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Cartopping a wood canoe

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous' started by Tim the Inspector, Oct 20, 2009.

  1. Tim the Inspector

    Tim the Inspector Kayakaholic

    Hi all,

    Even though I don't currently own a canoe I've begun thinking ahead to how I will cart one around and the easiest way looks like cartopping. I already have a set of roof bars for my car so that part is covered.

    Now, when I load up my kayak I put a set of cradles on the roof bars, throw the boat on them then run two straps around the circumference of the hull, one on each side of the cockpit. I cinch them down as tight as they'll go, skip the ropes of the bow and stern (I don't want to ruin the paint on my bumpers) and the kayak won't go anywhere. I've driven 800km at speeds approaching 130km/h at times and the boat didn't budge at all, I even had some tape on the hull as a reference mark to see how much it crept on the trip.

    My worry is that I can't get away with this with a wooden canoe. I'd skip the cradles and just put it upside down on the roof bars but I'm worried about what the straps might do to the structure if they're over tightened. Also, the roof bars are pretty close together (relative to a 16 foot canoe) so do I need to be worried about what bow and stern tie down lines will do? I'm kind of picturing the reverse of hogging but slightly more violent.

    Are my concerns reasonable or are wooden canoes a lot stronger than I think?

    Last edited: Oct 20, 2009
  2. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    Both, actually. Not securely fastening the ropes from the ends of the canoe to the bumper is REALLY asking for trouble when carrying a canoe. They catch a lot more wind than kayaks do and can rip roof racks right off of cars if the ends aren't tied down. You would run a much higher risk of damaging the boat by sending it airborne to crash into the pavement that you would of bending or breaking it with rope tension. Modern bumpers are a problem in many cases. I made tubes of neoprene wetsuit fabric or acrylic pile (the fake sheepskin stuff used in coats) about 18" long and an inch wide that I run the lines through to keep the ropes off the bumper paint. The lines are anchored to metal below and behind the plastic bumper and once tightened, the fuzzy covers in the bumper area stay in place and protect the paint. Most cars have towing hooks down there in the front and they're pretty solid. The same thing works on both the front and rear bumpers, but sometimes installing a trailer hitch may be the easiest way to get something really secure and easily accessable to tie to at the back. It all depends on the car and how much plastic is involved in the bumper areas.

    As to your other question, wooden canoes are generally quite strong and pretty stiff. You could probably bend or break one if you cranked it down a lot tighter than you need to, but with typical ropes and trucker-hitches or Yakima-style straps, it is very unlikely and probably not even possible to structurally damage one in most cases. You just don't need that much tension to hold one securely to a car. It is possible, however, to scuff up the canoe's paint with ropes and straps. Again, a small strip of the fake sheepskin or similar between the strap and the paint will usually prevent this.

    If you have gunwale brackets available for your bars (L-shaped mini-cradles) they're probably worth having and will help keep the canoe from wiggling around much (it's worth padding them a bit as well, to keep from chewing up the varnish).
  3. Rob Stevens

    Rob Stevens Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I car top, and prefer that to putting my wood canvas canoe on the factory provided racks on our mini-van. You might want to think about padding the bars. I have used canoe blocks, which don't exactly seat well at the junction of the standard racks. On the car, they go directly on the roof near full-length.

    And I use ratcheting straps through the doorways through the inside of the carto make a complete loop around the canoe. I snug them, but have never worried about damaging the canoe. I added tubular covers similar to what Todd describes (mine are canvas) to protect the paint finish of the canoe, and to prevent the taught straps from vibrating with wind pressure.

    I also connect the ends with Y straps, though on the car, I have to be careful about positioning one side to the rear so the strap doesn't contact the muffler or tailpipe and melt -as has happened once, towards the end of a very long trip. No calamity there. The canoe shifted a little, and the strap blew freely in the wind.
  4. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast


    I concur with what Todd and Rob say.

    Attached are some pictures of my new (old) 16' canoe on its way from its former home in PA to its new home in ME, with a stop in Brooklyn, NY, week-end before last. (I'm not responsible for the paint job on the canoe.)

