How to Transport a Kayak in a Truck [year]


So you are ready to go kayaking.

The last thing you want is to have your kayak slip out of the straps while driving. Nobody wants to be that guy.

This is why we created this guide. It will teach you how to transport a kayak in a truck, how to tie it down to a truck bed or onto an aluminum truck bed rack.

Here is the step-by-step guide to securely transport a kayak in your truck:

Things You Need to Transport a Kayak

Before you transport a kayak onto your truck, you need to get the right items or tools. Here are the things you should buy:

  • Cam straps
  • One rubber mat
  • One red flag
  • An extend-a-truck (optional)

How to Transport a Kayak in a Truck

Transporting a kayak in a truck is one of the best ways you could transport your kayak to the water. But it is not as straightforward as one might think. There are some steps you need to follow or you may cause damage to your kayak.

Here are the steps to transport a kayak in a truck:

Clean the truck bed

Before loading the kayak onto the truck bed, you need to remove all other stuff from it to make space for the kayak. This includes removing tonneau cover, all heavy accessories and smaller items until the bed’s completely clean. Make sure to clean any leftover debris, shavings or dirt so that nothing is left that could potentially damage the kayak.

Once the truck bed is cleared, you can put a rubber mat on the floor to provide some cushioning to the kayak. This will make sure that the kayak doesn’t get any scratches and any impact due to sudden jerks is absorbed then and there.

This mat also protects your truck floor when you come back with a wet kayak. It won’t drip all over your truck floor, which will become a nuisance if not taken care of. The rubber mat is an effective protective layer even if you have a spray-on bed lining.

Next, carefully choose the straps you will use to strap on the kayak to the truck. It is better if you use nylon straps as they are non-stretchable. We would advise against ratchet straps since they can cause damage to the kayak. Nylon straps are effective at securing not only your kayak but also other gear.

Loading the Kayak into the Truck

Once the truck bed is prepared, the next step is to lower the tailgate. Now, you can either bring your kayak on a kayak trolley or you can ask someone to help you carry the kayak and put it in the truck.

Grab the kayak using the grab handles, put on end inside the truck and slide it in. If you have an extender on the truck, you can open the extender while loading the kayak to make things easier. If you use a sliding bed extender or extend-a-truck, you also reduce the chances of hitting another car with the end of your kayak. However, it is not necessary if you are careful without it.

Using an Extender
If you do use the extender though, make sure you are not breaking any overhang law in your state. You will also need to put in extra effort toward securing it if you do let it hand on the extender. If the kayak ends are protruding, you must add red flags at the ends to signal other drivers to be cautious.

Tailgate Closed
There is another way to secure your kayak without letting it overhang. You can close the tailgate with one end of the kayak angling upward. This raises any overhang up at a high angle in the air, which guards it from getting it by the hoods of other cars behind you.
However, you would need more cushioning around the tailgate and more effort to secure it to the bed so that it doesn’t slip out. It sure can be done though.

This depends on how big your truck is and how big your kayak is. If your kayak is small in comparison to the space available in your truck, you won’t need to put a lot of effort while loading your kayak.

Positioning the Kayak in the Truck Bed
Before you secure your kayak into the truck bed, it is crucial to see how to position it for maximum effectiveness. For this, angle the rear end of the kayak into the front left corner of the truck bed. Then, align the front end of the kayak at the diagonal opposite corner, that is, rear right corner.

Carrying and Securing Your Kayak

The next step is to properly place the kayak on the truck bed. It shouldn’t slide around while the truck is moving. One way to effectively do this is to put the kayak resting on one corner to another corner since it will give it a stable surface to rest on. This position also allows you to easily tie down the boat.

Also, when strapping your kayak onto the truck floor, you will need anchor points. You need two nylon straps, one to strap the bow and the other to strap down the stern. When you have the straps, run them through the carrying handles and tie them down to the anchor points, one on each side of the bed.

You can roll the straps around the top of the kayak and tie them down to the anchor points. It is important that the kayak is tied toward the back end of the truck.

Ensuring Safety with Red Flag

Once you are done strapping the kayak to the anchor points, attach a red flag to its end so that other drivers can be cautious and don’t accidentally hit the kayak.

However, it is not always the case that you can use the truck bed solely for keeping a kayak. If you need to store other stuff on the truck bed, simply use a truck bed extender. It proves to be especially useful when you are covering long distances on the road and need the truck bed to store other luggage.

Another way to keep a kayak on your truck is to use aluminum truck bed racks, as shown in the image above. This places the kayak at a much higher height so that it doesn’t pose any risk to other drivers. Storing the kayak this way is easy. You just need to put it upside down and tie it to the rack using nylon straps.

How to Tie Down a Kayak in a Truck Bed

Before you tie the kayak down to the truck bed, ensure that it is balanced. Even if it is hanging out, keep as much of the kayak inside as possible. Then run a cam strap along the top of the kayak, parallel to the tailgate. Once done, attach the cam buckle to the anchor point and pull it until it is tightened properly.

Remember that you don’t need to make any knots. Running the straps through the bucks and pulling them down to the sides of the kayak is enough.

Next, run another cam strap from another end and attach it to the anchor point. Once done, tighten the strap to pull the boat forward toward the back bed wall.

Use a Cockpit Cover
When you drive at high speeds on the road, the kayak is bound to get a lot of air drag. This air drag gets stored up the cockpit and can send your kayak flying out. Even when the kayak is strapped very tight, it can bend and take on some damage.

So never leave the cockpit open. This can be resolved by attaching a cockpit cover to prevent any potential damages.

