaks, you're going to send a deadly projectile into traffic. You also need two ropes or straps across the sides for safety. If you see a kayaker bombing along with just bungees holding the kayak across the boat, give them a wide berth - there's no safety backup for when something gives. And something always does. When I had a rack for my CJ-5 back in the 70's, the torque going from the canoe through the steel pipe down to the bumper destroyed the welds down there in a year. Yakima and Thule rack are stupid expensive, but I'd prefer their design, and with wide bars, you can carry two canoes side by side (and a third on top of those). Check out cboats.net for other ideas.

    8 replies

    Good point! I had my old town canoe lift off, went airborn onto the front of a simi, spring boarding off it forward, it passed me on the right and down into the bar ditch. Quite an event. Interestingly nothing was hurt.

    Yikes! I suppose the ABS popped it right back out eh? Some semi cabs are/were made of ABS so maybe like materials repelled, lol.

    I've had friends lose kayaks and several lost jet boats off their trailers in town (that's fun!) but never a canoe. I still give y'all a wide bearth, lol. Ditto homemade trailers, especially those hauling firewood.

    Sold the Kevlar boat and moved to the high desert a few years back so now I don't even own a rack, much less a boat. :-(

    You have got me thinking! I have the front rope going back over the thwarts in the canoe and down to the hitch to keep the front from going forward, there is also a rope inside the canoe that ties to the seat support, aft thwart, and the load extender. I see what you mean about the strap failing, so I will be trying another strap through the roof rack or straps that attach to the body inside the hood, I'll post pictures later. No problems with the welds on my hitches yet, my ranger with the reciever hitch was used with the load extender for 5+ years with no issues. Of course it is a class V, when I only needed class III. The hitch on the van is a class III, wouldn't hurt to do a check on it before loading up. thanks.

    On my minivan I put a short loop of perlon rope around a sturdy part of the radiator mount, making sure it was long enough to still out of the hood when needed but not so long that I couldn't tuck it away safely under the hood when not needed. Another bombproof rack can be made with Quick and Easy brackets (available from NRS) and a couple of 2x4s. Plus four artificial rain gutter mounting brackets that you screw into your roof to mount the brackets on. I did that with one car. The brackets are $70 and the gutters are about about $50 (actually I made my gutters out of mild galvanized steel and painted to match). Still not cheap, but cheaper than Yak or Thule if you are ok with drilling a few holes in your roof.

    I will be trying another idea I read about In MAIB, take 1" or wider cargo strap and fold it double, figure the length needed to come out of the hood seam gap, find a bolt going into the car body that is well anchored, melt a hole through both ends of the strap that the bolt can go through, put a washer on the bolt if needed, and bolt the strap to the car, when the strap isn't needed fold it inside the hood/door. mostly the strap loops would be to keep thebow of the canoe centered on the van if the fwd strap broke (that is all it is there for.)

    Webbing like that should work. The nice thing about the wide racks (mine is 78") is that not only can you carry two canoes side by side (more important in river running than lake paddling I suppose), but you don't have to center the canoe. When I only have one canoe on top, it lives over the passenger side. There's less blocking the driver's view that way. Just noticed your Maine plates - the last time I went canoeing there, it was in the harbor off Camden. You really should support your local businesses and get an Old Town. :-)

    priced them, even a used old town is beyond my budget, I ended up buying a slightly crushed 15' coleman and then trading it (after a little work) for the 17', all thanks to craigslist.

    Since my last post, I swapped my last ABS whitewater canoe for an older Kevlar 16' lake canoe. Can pick it up by myself. Just took it to Florida for some coastal canoeing around St. Pete Beach.

    See you on the water!

    I was trying out my newly restored old and battered aluminum canoe and thought how nice it would be to find a way to lift and load it easier and on first search of instructibles you've shown me how to make it happen! great instructable!!

    i made my own cross bars for the roof rack on my "grannymobile" (2006 focus wagon, then i made attachable "hockey stick" shaped extentions. the protrude about a foot from the roof rack, then down to the groung at a 45 degree angle. then i just slide the canoe parallel to the car, flip it over n slide it up. it was easier to load with my extremely weak, oh n short gf helping lol

    1 reply

    that reminds me of an old Popular Science idea workshop (from the 60's or 70's, the little cartoon guy was always smoking a pipe) same idea for the boards going from the rack to the ground, but add dowels or notches to catch the rail of the canoe, then slide one end up to the next notch, then the other until it is on the roof

    I really like your idea of being able to rotate the T-bar.  I carry a sit on top kayak on top of a Jeep Wrangler also using a bed extender.  To load, I have a steel clothesbar padded on one side with pipe insulation that slides into the end of the T-bar top.  Placing the kayak parallel to the Jeep, I lift the bow onto the bar, lift the stern onto a converted and padded light bar and then shift the bow onto the padded T-bar top. Having the rotating feature would eliminate the need to take the loading bar along.  One feature of what I have is that by reversing the extender, I can also carry the kayak inside the bed of the Jeep for short drives. I also added directional/stop/backup lights to the T-bar which work in either configuration.


    When my dad comes down for a visit he brings his 16' canoe on top of his ranger pickup with camper shell (he also transports it around home the same way) He uses 2 ropes (made to the right lenght with clips on each end) on the front of the canoe attached to 2 eyebolts permently installed on the front bumper corners. Life jackets are pinned between the canoe and roof cab and under the back between the canoe and topper roof, the rear is attached the same way as the front , 2 cargo straps are crossed over the canoe and attached to eyebolts in the camper roof. The canoe has made the trip from Delaware to Florida a couple of times as well as upstate NY and western Pa. Dads getting up in age now (77) so a system like yours might make it easier for him to load/unload

    1 reply

    If he has a ranger, he could just use the bed extender to put the canoe in the back, I did this for years with my 15' coleman in the back of my short bed ranger. When you do it this way it doesn't hurt your gas mileage, the way car-topping does.