    The bars are spaced about 3 feet apart -- but I have carried similar canoes with the bars as little as 30-32" inches apart when I had a small Nissan sedan.

    The L-shaped canoe-carying brackets on the bars, in which the gunwales sit, are not very visible in the pictures, but they help enormously in situations with high cross-winds (probably 40-50 mph gusts), as I actually experienced when crossing the Verrazano Bridge shortly before these pictures were taken -- otherwise, rock-solid up to 80 mph or so. The brackets cannot be centered on this car, because of the locations of the car's roof rails. However, I often use a Yakima rocket box clam shell carrier next to the canoe, so I mount off-center anyway -- I have extra long cross bars.

    If you wish to pad either the gunwales or crossbars, plastic foam pipe insulation does a good job.

    I have found the straps sold by Northwest River Supply to be excellent -- I use the kind with loops on each end. With the cam buckles, they can be cinched down as tight as necessary. I have never been concerned that I was making the straps over the hull to tight -- I think "too tight" is impossible with ordinary canoes -- but with a fragile racer or an old hulk with bad gunwales in need of restoration, care might be called for. The bow and stern straps are looped around small carry thwarts in the canoe (since you will be building, I highly recommend installing carry thwarts), and at the rear, run directly to a towing loop under the rear of the car. At the front, I made a bridle of soft parachute cord -- partly because I expected its softness to mitigate any problems with wear on the bumper, but mostly because I could tie an off-center loop into which I looped one end of the bow tie-down strap. I plan to put clear bumper protector plastic on the colored part of the bumper where the cord passes.

    This was the first time I used straps for the bow and stern tie-downs -- and was quite pleased with the way the worked out. I have always used rope previously, but found it much easier and faster to get the straps properly taut than it is with ropes -- the cam buckles are much faster than tying knots.

    When picking up Kathy Klos's and Denis Kallery's new (old) Morris for them, I had to improvise for the bow and stern tie downs --nothing in or on the canoe to tie onto -- several wraps of duct tape (but of course!) to the rescue. I didn't have the gunwale brackets then, so the load was centered, and I used 1/4" nylon rope for the tie-downs. It made the trip from West Hartford, CT to Dover-Foxcroft, ME just fine -- no wind on the trip, and things were solid travelling on the Maine pike at 75 mph or so.

    Attached Files:

  5. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Russ Hicks gave us this tip. The first three pictures show the loops Denis attached to the car... and where they are placed under the hood... for securing the forward-facing part of the canoe. There is one of these "bunny ears" on each side, and they tuck in, under the hood, when not needed.

    The other picture shows the Yakima canoe rack system with the longer bars for carrying two canoes. We switch to the shorter bars when only carrying one canoe.

    My Subaru came with a roof rack system, but we removed the stock bars and replaced them with the Yakima "towers" and bars. There are L-shaped gunwale rests, to which we applied additional padding (as suggested also by Greg). The tie-downs that come with the Yakima system are nice, and we use ratcheted tie-downs on the front and rear.

    We've driven at freeway speeds with no shifting of the canoe when thoroughly tied-down this way.

    There are often used sets of Yakima and Thule rack systems for sale on eBay, but you need to find out which will work with your particular car. When I got my present Subaru, I had to buy different "towers" because Subaru had changed its rails and the towers I had didn't fit.


    Attached Files:

  6. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    If you use the Yakama system, be sure to pad the bars.

    I have a very nice, perfect 1/2 circle dent on the rail of one of my canoes, left there by some canoe folks who aren't sensitive to wooden rails, loading it on a Yakama rack.

    My preference is 2x4's (still padded) just to get more contact area but the other systems are easier to put on and off.

