How to Transport Kayak on a Pickup Truck? A Complete Guide

Kayaking is one of the most loved outdoor activity among Americans. There are over 15 million kayakers in the United States. Kayak enthusiasts travel long distances to get to their favorite river and kayak whole day long. This also means they have to carry their gear including the kayak on the vehicle they drive. Transporting kayak on a pickup truck is especially tricky compared to vans or SUVs. After extensive research and talking to kayakers in the city we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to transport kayak on a pickup truck. [Best Selling Kayaks 2019]

Whether your kayak will fit in your truck bed or not depends on a few factors; which involves the average sizes for both truck beds and kayaks. So, let us talk about these two factors at first.

Can a kayak fit in a truck bed? Well, the answer is yes! A kayak can fit in a truck bed if it has a length of around 8 feet and if you position it diagonally. You need a long-bed pickup truck and a few durable tie-down straps to tie down your kayak in the truck bed. If your truck bed is too small or your kayak is too large, you can take the help of a utility rack or a bed extender.

What is the Average size of Truck Beds?

If you want to purchase a kayak and carry it in your truck bed, then it is really important to figure out just how large your truck bed is. Taking the perfect measurements of your truck will help you to figure out which size kayak will actually fit in your truck bed. You can also figure out what kind of method you can use to secure your kayak in the bed.

Usually there are three sizes of truck beds; Short, standard, and long bed. So, let us discuss the average dimensions of all these three types of truck beds.

A short-bed truck has a 5-foot long truck bed.

A standard-bed measures 6.5-foot long in length.

A long-bed truck has an 8-foot long truck bed.

All the dimensions that we have given here are just the average lengths of pickup truck beds. If you consider width of the truck bed, then most truck beds measure in-between 4 and 5-feet. We have given this measurement keeping in view that the tailgate is up. When the tailgate is down, you have to add around extra 2 feet to the length of your truck bed. However, you can secure your kayak in the truck bed with a bit of overhang.

What is the average size of Kayaks?

The type of kayak you purchase usually decides length of the kayak. Generally, a kayak is built in such a way that it will easily carry two people in it. However, a kayak intended for ocean or lake is on the bigger side.

Kayaks can be of two types; recreational kayak and touring kayak. Let us find out the average size of these two types of kayaks.

Recreational Kayaks are usually 8 to 13 feet long

Touring Kayaks measure 14 to 18 feet in length.

So, most kayaks are not going to fit in a truck bed, unless you have a large truck bed and a small-size kayak. However, you can put the kayaks in diagonal position in the bed to solve this problem. In some cases, it will add an extra foot of room. So, you may carry a kayak that’s up to 9 feet long in your long-bed truck.

How to Secure Your Smaller Kayak in Your Truck Bed?

If you have a large truck bed and a small kayak, then you can really secure your kayak in a truck bed without any extra work. It also does need any special securing methods to be transported in your truck bed for safety purposes. All you need to do is, to tie-down straps or cam buckles of your kayak that are heavy-duty and attach well to the anchor points in your truck bed.

How to Carry the Kayak to the Truck?

If you are carrying kayak all by yourself to the truck you can hold it around the cockpit or roll it on a trolly if it’s particularly large. Even if it’s a small kayak, carrying it all by yourself is a little tricky. The tricky part to how and where to hold. The best way is to lift it at the edge of the cockpit where the cockpit is facing away from you. Bring it to your right side and grab inside of the kayak and pull it toward you so that you can raise one edge of the cockpit and rest it on your shoulder. Then carry it keeping the kayak parallel to the ground.

If you have your friend to carry it with you or you are carrying two kayaks it is rather easier. Each of you can carry with the grab handle on both ends of the boat and walk facing the same direction.

Steps to Transport a Kayak on a Truck Bed:

01. Prep the Truck Bed before loading the kayak

Before you get your gear on the truck, you have to first prep the bed. If you have a tonneau cover, you will have to remove it. Clean the bed and remove other heavy accessories installed on the bed. Put a rubber mat on the floor which prevents both your kayak and your bed floor from getting scratched or damaged. This will also protect your truck bed when you will return with your kayak with water dripping all over the place. Even if you have a spray-on bed lining we would suggest you put a rubber mat.

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If your kayak is not hanging out of your truck bed, then also one large pothole or bump can allow your kayak to fly. This can really be dangerous to other drivers on the road. Hence, you need two tie-down straps for this.

Next, get your straps preferably made of a non-stretchable material such as nylon which you will use to secure the kayak as well as other gear. We suggest you not to use ratchet straps because it may damage the kayak.

02. Loading Kayak onto the Pickup Truck:

Now that you have prepared your truck bed, next you have to load the kayak. Lower the tailgate, carry your kayak on a trolley (kayak cart) or ask your friend to carry it with you. Lift one end of the kayak and slide in, of course keeping the hull side down.

However, if you have a sliding bed extender or a hitch truck bed extender you can load the kayak with the extender open. But, know that your kayak will overhang which means you have to make it extra secure so that you don’t break any overhang law or don’t pose a threat to other drivers. You may even have to hang red flags at the end of the kayak.

