Transport A Canoe

Transporting a Canoe, the Right Way

There are tell tale signs when someone or some family is on vacation. Generally, it’s a canoe strapped to the roof of the car and enough junk in the trunk or back seat that the driver can’t look back:) Transporting a canoe can really be an art and there are proper ways to make sure your precious boat doesn’t turn into a plane. Or roadkill for that matter. Let’s take a dive into how it’s done properly and it’s important as many people do it wrong. Especially someone that may be new to canoeing.

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Type of Vehicle for Transporting a Canoe

This is the easy part so let’s knock it out right away. The vehicle DOES NOT really matter. Unless your roof is all glass, then you have a problem… But you can always take up tennis or golf 😂 Very few vehicles have an exorbitant amount of glass as roof and I would talk to your dealer if that’s an issue.

If you don’t believe me that the vehicle doesn’t matter, just sit in the parking lot of any shop that rents canoes. You’ll see all kinds of cars pull up, big and small. The shop folks come out, toss a canoe on the roof and strap it down pretty much in minutes.

Roof racks make things pretty easy, they will hold the canoe off the roof of the vehicle and prevent damage to the roof. You may want to pad the racks themselves to protect the canoe. Roof racks though are not required by any means.

Gear Required to Transport a Canoe

Canoe Blocks

If you don’t have a roof rack, all you need are blocks. Canoe blocks have cutouts to slip onto the gunwales of the canoe. The canoe is flipped upside down and placed, gently and directly onto the roof of the vehicle. The blocks provide a cushion between the canoe and the roof, protecting both.

My vehicle of choice is a Jeep Wrangler that has a plastic roof. It also lacks roof racks yet transporting a canoe has NEVER been an issue thanks to blocks. You’ll need 4 of them in total for a canoe.

Cross Straps

Pelican Tie Down Straps

Now that we’ve figured out how to get the canoe on the roof, it’s time to strap it down. For this we use cam locking straps. Applying the strap is easy, it get’s tossed over the canoe and fed back into the car with the doors open. The strap is fed into the cam, all inside of the vehicle and the running end of the strap is pulled tight. And held tight thanks to the cam. It’s similar to a ratchet strap but simpler as it lacks a ratchet mechanism. The excess is tied off so it’s out of the way.

Tip: Watch your strap placement as it lowers your ceiling height in the car. Ie. I place mine forward or backward so it’s not around my head! Seriously, I don’t fit in the car when the strap is in a position right around my head. It’s not a big deal to re-locate a strap but maybe I can save you the aggravation with this tip.

The process above is repeated for the back doors and you now have 2 solid straps holding down your canoe. Pelican’s cam locking straps are a prime example of a suitable cross strap. Without them, you better know your knots as you’ll be tying down with rope – and that will be infinitely more complicating.


Important Tip: In all seriousness, you’ll never see me transporting a canoe without rags. The outer parts of the cam straps can buffet in the wind and create a lot of noise. In fact it can drone so loud you won’t have a conversation with the person next to you as you won’t hear them. At least, that’s been my experience every single time.

Not only will the rags dampen the sound, if you tie them right it even eliminates it. See the picture below for exactly how I tie mine. All it does is prevent the straps from being able to vibrate rapidly and it works very well!

Rags Stop Vibration - Transporting a Canoe

If it’s raining, you’ll also find water coming into the car. While not necessarily excessive, it’s enough to get you wet and uncomfortable. Tying rags inside the car, close to where the straps come in, can help catch the rain.

Simple math says carry a minimum of 4 rags for sound. 8 if it’s raining that day.

Don’t Forget to Use Bow and Stern Straps!

We’ve all seen plenty a canoe transported with just the 2 straps above. That doesn’t sit well with me and the security of bow and stern straps is a step I would never skip. For that we use v straps.

The main end attaches to the handle of the canoe (see below), the other 2 ends attach to the vehicle. In the front of the car, it’s wherever you can find a solid spot to attach. I slip mine between the bumper and am able to pickup a hole in the frame on both sides of the Jeep. Same at the rear, I typically use the safety chain attachment points of the hitch receiver. The cams are then tightened and any excess strapping tied up and out of the way. Don’t skip that step, the straps will fly around and keep whacking your car if you don’t tie off the slack.

V Straps - Transporting a Canoe

V straps seem to be harder to come across than the cam locking straps in the previous section. If you find some, grab yourself a pair while you can!

What if I Have A Cedar Strip?

Relax. They are much stronger than you think! We were fortunate enough to finally buy a cedar strip recently without blowing out the bank. We bought a very old and beautiful Peterborough. In fact the photo at the very top of this post was when we picked it up. You’ll see it many times in the blog, maybe even a restoration of it one day.

The challenge with cedar strips are sometimes finding an attachment point. Many have a simple metal ring attachment at the bow or stern. Mine in particular doesn’t, it just has a hole… It also doesn’t have a suitable handle that one could attach a v strap to. A simple solution is to feed a rope with a loop through the hole and tie a knot on both sides. These knots essentially sandwich the hole and provides a loop with which to attach your v straps (see below).

Rope for tie down, mooring

Tip: If you find yourself with a canoe that just has a hole and no handles, the trick above works really well not only for transportation. The loop provides for a great grab handle in general and the running end of the rope can used for mooring.

How Fast Can You Drive With A Canoe on the Roof?

Always leaning towards the cautious end of things, I tend to get up to 90 km/h an hour and if all looks good and solid, I’ll go higher from there. Even the old cedar strip got up to 110 km/h when passing a truck but that’s as far as I was willing to go that day until the canoe and I got to know each other a little better:)

If you check forums online as this question comes up a lot, you’ll find countless people writing in about going 70 or even 80 mp/h. Doing the math, 80 mp/h is a 128 km/h which well exceeds our legal speed limits. In other words, the canoe won’t slow you down.

Transporting a canoe (or having anything else strapped to a car) is serious business. You’ll need to make your own judgement calls when it comes to speed. What you should do regardless is always check all your straps anytime you pull over for any reason. If anything works itself loose, you’ll be happy you did.

Transporting a Canoe: That’s it Folks!

Transporting a canoe is serious. But it doesn’t have to be difficult nor scary. In fact, when you realize how easy it is to strap a canoe (which is really a boat) to almost any car, it’s actually empowering. Knowing you can hit almost any waterbody you can drive to is no less than a pathway to freedom in the wilderness.

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Stelios Lazos
Stelios Lazos

Stelios comes from the corporate world where he was a highly successful executive. Inspired by his love for the outdoors he has re-located with his family to live to the BushLife where he blogs about his adventures. Finding inspiration in the never-ending questions from aspiring outdoors people, Stelios aims to share his knowledge, one post at a time.

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