Carrying systems for watercraft

By Justin Walker March 11, 2015
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You can avoid damaging expensive watercraft by choosing a good quality carrying system

When you have hundreds or thousands of dollars of watercraft affixed to the roof of your vehicle, you don’t want to skimp on a dodgy carrying system. The days of simply strapping your canoe to the top of a roof with some (bloody dangerous) occy straps and hoping for the best are, thankfully, long gone.

The watercraft-carrying accessory market is huge, with a number of excellent systems from reputable brands, such as Thule, Rhino Rack and Yakima.

Most modern vehicles come standard with roof rails, which run along the length of each side of the roof, so most paddlers will only need to buy aftermarket roof bars to attach horizontally to these rails. These bars are manufactured in a number of different tube profiles, from square to oval.

The more important thing to look for is the attachment system; how secure it is, and how easy it is to attach the bars to your vehicle’s roof rails.

In terms of the carry system, you can opt for simple padded cradles, or you can go all out and fit something like Thule’s awesome 897XT Hullavator. Things to consider when buying cradles/carry systems are the width of your craft, whether you’re carrying one or two (some cradle systems position the watercraft on an angle to minimise the amount of roof space used) up top, and any provision for paddle storage. (Most manufacturers offer paddle-carrying systems.)

When securing your craft to the carry system, the best method is via ratchet straps; again, most manufacturers will supply the necessary number with the system, or they can be purchased separately.

Leave occy straps where they belong – in the 1970s.

It is one of the most dangerous load-carrying items around; if one comes loose, the force of the rebound – and the hook itself, can easily take out an eye. Plus, the inherent stretch in the strap means your craft can still “move around” in windy conditions. Most carry systems are manufactured of aluminium and plastic/rubber and – depending on their complexity – require only minimal maintenance.

Keep an eye on the high-wear sections (pads and any hinges) as these will cop the most abuse. Ensure any moving parts are lubricated regularly and you’ll have a reliable watercraft load-lugging system that will last for ages.

Of course, once your craft is off the vehicle, it’s not always a case of simply plopping it in the water. Your destination might still be a few hundred metres away, meaning you still have to lug your craft – and all your gear – to the put-in point.

If you have a heavy canoe plus gear, this can be a herculean task so it is well worth investing in a canoe/kayak cart; Solution Gear offers these in three sizes.

These carts are foldable and include features such as anodised aluminium frames and pneumatic tyres, which make the whole ordeal of dragging a heavy canoe/kayak a thing of the past. When folded down, they are also quite easy to strap to your craft.

Additional safety equipment

Other essential safety items include: a whistle (for alerting nearby watercraft in low visibility conditions), a safety line (or two; you may need to tow an injured paddler and their craft), a marine radio (or equivalent; a mobile phone is not reliable in remote areas, but take one anyway – you may get reception where you least expect it); an EPIRB (must be registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority); a compass and map; a GPS (with spare batteries); a torch (of utmost importance for early morning/night/evening paddling); bailing equipment (a small bucket or bilge pump); first-aid knowledge; spare paddle(s); and a high-visibility flag (especially if you’re paddling in busy waterways).

This seems like an extensive list but most of these items are quite compact, making them easily to store in your craft. Make sure they are all close to hand – you don’t want to be wasting time looking for this gear in an emergency.