Locking a Canoe or Kayak to Your Roof Rack (10 Options)

After picking up our new Wenonah from Hikers Haven several years back, my wife and I had to stop and buy a few things on the way home.

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Walking away from our truck and heading into the store, I suddenly had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that leaving our new $3000 investment attached to the roof rack with only nylon straps might not be a good idea.

It wasn’t long after I arrived home that I began researching the best ways I could keep our new canoe safe.

In this article, I’m going to cover my best 10 options for securing your canoe or kayak to your roof racks (and a few other places too), and how to minimize the risk of theft.

If a canoe must be left unattended for more than an hour or two while it’s sitting on top of a vehicle, using a simple cable lock, lockable tie-down, or a hardened heavy-duty chain would be strongly advised. Using 2 to 3 security devices simultaneously will greatly decrease the chances of theft.

If you’re concerned about the theft of your canoe or kayak while you’re absent, we have some VERY effective options that will help any situation.

How Do I Prevent Canoe or Kayak Theft?

While it’s nearly impossible to prevent theft of your canoe or kayak from your unattended car, there are some things that help minimize the risk. A determined thief (especially once they notice you’re gone for a few days) will have no problem stealing your canoe with tools as simple as a hack saw (or electric saw powered by the generator in his pickup truck).

If your only option is to leave your canoe unattended and lock it to your roof rack, you may have just a few more options than you think. But please, if you must separate yourself from your canoe or kayak for a few days, use MORE THAN JUST ONE of our suggestions, and you’ll dramatically increase your level of security.


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We asked our Facebook canoe group users what they would do if they needed to secure their canoes from theft. These were their responses. Nearly one third would choose a locking device.

10 Options for Locking Up Your Canoe or Kayak to Your Roof Rack

Option 1Lock it up. Use a lasso-style cable lock that involves a two-piece hardened cable. A good brand is Malone Racks Lariat Universal Kayak/Canoe Cable Lock which you can see on Amazon.

Each piece has a complementing end that both lock together. You can wrap this around your roof racks several times on both ends to make it look as complicated as possible and make sure that when you finally attach the lock, securing the two cables together, the final configuration is TIGHT. A loose will be less secure.

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The Malone Racks Lariat Universal Cable Lock is a good general deterrent for opportunist thieves but it may not be a good permanent long-term solution.

Option 2 Strap it down. KanuLock Lockable Tie-Down Straps with steel reinforcement (see them on Amazon). These straps feature an integrated steel weave that prevents the straps from being cut by a knife. The great part about these straps is that they are also your primary tie-down straps for your canoe, so two birds with one stone!

Option 3Make it loud. Electronic Bicycle Alarm from Amazon. This will work especially well if used in an open area where people are more likely to see a would-be thief. You’ll have to operate counter-intuitively by parking in the open rather than trying to hide your vehicle and canoe. It’s easier to steal if you “hide away from the public”.

Option 4 – Make it unbreakable. Check out the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain. This chain is about as close as it gets to being “unbreakable” and tamper-resistant. It features 3t hardened Manganese steel for ultimate theft resistance. The only catch here is that it’s not that long. There are 2 versions and one is 3.25′ long and the other is 5′ long. Check it out on Amazon.

Option 5 Use a “SMILE, YOU’RE ON CAMERA” sign. You can get these inexpensive signs from Amazon, and I can tell you they DO help. There’s an element of psychology here because even if a thief doesn’t see a camera (or even believes there is no camera), the message on the sign will tweak something in their brains that tells them someone is onto their game. Most thieves don’t like being ratted out and will move on to easier targets.

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There’s a psychological response in the mind of a criminal who reads this sign while attempting to steal a canoe. It sure acts as a deterrent if not an outright preventative measure.

Option 6 Park in an open area where you’ll be seen by as many people as possible. That is, the thief will be seen by as many people as possible as he attempts to cut cables. Many people’s intuitive thought would be to park somewhere that is hidden from view so fewer people get a chance to see your merchandise. In fact, the opposite is true. Any thief will easily find your vehicle if it’s in the parking lot, but the closer it is to the spotlights and open areas, the more skittish and reserved the thief will get. He’ll think of moving onto less visible targets (and those with minimal or no security measures).

Option 7 Talk to the Police. This one is probably the best one of all to be totally honest. A friend of mine told me that he was able to get the local police to allow him to use their garage for a 4-day storage term – AT NO CHARGE! I’d say that’s the best security of all!

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This is one of my long Kryptonite cables I use for attaching my end-thwarts (carry handles) to the chassis of my truck. While it won’t totally prevent theft by a determined thief, it will deter all but the most determined criminals!

Option 8It takes two. My next option is similar to option 1, but a bit different. I own two 30′ cables that I use on occasion to secure my canoe to my vehicle. I don’t use it lasso style, but just run it through the 3 thwarts and under the seats. I then attach it to my truck’s tow bar loops instead of just my roof rack.

I then do it again with the second cable and tie it around an element of my front shock system.

NOTE: The more cables you add to make it look more complicated, the better off you’ll be. A thief will be discouraged by the amount of work involved in freeing the canoe from your vehicle.

