How to load a kayak on a J-rack by yourself

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How to load a kayak on a J-rack by yourself

There are three popular methods of loading your kayak on a j-rack which we will cover here. The method which will suit you best will depend on the space available around you, the height of the vehicle compared to your own height, and of course how strong you are feeling!

If you need to load a kayak onto a j-rack by yourself, the easiest methods are likely to involve sliding the kayak over part of the vehicle and onto the j-racks. For these methods we recommend a bath mat or something similar to lay on the vehicle to protect it. Bath mats are great as they tend to have a grippy underside which prevents them slipping around on the vehicle.

Pre check

Before starting to load, the first thing to make sure of is that your J-racks are firmly and properly installed on your cross bars.

how to tie down a kayak on a j-rack - strap position before loading kayak

It is also a good idea to position your tie down straps through the top loop of the j-racks so that they are all ready to go once your kayak is in position. 


You can of course fit your tie down straps after your kayak is in place but it can be awkward, particulary with taller vehicles.

With the first two methods listed below, it is worth carrying something to lay under the stern of your kayak to protect it, particularly when loading and unloading on hard or rough surfaces.

Method 1. Loading your kayak from the rear

The start of this method may vary slightly depending on the shape of your vehicle.
In some cases you may load from directly behind your vehicle but in other cases, off to the side.

how to load a kayak on a j-rack by yourself - method 1 - step 1

With your bath mat/towel in place, position your kayak alongside but to the rear of your vehicle. Make sure it is forwards enough to be able to lift the bow and rotate it onto the J-rack.

how to load a kayak on a j-rack by yourself - method 1 - step 2

Lift up the front of your kayak and lean it against the rear J-rack.

Next, lift up the back of the kayak and push it forwards so that the kayak lies cradled in the j-racks. You will need to keep the kayak on its edge whilst you push it onto the racks so that it is orientated correctly to sit snugly in the J-rack.

Finally, tie down firmly. See – ‘How to tie down a kayak on a J-rack‘.


Method 2. Loading your kayak from beside your vehicle

This method is similar to the first one but involves loading it onto the front J-rack first. We find this one is the easiest.

how to load a kayak on a j rack by yourself - method 2 - step 1

Place your towel or bath mat against the side of your vehicle closest to the front J-rack as that is where your kayak will lean against your vehicle

Position your kayak beside your vehicle, angled a little so that the back end of the kayak is further away from your vehicle. This keeps the wide mid-section from scraping against your vehicle when you lift it.

Make sure it is forward enough to be able to lift and rotate the bow onto the front J-rack.

how to load a kayak on a j rack by yourself - method 2 - step 2

Lift up the front of your kayak and bring it up to the front J-rack. Lean it against the J-rack. Before letting go make sure it is secure enough so that it doesn’t slide off the moment you let go. This is where the positioning of your J-racks comes in- you want them close enough to the edge of your vehicle roof so that you can get to them.

 Pick up the back of your kayak, lift it up and over onto the racks. Tilt your kayak so that it is lying snugly against the supports and

Finally, tie down firmly. See – ‘How to tie down a kayak on a J-rack‘.


Method 3. Brute strength

If you are tall enough and feeling strong, this last method would be an option. 

how to load a kayak on a j-rack by yourself - method 3 - step 1

Position your kayak beside your vehicle. Pull the outside edge of your kayak towards yourself. This brings the load closer to your body reducing the effort needed and is much better for your back.

how to load a kayak on a j-rack by yourself - method 3 - step 2

From this point heave the kayak up towards you chest, at this point I rest it on my thigh and reposition my hands for the final lift.

From the previous position I lift and rotate at the same time to get it above my head then I can place it in the j-racks and tilt it into the final position.

Finally, tie down firmly. See – ‘How to tie down a kayak on a J-rack‘.


Note: Another method is to lift the kayak by one end until you are underneath it at the balance point. With this method you can even balance it on your head to take some of the weight!


If this is all too much, there are some very clever load-assisted options out there like the Thule Hullavator Pro which is much more user friendly. 


Anything else worth noting?

Yes, get to know your gear. It’s a good idea, especially the first few times out to stop and check your straps periodically and make sure everything is till tied up nice and secure. It’s also prudent to check the J-rack mounting bolts to make sure nothing has come loose.


If you are concerned about the mounting bolts working loose you can add some washers to help prevent them from working loose. The correct combination would be a suitably sized spring washer sandwiched between two flat washers. The spring washer keeps the nut under tension against the thread making it harder for the nut to work its way loose.

If you leave your J-racks on permanantly you may want to also incorporate a nylon locking nut.

Even when your racks are tried and tested it is alway better to err on the side of caution and check you load occasionally. Just remember, it’s a big investment sitting up there!

Now you know How to load a kayak on a J-rack by yourself…

Check out our tutorial on how to tie down a kayak on a J-rack

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