How to Tie Down 1 or 2 Canoes on a Pickup Truck (Without Cap)

If you are one of countless pickup truck owners across North America who don’t have a cap on their bed, you’ll have to come up with an alternative method of mounting a canoe (or kayak or even ladder for that matter). There are some good options, and in this article, I’ll show you exactly how I conquered that problem.

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The best way to tie down a canoe on a pickup truck with no cap is using the Yakima Long Arm with the extender. One caveat is appropriate, however. A couple of simple rigging tricks will be helpful to make the Long Arm sturdy and safe.


What mounting options do I have for carrying a canoe on a pickup truck without a cap?

There are several options you can use, and before we show you what we did, it might be good to know what options are out there, and then you can decide if any are right for you.

1 – Steel Truck Racks

Metal, factory-made racks are about the best option I can think of for a very safe, sturdy load-bearing option for your cap-less pickup truck. The big issue here is whether or not your truck is even able to accommodate such a system.

The systems look good in a photograph for sure! You can see some on AMAZON HERE! However, many trucks have storage boxes on the bed walls and/or a tonneau cover that makes it nearly impossible to practically access the steel tops of the truck bed walls, just over your rear wheels.

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Truck racks like this are perfect if you have access to the top of your steel bed walls.

2 – Home Made (DIY) Truck Rack

Like many self-respecting paddlers, you’ll want to save a few bucks if you can, by making your own canoe rack out of 2x4s. With the cost of wood these days, I’m not sure you’ll come out farther ahead, but it’s an option. My only comment on this option would be that, similar to option #1, you’ll need access to the open bed of your truck (say good-bye to your tonneau cover) and maybe even access to the tops of the bed rails or walls.

So, you’re really no further ahead than with option #1, only you’ll have a less expensive but aesthetically ugly 2×4 rack system that’s less aerodynamic and needs maintenance against the elements.

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A DIY canoe rack might be cheaper than buying a rack (though maybe not) but it will need to be protected from deterioration in the weather over years, and it won’t look as slick as a factory made steel rack system.

3 – Lay the canoe in your bed and let it hang out!

This method may work for short trips to the lake where you’re on a few side roads for 10 min. and you’re just out on a day trip. It’s not a serious method for long trips given the lack of ability for serious rigidity to prevent movement of the canoe (especially in heavy cross-winds on the freeway).

It also sticks out so far that safety can become compromised over a longer journey. Finally, the sheer length of the arm you’ll need to hold the canoe out this far will mean that it won’t be immovable and rock-solid.

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This is not my favorite method of transporting a canoe with a pickup truck, and only has a place (in my opinion) for very short day excursions where drive time is 10 – 20 minutes and no freeways or major roads are used.

4 – Yakima Long Arm with Extender (trailer hitch-mounted roof rack system)

While there are other methods that involve 2 rack bars on a cab roof (and other methods), we strongly prefer the Long Arm from Yakima. It mounts on your trailer hitch, and it can be used for method #3, but it can also serve as a roof rack where there is no roof!

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I believe the best system is a Yakima Long Arm Truck Bed Extender (with extender) and some minor cross-braces. It’s very quick to assemble and disassemble from your truck and it’s very sturdy.

See our full review of the Yakima Long Arm HERE!

Step By Step Canoe Mounting with the Yakima Long Arm

1 – Items You’ll Need

Before you can use the Yakima system for a 1 or 2 canoe tie-down scenario, you’ll need to have a few items. Let’s take a look:

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Two cambuckle tie down strap ends, 4 canoe tie-down straps (2 should be 15 feet or longer) and one Yakima Long Arm with Extender
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EIGHT (if you have 2 canoes, or 4 for one canoe) Yakima KeelOver Canoe Carrier Braces are CRUCIAL for a secure fit of your canoes to your rack system (any rack system).
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You will also need a front roof rack system for the bow of your canoe(s). Please note that 4 KeelOvers are needed to ensure no movement of the canoe bow in high winds.

