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Transporting Your Kayak

Roof racks, truck beds, and some serious legal and safety issues to consider.

The ease of getting your canoe or kayak from the garage to the water is one of the big draws to the sport.

There are three basic approaches: throw it on the roof, plop it in the bed of a truck or trailer it behind your vehicle just like a powerboat. Here are some tips to make sure you pick the right option, and do it right so you don't cause an accident, lose your boat or get a citation for improper loading. Regs may differ among states.

Trailering your paddle craft is the easiest to explain because the rules are the same as pulling a boat of any size. In Florida, the trailer must be registered and have proper lights and a license plate. But this option loses some of the simplistic beauty of fishing under manual power. It will require maintenance like any other trailer, and keep in mind some boat ramp parks only charge a fee for vehicles with trailers. If you are transporting several boats, this might be the only choice, but if you are moving one or two boats a registered trailer is probably overkill.

The pickup truck bed is probably the easiest option. Many fishing kayaks designed to fish rivers and tight quarters are short—as stubby as 9 feet—which

would simply require a secure tie down in a 6- or 8-foot truck bed. But most fishing kayaks and canoes range around 14 feet, and this complicates matters just a bit. First off, any cargo that extends back past the bumper 4 feet or more requires a red flag at the rearmost point during daylight hours. During night hours or times of very low visibility such as fog, red lamps are actually required at the same location where a flag would go.

Further, your license plate must be visible 100 feet behind the truck. Therefore, with the tailgate down and a bed extender hanging out your trailer hitch, you might be in violation before you even put a boat on the rack. I called Lt. Andrew Morris of the Florida Highway Patrol to confirm these laws, and although he said he can't personally remember ever enforcing it, he explained these rules as I've written them. It's a good bet that as we move into automated ticketing for toll, speeding and traffic light violations, there will be more cases of citations for obscured plates, so keep this in mind.

By far, the most common place to stow paddle craft is on the roof, simply because it is the easiest and usually cheapest option. But again, there are rules to the road. “A roof top load must not extend 3 feet past the front bumper, and if it goes more than 4 feet past the rear bumper, it requires the lamps and/or red flag too,” Lt. Morris explained. “It also cannot hang over on the driver's side at all or more than six inches on the passenger side.”

Lt. Morris pointed to Florida Statutes 3.16.228 and 3.16.510 as resources for anyone wishing to view the letter of the law directly

Aside from the legal requirements, there are better ways to get a boat to and from your favorite fishing hole. Larger vans or trucks might make lifting larger boats difficult. There are several options to make this easier, from molded roof crossbars that hinge over one side to nifty cross bars that slide straight out to the side so you can set one end of a canoe or yak on it, then walk to the other end to lift the rest of the boat up and simply slide it over the roof of the vehicle. (Then slide the helper bar back inside the crossbar so you aren't noncompliant with the side overhang laws.)

If you plan to drive no farther than across town without high speeds, you can probably get away with the old-fashioned roof cushions, a cross strap and

lead lines in front and back. But if you are humping across the state or jumping on the highway, your best bet is to get to a local kayak dealer and make sure you get the right roof rack for your car. The larger companies like Thule and Yakima have racks designed specifically for most vehicles now.

If you are moving a canoe or “hybrid kayak,” which is a mono-hull boat such as the Wilderness Systems Commander 140, you should rest the boat upside down on the vehicle. Also, remove anything that might catch wind and blow away or stretch —removable seats, life jackets, etc.

Polyethylene kayaks such as the immensely popular sit-on-top style may be transported either upside down or right side up. Unless you have a rack that has feet and is designed specifically to carry the plastic boat on its side, most manufacturers warn against this as it can cause the plastic to warp or crack when the boat is cinched tight to the vehicle.

Finally, lead lines are always prudent. Some form fitting racks are so tight that you might be lulled into thinking you don't need the extra security of front and back lead lines. However, the few extra seconds it takes to secure both ends of the kayak are very worth it.

It might seem like a lot of information, but the boat you buy will limit the complications. When you purchase a kayak make transport issues part of your questions to the salesperson or previous owner. The style of kayak and your vehicle will guide your choices, and most of the time the obvious option is the best one. A little know-how can keep your paddle fishing trips quick, easy and safe. - FS

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