How to tie down a canoe

How to tie down a canoe
Video How to tie down a canoe

While a good set of roof racks on an SUV or a mini-van make carrying a canoe a lot easier, there are endless reasons why adventurers of all ages and walks of life will want to use a simpler, less expensive method on their car. I’ve spent over 40 years canoeing and traveling with canoes on various vehicles, and I’ll show you my method for tying down a canoe on a sedan or hatchback without roof racks and for the cost of a trip to Burger King!

There are several ways to tie a canoe down without roof racks, but the best way we know how is with 4 foam blocks, 2 tie-down straps, and 2 short lengths of rope! The job is made even easier with a set of 2 or 4 hood anchor loops that serve as tie-down points on a vehicle’s hood and trunk.

I will outline exactly what items you need (and their costs) and a clear outline of what to do. I will also include a video done in (almost) real time (it took me around 15 minutes but that was because I did a lot of talking and explaining rather than doing).

How Do You Strap a Canoe to Your Car?

Let’s first deal with the items you’ll need to successfully secure your canoe to a small (or any) car roof.

1 – 4 Foam Blocks (specifically made for canoe mounting on car roofs)

You’ll simply slip these onto your gunwales and space them properly to fit the roof of your vehicle.

You can see some examples and get cost ideas HERE on Amazon.

2 – 2 Tie-Down Straps (specifically made for canoe/kayak mounting to car roofs)

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These are no ordinary webbed nylon straps. They have a mechanism that allows you to pull the end of the strap through the other end, and it will not pull back. This allows for a very tight tie-down without having to be a boy scout remembering hundreds of knots.

All you do is pull tight – that’s it! No tying or knot-making. It’s faster and safer than knots and it holds your boat better than a small, round rope.

The process is that you open all doors of your car and pass the strap through the doors from one side of your car to the other. Then, connect the ends of the strap somewhere against the side of the canoe. The strap buckle that holds everything tight will be encased in a rubberized coating which is meant to sit tightly against the side of your canoe hull without causing any scratches or damage.

You can see some examples and get cost ideas HERE on Amazon.

PRO TIP: If you look carefully at a couple of these photos, you’ll notice my strap is twisted. That is done on purpose because if you pull it tight and it is NOT twisted, it will vibrate in the wind (like putting a piece of rough grass between your fingers and blowing on the edge of it – it makes a loud sound!). If you twist the strap as it comes down from your hull and through the top of each door, the vibration sound will disappear!

3 – 2 Pieces of Rope (or rope ratchet straps)

In my system, I use a thin (but strong) rope and simply pass it through the carry handle on the bow and stern of my canoe. Each rope is about 5-6 feet long and is either tied to a hood anchor, or a secure spot on the chassis of your car. I would suggest using HOOD ANCHORS (I’ll tell you about those in a second).

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I use a TRUCKER’S HITCH to tie down the bow and stern securely. It’s super easy (see the video below) and there are no bulky ratchet systems.

However, many paddlers find it more convenient to use RATCHET TIE DOWNS (See them on AMAZON) which get rid of all knot-tying.

PRO TIP: Using the trucker’s hitch can exert a LOT of pressure. You must be careful not to damage your canoe or your car’s roof.

4 – A Set of 2 (or 4) Hood Anchor Loops

In my opinion, this is a virtual necessity because you can use these on any vehicle, even if there’s no place to tie a rope under the bumper. Also, they are way more convenient to use than crawling on the ground under the bumper, and lastly, they are more secure because of the shorter distance to the anchor points (than going all the way down to the chassis of the vehicle)

These anchors allow for a quick tie-down on either side of the canoe to the edges of your car’s hood. Because the rope run is shorter, the rigging is more secure since shorter runs mean less play in the rope.

An extra set may help on the back of your car depending on your setup back there.

Super convenient, safe, easy, effective, cheap, and strong! Hood anchors are a “strong buy” in my books!
5 – Safety Flag for Canoe or Kayak

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In most states, if a load sticks out farther than 4 feet on the back, you’ll need a safety/warning flag. While some areas permit a variety of colors including white, it’s best to stick with the most visible colors like bright red or fluorescent orange.

This is TOTALLY optional if your load sticks out less than 4 feet, but mandatory otherwise. I don’t typically need one, but that’s only because my car is pretty long. If you need one, the best scenario is to get one that is the brightest possible, and the most durable you can get.

That usually means going to …. you guessed it – AMAZON! You can make your own, but longevity and effectiveness won’t be optimal in most cases. Besides, you can get one on Amazon that should last a lifetime for less than ten bucks!

You can do more research on Amazon to see if some options are a good fit for you. Check them out:

I hope I’ve been pretty thorough in my photo guide to attaching a car to your car roof without a rack, but just in case you’d like more info, I’ve got a full video! Here it is and I truly hope you get some excellent value from it!

As a side note, hope it doesn’t offend anyone when I say to “get out there and enjoy God’s creation” because I truly want everyone to experience a wilderness filled with so much wonder and scientific “impossibilities” that only God could have made it, and it’s ours to enjoy!

Blessings to you and please ENJOY your next trip!

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