Announcement – Kayak and Roof Rack Accident in UP

On October 23rd, a roof rack and its attached kayak came loose from a car on M-28 in the UP which killed an oncoming motorist.  For paddlers there are some relatively simple safety steps you can take to dramatically decrease the chance of this happening to you. 

  • Avoid J-Bars:  These prop up a boat vertically on its side.  I advise not using them at all.  Not only will they catch more wind, but they provide less secure pressure points against the car roof.  When I was driving to Druid Lake, the car I was tailing had a boat fly high off its j-bars and thankfully into the ditch as opposed to my windshield.  I’ve personally had bad experiences with j-bars (my Tsunami almost worked its way loose of them on Hwy 151), and I don’t use them anymore if I can help it.
  • Use Front/Back Tie-downs:   Often kayakers neglect to use these, but they help a LOT in securing your boat.  You especially need front/back tie-downs when traveling at highway speeds or if you have a longer boat on your roof.  I’m a big fan of rope ratchets for this purpose.  These come in various lengths (8′ to 15′ usually) and have an easy to use click tightening system.  Unlike straps, these don’t vibrate or make noise.
  • Consider Trunk/Hood Loops:  Some paddlers aren’t a fan of front/back tie-downs because they require getting partly under the vehicle to attach straps to tow hooks.  Trunk/hood loops make this not only easier, but also provide a more secure fit.  The screw-in variety are better and more secure, but are trickier to install.  The bar shaped variety alternatively are easier to use.
  • J-Bar Alternatives:  Most kayakers resort to j-bars to free up more horizontal space on their roof.  Alternatively you can just get wider cross bars including those that extend beyond the rails.  This frees up a lot of room for multiple boats.  Saddles are a fantastic alternative to j-bars and provide a very secure way to attach a boat to a car.  If you have good foam pads, you can lay these on top of the cross bars and achieve a pretty secure tie down as well.  Foam pads really help grip a boat and keep it from moving.
  • Pre-Trip Stress Tests:  Before you pull out of the driveway make sure to “stress test” your kayak while it’s tied to your roof.  I find it’s best to do this to the rear of the boat where I have the most leverage and to violently rock it back and forth.  If it moves then, chances are good it will move when a semi passes by or you are hit by a strong side-gust of wind. 
  • Tighten Boats Securely:  Online you’ll often find paddlers warning not to over-tighten your boat in fear of damaging it.  In my opinion this is often bad advice.  I think it is better to risk slightly damaging your boat, than having it fly free and kill the person behind you.  Yes some kayaks can be damaged by over tightening, which is why you want to pick your boat carefully.  Some kayaks when warped have a “plastic memory” and will actually go back to their previous shape when off the rack and in the sun.
  • Use Quality Roof Racks:  Some roof racks do not attach to the vehicle per say, but instead “pinch” the lip between the top of the door and the roof rack.  “Clip fit roof racks” are popular and can be suitable if properly secured, but they can also work themselves free.  Definitely stress test these types periodically to make sure there is no give to them.  More secure roof racks are physically attached to the top of the roof.

4 Comments to “Announcement – Kayak and Roof Rack Accident in UP”

  1. I’ve had no problem using my J-bars, even in windy conditions. I make sure that the kayak is tilted back instead of vertical. I also make sure the straps are installed properly, with a front rope, using the loop straps.

    1. I think the absolute key with j-bars is you must use front/back tie-downs as an extra level of protection.

  2. I use 2 around the boat to the rack and then 2 on front of boat and 2 on rear of boat in a “V”. I have hauled boats all around Wisconsin and the UP with no problems. I also firmly believe you need to check the boat within the 1st 30 minutes at highway speeds. I have seen people use bungee cords and truthfully I am surprised more people don’t get hurt with how some people tie down boats.

How did your trip turn out? Questions or comments? Feel free to leave your feedback.

Be notified when future paddle reviews go live by subscribing!