How To Transport A Kayak In A Truck – A Must-Read Before Hitting The Road

If you drive a pickup truck, consider yourself lucky; that will make things a whole lot easier.

I mean, look at a Fiat 500, for example – and then look at your truck. Now imagine hauling a kayak with one or the other.

It’s not a “fair” comparison, but I’d say it proves my point about this being the easiest method of kayak transportation. No further evidence is needed.

There’s still lots you need to learn about it, though.

So, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about how to transport a kayak in a truck

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How To Transport A Kayak In A Pickup Truck – Overview Of Top 5 Methods

Kayaks and bikes being transported on black truck
Image courtesy of DiamondBack Covers  (CC BY 2.0)

Method #1: Truck Bed

Fishing Kayak Transported in Truck Bed

This no-fuss method is probably the most popular way to transport a kayak in a truck – and not without reason. Most kayakers love it because it’s a quick, simple, convenient solution to how to transport a kayak without a rack in a truck.

It doesn’t get much easier than loading your kayak in the back of your truck and tying it down. Well, there’s more to it than that – you’ll need a truck bed liner, a durable rubber mat that keeps your cargo safe, and foam blocks for padding – but you get the picture. 

Top Tip

Cable locks are a great way to protect your kayak from thieves. They can be looped through each kayak handle and an anchor point, making it virtually impossible for anyone else to use or take away without permission!  They also act as a safety line – preventing your vessel flying down the highway – should your tie downs or rope come loose or break.

Advantages:

  • Doesn’t require any additional equipment or aftermarket upgrades to your vehicle 
  • An affordable solution for transporting a kayak if you have a limiting kayaking budget
  • A convenient and straightforward method that works great for shorter drives 

Disadvantages:

Method #2: Kayak Roof Rack System

AA-Racks Model DX36 Universal Roof Rack System

If you want to know how to carry a kayak on a truck while still leaving the truck bed empty for other cargo, a roof rack system is worth considering.

Installed on top of the truck cab, they are an easy and non permanent method of transporting multiple kayaks – no need for drilling holes or installing aftermarket tie down hooks with this option 

The great thing about rack systems is they come in a variety of shapes and sizes, can be used in cars, trucks, and SUVs – with most fitting being interchangeable between vehicles – making them a good investment

Remember to secure the bow and stern of your kayak, in addition to using a set of straps to tie it down to the roof rack to prevent it from shifting or falling off, though. Bow and stern lines are a must with this method of kayak transportation due to intense wind force. 

Bow and Stern Lines - Kayak Security & Transportation

Advantages:

  • Using the truck’s roof rack system frees up the truck’s bed for hauling other items, like paddling equipment and camping gear 
  • You don’t need to remove the tonneau cover 

Disadvantages:

  • If you drive a single cab pickup truck with front seats only, this method won’t work 
  • Transporting something as large as a kayak could impact your fuel economy – and not in a good way 

The AA-Racks Model DX36 Universal Roof Rack System, for example, is an excellent choice due to its universal fit, high-strength construction, and a 350-pound capacity.

If you’re in the process of choosing a kayak roof rack, check out this roof rack round-up for more fantastic options! 

Method #3: Kayak Truck Rack 

YAKIMA Overhaul HD Truck Bed Rack

If you own a single cab pickup truck and you can’t fit a kayak onto the roof rack, a kayak rack for truck bed could be the solution you’re looking for here.

Loading 2019 Hobie Outback on Yakima Overhaul HD

Load the kayak hull-side down, position it at the center of the rack, secure it to the bars, and add the bow and stern lines if possible – easy-peasy.

Advantages:

  • Using a truck bed rack makes loading and unloading the kayak much more manageable than loading it on the roof rack 
  • The load capacity of truck bed racks is usually higher than the capacity of roof racks

Disadvantages:

  • Truck racks generally require semi-permanent or permanent mounts and might not be suitable for those looking to avoid permanent modifications
  • You can’t use a tonneau cover, which leaves your truck’s bed exposed to the elements
  • Compared to some other alternatives, this method can be a bit pricey 

Unless you planned ahead and already installed a rack in the truck’s bed, you’ll have to pick one out now. On that note, I’d like to recommend the YAKIMA Overhaul HD Truck Bed Rack:

It fits most truck beds, boasts a 500-pound on-road rating, has integrated tie-down points and T-slot attachments, and it’s height-adjustable.

Method #4: Truck Utility Rack

ECOTRIC Adjustable Utility Kayak Rack 

If you’re looking for a way to transport more than one kayak, a truck utility rack is hands down your best bet. It’s essentially a combination of a roof rack system and truck bed rack, meaning you get the best of both worlds. 

