How to Properly Load a Canoe onto Your Vehicle

How to Properly Load a Canoe onto Your Vehicle

Loading a canoe onto your vehicle doesn't have to be a daunting task. With the right techniques and tools, you can secure your canoe for travel quickly and safely, whether you're driving a car, truck, or van, with or without a roof rack. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you get moving without a hitch—or a hum!

Equipment You'll Need:

  • Roof Rack or Foam Blocks: A roof rack is ideal, but if your vehicle doesn’t have one, foam blocks designed for canoes can be used as a base.
  • Cam Straps: These are preferable to ratchet straps, which can overtighten and damage the canoe.
  • Bow and Stern Tie-Downs: These additional straps ensure stability.
  • Rope: For vehicles without a roof rack, ropes can be used to secure the foam blocks.

Loading with a Roof Rack:

  1. Position the Canoe: Lift the canoe and place it hull up (upside down) on the rack. This position minimizes wind resistance and provides a stable base.
  2. Secure with Straps: Use two cam straps around the canoe’s widest points. Thread the straps through the roof rack and back over the canoe, then tighten them down. Ensure the straps are tight enough to hold the canoe firmly but not so tight as to deform it.
  3. Add a Twist: When securing, add a single twist in the straps as they pass over the canoe. This prevents the straps from vibrating and creating a humming noise as you drive.
  4. Tie Down Bow and Stern: Attach tie-downs from the bow and stern of the canoe to the towing hooks or under the chassis of your vehicle. Adjust the length so the canoe doesn’t shift but isn’t being pulled down too tightly.

Loading without a Roof Rack:

  1. Place Foam Blocks: Set foam blocks spaced widely apart along the gunwales (sides of the canoe). These act as the contact points with your vehicle's roof.
  2. Lift the Canoe onto the Car: With the help of another person, lift the canoe and place it directly onto the foam blocks.
  3. Secure with Straps and Rope: Run cam straps over the canoe and through the doors (not the windows) of your vehicle, tightening them inside. Use additional ropes to tie down the bow and stern as described above.
  4. Check Stability: Give the canoe a gentle shake to ensure everything is secure. The canoe should not move independently of the car. A flick of the straps, while muttering, "thats not going anywhere" isnt required, but is highly encouraged. 

For Trucks:

  • Using the Bed: If the truck bed is long enough, you can lay the canoe down with the tailgate down, securing it with straps attached to tie points in the bed.
  • Above the Cab: If the canoe extends well beyond the bed, consider using a bed extender or securing it above the cab using the same methods described for cars with roof racks.

For Vans:

  • Vans often have high roofs, so ensure you have a sturdy step or a ladder to safely lift and position the canoe. Follow the same basic principles as loading with a roof rack.


  • Regular Checks: On long trips, it’s wise to stop and check the tightness of the straps periodically as they may loosen over time.
  • Padding: Protect both the canoe and the vehicle by ensuring all contact points are well padded.
  • Legality and Safety: Ensure your vision is not obstructed by the load, and that the canoe does not extend dangerously far at the front or back of your vehicle.

Some of my favorite products for my setup:

Yakima LongArm Truck Bed Extender

Yakima Base Line Towers

Yakima Core Bar - Medium

Northstar Cam Straps - 12' 

Loading your canoe correctly will protect your gear and your vehicle, and contribute to a smoother, safer trip to your paddling destination. Happy paddling!

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