Kayak Roof Rack

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Project by bch posted 07-21-2015 04:52 AM 3876 views 2 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

We bought a kayak four days before going to Northern Michigan for a vacation at the in-laws lake house. On the way home from purchasing it I stopped at the local adventure sports store for a rack. Even though I already had a rack on the car they wanted $200 for a rack to hold the bugger down. So I had four nights to quickly build a rack in order to get the kayak to our vacation. Challenge on! I think it came out very well. As with most projects I started by getting ideas online. I came across this photo:

His is very nice indeed. However, I had four brief evenings after putting the kids to bed, etc., and I was not up to doing the bent lamination he did. However, I used his design as inspiration regardless. You can see what I came up with in the photos.

Interestingly, before buying the kayak I looked up reviews of it and read four comments from online posters. All four were very positive on this older kayak (circa 1996 apparently) but two of the four wrote beautiful descriptions of the kayak ‘flying’ from their roofs while driving on the interstate and sailing smoothly down the interstate along side their cars for a quarter of a mile. Interestingly one of those posters continued on the trip and still used the kayak for their vacation! I was keen to avoid this aeronautical fun with my new toy. (Both admitted to failing to tie down the bow and stern, and that seemed to be the key—lesson learned!) Interestingly in order to tie the bow, unable to find an tie down spots under the front bumper I found someone online who had tied to the frame under the front hood. I followed his lead and tied some loops to the frame under the hood that hang out from the hood. This has worked perfectly and I think I will just leave them there for the summer and tuck them into the hood during the winter.

This was my first time doing cove cuts on the table saw. The cross supports on the van roof were mostly elipses. I bought a new circular blade that is intended for battery circular saws and installed it on my table saw. It was 5.5 inches in diameter and was very close to the not-equal elipse required for the supports on the car. I just went over it at 90 degrees on the table repeatedly until I got the depth required. It was a great experience and I had no problems as I went very slowly. It is not as exact as his fit but is close enough to both cars racks (which are different, of course) that I think this was a fine compromise.

As you can see I failed to follow one part of his design and if/when I redo this hasty project I will correct this. On the blocks that wrap around the roof rack he put his bolts upward, with the head at the bottom, presumably embedded in the ply. I failed to notice this detail in my build and designed mine with nuts embedded in the bottom and bolts put in from the top. This means that the bolt overhang is down toward the roof of the car and when the kayak is tightly tied the roof deflects and the bolts on the front slightly rubbed on the car paint. There are some minor scuffs there on the roof paint (but She Who Must Be Obeyed (SWMBO) doesn’t know this and will likely never see it, and so I’m okay for now).

Also, I only had four T-Nuts on hand and needed eight. For the last four I just chiseled out a recess and embedded hex nuts. This worked so well and only took about three minutes per nut that I removed all the T-Nuts saving them for another project and just embedded nuts. I don’t think I’ll buy those any longer now that I am confident in using this method.

After using the beautiful kayak (and she does has fine lines and is a joy to sail as well) SWMBO said she needed one as well—so this is all good news! As such I need to build another rack that will accommodate at least two, preferably three kayaks for our growing family fleet of boats! So in the Good News Department, this rack will likely be replaced in the next year or two with another that I have already begun collecting innovative materials for… but that is for a later post. The kids are going to need kayaks as well if we are to play, too! Unfortunately I have never seen a car with four kayaks going down the road… for a family of five this is going to be a complex build… But .. later.

She’s fun to fish with! I enjoyed trolling with her and have plans to make a rod holder that clamps to her side. I did catch a baby perch and a nice 12” small-mouth bass with her while on vacation. Being that close to the water brings another dimension to both boating and fishing.

Total Cost: $14 for a blade. The rest I had on-hand.

Thanks for reading. Sail on!

-- --bch

4 comments so far

View observer100's profile


476 posts in 2126 days

#1 posted 07-21-2015 10:32 AM

For a ‘must have’, practical project it looks really good. Can you imagine this in laminated walnut and maple with 5 coats of finish! The WOW factor would be very high!

-- Seeing is believing.

View GerardoArg1's profile


1014 posts in 3009 days

#2 posted 07-21-2015 12:12 PM

Excelent idea! Very useful. Have a kayak too, and is a problem de rack cost really. thank for share.

-- Disfruta tu trabajo (enjoy your work) (Bandera, Argentina)

View bch's profile


302 posts in 3705 days

#3 posted 08-13-2015 03:23 AM

observer100: Oh my walnut and maple would be amazing! Perhaps SHMBO would be less embarressed that these are on her van all summer? Probably not. Personally, I like that our van has horns. It’s very easy to find in the parking lot!

-- --bch

View bch's profile


302 posts in 3705 days

#4 posted 11-23-2015 05:22 AM

Update: I’m quite disappointed in the varnish I used. I put three coats of Minwax Helmsman varnish on, which is intended for outdoor boating use, and after a summer on the roof of the van it is quite degraded and clearly needs attention. This is disappointing. If anyone has a better idea please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

PS. At the end of the season another kayak was purchased for SHMBO and she likes it very much. The fleet has grown to three, for a family of five, which seems about right. There are now enough boats for those who want to kayak at any given moment.

-- --bch

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