buying advice

The Ultimate Guide to transporting A Canoe

Canoes can be big, awkward, and difficult to move. If you’re wondering how to transport your canoe, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve seen lots of different ways to transport gear over the years and we’re here to help. Knowing how to transport your canoe from point A to B the right way ensures you don’t damage your canoe or risk harming yourself in the process. We cover the best ways to transport your canoe with gear recommendations to help you get everything where you want it.

Transporting a Canoe on a Vehicle Roof

We highly recommend having crossbars on your roof before tying down your canoe to reduce the area that your canoe can slide when taking a corner. Even with crossbars, there are extra ways you can reduce side-to-side scraping, like with the Thule Portage, Malone Bigfoot, or Rhino Rack Canoe Holder.

Roof Rack Crossbars

When transporting a canoe on your car’s roof rack, you can follow the same steps as our How To Tie Down a Kayak to a Roof Rack Video or follow the steps below:

How To Tie Down a Kayak to a Roof Rack Video >

  • Centre and Balance Boat on Rack: Begin by ensuring that the boat is centered and balanced on the vehicle. A good way to test this is by resting the boat and letting go of it completely, if it does not move, it is balanced. Make sure your canoe is upside-down, resting on its gunwales. These top edges are the strongest part of the canoe and will help brace and support it during transit.

  • Wrap Strap Around Rack Anchor, Adjust Length: Next, place the straps under the crossbar. Ensure that the strap end with the buckle is shorter than the end with no buckle. Once you have placed the strap under the front and back bar, you can toss the straps over the body of the boat.

  • Secure Strap Around Opposite Anchor: Move to the other side of the vehicle and wrap the strap end without the buckle under the crossbar, then feed it through the bottom of the buckle. Repeat this step on the back bar.
  • Tighten Kayak onto Roof Rack: Snug up the strap on both bars then begin to tighten all the way down. Once the straps are tightened, shake the boat to ensure it doesn't move around.

  • Knot and Secure Strap: To finish securing the body of the boat, make a number four with the excess strap length and tuck the end in behind. This will create a simple knot in case the cam buckle loosens off. Then to deal with any excess strap, we like to make a daisy chain. To start a daisy chain, make a letter P with the tail behind it. Once you have this, pull the strap through to make another small loop. Continue to make small loops until all the strap is used up.

  • Optional Bow and Stern Lines for Longer Boats: Now that you have secured the body of the boat to the crossbars, it is time to do the bow and stern lines. If you do not have a metal tow hook on the front and back of your vehicle, we recommend using the Thule Quick Loop. Begin by placing the black strap included in the Thule Quickdraw through the grab loop of the canoe on both the bow and stern. Attach the carabiner also included in the Thule Quickdraw package, onto the black loop. The metal hook will attach to the Thule Quick Loop or tow hook on your vehicle. Once you have this attached, pull the rope to tighten.

Now your boat is ready to be safely and securely transported to your next adventure!

No Roof Rack? No Problem!

If you have to transport a canoe on the roof of your vehicle without a roof rack, you can pad under the gunwales to prevent damage to either the boat or your roof by using a product like the NRS foam canoe block, Level Six SUP Stacker Foam Block, or even cutting a pool noodle lengthwise. You would continue with the bow and stern tie-downs the same, but straps over the hull would be wrapped under the roof with the car doors open (sitting against the weather stripping) in the same fashion that the Malone Versarail uses.

Canoe Trailers

Canoe trailers offer ease of transport when paired with your truck, minivan, or any other vehicle with a hitch. If you don’t have a roof rack, it isn’t easily accessible, or you’re transporting multiple canoes, a trailer may be the solution. Most commercial canoe trailers are quite large, averaging a 6-8 canoe capacity. As a paddler, you’re probably not looking to cart around nearly as many boats with you, therefore we recommend the Malone Microsport (basic or XT model) with a two boat capacity. You can then add the Malone Second Level Tree Load Bars if you’d like to expand your boat capacity.

Trailers like this one don’t take up nearly as much space as the commercial ones but still offer ease of loading and unloading boats, so you can get on the water faster. Being able to access the bars from all angles means it’s easier to tie down and transport your canoe than on the roof rack of your vehicle and you can potentially do a single-person canoe carry directly on or off of your trailer.

How to Carry a Canoe

There are two classic ways to carry a canoe for a short distance.

2 Person Suitcase Canoe Carry

The suitcase carry has one person at either end of the boat on opposite sides, with the canoe face up. They grasp the built-in handles, lift up to the hip, and then walk with it. This method means you can easily take breaks or have extra people assist on the sides of the canoe, while also being able to transport gear in it.

Overhead Portage Canoe Carry

While this method is harder to get into position for, it is more comfortable for longer distances and can be done with one or two people. For a single-person portage, we recommend practicing with one person spotting either end of the canoe so you can build the muscle memory of balancing it without hurting yourself or dropping the boat.

Solo Overhead Portage Canoe Carry

  • Stand beside the yoke in the middle of the canoe. For this, we’ll assume you’re on the left (port) side.

  • Roll the canoe away from you on the ground so that you can place the bottom of the hull on your thighs. Keep the keel close to you so you can effectively hold the weight of the boat with your legs.

  • When pulling the canoe up onto your lap, you’ll have both hands on the gunwale in front of you.

  • From here, place the opening of the canoe toward yourself and grasp the yoke to assist with this positioning.

  • Once you’re comfortable, place the correct hand on the far gunwale to be able to lift it over yourself. In this case, it will be your left hand. Your close hand (right) should be back on the other gunwale near you before attempting to lift.

  • In one swift motion, you can buck your hips forward, push away with your close hand (right), and pull over your head with the far hand (left). Remember to duck your head forward a bit to avoid bringing the yoke down directly on your head. The curve of the yoke should rest around your neck but put the weight on your shoulders.

  • To balance the canoe, bring your hands inside one at a time and push down on the inside of the gunwale. The canoe should not be perfectly parallel to the ground, but angled up slightly so that you can see where you’re walking.

    Check out Old Town's How to Carry a Canoe video >

2 Person Overhead Portage Canoe Carry

With two people, you’re both starting between the seat on either side and the end “V”. From here, your lifting process is similar to the solo portage carry. Without worrying about positioning the yoke behind your neck, it will be easier to reach across the boat. Remember to communicate with your partner so you’re lifting at the same time!

The Easier Way to Transport a Canoe

Using a canoe cart like the C-tug or Yak Yak means you have a lot less stress on your body and you don’t need a second person to help you suitcase carry your canoe over moderate distances. By lifting the back third of your canoe onto wheels and strapping it in, you can transport your canoe solo. The only thing to keep in mind before purchasing a boat cart is to check the load capacity. Some models like the CRS Ultralight are only meant to carry lighter boats (up to 100lbs) which may not be suitable for your needs.

Ready For Transportation

Whether you’re transporting your canoe by yourself, on a vehicle roof, with another person, a canoe cart, or a dedicated canoe trailer these tips and tricks will help you get on the water safely! If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to us below or visit us in-store.