I designed and built what I think turned out to be a pretty decent car-top carrier rack for my kayaks. Here is a photo of the final product mounted on the roof of my PT Cruiser.
I built the rack out of PVC pipe bought from my local home improvement store. I designed the rack so that it can be attached to the roof of my car using standard ratcheting straps that loop around the car roof with the doors open. The ratchets are inside the cab of the car.
Before I built this rack, my best solution for hauling my kayak to the river was just to strap the kayak itself to the roof of my car.
One problem with that scenario was that I could only haul a single kayak that way. Another problem was that the ratcheting straps outside the cab would vibrate and buzz loudly when I was driving down the road at highway speeds. But the rack I designed and built solved both of these problems.
Below is a photo of the rack after I glued all the PVC pieces together. I designed the left side of the rack with a single upright that sits up into the seat hole in the first kayak which will hold it at the angle I want. Then the other two kayaks lean up against the first one. The right side of the rack has 2 uprights to cradle the bottom side of the third kayak.
I used T’s rather than 90’s for the 4 corners so that I could feed the ratcheting straps through the pipe and keep the straps out of the winds, thus keeping them from vibrating and buzzing.
I’m not going to give specific parts lists and specific measurements because this rack needs to be custom sized for your kayaks and also custom sized for your car. But cutting these PVC pipes and gluing them together is very very easy. So this is a project that just about anyone should be able to take on.
The below photo shows how 3 kayaks fit perfectly into this rack.
But I actually own 4 kayaks, and occasionally I will want to haul all 4 of them to the river. It turns out that my SUV has a roof wide enough to hold all 4 kayaks, so I designed my kayak rack to be expandable from 3 kayaks to 4 kayaks. So now I can use the rack on my car or on my SUV.
You can see in the below photo that the rack is now wider. The PVC pipes on the left are all 2 inch pipes and the PVC pipes on the right are all 1 and 1/2 inch pipes. The 1.5 inch pipes fit nicely inside the 2 inch pipes with not very much wiggle room, so that worked out nicely for this application.
If I was making a single size rack that didn’t expand, I would probably just use the 1 and 1/2 inch PVC pipe for the entire rack. It feels to me like it is strong enough to do the job of holding up these 10 foot kayaks, but also flexible enough to bend a bit around the contour of the car’s roof. In my case, the 2 inch PVC pipe I used for most of the rack doesn’t give very much and it ended up denting part of the roof of my car a bit when I torqued the rack down using the ratcheting straps.
Here is a photo of the rack holding 4 kayaks.
The detail photo below shows you the single upright on the rack that fits up into the seat hole of the first kayak and basically holds the first kayak upright at a slight tilt from vertical which is good for leaning the other kayaks up against the first kayak.
The photo below details the other side of the rack where the two uprights are there supporting the bottom of the third kayak. This photo also shows my solution for holding the kayaks down. I used black rubber bungee cords.
The photo below details the attachment points of the bungee cords. I bought a bungee cord that was the right length to go all the way around each kayak. And I drilled holes into my PVC pipes to attach the bungee cords. These bungee cords hold the kayaks down tight to the rack and they also keep the kayaks from moving very much left and right. And also, thankfully, these bungee cords don’t vibrate and buzz at highway speeds.
This photo shows you the inside of one of the PVC pipes. You can see the ratcheting strap and also the bungee cord attachments.
And here is the final rack. I tested it at highway speeds and it worked quite well.
Another photo of the final rack.
And one last photo of the final rack.
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