If you don’t want to overhang the kayak you can carry it with the tailgate up, angling one end of the kayak up in the air. It will surely reduce the risk of other drivers running into your kayak. But you need extra cushioning on the tailgate as well as keep it strapped to the bed so that it doesn’t slide out.

On the other hand, if you have a longer bed and your kayak is rather short, it could probably fit all the way in.

03. Carrying and Securing the Kayak on the Truck Bed:

Now you have to place the kayak in a way, it doesn’t slide around while you are driving. Instead of placing it in the middle of the bed, you can rest the kayak corner to corner. It will significantly reduce any risk of your kayak from sliding out. Moreover, it will be easier for you to tie down the boat. If you have installed anchor points on the truck bed, it would be even easier for you to secure the kayak.

Now, to strap the kayak you will need anchor points. Get two nylon straps, one for the bow and another for the stern. Run the straps through the grab handles and tie them to the anchor points on either side of the bed.

You can also roll the straps across the top of the kayak on both ends and tie it down to the anchor points. Keep the kayak tightened towards the rear end of the truck.

04. Attach a red flag at the end of the kayak:

Then attach a red flag at the end of the kayak hanging out of the truck to warn other drivers.

However, if you want to be able to use the truck bed, you could install bed extender that extends vertically. Basically, it stays close to the tailgate with a height that is level to the top of the cab. You just have to install a crossbar over the cab and rest the kayak on the crossbar and the extender. This is a great option when you are taking long trips so that you can use the truck bed for other items. But here you need more than two men to lift and load the kayak onto the extender.

If you have aluminum truck bed racks, you can easily carry the kayak without posing any threat to the drivers. Rest the kayak upside down and tie it down to the bed of the rack itself using nylon straps. But the increased height will limit you to drive only in places with no obstruction on top.

The Process to Carry the Kayak to the Truck:

If you are carrying kayak all by yourself to the truck you can hold it around the cockpit or roll it on a trolly if it’s particularly large. Even if it’s a small kayak, carrying it all by yourself is a little tricky. The tricky part to how and where to hold. The best way is to lift it at the edge of the cockpit where the cockpit is facing away from you. Bring it to your right side and grab inside of the kayak and pull it toward you so that you can raise one edge of the cockpit and rest it on your shoulder. Then carry it keeping the kayak parallel to the ground.

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If you have your friend to carry it with you or you are carrying two kayaks it is rather easier. Each of you can carry with the grab handle on both ends of the boat and walk facing the same direction.

Tips for Loading Multiple Kayaks:

When you are loading multiple kayaks, keeping the tailgate up is out of the question because keeping it in angled position is riddled with dangers even if you strap it well. So, you have let it rest on the bed flat with the tailgate down. If it’s a longer kayak, try installing wide truck bed extender that is as wide as the truck bed itself.

Another great option is to haul it on the truck bed rack. You can install four kayak roof racks or j-cradle or saddle, two on each rack bars. Simply rest the kayak on each side and tie it down with cam straps.

Properly Tie Down a Kayak:

Make sure the kayak is well balanced on the truck bed or on the rack. If it’s hanging out the bed at least most of the kayak should be in the truck bed. Tie-down both ends of the kayak with cam straps. There is no need to make any knots, just run the straps through the buckles and pull it down to the side of the kayak. When carrying it on the bed, tie it to the tie-down hooks. And when on the rack, tie the cam straps to either side of the rack when the vertical stand and the rack bar meets. Make sure to loop the end of the strap to the strap itself so that doesn’t come loose when driving. Shake up both the sides of the tied down kayak to make sure it’s sturdy enough to last the whole trip.

Strap Down the Bow and Stern:

The bow and stern of the kayak will take most of the air drag when you are carrying it on truck bed rack. It may cause it to twist and turn and loosen your straps. So, you should secure both ends of the kayak as well.

To begin with, tie down the secure part of the bow such as the grab handle. Run the rope or ratchet to tie it to a secure part of the cab front such as a tow hook. If you don’t have a two hook you can use a couple of hood loop strap on each side of the cab. We suggest you to never tie it to the plastic part of the cab. Repeat the same process for the stern as well.

All the above procedures are recommended for the condition where kayak can easily fit into your truck bed. If only a few feet of your kayak is hanging over the edge of your lowered tailgate, then also this process will help you out. However, this process will not work if you have a long kayak and your truck bed is not enough long to carry it safely.

Now, let us discuss other ways of carrying a kayak in the truck bed

Some Best Practices to Haul a Kayak on Your Truck Bed

If you have a kayak that is longer than 11 feet in length, then it is not possible to tie it down to your truck bed maintaining the safety measures. If you make it possible, then it is not recommended also. However, you can use a few tips or methods to carry long kayaks in your truck. Let us discuss all these options that you can follow in case you have really a long kayak

Don’t tie down your kayak in a rush

Give enough time and attention while tieing down the kayak to the truck bed. Get the right gear and strapping equipment to make sure the kayak stays in its place. Measure the overhang kayak and see if it’s within 4 feet. If you will be driving in the dark, make sure you have proper lighting which should clearly show that there is an overhang cargo in your truck bed. And finally, hang a red flag to the end of the kayak.

