Photos by Paul Villecourt
Lifting, loading and carrying a kayak seems to be one of the biggest concerns women have when they're getting into the sport. One of the first questions that women often ask me is: "Can I carry a kayak by myself? Can I load it onto my car?" Using the right technique it is possible to lift, carry and load your own boat. It may take some practice, but for a lot of women this is a plausible goal. Even if the kayak feels heavy at first and awkward to carry, the more you practice the easier it gets because you'll be building strength and stamina. My advice is to accept that it won't feel easy and natural the first time you try it. Give it some time.
On the other hand, there are women who feel that the boats are too heavy and some women have physical limitations that don't allow them to even attempt to carry a kayak. That's ok because there is quite a bit of technology designed to make lugging your boat around easier. For example, you can get special kayak roof-racks with rollers that make loading boats onto a vehicle manageable for even one person; and kayak carts that work more or less on the same principle as a wheelbarrow to help you get your kayak along the ground and into the water. I'll discuss proper technique for carrying kayaks as well as these different alternatives in this article.
Lifting and Carrying
Kayaks, especially rec and touring kayaks, come in many different sizes and weights, ranging from 40 to 80 lbs (18-36 kg). Kayaks that are designed for purely recreational purposes tend to be smaller and lighter, while touring/sea kayaks tend to be heavier.
The most efficient way to lift and carry shorter, lighter boats is to pick up the kayak and lift it onto one shoulder. Begin by standing with the kayak on the ground on edge against your shins with the cockpit facing out. Bend your knees and place both hands on the edge of the cockpit closest to your chest. Slide the kayak up onto your thighs while keeping your knees bent. Once the kayak is resting on your thighs take your right hand and grasp the opposite side of the cockpit rim. As you stand up lift the right side of the cockpit rim up and onto your shoulder. Let the rim rest on your shoulder. Position the kayak comfortably on your shoulder so that it feels balanced and you can walk without the boat hitting the ground at either end.
Here are a few tips to remember when carrying your kayak:
- To protect your back when you lift the kayak, always be sure to bend at your knees and not at your waist.
- If you wear your PFD when you carry your kayak the shoulder strap of the lifejacket will provide cushioning for your shoulder.
- Make sure that when you pick your kayak up the bow is facing forward. This will make it easier to carry.
One alternative, which also works with shorter boats, is a two-person carry. For this carry, you and a friend each grab one of the toggle or grab-loop hand-holds at the bow and stern of the boat. Be sure to bend your knees and communicate well with each other to synchronize the lifting and putting down, which will not only make everything go more smoothly but will also prevent back injuries!
If you have a plastic boat, you can also drag your kayak by holding onto the toggle or grab-loop hand-hold at the bow of the boat. It's not a good idea to drag a composite or fiberglass boat because this can result in expensive damage to their more fragile hulls.
Using a Kayak Cart
Kayak carts are ideal for longer distances between the water and your vehicle. They are a good option if you need to bring your kayak over fairly even ground-meaning most boat launches and grassy shorelines, but are not usually suitable for very rough or rocky put-ins.
Kayak carts are two-wheeled attachments that slide onto one end or the center of your boat so that you can simply wheel your boat along by grabbing a handle at one end. Working on the same basic principles as a wheelbarrow, the result is that you bear very little of the weight yourself. Most kayak carts can be folded or easily assembled and disassembled so that they can be tucked into your boat or one of your hatches while you paddle.
Kayak carts typically cost between $60 and $150. There are also plenty of plans for homemade carts that you can find online if you're feeling a little handy.