I spent 3 days at Canoecopia in Madison this past weekend and had the opportunity to look at a lot of products intended to help with solo loading and unloading of kayaks. Knowing that there are many potential paddlers, particularly women, who are hesitant to get into the sport because they are concerned that they will not be able to handle these tasks alone, I would like to share some of these very helpful products.
For many years, Yakima has made the “Hully Rollers” which make loading a kayak from the back of the vehicle much easier. Place your kayak behind your vehicle, lift the front end of the kayak up onto the rollers located on the rear crossbar of your rack. Pick up the back end of the kayak and push the boat forward along the rollers until it is far enough forward that you can lower the front end of the kayak into the saddles on the front crossbar. This system has worked very well for years, but as vehicles have become taller and spoilers on the back of the vehicle roofs have gotten in the way, new products were needed. The “Showboat” is a roller system that telescopes backward over the rear of the vehicle allowing you to load the kayak in a similar way as the “Hully Rollers”. After loading, the “Showboat” retracts back up against the rear crossbar. The third option from Yakima involves loading the kayak up over the side of the vehicle. This product is called the “Boatlaoder.” A telescoping arm fits inside the Yakima crossbar. When you need to load your kayak, you pull out the telescoping arm and use it to rest one end of your kayak while you go to the opposite end of your boat and lift it up onto the saddles on your rack. Afterward, you move the other end of your kayak from the “Boatloader” onto the other set of saddles before tying your kayak onto the rack. When you are done, you just retract the “Boatloader” and lock it down so it doesn’t slide out while you are driving.
Malone is another company making rack accessories to assist in boat loading and unloading. The “Telos Load Assist Side Mount Kayak Loader” allows you to load your boat onto a rack that hangs down along the side of your vehicle at about waist height. Ratcheting arms then let you raise the boat up along the side of the vehicle until it is positioned for you to secure it into the saddles on your vehicle. The “Stinger Load Assist” and the “Seawing Stinger Combo” work in a similar fashion to the Yakima “Showboat” except that the “Stinger” only works to load one of your kayaks. The “Showboat” can be positioned so that it can be used to assist in the loading of two kayaks onto the top of your vehicle.
Thule makes the “Slipstream” which is a similar concept to the Yakima “Showboat” and Malone’s “Stinger Load Assist”. The “Hullavator” is Thule’s amped up version of the Malone “Side Mount Kayak Loader”. The “Hullavator” is sort of the gold standard of products made to assist self-loading. The only problem is that if you can’t drive into your garage with a boat mounted on your car, you won’t be able to drive into your garage with an empty “Hullavator” on your car either. The rack assembly sticks up as high into the air as your kayak does when it is on the rack. Translated – you will need to remove your Hullavator every time you want to put your vehicle in the garage. (To be fair, this is not the only boat carrier that can have this issue.) Thule also makes the “Outrigger II” which is almost exactly like the Yakima “Boatloader” except that it is made to fit inside the square Thule crossbars. The “Roll Model” would be comparable to the Yakima “Hully Rollers” although more expensive.
Another method of solving the cartopping issue that is becoming increasingly popular is to stop putting your kayaks on top of your vehicle altogether. There are several nice trailers made for carrying canoes and kayaks. Yakima makes the “Rack and Roll”. Slick Rydr makes the “Mut” series. Malone makes the “MicroSport” trailer. Trailex is another company that also makes canoe/kayak-specific trailers. All of these trailers are small enough and light enough to be pulled even by very small cars. The boats never have to be lifted any higher than your waist, and your gas mileage probably won’t suffer as much as it does when you have boats on top of your car. If you are concerned about storing a trailer, some of the trailers fold up for easy storage against the side wall of a garage. This is not necessarily the cheapest option for carrying kayaks, although when you start adding the cost of a Hullavator to the cost of your basic rack it may not be that much more. Trailers can also solve the problem of how to carry several kayaks for a family group. You may not realize that many newer cars have much lower weight ratings for cartop racks (100-125lbs maximum including the weight of the rack itself) than older cars that had maximum weight limits for racks of 165 lbs. This load limit means that you may not be able to carry 2 plastic sea kayaks on your car without exceeding the weight limits, which negates any warranty coverage from the manufacturer if a problem occurred. (I also found my kayak trailer to be very handy when it comes to bringing home sheets of plywood and long boards from the lumber yard.)
Nowdays, there really is no reason that you should shy away from getting into paddle sports just because you think you may have to load or unload your boat by yourself. There are so many helpful products out there in addition to the highly creative “do-it-yourself” methods devised with throw rugs and bath mats. While there may be some up front costs that seem a little daunting, consider that most of these products are made to be moved from vehicle to vehicle. Add to that the fact that the most expensive kayak is the one that never gets used, and it just makes sense to find something that will encourage you to get out and paddle more often. If all else fails, join a club and meet some paddling friends. You’ll never have to load your kayak by yourself again!