Lift the kayak on the rack – you might need some help with that – and secure it using a set of ratchet or cam straps. The best part is that you still have leftover space in the truck bed for another ‘yak or the rest of your equipment!

Advantages:

  • An excellent solution for transporting tandems and touring kayaks, which tend to be on the longer side 
  • Combines the benefits of a truck bed rack and a roof rack into one, offering a higher load capacity and a much bigger storage area – great if you have more than one boat 
  • Works great for longer trips, as it frees up the truck bed for hauling additional gear or more than one kayak 
  • Additional crossbar attachments can be purchased to carry ladders, bikes and other sports equipment. Making them an excellent choice for work and play 

Disadvantages:

  • Tends to be extremely noisy and produce a lot of vibration at higher speeds; anything over 50 miles per hour will result in a loud, high-pitch sound 
  • Assembly and installation is generally a two-person job 

ECOTRIC Adjustable Utility Kayak Rack is the perfect example of what a truck utility rack brings to the table. Adjustable, universal-fit design, 1000-pound capacity, and multiple tie-down points; need I say more? Be sure to check it out!

Method #5: Truck Bed Extender

SUNCOO Pick Up Truck Bed Hitch Extender

The fifth and final method I’ll discuss today is your solution to how to transport a kayak in a short bed truck.

As a rule of thumb, the truck’s bed should support at least 70% of the kayak’s weight. If you can’t squeeze two-thirds of the hull in there due to the bed being short, you’ll have to invest in a bed extender.

The truck bed extender attaches to your hitch receiver, adding an extra 2 feet or more onto the back of your pickup. This makes them perfect for carrying oversized equipment like boats and kayaks! 

Attach it when needed and remove it when you dont – simple!

Advantages:

  • The setup is straightforward and easy to use 
  • Doesn’t require any modifications or permanent installation; use and remove the truck bed extender as needed without too much hassle – you just need a hitch receiver  
  • A cheap solution for transporting a kayak that doesn’t fit in a shorter truck bed 

Disadvantages:

  • Depending on how much overhang you have, it might not be legal for you to transport your kayak this way 
  • If your truck gets rear-ended by another vehicle, your kayak will take the brunt of the crash

If you decide to try it, check out the SUNCOO Pick Up Truck Bed Hitch Extender. The heavy-duty steel frame has an adjustable width, a 720-pound capacity and includes reflective tape and a set of safety flags.

I’ve given you a few examples but I know your time is valuable. So, I’ve done the research for you and found some of the best kayak racks for trucks options on the market. The reviews are in-depth to help you make a decision that will last a lifetime!

Transporting Your Kayak In A Truck & The Law

Kayak being transported in truck bed
Image courtesy of DiamondBack Covers  (CC BY 2.0)

You must be aware that these laws and regulations will often vary from one state to the next. Therefore, I recommend that you check with the local authorities first. 

Overhang 

Kayak on Truck Roof Rack

The United States DOT (Department of Transportation) Federal Size Regulations laws apply to both commercial and passenger vehicles and state the following:

The cargo can overhang the truck by 4 feet in the rear, 3 feet in the front, and 4 inches on the truck’s sides.

Some states have additional restrictions, while others have higher-than-average overhang limits – a few examples being:

  • Arizona – Allows a 6-foot rear overhang 
  • Colorado – Allows a 10-foot rear overhang 
  • Louisiana – Allows an 8-foot rear overhang 
  • Oregon – Allows a 5-foot rear overhang 
  • Pennsylvania – Allows a 6-foot rear overhang 
  • Washington – Allows a 15-foot rear overhang 

And some have no restrictions at all, like Michigan and Nebraska.

Displaying Safety Flags (Red Flag)

Whether you need to attach a safety flag depends on the local law and the kayak’s length – or, more specifically, how far the kayak overhangs the rear end of your truck.

Generally speaking, if the load overhangs the back of the truck by more than 4 feet, it has to be marked with appropriate warning flags to alert other drivers.

The warning flags should be red or orange and measure at least 18 inches. If the kayak is over two feet wide, use two flags – and add two red reflectors and lights during the nighttime. 

Unsecured Loads 

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s research indicates that road debris, due to the unsecured loads, is a significant cause of traffic accidents, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but:

Dropping things from a moving vehicle is considered illegal throughout the United States. Even more so, 15 states have laws regarding hauling unsecured loads that may impose jail time.

Transporting unsecured cargo is a disaster waiting to happen, posing a safety risk to everyone – both vehicles and pedestrians.

Roof Rack Systems

A roof rack could be on the list of vehicle modifications considered illegal under US traffic laws. Beyond that, you should know how to secure the load properly and understand that having cargo on your truck’s roof will affect its driving dynamics and braking performance.

