Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring kayak tip #3: Tie me up, tie me down

Ask a kayaker about safety and the answer will be, “Wear a PFD.” Ask what’s most important to kayak safety off the water, and you’ll probably get a blank stare. John Bauer has the answer: “Front and rear tie-downs,” says John, who owns Rack N Road, a vehicle outfitter.

You know your priorities are right when your kayak is longer than your car (Photo by Dale Bates)

“Think about it,” says John. “Paddlers spend as much time – maybe more time – traveling to and from the water than in their kayaks. They’re carrying 50 or 60 pounds of kayaks, maybe more, on top of their vehicles, often at freeway speed. What happens if that kayak isn’t secured? It’s not a pretty thought.”

Kayaks sure don’t go airborne every day, but when they do, results can range from substantial damage to a boat to a deadly risk to other motorists.
Note good use of rear tie-downs...though the hula skirt seems a bit kinky (Photo by Dale Bates)

John recalls a kayaker who rented a rack for a road trip to Oregon. “I gave him a new set of J racks and tie-downs, and told him to be sure he used them – he didn’t.” The guy was driving over the Columbia River when the wind caught his expensive boat, lifted it off his SUV – and over the bridge railing. “It was a long way down,” said John. “With jagged rocks at the bottom. Not much left of that boat.”

So John’s No. 1 safety tip for kayakers is to always use tie-downs. “No matter how good your rack setup is, it’s just cheap insurance.” It isn’t just straps that fail, either. “When people remove a door mount rack at the end of paddling season and put it back on in the spring, they can get careless,” says John. “The rack may not be clamped tightly, or it may be misaligned – not so that it’s noticeable, but after a few road trips….”
Landing pads offer a low profile
Newer “landing pad” racks that bolt directly into a vehicle roof have solved that problem, John said. (I bought one a few months back and now wonder how I ever did without it.)

“They’re easier to get on and off, stronger, and for kayakers, it means a much better spread between the bars to hold boats more securely,” he said, especially with small vehicles. And on my car, they make less wind noise.

Other kayak rack tips:

~ Never drive through an automatic car wash with a rack that can snag on equipment.
~ Regularly inspect straps for wear and tear – ditto for those tie-downs.
~ If you’re not expert with knots, use the cam buckles supplied with most rack kits.
~ On a long trip, use that rest stop to check the rack and kayak straps and make sure nothing has come loose.  

Find Rack N Road stores in Sacramento and other Northern California locations. John Bauer presents free talks and demonstrations of the latest sports rack systems to kayak clubs and other outdoor groups – contact him at 916.563.7333. 
© Glenn Brank 2013