Use a cockpit cover

When you are driving at 60 mph imagine the amount of air drag your kayak is going to get and all of it will accumulate in the cockpit. The result is your kayak would just fly out of your bed. If it’s strapped tightly, the kayak may just bend and deform. All in all, it is dangerous to keep the cockpit open. So, we suggest you to always use a cockpit cover to prevent such mishaps.

Drive at a reasonable speed

With you kayak on-board you can’t just race your way to the destination. Drive at a reasonable speed, at the same time keep your eye on the kayaks and see if they have shifted or are sliding. When you are driving your kayak should be secured tightly. Such that you don’t hear any noise coming from the truck bed. If it does, it’s time to stop the truck and check how the kayaks are holding up.

Check your load time to time on your trip

Hauling kayak is risky because it’s hollow and lightweight. If they are not tied down well, the thing would just fly off the bed. So, make sure you stop time to time and check if the straps and still tight. You have to be extra careful when you are carrying a kayak on top of the bed rack.

Use the bow and stern lines

Even if you are laying the kayak flat on the truck bed, you must tie down the bow and stern of the kayak. Secure both ends of the kayak with ropes that are tied down to the truck bed. Straps will prevent your kayak from flapping and keep the kayak stick to the truck bed. A bow and stern lines will prevent it from sliding out.

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Use Truck Bed Extenders

If you have a long kayak that you store in your truck bed, then a truck bed extender can solve your problem. This type of product is specifically designed to attach to the hitch of your pickup truck. They can add an extra few feet to your truck bed that helps to provide support more than one kayak at a time.

Utility Racks are also a good option to carry your long kayaks

Utility racks help to move your kayak from inside your truck bed to over your truck bed. The utility rack or ladder rack can support up to 800 pounds of a load. Hence, you can feasibly transport two kayaks at a time. They are also a safer option as they do not remain not at eye level with other drivers on the road.

Safety Tips to Consider

You can use any of the methods to carry a kayak in your truck bed. However, you need to follow the local laws and ordinances and properly tie the straps to your kayak down with the straps. The last thing you can consider about your kayak is the problem of overhanging.

Some states have “overhang laws” for truck beds that you should follow while carrying a kayak in your truck. Generally, these laws state that you need to hang red flags or reflector lights from the end of your kayaks so that other drivers know kayaks are there in the truck. Otherwise, it may create risk of getting pulled over and ticketed. So, you need to hang these red flags regardless of how much overhang us there.

Pros & Cons of transporting a Kayak by truck

Loading your kayak onto the back of your vehicle and tying it down sometimes can get harder on your part. There are a few things that you need to consider while loading the kayak on your truck bed; you will need a truck bed liner, a sturdy rubber mat to protect your cargo, and foam blocks for cushioning. 

You can also use cable locks that are excellent to keep burglars out of your kayak. They may be wrapped around each kayak handle and an anchor point, which makes it nearly hard for anyone to use or steal without permission. 

Now, let us discuss the pros and cons of loading your kayak on your truck bed.

Pros

  • Your truck will not require any extra equipment or aftermarket modifications if you are hauling kayak on your truck bed.
  • If you are running short of budget, than this can be an economical option for carrying your kayak.
  • This type of method proves to be simple and convenient that works well during the shorter journeys.

Cons

  • If you are carrying the kayak in your truck bed, then you will require a cable lock or a few lockable straps instead of ordinary ones to keep your kayak from being stolen.

How to unload the Kayak

When you want to unload your kayak, the first thing you need to do is to park your truck somewhere flat. You should not park your truck in a sloping areas or areas that are full of huge pebbles. 

You can take the help of a boat ramp, which can be ideal at first, but it can make your kayak roll away from you while unloading. However, if you are not using a cart, you can remove the straps and put brake on the wheel. 

Then you need to rear out of the truck bed and bed extender until the kayak hits its tipping point. Now lower the back end to the ground or onto the cart and then just return to the front end of the vehicle to pull the nose out, while allowing it to rest on the ground. 

Then you can wheel your kayak to the water using either the wheel in the keel or your cart. If you have an overdrive, then you can connect it after the kayak’s hull is in the water.

Conclusion

When you decide to transport your kayak in your pickup truck, you need to carry it safely. You can choose different methods of carrying it, but every method should involve securing your kayak to your truck bed with the use of rope or tie-down straps.

If you do not use a rack, then your kayak will hang over the edge of your truck bed. In this case, you need to comply with the local overhang laws. Always make sure that you are not getting pulled over and ticketed. You also need to ensure that you do not put other drivers in danger.

Even for the experienced ones, hauling a kayak is not an easy job. Unlike lumber or other cargo, it’s lightweight and aerodynamic making it even riskier for you to haul a kayak. If you are laying it flat on the bed with an extender for support, you can cover the truck bed with a Tonneau cover to reduce drag. Use as many straps, ropes you can to secure the kayak but don’t skim on it. It’s your responsibility to haul your kayak safely to your destination. If it’s a long trip and you will be making a few stops in between, you can use locks to secure the kayak and your cargo.

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