Remember that most vehicles have a dynamic roof weight rating – the weight it can support while in motion – of 165 pounds. So, consult the owner’s manual for the exact info about your truck’s weight restrictions and err on the side of caution.

What Is The Maximum Size Kayak I Can Transport In A Truck Bed?

Kayak In Truck Bed

The first piece of the puzzle will be the truck bed’s length – and most truck beds fall into one of the following three categories in terms of average truck bed lengths:

  • Short Beds – 5ft 8in (68 inches) 
  • Standard Beds – 6ft 5in (77 inches) 
  • Long Beds – 8ft (96 inches) 

The next bit of info you’ll need is your kayak’s length. For this, I’ll need you to measure your ‘yak bow to stern or, if it’s easier, check the specs online.

While average kayak lengths tend to vary significantly depending on the type of kayak and the actual model, they’ll usually fall into one of the following size ranges:

  • Recreational Kayaks – 9ft to 12ft
  • Whitewater Kayaks – 6ft to 9ft
  • Touring Kayaks – 12ft to 20ft
  • Fishing Kayaks –  10ft to 14ft
  • Tandem Kayaks – 12ft to 16ft

You can use the chart below for quick reference regarding truck bed sizes and maximum kayak lengths according to the most common overhang limits.

Max Kayak Size Based on Truck Bed and Legal Overhang

Do I Need A Bed Extender For My Kayak?

No, not necessarily – but that depends on how long your kayak is compared to the length of the truck’s bed. That said, using a truck bed extender has its benefits, such as distributing the strain on the hull more evenly, supporting it, and reducing the chance of it falling out due to the uneven weight distribution. 

Consider the numbers we discussed and the fact that the truck bed should support at least 70% of the kayak’s weight, and decide accordingly.  Just take note of the overhang and make sure you attach a red flag, if legally required.

Loading & Securing The Kayak In The Truck 

2 men loading a red kayak onto a grey truck
Image courtesy of Virginia State Parks (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re transporting the kayak in the truck’s bed, there are two ways to load it – straight down, with the tailgate open, or diagonally, with the tailgate up or down. Which option you choose will depend on the kayak’s length, truck bed size, and whether you’re using a bed extender.

Consider using a kayak cart or have someone assist you with the lifting – and always make sure that the kayak’s centered and balanced.

Ensure that you tie the kayak down properly and secure it directly to the truck’s body; that’s the most critical rule of transporting a kayak in a pickup truck. But at this point, that should go without saying.

Use at least two cam buckle tie-down straps to secure the kayak and if the truck features loops lower on the bed walls, use them as bed anchor points. If they’re located mid-way or near the top of the sidewalls, though, install aftermarket loops or tie down anchors, like these from Bull Ring.

And be sure not to over-tighten the straps! 

How To LOAD And STRAP Kayak!! - On A Short Bed Truck With (Boonedox T-Bone Bed Extender) Ep.#9

For added security loop a cable lock through the grab handles – it will stop you sending a kayak shaped torpedo down the highway – should your ratchet straps break or become loose.

Transporting A Kayak In A Pickup Truck – Top Tips & Advice

Tips for transporting a kayak in a pick uop truck

Before I wrap things up, I’d like to share some additional tips for how to transport a kayak in a truck that will – hopefully – ensure that everything goes as safely as possible:

  • If you’re transporting your kayak in a truck bed, invest in a truck bed mat – a liner that will protect the kayak from the hard surface and prevent hull damage.
  • Place non-slip foam blocks underneath the kayak’s hull as a way to stabilize the kayak, dampen the vibrations of transit, and add a layer of protection and cushioning.
  • When positioning the kayak, ensure that at least 70% of the weight – or two-thirds of the kayak’s total length – is supported by the truck.
  • If you’re transporting a ‘yak on the roof rack, be sure to add the bow and stern lines in addition to the main tie-down straps.
  • Use a kayak cover to keep the cockpit – or, better yet, the entire kayak – covered during transport to protect it from sun exposure, road debris, and the wind.
  • Double-check everything before hitting the road. If you’re heading on a more extended trip, make occasional stops to go over the straps and ensure that the kayak is still secure and in place.
  • Watch your speed and adapt it to the road conditions, wind, and the load you’re carrying. Even at a speed of around 65 miles per hour, the wind can still exert massive amounts of force on your cargo. 

How To Transport A Kayak In A Truck – A Quick Summary

In terms of how to transport a kayak in a truck, there are several ways you can go about it:

  • You can transport it in the truck’s bed – with or without the bed extender
  • You can use a roof rack system if you have a double cab truck
  • You can transport it on a truck bed rack if a roof rack isn’t an option
  • You can use a utility rack, especially if you’re transporting longer kayaks

Feature image courtesy of DiamondBack Covers  (CC BY 2.0)