This is a very common occurrence here in Canoe Country.  I’ve seen this hundreds of times and perhaps I should have hundreds of stories of accidents, injuries and damage caused by this derelict way to secure a canoe to a car, but I have very few.  Nonetheless, I will continue to declare it a rank-amateur way to tie a canoe onto a car until my last breath.  Please understand that I am not picking on the particular owners of this canoe & car.  Simply consider this as one of dozens of improperly tied canoes that are floating around on the local roads, highways, and freeways of the country.

Nobody knows how to read anymore.  It says right in the Thule Canoe Carrier box how to do the job correctly and yet, many people simply skip the most important step:  the TWO main straps that hold the canoe to the load bars is the most important step.   If  you tie the canoe with the main straps and forget to  tie the bow and stern, this is a much better way to do it wrong for any kind of long distance hauling.

Note the Thule roof racks on this vehicle.  They are excellent roof racks and and some would argue, expensive to buy, but you get what you pay for.  They are made well and when properly installed, remain attached to the vehicle like glue.   These are equipped with Thule Canoe Carriers to which some refer to as Canoe Blocks.   Canoe Carriers hold the canoe in place from sideways slipping when the wind blows or a semi-tractor trailer whips by causing that jarring puff of wind that you feel shake the car.   They work well and seem spendy for the little plastic blocks that they are.   That being said, what are you going to do?

car topping canoe
Do it right – This is NOT right

So, if you are going to spend all that money on a great roof rack and the added security/safety devices, why would you take this shortcut in transporting your canoe on the open road?  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to tie your canoe like this:

canoe car topping
Don’t tie your canoe like this!  Only tied from the bow and stern while resting on the load bars.

It may sound like I’m preaching, but this is one of many areas of Canoe Country “don’ts” in which many need to change their ways.  I actually had a geezer (and I say that with intended disrespect since he was a real jerk) tell me “what for” after I politely pointed out that he really needs canoes straps – the main part of any canoe car-topping tie down –  in place.   He snarled at me angrily and said,  “I’ve been driving up here for 20 years now and it’s NEVER been a problem!”  That’s like saying that coming to Ely for 40 years – for one week each summer- makes one a bona fide local.   40 weeks is less than a whole year!    It’s also like making the declaration that one’s “been paddling the Boundary Waters for 20 years now”  and when I watch them shove off without the foggiest knowledge of a J stroke, I pretty much know their level of expertise:  You’ve been paddling for 20 years and you STILL don’t know how to paddle.

Again, just because you haven’t killed anybody for 20 years won’t make up for killing them just once in the future.  For the angry guy, I was SO tempted to  whip out my Kershaw and demonstrate how quickly things can go wrong with improperly tying a canoe to car especially when pipe foam, electrician’s tape and duct tape all were employed in his “system”.   I walked away.  I tried – he was a fool who frequented the BWCA at that time, unfortunately.

Based upon my several decades of canoe transportation experience done commercially and not just once or twice per summer, I end up paying a lot of attention to vehicles with canoes on them on the open road.    My favorites are the ones where the canoe ends up almost sideways with the bow almost sticking out over the center line and the driver wincing and hoping he can make it to the canoe landing without it going airborne.

Then, we see the backwards Minnesota II’s with their ridiculously high bow in the back and nonsensical  squatty stern in front on the vehicle.  That’s the only way you can haul one because the zero-purpose-bow hangs down into the view of the driver. (This example has absolutely nothing to do with improper canoe tying – I just don’t like Brand X canoes – user-UNfriendly hull-design, inferior resin, no freeboard, low seats, no rocker, poor durability, etc.  But, I digress…)

There is also the beat up aluminum canoe on some old clunker of a car, improperly tied and riding balanced on only two foam blocks.  There are supposed to be four blocks holding up the alumabonger  but because they cranked the canoe bow down too tight to the front of the car as a final act safety, the canoe seesawed up in the back and the two rear blocks lifted up and lost contact with the roof of the car.  They blew off only to be gracing the highway ditches next to an old beer can and somebody’s shoe somewhere between here and Iowa.  You can balance on two blocks, but it is somewhat risky for a variety of  obvious reasons.

One of my other favorites in wonky canoe transportation are the makeshift use of whatever soft material they could find to set on the roof of the car for a true, rolling-hobo look.  In the wind flops the corners of  a blanket, an old chunk of carpeting from the entryway of their house, a blown- up, 99 cent, blue air mattress with a bright orange sea horse on it,  or the cushions from the living room sofa.   All this Macguyver/hobo-esque paraphernalia  lays across the roof of a rusty 1983 Fiat with a canoe on top, ratcheted down from the bow and stern only.   It slides sideways in the rain and wind, nicely polishing the top of said car below.  Sometimes, if the wind is just right, the canoe slides completely off the roof and ends up resting on the door handles and side rear view mirror of  the car preventing egress from that side of the vehicle.  Everybody has to slide over the pile of junk in the middle to get out of the  tin can car.  At that point, the canoe has usually added some new color highlights to it’s boring aluminum look on the edges of the gunwales.  Ironically, the color looks exactly like the same paint used on the car.  Well, cool!  Now they match, both in color and degree of beat-up-ness.

But, this is not really a discussion about the safety concerning the occupants of the car.   The occupants of the bad tie-job will be fine.   What happens when an improperly secured canoe lets fly and kills a grandma with the grandkids when it suddenly wraps around her windshield sending her car over the cliff?  You know the car will catch fire when it goes airborne and then there is the HUGE,  in-flight, explosion.  This entire scenario is caused by an improperly tied canoe.    I know because I read it on the internet.    Jumping cars off of cliffs always results in explosions.

But seriously, where is it written that securing a canoe improperly for years without incident somehow gives one license to continue doing so into the future?  I dunno.   Hopefully it will never happen, but you could kill somebody when after you are parked, shopping at some store and a miscreant comes by.  What if he/she partially saws through that front rope or strap and you aren’t paying enough attention to check it every time before you blast off down the road.  The miscreant might find the time-delayed, breaking rope  funny, but you will be getting all the blame and at very least, you’ll be trolling your canoe down the road.   It’s probably a Wenonah anyway, so no big loss there, but, nonetheless…  Regardless of the brand that gets away from your car, you most likely will only need another canoe if you are lucky.

Canoe Straps are cheap, EASY TO USE, ridiculously effective, last a long time and you can dazzle your friends (important to city dwellers) with how fast you can securely tie your canoe to your car.    Doing this any other way that does not include these two canoe straps is completely and totally wrong, period.    You can argue with me until the cows come home and I will not back down from calling you a rank amateur if you tie your canoes to your roof rack like the pictures above.  Just because you have yet to cause an accident does not make your technique correct.    Spend a whopping $20 and fix it right – with canoe straps – not big-box retailer ratchet straps – those are junk,  but that is another blog post.    You don’t want to  look like you don’t know beans about anything related to canoeing, or maybe you’re good with that?  I dunno.


Order Canoe Straps Here


Here’s how canoe straps are used:

Life on a Minnesota Resort

Red Rock Wilderness Store Online

Northwind Lodge Website