  7. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    some pics

    The Shell lake in yellow on the 06 Jeep. Two straps 500 miles, no problem. Gunnel brackets- I strongly believe in them. Without gunnel brackets I would use bow lines for sure. The Shell Lake is 16'. the bars are only 32" apart. for anything longer I have an 'H' support that I bolt to my grill guard and rest the bow on it. The bars that go off the front bumper (grill guard) really work well. Unfortunately, I cannot find a photo. Denis' strap method is highly recommended too. For canoes without hand thwarts add rope thru the open inwhales. to make rope thwarts. My two older Jeeps had the bars 5 to 6' apart. this 06 Jeep can only spread the bars 32". I do not like that but you have to dance with the girl you brung. Padding, tie downs, gunnel brackets-- all will work. BUT if sometdhing goes wrong, well then you have some really important info.

    Attached Files:

  8. Mark Adams

    Mark Adams all wood nut

    I use a Yakima, and swear by it. I am a huge fan of the gunwale brackets. The only mishap I have ever had was when I was scooting down I-5 in Berkely, and one of my towers popped loose. I was doing about 80 and the canoe just about came off. My wife scared me worse than the canoe by sitting on the door ledge, and hanging onto the canoe. Mind you, this is in HEAVY CA traffic. I told he next time to let the canoe go. I'd rather pick up splinters than her off the highway.
  9. Paul Miller

    Paul Miller Canoe Nut


    How can you call yourself a true canoe nut if you're not willing to sacrifice your wife for a canoe???

    I always tell my wife that if she is going to fall while carring one of my canoes that she must make sure to fall under the canoe so she will cushion the fall of the canoe and reduce any possible damage to the canoe.

    Lucky for me she has not yet fallen while carring a canoe.

  10. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist


    I used to have a car that used Yakima racks, the kind that had the clamps onto the door jambs. On this car, these door-jamb types could wiggle themselves loose, even on a not-so-long trip. Had I not been using bow and stern tie-downs, I would have had two canoes all over the interstate...

    Needless to say, that car got traded in as soon as it was paid off. Now I drive a Subaru, with double-wide crossbars, and have had no problems with it.

    If you use the double-wides, put old tennis balls on the crossbar ends. They make the lobotomies a bit less painful.

    Also note that, when tying down the stern (back of the car), the rope should be tied to the canoe well forward of wherever it's tied to the car. This keeps tension on the bow & stern lines, even without the belly straps, so when the crossbar pops off the door jamb, the boats stay on the car. Try tying down with just the bow & stern lines, with the stern line at different points on the canoe, and you'll see... but don't drive that way!
  11. Treewater

    Treewater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    How to drop a cartop canoe

    I had a wood canoe on top the car with canoe blocks. It was fastened front to the corners with two tight straps. The rear was fastened tight with one strap. The center had a strap completely around the canoe and through the car between car door and the frame. So it started to rain and the water travels down the center strap into the car getting me wet on the back of my neck. I take off the center strap to stay dry. I go six miles and the gusting side wind forces the canoe off the top. The front and rear straps hold but the canoe hits and breaks ribs and drags allong the pavement scraping through the hull of course before I stopped. One pristine canoe now in need of re-canvass and rib repair.
  12. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    After reviewing this thread, I think I am going to use bow and stern lines from now on. Better safe than sorry.
  13. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Fear not....

    Wooden canoes travel better on roof tops than fiberglass, molded or formed canoes do.
    I use the standard VVO rails and a Yakima system with the gunwale mounts and straps. I almost never tie the front, not even for long trips. I do tie the back to my hitch. The canoes are rock solid on the car and do not move one bit. I am not one bit worried about driving at highway speeds (plus a bit:D, did I pass you?). The roof rail system (I installed it) is very secure. On my V50 there is not as much space between the bars so I do tie the front and rear down.

    Attached Files:

  14. JClearwater

    JClearwater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I nearly lost

    two canoes on the NYS Thruway before I got gunwale brackets. I had a Durango at the time with Yakama racks - canoes side by side with straps and bow lines. The way the wind flowed over the hood it had a tendency to push the canoes apart sliding on the smooth Yakama bars. I noticed, just in time, one strap nearly slipping off the end of the bar. I stopped and retied things and finished the trip. I got gunwale brackets as soon as I got home which solved the problem.