Drive at a Moderate Speed
When you have a kayak loaded in the back, you can’t drive like you are in the hangover movie and driving into Las Vegas. You should drive at a reasonable speed, neither slow, nor too fast. If there is any strange noise coming out from the back of your truck, you should pull over as soon as possible and check if the kayak is secure.

A good way to ensure safety is to routinely check on the kayak every couple hours to see it is safe and secure. If the kayak has slided out or shifted along the truck bed, make sure to properly secure it and tighten the straps better this time.

Will You Be Away from the Car for Too Long?
If you will be away from the car for quite a long time, you need to tie your kayak more securely to protect it from theft. This includes using a locking cable run. Run this cable along the tow loop, seat or grab handles to make sure that the kayak is secured and isn’t vulnerable to theft.

How to Build a Kayak Rack for Truck

Not everyone wants to spend money on a kayak rack. If that is you, there is good news. You can build your own DIY kayak rack if you are willing to follow a few simple steps. Building your own kayak rack also makes sense since most trucks aren’t big enough to accommodate longer kayaks, such as 17 feet long or more.

If you like to build things yourself, a Google search for DIY kayak racks will give you plenty of ideas to get things going. You can either weld to build a custom design. Or you can build a wooden rack. The advantage of a wooden rack is that it is inexpensive, easy to build and doesn’t require any complex tools. A wooden rack is also easier to improvise upon after a year or so when you want an upgrade.

While building your kayak, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How often would I use the rack?
  • Would you carry more than one kayak simultaneously?
  • Do you need the kayak to function for work or play?

Then next thing is to decide what type of kayak rack you want to build. Do you want a roof kayak rack which allows you to use your truck bed for keeping other gear or luggage? Or do you want to build a kayak rack for a truck bed?

Keep in mind that the rack, exposed to the elements including sunlight, heat, cold, moisture can lose its strength over time. So it is important to pick heavy-duty but lightweight materials so that the kayak stays intact for years to come without putting a lot of load on your truck. For this purpose, you can choose PVC material, since it is tough, durable yet lightweight. Another benefit is that PVC is also affordable.

You will need a few crucial equipment to build your kayak rack: safety goggles, a drill, measuring tape, saw, hammer, screwdriver and so on.


The best materials to use are 8-foot 2x4s. You would also need 3-inch screws to put the rack together. Before you buy the necessary hardware, it would help to draw the rack you want on a piece of paper, after measuring your truck bed. You will need one trip to the hardware store if you prepare in advance. But in most cases, people need two.

Start with the End in Mind

The right way to begin building is to understand the end design you want. In this case, you want to take two cross beams and plant them higher than the roof of your truck. They should be slightly wider than your truck bed. This is the part that holds your kayak with straps tied onto it.

You can choose the width of the cross beams as you want. Consider the fact that if you want to haul two kayaks at once, you would need about 6 feet of width on the cross beams.

Attaching Vertical Posts

The next thing to get sorted is uprights. You will be using four upright posts in total and each of them will go in a corner of your truck bed. Their positioning also depends on the specific shape of your truck box.

The next step is to decide whether or not you want the rack to be a permanent fix in your truck. If you want a permanent solution, you can use the stake pockets on the bed rails.

If you don’t want a permanent rack, you can build out the bottom of the frame to run back to back and side to side. So when you do that, you have an entire unit as a frame-box which can be removed from the truck. Once you build a rack like this, you can use ratchet straps and s-hooks to attach it to your truck.

Length of Vertical Posts

While the position of upright posts is important, it is equally important that you cut them up for the right length. Don’t be overconfident, measure twice. Be mindful of the change in length of the uprights because of cross beams.

Impact Resistance

Note that the kayak rack has to absorb the impact of a lot of pressures. So two cross beams on four uprights is a decent structure, but not strong enough to outlast a sudden movement or impact.

To resolve this, just make an X between your uprights by screwing in 2x4s along the two diagonals between uprights. This ensures that the rack doesn’t fold or collapse. In addition, you can add stabilizers from the front to rear too.


You can further modify the kayak rack by adding some pool noodles around the cross beams with duct tape. The benefit of having a self-made rack is that you can modify it as you want later.

Frequently Asked Questions

How far can a kayak stick out of a truck?

As a thumb rule, any cargo, including a kayak, that sticks out beyond four feet from the bumper needs to have a red flag at the rearmost point to help other drivers see it clearly.

How do you transport a kayak without a crossbar?

To transport a kayak without a crossbar, you would need pool noodles and cam straps. Place the pool noodles on the roof of your car, making sure they don’t stick out. Secure the pool noodles with ratchet straps going through them and then through inside of your car. Once done, tie the kayak down with straps.

Will a kayak fit in a truck bed?

If you a kayak is small in size, it might fit in with the tailgate closed. But medium or longer kayaks usually stick out of the kayak bed a couple feet. You can also rest the end of the kayak on top of the tail gate. Make sure to tie down the kayak with cam straps properly, though.

How do you lock a kayak in a truck bed?

If you want to avoid the risk of having your kayak stolen, tie your kayak securely using a locking cable run. Run this cable along the tow loop, seat or grab handles to make sure that the kayak is locked in place. You can use lockless anti-theft cables that make it really easy to secure the kayak against theft.

Final Thoughts

Now you know how to tie down your kayak in a truck bed. However, if you are feeling a little overwhelmed with all the instructions, it is perfectly natural.

Take your time and execute each step one-by-one until you successfully secure your kayak to your truck.

Safe travels and happy kayaking!