You will need the following:

  • Yakima Long Arm
  • Yakima Long Arm Extender
  • 4 Canoe Tie-down straps (at least 2 should be 15 feet long or longer)
  • 2 Cambuckle strap ends with hooks (or ratcheting straps with hooks)
  • (2 hood anchors if you have no other tie-down anchor points)
  • 4 (for each canoe) Yakima KeelOver canoe braces
  • Front Rack for the bow of your canoe(s) attached to the top of the cab (you can skip this and use foam blocks as an inferior second choice option if necessary). If using a Yakima system, be sure the crossbar is 66″ long to be on the safe side.

STEP 1 – Install the front rack crossbar on the cab of the truck. As mentioned, you could skip this step and just put foam blocks on your canoe’s gunwales once you mount them.

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Install a front crossbar for better performance than foam blocks. Also, be sure to have KeelOvers or equivalents

STEP 2 – Install the Yakima Long Arm to your trailer hitch as per instructions included with the Long Arm, and raise it to approximately the same height as the front rack bar on your cab. Be sure to also install the bracing straps as per Yakima’s instructions.

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Install the Long Arm to your Trailer Hitch.

STEP 3 – Place your canoe or canoes in the appropriate positions on the 2 bars that will be holding the canoe with gunwales down. Be sure the canoe is facing directly forward and not twisted slightly to the side. Any angular deviation from perfect symmetry with the direction of the vehicle may change the vehicle’s steering dynamic as the wind pushes more on one side of the canoe.

STEP 4 – Make a note on the crossbars where the gunwales of the canoe contact the bar. Then, move the canoe to the side and install the Yakima KeelOver canoe braces in the spots where the gunwales contacted the crossbars. Install one KeelOver for each gunwale that contacts a crossbar. For 1 canoe you’ll need 4 KeelOvers.

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Install Yakima KeelOvers

STEP 5 – Using 2 of your 4 tie-down straps (the shorter 2 if you have straps of different lengths), tie-down the front of the canoe. While holding the buckle in one hand, throw the loose end of the strap over the upturned keel of the boat and loop it under the crossbar. Then, bring the loose end back over the keel and feed it under the crossbar on the near side of the canoe.

With the loose end (now in your hand) having gone under the bar on the far side of the canoe and the near side of the canoe and strung over the top of the canoe itself, it’s time to connect the strap to the buckle. The rubber-protected buckle is meant to sit against your canoe’s hull, so before you pull the strap tight, be sure to position the buckle against the hull.

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Pull straps around the crossbar and back over the hull. Attach with rubber-protected buckle against side of hull

Pull the loose end through the buckle until the hull is held very securely. Be sure to secure the loose end of the rope so it doesn’t flap annoyingly during the upcoming drive.

Continue to do exactly the same thing to the stern or back of the canoe sitting on your Long Arm crossbar.

STEP 6 – Be sure you have 2 attachment points at the back of your truck either near the back of each bed wall (near your rear lights) OR, using hood anchors secured near the top of your closed tailgate.

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Find anchor points on both sides of truck bed wall area and attach ratcheting buckle and hook. If no anchor point is available, make your own in your tailgate using hood anchors. (watch our video for full details)

STEP 7 – With the excess strap from your REAR tie-down straps now fully engaged, pull the excess from one canoe to the opposite side of the truck and attach to the anchor point with a ratcheting strap. Repeat the process for the second canoe but reverse the locations.

IMPORTANT: If you are only carrying one canoe, I would suggest using both straps around the hull (this part is tie-down overkill for sure), giving you 2 long, loose ends to secure to opposite sides of your truck bed as per Step 7 instructions.

STEP 8 – Grab the stern end of your canoe(s) and give it a shake. You should be able to move the vehicle with the shake, and there should be very little movement from the Long Arm and no movement whatsoever of the canoes on the crossbars themselves.

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Final shake check!

See the Full Video!

You can get a better feel for each step by checking out our full video on YouTube!


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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