    On a couple of my canoes there is no easy spot to attach a bow line to tie forward to the car bumper. I made trapizoid shaped wood blocks from 1x4 that fit inside the gunwales, just behind the decks when the canoe is inverted. A hole though the block for the rope and you are good to go. Each model canoe will require a different length block so I label them and store them with my straps.

    I use parachute chord rather than straps for a bow line. I can't stand the 1" wide strap flapping in the wind in front of my face while driving. The thin parachute chord works real good and is plenty strong. On my Subaru I replaced one of the license plate screws with an eye bolt, nuts front and back of the bumper as a convenient spot to tie to.

    The foam block carry system may work OK for a short trip but I think they are an accident waiting to happen for a longer trip at highway speeds. When a 18 wheeler passes me I want the canoe rock solid, foam blocks do not provide that. Swallow hard, bite the bullet and buy a Yakama or Thule rack made for your car. Get gunwale brackets and use bow & stern lines.

    Just my two cents worth,

    Jim C.
  15. Greg Nolan

    Greg Nolan enthusiast

    "one strap nearly slipping off the end of the bar"

    "one strap nearly slipping off the end of the bar"

    Yakima makes replacements for the bar end caps that help keep the straps from slipping off. They don't seem to be shown on the Yakima web site, but REI lists them for sale. I have found them useful at times, but they can make the ends of long bars more dangerous.

    Attached Files:

  16. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    If the crossbars are far enough apart, you probably don't need the bow & stern tiedowns -- canoe trailers don't typically use or need them. But even on the Volvo picture above, I'd want them. But that's not my boat on there, so it's up to you.

    And yes, the basic foam blocks are nothing but trouble. I had one blow out rom under the canoe on their first trip... had to walk back a half mile of highway to pick it up. Now you can get them with slots cut for gunnels, which are perpendicular to the slots cut on the other side, for the crossbars. These aren't nearly as bad, but are still subject to shifting sideways while driving, unless you can secure them with aditional hardware. But at that point, they get a PITA award.
  17. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    Here's my beef

    My 90 Jeep had gutters. The yakima racks were miles apart and very secure. My '94 Grand Cherokee had rails and the Yakima towers fit well with at leat 5 feet between bars. This '06 Grand Cherokee has a roof rack that allows the clamp tower only 32" of distance. The Beef---Jeep designers do not seem to have a clear understanding of what a roof rack shouuld be or do. I removed the useless crossbars as they do nothing. If any Manufacturers are out there lurking, please consider that function should take precendent over form. the distance between bars is important. And it can't be areodynamics, the Jeeps keep getting taller and harder to load.

    I am considering what Yakima calls landing pads to see if I can bolt them to where the current factory rails are now. Anyone know? That would give another 8" to 12" of bar separation.

    And forget about putting one on a Mini Cooper. Nobody wants to help with that idea.
  18. JClearwater

    JClearwater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    On my Durango

    which was also a Crysler product the the max distance between the Yakama bars when they were installed in the rails on the car roof were not far enough apart to suit me. Same problem as the Cherokee. What I did was mount the rear bar in the car roof rails and mount the front bar on Yakama landing pads with clips to the front door frames. I still was not comfortable that the front bar was attached to the car secure enough so I added pan head screws through the clips into the car. I had to make my own clips because Yakama didn't offer clips for the Durango. The holes in the car were behind the rubber door gasket. I kept the screws in the holes when the rack was not on the car to keep water out. The system worked fine, very secure and provided an additional 18" spread between the bars. I have since got rid of the car so the problem is totally gone.

    On my trailer I only use straps around the canoes, no bow or stern lines. The canoes have always stayed very secure. Wind seems less of a problem with a trailer, I presume because of the buffering effect of the car in front.

    There are other threads that deal with canoe trailers.

  19. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Trailers for 8!!

    The local cub scouts are giving me ideas!:D

    Of course I had to show the young scouts what a real canoe looked like.

    (PS. We were only going a mile to the landing or I would have bow tie downs. The stern was tied down.)

    Actually the trailer had pieces of wood attached that locked into the gunwales on the aluminum canoes and held them very tight.


    Attached Files:

  20. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    That's unfortunate;)

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