How To Carry Your Canoe or Kayak

There’s one truth to paddling: You’ll need to lug that ride to your launch point (and back to your vehicle). Use the right technique to save your energy for the water.

Car racks for your paddling gear are great, making sure you can safely transport your craft of choice from home to your waterborne adventure. However, you still have to get your canoe, kayak, or SUP from vehicle to water, without damaging it or your precious vertebrae. For that, stick to the following pointers for effectively carrying your boat or board from land to sea.  

Tandem vs. Solo Carry

In general, the more the merrier. If you have the time and the partner(s), using two people to carry a paddlecraft is easier than hefting it solo—especially for bigger, heavier boats like canoes, sea kayaks, sit-on-tops and fishing kayaks. For that, station one person at each end and grab the craft’s carrying handles or grab loops on the bow and stern. Lift with your legs (not your back) and keep your carrying arm straight to lessen fatigue. Note: The person in the lead should call out any upcoming obstacles (like steps, rocks and logs), which might be obscured to the stern carrier by the boat’s hull. Hint: Carrying the boat at a slight angle increases line-of-sight visibility for the rear carrier. If your paddlecraft doesn’t have carrying handles, grab the end of the hull by cradling it in your arms.   

Paddling Carts

For bigger and heavier boats like canoes, fishing kayaks and sea kayaks, another option is using a paddling cart, which is designed to transport your paddlecraft to and from launches. A variety of carts exist for different capacities and terrain, most employing two wheels that attach beneath the boat’s stern, with a strap extending over the top of the hull for load security. Some carts break down so you can bring them with you on the boat while others are designed to be left in the car until you return.  

Carrying Your Canoe Solo 

Transporting a bulky canoe from car to water isn’t always easy. (Hints: Always drive as close to the water as possible; consider using paddling carts, which you can take with you for suitable portages; and feel free to drag it if you’re on soft grass or sand.) If you’re solo and have to carry it, here’s the technique: Stand at the canoe’s center, grasp the close gunwale with both hands and lean the canoe so its hull is pressed against your legs. Next, grab the center of the yoke to hoist the canoe up onto your thighs. From here, grab the far gunwale with your left hand, just forward of the yoke, rock the craft back and forth on your thighs and then, in one motion, flip the canoe over your head while rotating it 90 degrees, so the yoke lands across your shoulders. Stand up and keep your hands positioned on each gunwale as you walk, balancing the weight of the canoe on your collar and shoulders. To lower, repeat, using the opposite procedure to lower the canoe back onto the ground. 

Carrying Your SUP 

The reason standup paddleboards are so stable is that they’re thick and wide. Unfortunately, it’s these same attributes that make them difficult to carry solo; it’s nearly impossible to wrap your arm all the way around one. That’s why manufacturers put indentations or carrying handles in the center. Simply stand your SUP up on edge, deck side facing outward, and reach over to stick your fingers in the slot or handle. Then, with your paddle in your other hand, lift and carry it along your side to and from the water. Note: Be aware of board length on tight turns and up or down any steps.  

Carrying Your Whitewater Kayak 

Whitewater kayaks are best carried on your shoulder, much like that big log you’re trying to haul to the campfire. To do so, in one motion hoist it up facing forward with the cockpit facing you until the cockpit rim rests on your shoulder. (Hint: Try to have your boat’s hip pad nestled onto your shoulder for comfort.) One easy way to get in this position is lean the kayak up vertically against your car, cockpit facing outward, then slowly tip it over, resting the cockpit on your shoulder. To transport, grab the inside of the cockpit rim in front of your shoulder with the same hand and find the proper, easiest balance for walking (usually with the bow slightly higher than the stern). When unloading, let the stern down first.  

Carrying Your Sea Kayak 

Sea kayaks, if they’re light enough, can be carried the same way as a whitewater kayak on your shoulder. If the distance is not too great, some people also reach down and grab the cockpit rim and carry it like a briefcase. Hint: Make sure to sponge or bail out any water and remove all accessories from inside the hull (and on the deck rigging) to minimize weight; you’re better off returning for them on a second trip. Note: Take extra care if your boat is made of a fiberglass or composite layup, avoiding errant bumps. 


For inflatables (whitewater rafts and inflatable kayaks), your best bet is to drive to the water’s edge before inflating. If that’s not possible, for rafts: Position passengers at each carrying handle (at least four people for larger craft) and hoist to suitcase height, walking it to the water before loading it with frames, coolers and other gear. If solo, hoist and carry an IK as you would a whitewater kayak, resting the tube on your shoulder with the stern slightly lower than the bow.   

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.