How To Transport a Canoe | Best Methods and Equipment | Actively Outdoor (2023)

For those of us who don’t actually live right near a water source for canoeing, we’ll need to figure out somewhat how to transport a canoe. Depending on the type of vehicle you have, the type of canoe, and even how many canoes you’re trying to transport, there can be a lot of variables and logistics to get your canoe where you need to be.

Below we’ll cover the most common ways to transport a canoe, the equipment required, and how-to information to get you and your canoe from A to B as hassle-free as possible.

How To Transport a Canoe

When it comes to transporting a canoe, it’s important to securely mount and tie down the canoe. Hauling a canoe will largely depend on the type and style of vehicle used for transport. There are four different ways to transport a canoe with your vehicle:

  • A roof rack on a car or SUV
  • The bed of a pickup truck
  • An utility rack on a pickup truck
  • A canoe trailer pulled behind the vehicle

What’s The Best Way To Transport a Canoe?

The best way to transport a canoe will depend on the vehicle, the size of the canoe, and the number of canoes. Generally, a canoe will always be transported upside down, with the hull facing the sky.

Some racks can be used with a car or SUV’s roof rail system. A truck can use a utility rack or the bed for hauling a canoe. An SUV and a truck have the ability to tow a trailer with multiple canoes mounted.

The most popular way to transport a canoe though is using a roof rack with crossbars.

Using Crossbars To Transport a Canoe

Crossbars by themselves can be used to transport a canoe. Just laying the canoe on top of the crossbars and strapping it down can get the job done.

Using straps with the crossbars on a vehicle can be the most secure way to move the canoe. This way you won’t have to worry about hauling a trailer behind your vehicle, or having the canoe–or canoes–sliding around in the bed of a truck.

However, if you have a truck, using a utility rack will be the best choice to transport a canoe or multiple canoes. More on that later.


What Do I Need To Transport a Canoe?

If you own a car, you’ll first need to have rails on the top of the car. There will be two rails that run on both the driver and passenger side of the roof. There will also need to be crossbars attached to the roof rails.

The canoe can be strapped directly to these crossbars, or a rack can be attached to the crossbars. This rack can be a saddle-type that will cradle the canoe when it’s strapped down.

If you’ve chosen to use only the crossbars on the roof of the vehicle, you’ll need to have several cam straps or ropes to secure the canoe.

Do You Need a Roof Rack For a Canoe?

How To Transport a Canoe | Best Methods and Equipment | Actively Outdoor (1)

You won’t necessarily need a roof rack to transport a canoe. There are some other creative ways of transporting a canoe if needed.

The advantage of not using a complicated roof rack system when transporting a canoe is that when you’re not hauling the canoe on the roof of your vehicle, you won’t have any permanent equipment attached to the top of the vehicle.

How to Transport a Canoe Without a Roof Rack

The two best ways to transport a canoe without a roof rack are to use foam blocks or an inflatable roof rack system. Both the foam blocks or the inflatable roof rack can be easily strapped to the vehicle. Another advantage is that the foam block and the inflatable rack can be removed when not in use.

How to use Foam Blocks to Transport a Canoe

An easy and inexpensive way to secure a canoe to your car will be to use foam blocks. All that’s needed are two medium-sized foam blocks. One foam block will be placed at the bow and one at the stern of the canoe.

Foam blocks can come in many different shapes and sizes, but the best available will have a curved or V-shape that can cradle the canoe. The longer and wider the foam block the better. This is because of the more surface area of foam that cradles the canoe, the less likely the chance for damage.

How to Make it Work

The canoe will sit, hull side down, on top of the foam blocks. Since the canoe is sitting on top of the two foam blocks, this ensures that the canoe can be strapped down tight without damaging the roof or the canoe. Place the foam blocks equal distance from each other toward each end of the kayak.

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Without rails or crossbars to help secure the canoe, the straps will have to be fed through the open doors of the vehicle. The straps can then be connected or tied together.

Over the top of the canoe, the straps will need to be running directly over top of where the canoe sits on the foam blocks underneath. Using cam straps to tightly secure the canoe is the best option.

