Saturday, February 5, 2011

Transporting the Canoe

I guess the easiest way to design a boat loading and transportation system would be to start with nothing and design an entire system---vehicle, loader, rack, etc. When you start with a truck that’s not the best choice, add a bed cover that makes it worse, then decide to carry a boat and tow a trailer, there’s now a collection of obstacles to overcome. There’s also the issue of getting older (I don’t recommend it.) and lifting a heavy boat over your head single-handed, then having a bullet-proof rack and tie-down arrangement that pulls it all together. The solutions are as varied as patience, internet searching, and imagination will allow, and this is just my approach.

There were basically four problems to overcome. The Ram is extremely high or tall with the raised cover. The raised bed cover broke up the roof line. Newer vehicles have no provision for securing tie-down lines. Finally, having a 67-year-old guy loading an 80-pound canoe seven feet of the ground by himself requires some thought and preparation.

Having the boat firmly anchored down is critical. Canoes and kayaks flying through the air will not only destroy the boat, but destroy any nearby car and possibly kill the driver or passenger. I’ve seen it explained that the chances of the canoe hitting a vehicle when it comes adrift are remote. On the basis of probability, I suspect that’s true. However, just as a wise man doesn’t walk around an open field holding a graphite golf club overhead in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm, a wise man also doesn’t get sloppy about how well things are secured on top his vehicle. recently ran a story about multiple kayaks being carried on a kayak trailer. One came loose and the forward end swung out into the opposing lane. It went through the windshield of an on-coming truck, impaling and killing its driver. There’s no sin in having a boat tied down until it looks like it’s trapped in a spider web, but there certainly is in not having it anchored well enough.

First, I started with the issue of getting the canoe on top the truck. The “U-Haul Universal One-Man Canoe Loader” was found on e.bay. It seems to address all my issues. It claimed to enable someone to load a boat on the roof of any truck, car, or SUV in five minutes, and once the loader is set up, that’s about right. It mounts on any universal trailer hitch, although as in our case, a little modification may be needed. It enables you to tow a trailer at the same time.
Since our RV hitch is encumbered with sway bars, I couldn’t use the bolt-on mounting bar that came with the loader, so had the local machine shop fabricate a mounting bracket that bridges the hitch. The loader base remains permanently attached on the hitch, and when needed, the loader pole is just slid into place and secured with the quick-release pin and securing bolt. Instead of having to lift the entire boat, just grab one end, set it on the loader crossbar, secure it with a cinch strap, then walk the other end of the canoe around as the crossbar rotates, and set it on the roof rack. Once the canoe is on the loader as pictured, I then raise the loader to its fullest extension so the canoe freely clears the truck and rack as I walk the canoe around to the front of the truck.
. With the canoe resting on the forward rack and loader, I then lower the loader extension until the boat rests on all three---loader and both racks. While the loader gets the boat on and off the rack, it does almost nothing as far as anchoring the boat. You need to rely on the racks and tie-downs for that.
The split-level roof of the truck posed a problem I couldn’t seem to solve even after looking at several dozen rack systems. I found one that supplied the roof brackets and suction cups, enabling you to build your own racks to fit almost any arrangement. I got the brackets from Spring Creek Outfitters.

The instructions enable you to make a rack that will carry one or two boats. By adding a couple pieces of 2 X 4 to the full crossbar, I was able to raise the forward rack enough to make the canoe ride level. You can double click the picture for better detail. Included are eyes that bolt through the rack for lines or cinch-straps to go over the hull of the canoe.
I needed help from a couple guys on the forum to solve the problem of tie-down attachment points. There is nothing on the truck to secure lines to. So, I made four loops out of one-inch webbing. The forward two have brass grommets set into the heavily stitched ends of the loop. Two bolts were removed from under the hood, and they were used to anchor the loops. The loops can be folded in under the hood when not needed, and just flopped out and exposed when required.

For the rear attachment loops, I stitched a dowel into the end of each loop. The cap was unclamped, the loops slid through, and the cap clamped back in place. The dowel inside the seam between truck and cap, in addition to the clamping force, will make it impossible for it to pull through. I started all loops with a 12” piece of webbing. I’d recommend going with 14” instead. As to placement of the attachment points, it’s only necessary to make sure the tie-downs lead in opposite directions to keep the canoe from sliding fore and aft. The canoe/kayak length and how it sits on the vehicle will tell you whether tie-downs should lead from the vehicle outward to the ends of the boat or the opposite. A piece of plastic water tubing is also inserted into the forward loops to reduce chafing in the bight of the loop. For the rear tie-downs, I rolled and stitched the loops and use heavy S-hooks to attach the tie-down line to the loops.Rather than resting on the gunwale, as with the stripper here, Ibi will rest on its cockpit coaming.  I called Scott Smith to get the length of the cockpit, and this set up was created to eventually suit Ibi, but it works as well for the stripper.

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