Home-made roof rack for canoe


I thought this handy home-made roof rack was worth documenting. We upgraded to a new used RAV 4 a year ago, and this one doesn’t have crossbars on the roof rack to easily hold my canoe. But I figured out a simple crossbar system using only a length of pipe, an inner tube and four wine corks.

The problem with my factory installed racks is that they are lengthwise only — and too wide apart to hold the canoe up. I had to revert to using foam blocks that go on the gunwhales of the canoe, which are notorious for falling off. I can lift a canoe onto my car easily, but I can’t slide it sideways across the roof without it popping out of the blocks. The roof was getting scratched and the whole business was awkward. If I can’t do it on my own it’s not happening.

Here’s my solution. I took an 8-foot length of 1″ galvanized pipe left over from an old bird feeder project, cut it in two, chamfered the ends on my grinder, and put plastic corks from Masi wine in the holes to prevent water getting in. (I save corks!)

The pipe is great because it’s strong, won’t rust easily and the canoe slides along it really well. But I struggled to find a simple, reliable, way to secure the pipe… until this idea came to me before falling asleep one night.

I took a length of bicycle inner tube and cut it into 4 pieces, each about a foot long.

Then I slit about one-third of each strip in the middle, leaving one-third un-slit on each end. I inserted the pipe into the inner tube from one end, pushed it out through the slit, took the middle part of the inner tube around the factory roof rack, then put the pipe into the other end. To prevent the stretch opening the slit any further, I folded the inner tube back over itself on both sides. I did the same on both ends of both lengths of pipe.

The friction and tension of the rubber holds the bars in place, but still allows the pipes to be adjusted backward or forward, or side to side. Importantly, because of the low profile of the bars, my straps reach all the way around the canoe AND the factory-built racks. Meaning, any uplift from wind is taken care of by the straps, not by the inner tube: all that does is hold the pipe in place.

I can remove the whole apparatus in less than two minutes. So I’ll take it off if I’m not using the canoe for extended periods, to prevent light degrading the rubber. If it starts to wear out, I’ll just replace the tubing, which I could do in about 10 minutes.

There you have it. A roof rack that cost me nothing. From scratch I estimate it would be about $40 dollars for the steel pipe and $10 for the inner tube. But I’d recommend using whatever you have around, and getting a used tube from a bike shop if you don’t have one. ABS pipe would work fine for the crossbars, or old hockey stick shafts.

The most expensive part of this whole apparatus is the corks. Masi Campofiorin currently retails at $22 a bottle!


2 comments on “Home-made roof rack for canoe

  1. Lucas Cleveland

    June 12, 2020 at 9:18 am

    This is great David. Thanks for sharing. I love the repurposing and creativity.

  2. Alissa sent me this link, nice job on a good inexpensive solution.

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