The Basics

Kayak Carts

Step-by-Step Procedures

Most kayak lifts and carries are performed by 1 or 2 people. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Lifting and carrying—two paddlers

Two-person lifts and carries are commonly used to carry kayaks short distances and to lift them onto roof-top car racks.

  • The underhand lift and carry

    To carry your kayak short distances, use a basic underhand lift. Stand on the opposite side and opposite end of the kayak from your partner. Grab the closest carrying toggle with your boat-side hand (while your partner does the same) and lift straight upwards, keeping your back straight and your knees bent.

    Face in the direction you're traveling so you can see where you're going and avoid obstacles in your path. Communicate with your partner, especially if you need to stop and set the boat down. If you're in front, be sure to point out any upcoming obstacles that your partner may not see.

  • The overhead lift and carry

    When transporting your kayak with a partner over longer distances (like during a portage), you can reduce arm and shoulder strain by carrying the boat overhead on your shoulders. The following lift procedure can also be used when lifting a kayak to place it on your roof-top car rack:

    1. Stand at the opposite end (but the same side) of the kayak as your partner, both of you facing the boat.
    2. Grab the carrying toggle closest to you while your partner does the same. Lift the boat straight up to waist-level (again, keeping your back straight and your knees bent).
    3. Make sure your partner is ready, then (simultaneously) lift the kayak up to shoulder level. If you're lifting the boat to set it on a car top roof rack, simply walk the boat over to the vehicle and place it gently into the rack's kayak saddles. Make sure the boat is centered fore and aft.

      If you're going to carry the boat, rest the hull on your boat-side shoulder. You may wish to pad your shoulder ahead of time, or simply wear your PFD for a little extra padding between you and the boat.

    Two-person overhead carries are most effective when the ground is relatively flat and the distance to be covered is not too long. On rough terrain and long trails, it can be somewhat difficult to stay coordinated.

Lifting and carrying—one paddler

With a little practice, carrying a kayak on your own is easy and efficient, even on long routes and difficult portage trails. But it can be dangerous if you're not careful. Developing proper technique is important.

The single-person lift

Single-person lifts should be performed only when necessary. Even if you're going to carry your kayak by yourself, let other paddlers help you get it into position whenever possible. Learn and practice single-person lifts with other paddlers nearby before you try them alone. Remember, kayaks can be heavy and awkward. The risk of injury does exist. NOTE: The procedure described below begins with the kayak on the ground, hull side down.

  1. Stand to one side of your kayak, facing the cockpit. Grasp the cockpit coaming closest to you with both hands and roll the boat up onto its side (away from you) so that the bottom of the hull is resting against your legs.
  2. Being careful to keep your legs bent and your back straight, grab the cockpit coaming with both hands and lift the kayak upwards slowly until it is resting against your thighs.
  3. Holding the boat steady with your front hand, lean forward slightly and grasp the far cockpit coaming with your rear (stern-side) hand. Slowly lift with this rear hand, rotating the kayak towards you, pulling the far cockpit coaming upwards and toward you in an arc while the boat still rests on your thighs. Use your front (bow-side) hand to help support the boat as you rotate it.
  4. Once the kayak has been rotated so that the open cockpit is facing you, turn your body so that you're facing toward the bow (front) of the boat. Slowly lower the upper cockpit coaming onto your boat-side shoulder. You may want a little padding on your carrying shoulder to protect it from the coaming edge.
  5. Use your boat-side hand to support the boat as it rests on your shoulder. Use your free hand to steady the boat, shifting it if necessary so that the bow of the kayak is angled slightly upwards. Once the boat is in this position, you're ready to hit the trail.