WARNING: If your canoe has wood trim (thwarts), I’d suggest wrapping the canoe with the cable around the hull from one side of the roof racks to the other just as though you were tying it down with the cable. Make sure it’s fairly tight. That will prevent the thief from easily unscrewing the bolts or screws that hold the thwarts to the gunwales, and just detaching the cable and leaving it on your vehicle.

Option 9Track it. Okay, so this option doesn’t actually prevent canoe or kayak theft, but it can make finding them as easy as it can possibly be. First of all, you can install a tracking device (available on Amazon) in a very inconspicuous place (like on the underside of the stern or bow caps) for the time you’re away.

It’s very unlikely a canoe thief even knows devices like this exist, and even less likely they’ll find it on the canoe. Then, each canoe has a serial number located on the hull. Make note of it for Police to use, but if you really want to get ahead of your hapless thief, write the number down with an etching tool in a very inconspicuous location, so that when he destroys the number on the hull, your version will still exist on the canoe so police will have proof it’s yours if it ever shows up!

Option 10 Use a tug eye. You stayed to the very end, so I’m throwing you another tidbit that someone told me about recently. I don’t use this option, but I like it! As just one more element of your theft-deterrent strategy, you could install a Tug Eye. A tug eye is a water-tight hole on either side of a canoe bow with a tube running between both sides. It is meant for a bowline or painter line (rope) to be fed through it which allows for easier tracking (or pulling) of the canoe.

Instead of a bowline, a STEEL CABLE can be fed through the tug eye and this option prevents anyone from cutting through a thwart or carry handle to disengage the steel locking cable from the canoe. It’s hard to find tug eye kits these days but you may be able to track one down if you try hard!

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A TUG EYE is a hole on either side of your canoe bow (with a tube running between both) that is water-tight and meant for a painter or bowline for easier tracking of the canoe. It’s also a perfect hole through which to run a Kryptonite cable to secure your canoe.

What Should I Do if my Canoe or Kayak is Stolen?

Call the Police immediately if your canoe or kayak is stolen. Provide them with a photo and serial number of your craft. If you installed a tracking device, monitor it and share the information with the police. Check sites like Craigslist and local classified ads. Call your insurance company.

Countermeasures

After your purchase a canoe or kayak, be proactive with countermeasures.

  • Install a Tracking Device – As mentioned earlier in Option 10, you can install a tracking device under an end cap or another hidden location that can’t be seen readily. It’s a device you can track from your phone, and you would activate it only during the time you’re away from the canoe. A great option for a tracking device would be a Trak-4 or Optimus which can be found on Amazon.
  • Record and Etch the Serial Number – Make note of your hull serial number and all other ID numbers that appear on the sticker or plaque on your hull. Then, etch the serial number in a hard-to-see spot elsewhere on the canoe in case a “smart thief” files off all ID numbers from the visible tag on the bow of your canoe. Give the serial number to the police in case your canoe shows up.
  • Take a Photo – This is the first thing the police will likely request. Ideally, several photos from all angles would be best. Keep these photos in a safe place that can be easily and quickly accessed.
  • Monitor – Monitor classified ads, sites like Craigslist (and even eBay), and stolen911.com to help Police find your canoe.
  • Talk to Your Insurance Company – Consider purchasing canoe or kayak theft insurance. Depending on your insurance company and your relationship with them, you might be able to get it for a short term (like 5 days) for a cost next to nothing at all. If you’re lucky, some policies include coverage of a canoe or kayak up to a certain amount.

I recently spoke with Jim Hooper from State Farm Insurance who said the following:

We offer coverage for canoes and kayaks as an addition to a homeowner’s policy. Coverage is offered at different levels. The first is $1000 – $3000 of value, and the next level is $3500 – $5000 for non-motorized watercraft. Coverage includes all the perils that a homeowner might encounter like theft, fire, liability, or other significant damage.

He went on to say that most homeowners never bother to take advantage of the insurance on canoes or kayaks costing under $1000.

According to Insuramatch.com, most homeowners’ policies include coverage of watercraft valued up to $1500 and are under 26 feet in length. This coverage limit includes all accessories like paddles, life jackets and other items you may use while canoeing.

However, it is REALLY IMPORTANT that you make sure when talking to your insurance agent, that he/she knows about your watercraft, and has included it within your homeowner’s policy.

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If you have a long, steel cable, it’s often best to pull it tightly over the hull and lock it in a position like a tie-down rope. That will prevent theft – unless the thief cuts the canoe in half!!

Don’t Sweat it!

The odds of getting a canoe swiped right off your roof rack in a public parking lot by the lake when you’re not around is pretty small overall. Most canoeists are a tight-knit group willing to help each other out anytime and the likelihood of a bad apple cruising for your canoe is minimal (though very possible in this day and age).

I’d suggest planning as much as possible to minimize or eliminate trips that require you to leave canoes or kayaks unattended, and then contact local Police for storage options as a last resort!

Enjoy your trip with peace of mind!


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Okay, a little over the top, but I had to smile at some of the creative ways to keep your canoe from getting stolen!!

Pete Stack

After 40 years of experience canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking and climbing in the Ontario wilderness, Pete is eager to combine his love for the outdoors with his passion to write. It is our hope that his knowledge can be passed on through this site and on Rugged Outdoors Guide on YouTube.

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