After everything is cinched down using the cam straps, test that the canoe does not move or slide one way or another.

For extra security, you can use a rope, strap, or long bungee to attach from the stern and bow of the canoe to the front and back of your car. This keeps the canoe in place while driving on the road.

How to use an Inflatable Rack to Transport a Canoe

An inflatable roof rack will provide a soft surface that installs easily and removes easily when no tin use. The inflatable rack will provide plenty of cushioning and surface area for the canoe to lay on. The inflatable rack will serve the same purpose as crossbars on the roof of the car.

How to Make it Work

The inflatable roof racks can be installed right out of the box. Start by laying the deflated rack across the roof. Next, use the straps that come with the inflatable rack and run them through the open doors of your car.

Once the straps are tightened, you the included hand pump to air them up. The inflatable rack has d-rings for easy strapping of the canoe to the racks.

How To Transport Two Canoes

It makes sense to ask the question, how to transport two canoes. Canoeing can be a great way to spend time with family and friends, so you might run into the issue of needing to transport multiple canoes at one time. There are several different ways to transport two canoes, depending on the vehicle.

Two Canoes on a Car or SUV

Transporting two canoes using the roof rails and crossbars of either a car, Cross-over or full-size SUV can be done.

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There is only so much available real estate on the top of a car that can be used to strap down multiple canoes. If the canoes are narrow enough, they can be strapped hull-side facing up, and side-by-side on the crossbars of the car.

Another option would be to extend the roof rack to a longer width than the car, to fit both canoes.


An SUV will be larger than a car, giving the roof more room to secure multiple canoes. Using only the crossbars and tie-down ropes at the bow and stern, two canoes can fit on the roof of most SUV’s

How To Haul a Canoe in a Pickup

There are several ways to haul a canoe using a pickup truck. The canoe can be strapped inside the bed of the truck, installing an overhead utility rack, an overhead hitch extender, or using a hitch-mounted bed extender.


How To Transport a Canoe | Best Methods and Equipment | Actively Outdoor (2)

Roof-mounted canoe racks are verycommon with cars and SUV’swhich typically have roof crossbars and rails that can be used for strapping down a canoe.

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A roof-mounted rack will use the hitch to mount a vertical post and a roof-mounted crossbar. What this does is hold the bow of the canoe over the roof and the stern of the canoe at the hitch support bar (as shown in the above picture).

Utility Rack

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A utility rack-style rack will normally bolt into the truck bed. The less-permanent design will use heavy-duty clamps to attach to the sides of the truck bed.

Beware, however, that utility racks will not be compatible with your truck if you have a toolbox or side box, utility track systems, camper shell, or Tonneau cover.

Hitch Mounted Extension

How To Transport a Canoe | Best Methods and Equipment | Actively Outdoor (4)

Most truck beds will be shorter than the length of the canoe. In this case, the best solution is to extend the truck bed. If you’re unable to lift a canoe overhead of the truck or just want the canoe to sit lower for easier loading and unloading, a horizontal style truck extension will be a good choice. The rack extension will use the hitch receiver on the truck.

How To Transport a 17 Foot Canoe

A longer 17-foot canoe can be secured to a vehicle using any of the methods we’ve covered already, but keep in mind that transporting a 17 ft. canoe on a smaller car could cause issues with visibility and a lack of points for strapping and properly securing the canoe to the car.

Here are the best ways to transport a 17 ft. canoe:

  • Strapped with cam or ratchet straps to the crossbars of a car or SUV
  • On top of a overhead utility truck rack
  • In a truck bed with hitch-mounted truck bed extender
  • Canoe trailer pulled using the hitch of a SUV or truck

Summary | How To Transport a Canoe

Most canoes will be the tandem style, made for two people. This makes them more of a challenge to transport than smaller kayaks or other watersport equipment.

The longer the canoe, the more equipment will be needed to transport the canoe from place to place. Depending on your canoe and the type of vehicle, using one of the transportation methods above should solve this issue.

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